Climbing barefoot on one of the Seven Summits -- the highest mountains on each of the seven continents -- may seem absolutely absurd, but the Old Mutual Barefoot Kilimanjaro Team did just that, conquering Africa's tallest mountain sans shoes.
The barefoot trekkers braved cold temperatures, plenty of snow, and lots of sharp, loose rocks without protection, but after a five day climb up the 19,341-foot dormant volcano, they reached the top.
Strict rules allowed for footwear only while in camp between established climbing times and preparation included months of barefoot hiking, running, and virtually living without shoes in order to give the climber's feet the best possible chance against the elements on the mountain.
The team reached the peak of Kilimanjaro on Saturday after setting out from the Kibo Huts four hours earlier in sub-zero temperatures. It had snowed over two feet earlier in the week, yet the crew trudged barefoot through thick snow and loose volcanic scree all the way to the top.
We reached the peak as one very emotional tribe knowing we had achieved what we set out to do, Andrew King of the team posted on Barefoot IMPI's blog. The entire barefoot team has summited - sore - but with no serious injury.
Besides King, the team included Hedley Young, Camilla Howard, Clyde Barendse, Rich Hamman, Sean Disney, Dr. Ross Tucker, Paul Jason and David Russell-Rockcliff.
King noted that on the way up they had disheartening encounters with climbers that had failed to summit and were visibly delirious and vomiting. They became worried that the same fate may befall them.
When Sean Disney -- who has successfully summited all the top seven peaks -- was approached to lead the Kilimanjaro team and asked to comment on his feelings he reportedly said at the time: If you get lucky and the weather gods smile on you then... it's possibly not impossible.
Yet all trekkers made it to the top in relatively good condition.
We climbed Kilimanjaro, the tallest free standing mountain in the world, from gate to summit, King said. Barefoot!
The laborious feat was not without a cause. The team took on Kilimanjaro for the benefit of the Red Cross Children's Hospital, which has provided financial shelter and nourishment to people and businesses in South Africa for over 165 years.
We live in a fortunate age where, for the most part, individual expression is accepted and celebrated Barefoot IMPI stated on its Web site. Outlandish fashion, tattoos, and vibrant hair color attract little attention or comment. But appearing barefoot in public, or running or climbing a mountain without shoes, draws immediate attention. Being barefoot is not regarded as an act, but as a statement.
Making that statement was no simple task.
One of the now infamous quips within the team was 'No-one said it would be easy,' Barefoot IMPI's Dave Russell noted on the blog. And that's exactly the point. How are you going to raise genuine interest in the expedition and thereby awareness for our beneficiary if the challenge did not capture people's imagination and spark heated debates?
There seem to be parallels between our daily struggles on the mountain and the mountain of struggles that the awesome kids at the hospital face, Russell added.