On Sept. 18, WiSH Foundation Executive Director Amy Daniels made it to the top of the highest free-standing mountain in the world, Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Daniels completed the eight-day journey to and from the summit to benefit Santa Clarita public education and the efforts of the WiSH Foundation.
“I’m so passionate about our kids,” Daniels said. “To be able to mix the job that I love and the hobby that I love the most was an extraordinary opportunity for me to raise money in this way.”
With support from the community and through her website, www.amydanielsclimbs.com, Daniels fundraised hundreds of dollars to benefit students in grades 7 to 12 in the William S. Hart Union High School District.
“The entire trip was a dream come true and the support I got from Santa Clarita was completely overwhelming,” Daniels said.
In addition to support from the community, Daniels completed the trip with the help of her long-time friend and hiking partner Josh Powers, who also completed the journey in the name of education.
“I went with my friend Josh Powers and what made that so amazing is he is an educator at Indiana State University and he was raising funds to help students at his university,” Daniels said.
Both Daniels and Powers considered themselves lucky during the trip, as they were the only two out of their group of eight that did not experience altitude sickness.
“We started with eight and lost one person after a couple days due to an Achilles injury and then there were seven,” Daniels said. “The altitude really took a toll on some members of our team… Everyone made it to the top, but they were crawling.”
Daniels credits her 10-months of training with physical therapists at Henry Mayo Fitness and Health, as well as her dedication to staying hydrated and taking medication to prevent her from getting sick.
“I feel extraordinarily fortunate that I did not get sick,” she said. “Without question, I think that there is a certain amount of luck that’s involved in being able to beat the symptoms of altitude sickness, but you stand a much better chance if you’re going as physically healthy as you can be.”
This training also helped Daniels get through the most difficult parts of the climb, including the Western Breach Route—known as the most challenging and dangers routes—of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“This day had to be the toughest hiking day of my entire life,” Daniels said. “It’s like hiking straight up a wall. Every step is laborious and straight up, and you have to keep moving because it’s dangerous because of the rock fall. People have died there.”
Daniels noted that even the “easier” parts of the climb were challenging due to the high altitude; however, she focused pushing ahead and encouraging others to make it to the 19,341-foot summit.
“I think that’s just part of who I am, there’s no way I was not going to make it to the top,” she said. “It’s who you get to the top with that makes all the difference. I couldn’t have done it without Josh. He’s one of my best friends on the planet… We laughed the whole way up and the whole way down.”
The trip also allowed Daniels to make new, lifelong friends and develop personal relationships with Tanzanians she met during her journey.
“This trip was incredible because I made new friends for life and the Tanzanians are just beautiful people,” Daniels said. “I can’t wait to get back. It was an honor getting to know these people.”
Before her trip, Daniels collected baseball caps from individuals throughout the Santa Clarita Valley. She packed the hats into a duffel bag that weighed about 25 pounds and passed them out to the porters, men who work on Kilimanjaro, who helped them during the trip.
“They were so happy to get these hats and they wore them the entire two weeks,” Daniels said. “I was so proud of Santa Clarita for making a difference. Porters always need discarded equipment from jackets to socks to boots and I’m happy to be the pathway for that.”
In return, the Tanzanians gave Daniels the name of “Mama Simba” and nominated her and Josh to speak in front of the group of 80 at the end of the trip.
“It was one of the more humbling experiences, it was remarkable and emotional,” Daniels said. “We’re already planning reunion.”
Daniels is also already planning her next trip with her entire hiking team, who plan to traverse the Himalayas in March 2019.
“It’s exciting, I have goals in mind,” she said. “We are going to do three high passes and going to do a mountain adjacent to Everest.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_