When you were seven years old, what were you doing?
Chances are, you weren’t spending your spring break climbing Africa’s tallest mountain. You also probably didn’t set any world records… and that’s okay. We’re not all cut out to be as adventurous and physically fit as seven-year-old Montannah Kenney of Austin, Texas.
About a year ago, Montannah overheard her mother, former professional triathlete Hollie Kenney, discussing the prospect of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. The dormant volcano in Tanzania rises 16,100 feet from its base to soar over the rest of the African landscape.
The next day, Montannah told her mom that she wanted to climb the mountain herself. “She said to me, ‘Mommy I want to do it too,’” Hollie recalled. “I didn’t discount what she said but I knew she didn’t know the magnitude so we started researching it and looking at videos.”
Hollie explained the very real dangers associated with mountain climbing, but Montannah never wavered from her goal. The little girl was especially keen on climbing high into the sky because she lost her father when she was just three. Montannah explained that she wanted to feel closer to her father, in heaven.
“When we talked about the mountain being above the clouds, she immediately associated that with heaven and it resonated with her. She loved that idea of being closer to her dad and asked me if she was going to be able to see him.”
Hollie researched the idea of climbing with Montannah but saw that there was an age limit of 10 years old. Yet when she found a news story about an eight-year-old Florida girl who reached the summit in July 2017, Hollie decided to honor her daughter’s request. She applied for and received a special permit to allow Montannah to climb the mountain.
“I woke up Montannah the next morning and said, ‘If you want this record, we have to go when you’re still seven,’” Hollie recalled. “I knew she had spring break in March and we planned the entire trip in a month-and-a-half.”
The mother and daughter team spent an arduous eight weeks planning and training for the hike. They set off from base camp on March 10, 2018, and reached the summit six days later. They relied on a lead guide and a team of more than 20 other experienced hikers to get them through the cold and wet climb.
“Everything was wet by summit day,” Hollie said. “We were putting on wet clothes, wet boots, my hair was frozen, our [water containers] were frozen.” Yet in spite of the soggy conditions, Montannah was loving it! She repeatedly told her mother that she was having her “best day ever.”
“She never, ever questioned what she was doing,” Hollie said. “Every day I asked Montannah if this was harder or easier than she thought it would be, and every day she answered, ‘Easier.’”
At the summit, Hollie said Montannah continued to think of her father, hoping to catch a glimpse of him up among the clouds. “She really was looking.”
“The higher I go, the closer I am to him in heaven,” Montannah said.
Once Montannah reached the top, she was awarded with a certificate announcing that she is now the youngest female to ever climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Both mother and daughter have no regrets and say the experience was life-changing, in a good way.
“I’m her only parent and I’m an older parent and I want to build these awesome memories with my child,” Hollie said. “Our philosophy in life is to be somebody and to do things with our lives.”
After the climb, the Kenneys spent about two weeks exploring Africa, going on safaris and soaking in the sun at a local beach. Sounds like a much-needed respite and reward for such amazing work!
Congratulations, Montannah! We’re sure your dad is looking down from heaven and smiling at your accomplishments.