A new world view from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro

May 23, 2023

Student Experience

When Trey Campbell’s mother shared her 50th birthday request, he couldn’t say no.

In 2021 — after a pandemic year delay — he found himself standing atop Mount Kilimanjaro, with his parents and two brothers. His mom’s wish had been for the family to climb Africa’s tallest mountain together. For the Campbells, after several earlier global trips, this was an unconventional choice.

“I’d never climbed any sort of mountain, but, as a family, we’re athletic and always playing sports,” said Campbell, who recently completed his first year at the University of Richmond. “We weren’t really hikers or climbers, yet my mom had this crazy idea to do this.”

For six days, the Campbells hiked the mountain, arriving each afternoon at the latest base camp erected by their guides and two chefs who kept them well-nourished. “Every day was so different. The first two days, we walked through super wet land, then it dried up and got rocky and sandy,” he said. “Toward the end, it was freezing cold, snowing and windy. Within just a few days, we climbed 19,000 feet through five different climates.”

For the last ascent on the seventh day, the family woke at midnight, donned head lamps and hiked single file “at the slowest pace ever.” They stood at Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit in minus-10-degree weather, waiting for the sun to begin its own ascent.

“It was one of the coolest moments in my life,” he said. “It was unbelievable to have that experience with my family.”

Campbell’s pre-trip preparation didn’t extend beyond investing in hiking boots and breaking them in by trekking around his Haverford, Pennsylvania, neighborhood. He and his brothers were high school athletes; his parents played college sports.

Lacrosse gave Campbell cardio conditioning, while many hours on the golf course taught him endurance.

“I’ve always played traditional sports, which do require working out,” said Campbell, 20, who’s leaning into science as he eyes medical school after graduation. “Seven hours of hiking for days is a big challenge, particularly as you feel the impact of altitude changes. There’s barely oxygen, making it hard to breathe, and you honestly don’t feel great the whole way up. But the reward at the end is so cool.”

After the two-day descent, the family explored other parts of Tanzania for additional cultural experiences. “That is what I brought to Richmond, seeing how others act and live in such a different way,” he said. “We saw a separate side of the world.”