Student uses spring break to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro

Like a lot of students, Sarah Schmidt, 3L, went south for spring break, but she skipped lounging on the beach and climbed one of the world’s tallest mountains instead.

“One of my best friends, a fourth-year med student at KU, was doing an international rotation in South Africa,” she said. “I had decided to fly down and join her after her rotation ended, right around spring break time. We had thrown around ideas such as going to the beach, but then decided on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, because why not?”

Although the decision was a bit spontaneous, Schmidt realized some heavy-duty training was in order. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world, looming at 19,341 feet above sea level. The trek doesn’t require any technical climbing, but it’s a strenuous endeavor nonetheless, and many hikers are forced to turn back from altitude sickness or exhaustion. Schmidt spent several months weight lifting, walking, and stair climbing – with added weight from her law school textbooks – to prepare.

“Closer to my trip, I was using the stair climber for two hours at a time with my backpack on and loaded down with about 15 pounds,” she said. “I really think the best preparation was walking and the stair climber.”

Coupling intensive training with extensive research, Schmidt was ready to take on the mountain by the time she arrived in Africa. The park requires all climbers to be accompanied by a Tanzanian guide, and she and her friend also climbed with an assistant guide, a cook, waiter, and porters. They decided to take the Lemosho route, a more remote, very scenic trail that is better for acclimatization and offers a higher success rate. The group spent eight days and seven nights completing the entire climb, and varied the number of hours hiking each day.

“I felt very prepared physically and enjoyed the hikes every day,” Schmidt said. “The landscape is breathtaking and changes significantly as you reach higher altitudes. I did experience some altitude sickness on the fourth day of our climb, however, after that I felt great.”

The most spectacular views came from the summit, which required a long, arduous night of climbing. At midnight, the group started their push for the top, and seven hours later, they reached Uhuru Peak. Schmidt said she pushed herself to the edge mentally and physically to reach the summit, but her efforts were well-rewarded.

“You are walking so slowly, it is freezing cold, and it is difficult to breathe, but once I saw the sign welcoming climbers to the top, I immediately forgot how hard the past seven hours had been, or how cold it was, and I was beyond excited,” she said. “It was also really fun having my best friend with me and accomplishing the climb together.”

Now that she has returned to Kansas, Schmidt’s back to focusing on the normal preoccupations of a third-year law student, but she’s also considering hiking more high-profile mountains in the future. Like law school, mountain climbing requires serious preparation, but both can be tackled with the right mindset.

“Do your research thoroughly, and if you can, talk to as many people as you know who have done the climb,” Schmidt said. “And training is a must. Being in good physical shape made the trip much more enjoyable.”