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Georgina Miranda | 04.22.2019

This past June, I had the opportunity to head back to a magical and fragile place, Mount Kilimanjaro. As I stepped foot onto the roof of Africa for a second time at 19,340 feet, she was covered in a beautiful fresh cap of snow.

The ascent was chilly, -15 degrees Celsius, through the night lit up by a bright sky above. We left camp around midnight, and half of us reached the summit at about 5:45 a.m. We stopped at Stella Point (18,652 ft) for 20 minutes to layer up. We watched a strip of golden sunlight break through the dark of night before we made our final push to the summit less than an hour away.

As the sun came up over the horizon, Kilimanjaro's beauty revealed itself once again. Being one of the first teams to summit that morning, as so many started to walk onto her full glory, I wondered how many knew what was really happening, not only to this majestic mountain but to her surroundings. After all, approximately 35,000 people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro every year, yet few realize the glaciers are sublimating, predicted to diminish in the next 27 years.

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The summit team included remarkable men and women on a mission to drive change as equals. Romain Levrault.

I last climbed Kili, as it's known, in 2009. The summit and terrain were strikingly different, not only because we had climbed a different route, the Marangu Route, but also because it had been a dry year. The summit was dusty compared to the thick blanket of snow that greeted us on June 10.

On this climb, we reached the summit via the Lemosho Route, a beautiful and remote route that is considered one of the newer routes on the mountain. We spent eight nights on the mountain traversing through rainforest, moorlands, desert, and alpine desert. Spectacular all around; this is my happy state, my place in nature.

We did not encounter snow until our summit push, and as I stood at the top I thought about how deceiving this narrative might be to those who don’t believe in climate change or our environmental crisis around the world.

One sees snow and thinks there is no problem.

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This year was different than 2009. I journeyed back to Kili in partnership with world explorer and environmental scientist Tim Jarvis and his project, 25zero, in collaboration with Kathmandu. Tim and 25zero document the decline of the earth’s equatorial glaciers with dramatic vision. His images and stories of the glaciers and those affected by their loss show the staggering effects of climate change.

You cannot see greenhouse gases, and for many seeing is believing. I was grateful to join the expedition with Tim and our team of explorers, influencers, activists, filmmakers, and photographers on a mission to share her story, the story of a mountain that gives so much to so many and has for time immemorial.

Yet what have we done for her, her people, her legacy? The story of Kilimanjaro is not unique in regard to her vanishing glaciers; most of the peaks along the equator and around other parts of the world are showing the same trajectory, or worse have already lost their glaciers. Our project was not there to pretend we could save these glaciers, but rather to ask the important question: What else are we prepared to lose?

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Kilimanjaro looms over farmland. In recent years, demand for arable land has consumed the forests that once dominated Kili's flanks. Romain Levrault.

Climbing mountains has been a part of my life for the past decade, mainly around activism. Mountains helped me discover my voice. They allowed me to talk about things I care about: equality for women and the planet.

There was a collective power of women on this climb. Our team included three ladies and several remarkable men to drive change as equals. I had the honor of meeting three of the 10 female guides on Kili, truly incredible symbols of strength, courage, and change to come in this region. One worked for over 7 years as a porter before her promotion to mountain guide.

I also got to be a part of a massive reforestation project at the base of Kilimanjaro, the Kilimanjaro Project, founded by Sarah Scott, with the aim of planting more than a million trees to help reforest this area. It’s important to understand that Kili’s glaciers are sublimating not only due to climate change, but also deforestation.

Over the past 20 years, temperatures around Kilimanjaro have risen, rainfall has decreased, and hence the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro are disappearing at an alarming rate. Millions of trees are being cut down in the Kilimanjaro region each year to clear land for agriculture, firewood, and charcoal for cooking.

More trees lead to more rainfall. More rainfall then feeds the glacier.

This glacier is the lifeblood for the people. It affects the stability of jobs for those like guides and porters on the mountain. It increases the availability of food and vegetation for those in the surrounding areas. Without it, an increase in risk of floods and fire for the region follows.

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As we interviewed key stakeholders in the community, they shared their concerns with us.

“This in now going to be a big challenge to the young generation," they said. "We will be saddened that we didn’t do something in our lifetime.”

We will witness the disappearance of these glaciers, and there is little we can do to save them. The question remains, What else are we prepared to lose?

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    From a distance, peaks look daunting and formidable. One might think, "There's no way I'm getting up there!"

    But guess what?! There's always a way. Like life, if you want to be a change maker chasing big dreams and goals, sometimes they can feel overwhelming until you start to put one foot in front of the other. A path opens. A way appears. It starts with a desire, a step, a belief in oneself.

    Before you know it, you've reached your goal. Sometimes reaching goals takes multiple attempts, and that's ok. The important thing is just not to give up or lose faith.

    From Kili, on our third night, the mountain looked intimidating. In a lot of ways, fighting climate change looks intimidating—it's a big problem to solve. But it's possible for each of us to take little steps, make little changes to help reduce our footprint, support companies that have the planet's best interests in mind, and drive positive change.

    It was an honor to come back to this place and witness the beauty of what remains.

    Help us take action on its behalf.

    • Amplify: spread the word about 25zero and share stories like this one
    • Act: reduce your carbon footprint in your daily life
    • Donate: as a 501c3 in the U.S., your donations are tax-deductible
    • Support our climate change partners

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