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Students, alum climb Mount Kilimanjaro

Meghan Wons | Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Notre Dame senior Colleen Mallahan, freshman Kirsten Blazic and Class of 2003 alum Caitlin Blazic all know what it feels like to stand on top of the world. And they have the pictures to prove it.

Over the summer, all three of these ‘climbing Irish’ reached the summit of Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, which at 19,350 feet is the highest freestanding mountain in the world.

Mallahan climbed Kilimanjaro – or “Kili,” in her words – in June after taking a yearlong leave of absence from Notre Dame to attend the School for International Training in Uganda in the fall and the University of Cape Town in South Africa in the spring.

Originally from Seattle, Mallahan is vice president of the Notre Dame Climbing Club and has climbed often since she began college, she said.

When Mallahan was 16, a summer service trip to her sister parish in Malawi sparked her interest in climbing Kilimanjaro.

“I saw it (Kilimanjaro) from the plane and it has been sort of a life dream to climb it ever since,” Mallahan said.

She prepared for her five-day trek up the mountain by going climbing and hiking almost all weekend, every weekend while studying in Cape Town, she said, in addition to weekly surfing lessons.

“Between the swimming and surfing, hiking and climbing, I was in pretty good shape before I attempted the climb,” Mallahan said.

She climbed with a Canadian student who was also studying abroad at Cape Town, a guide, an assistant guide, four porters and a cook, she said.

Mallahan recorded her journey up the mountainside in a daily Weblog, both to update her friends and family and to have a memory of the experience.

On June 20, two days after Mallahan began her ascent, she hit 15,520 feet and was preparing for the push to the summit.

“[We] spent the afternoon eating and resting and mentally preparing for our summit attempt, which was to start at midnight,” she wrote of the day. “With the summit still nearly 4,000 snowy feet above us, I was excited but slightly terrified.”

After Mallahan reached the top of the mountain at sunrise on June 21, she was able to pause and reflect on her surroundings.

“It will be a long time before I forget the moment at which the first rays of sun hit the glaciers of Kilimanjaro,” she wrote. “The soft red glow of dawn slowly turned the sky

pink and then blue as I took pictures … although the summit of Kili is often characterized by wind and -30 degree (Celsius) temperatures, we were treated to blue skies and sunshine at the summit.”

If Mallahan has it her way, even more peaks may be on her horizon.

“While I definitely need a period of rest before attempting another big peak, Kilimanjaro left me with an even stronger desire to climb the mountains in my own backyard corner of the United States,” she said.

While Mallahan’s dream of climbing Kilimanjaro began when she was just 16, freshman Kirsten Blazic said she wasn’t initially interested in making the climb. Her father, Greg Blazic, and older sister Caitlin Blazic convinced her to go.

The three reached the summit together on August 6 – just weeks before Kirsten Blazic arrived on Notre Dame’s campus for Freshman Orientation weekend.

None of the Blazics had any previous mountain climbing experience, Kirsten Blazic said, but the three had planned their trip to Africa since last August.

Blazic was a long distance runner in high school and prepared for the climb by following a beginning marathon runner’s training schedule, she said.

“The most difficult part of the climb was definitely the last couple of days when we were approaching the summit,” she said. “It became entirely mental.”

The Blazics spent the night at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Kirsten Blazic said she has never been so cold.

“We woke up in the morning to the sound of our porters chipping ice off of our tents,” she said. “After that, I don’t think Notre Dame winters will be so bad!”