To the top of Kilimanjaro

Westboro’s Jason Thomson and Simon Mead climbed Yukon’s Chilkoot Pass in 2011, which has an elevation slightly over 1,000 metres. Photo courtesy of Jason Thomson.

Two Westboro men are climbing Africa’s tallest mountain with two goals: to reach the summit and to bring clean water to people in some of Africa’s poorest regions. [View some photos from their trip at the end of this story.]

Jason Thomson and Simon Mead are joining a group of 16 international climbers who will tackle Mount Kilimanjaro in February to raise money for WaterCan, an Ottawa-based charity that addresses poverty by improving access to water and basic sanitation.

According to the United Nations, 2.5 billion people, of whom almost one billion are children, live without basic sanitation. Poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water lead to over a million preventable deaths each year.

As the International Program Director for WaterCan, Mead has seen first-hand the desperate need for clean water, especially in east Africa where WaterCan has projects in four countries.

In these poor regions, schools and even health clinics often do not have access to clean water and sanitation. “Access to clean water has been shown to improve health,” Mead says.

WaterCan builds pipelines, wells, and filtration systems for impoverished communities in East Africa. They also help provide basic sanitation and hygiene education.

The 2014 Climb for Life has a campaign goal of $75,000, with each climber hoping to raise $5,000, an amount that provides clean water for roughly 200 people.

The expedition will fly into Arusha, Tanzania on February 25. They will visit WaterCan projects in Kenya before beginning the climb. Thomson says that this will give the team an opportunity to see firsthand how the funds they have raised will be put to use.

Mead adds that the early arrival also has the advantage of giving the team a few days to get over jet lag before beginning their arduous climb.

The climbers then spend seven days on the mountain. Thomson says one of the fascinating aspects of climbing the world’s tallest freestanding mountain is the number of stark changes in climate as climbers ascend the peak.

They will begin their trip in a rainforest. As they continue to climb, they will pass the tree line and ascend into an alpine desert of barren, rocky land. At the summit awaits a glacial artic zone.

“It’s an incredible change,” says Mead, 47. “Within two or three days we go from the heat of rainforests to -20°C.”

He has heard from previous climbers that it is challenging to find appropriate gear for this climb given such drastic temperature changes.

Additionally, to reach the summit on day four, the climbers have to leave their camp at midnight and hike through the cold, dark night. They will reach the summit at sunrise and then begin a long descent.

Thomson, 42, says another challenge is the rapid change in altitude. While he is confident that he is physically fit enough to make the climb, he cannot predict how the altitude will affect him. Altitude sickness, caused by lack of oxygen, can affect the even the fittest members of climbing teams.

Thomson and Mead climbed Yukon’s Chilkoot Pass in 2011, which has an elevation of slightly over 1,000 metres. In contrast, the Kilimanjaro summit is 5,895 metres above sea level.

The Kilimanjaro Climb for Life in 2012 was led by Ben Mulroney and raised over $270,000 -– funds WaterCan used to provide more than 10,000 people with access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation.

For more information about the Climb for Life or to support the climbers, visit

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