7-year-old Vancouver Island girl tops off birthday on Africa's tallest mountain

·3 min read
Autumn and her mom, Francesca Lott climbed up Mount Kilimanjaro for Autumn's seventh birthday. Francesca says they always spend Autumn's birthday doing a special hike. (Francesca Lott/submitted - image credit)
Autumn and her mom, Francesca Lott climbed up Mount Kilimanjaro for Autumn's seventh birthday. Francesca says they always spend Autumn's birthday doing a special hike. (Francesca Lott/submitted - image credit)

It'll be hard to top this year's birthday celebrations for a seven-year-old Vancouver Island girl, after she and her mom climbed up the tallest mountain in Africa to blow out her birthday candles.

Autumn Sarah Lott and her mom Francesca Lott, from Gold River, B.C. — a village municipality near the geographic centre of the island — said the seven-day hike up Mount Kilimanjaro was a lovely and personal experience.

"It was really fun," Autumn told CBC News.

The pair hired a team of professional trekkers, including a couple of porters to carry the gear and bags, to help achieve their birthday adventure. Hikers are not allowed to ascend Kilimanjaro without a guide.

The Tanzania government also has a minimum age limit of 10 years old for people who want to climb Kilimanjaro, so Francesca had to prove to the national parks board that Autumn was an experienced hiker who had completed many other hikes before.

Francesca Lott/Submitted
Francesca Lott/Submitted

They include the Nookta Trail, a 37-kilometre trail that stretches along the west coast of Nootka Island in B.C.

"We usually do a big hike for Autumn's birthday every single year," Francesca said. "Hiking-wise, I knew she would be able to do it because we've done tons of back-country stuff, so I knew difficulty-wise, it would be no problem for her."

Francesca said visiting Africa had been on her to-do list before she got pregnant with Autumn. The pair have been preparing for this trip by hiking in Strathcona Provincial Park and the Grouse Grind.

The mother and daughter duo flew to Tanzania and started their trek up the 5,895-metre mountain on July 2, Francesca said, and reached the summit at 7:45 a.m. on July 7 — Autumn's seventh birthday.

Francesca Lott/Submitted
Francesca Lott/Submitted

She said just above the 4,000-metre elevation mark, Autumn had a short stint of altitude sickness but it went away quickly.

"She had a headache and she threw up but it lasted maybe like half an hour and she was fine," Francesca said.

"You can't really prep for that. Where we are on Vancouver Island, the highest mountain is just around 2,000 metres high."

Autumn said the most difficult part of the hike was near the summit where there were many switchbacks.

Francesca said she believes Autumn is the youngest Canadian to ever summit Kilimanjaro, the second-youngest girl in the world and third-youngest person in the world to do so.

They did it 'right'

Wayne Pattern, with the B.C. Mountaineering Club, says Kilimanjaro is a safe mountain to hike, as long as hikers take their time climbing to the summit to avoid severe altitude sickness.

"Mount Kilimanjaro is not a difficult climb, or a technical climb," Wayne Pattern told CBC News. "It's kind of just a big lump and you can approach it from multiple sides. There's no risk of falling really."

He said he and 10 club members are flying to Africa to climb the mountain this summer, and even though the climb is not technical, they're training hard for it.

Francesca Lott/Submitted
Francesca Lott/Submitted

Pattern said he has climbed several mountains, including Mount Baker in Washington state and Mont Blanc in Europe, both of which are lower than Kilimanjaro.

"I've never been to Africa and I've never been to 20,000 feet before," Pattern said. "We are taking six days, which is very similar to what the young girl and her mother did."

He said the group will hike nearby Mount Meru as a warm-up before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, but they are also making sure to be prepared by doing up to 30-kilometre hikes to build up their stamina and training at places like the Grouse Grind.

"That's our warm-up and that'll get our bodies used to elevation. You make yourself [as] physically ready as possible," Pattern said.

"Protecting yourself from the elements, making yourself in good shape and then going slowly are the key elements," he said. "It seems like the mom and daughter did it right."

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