Oct 27 2023.views 128
Young Jaith Nathavitharana (13) describes himself as a teenager who loves his sport (football and basketball in particular, he specifies) and has a fondness for collecting ornamental fish. But in light of his most recent endeavour, there’s another word that also describes him – adventurous. After all, how many other 13-year-olds have summited one of the world’s toughest mountains?
On 11th August 2023, young Jaith made it to Stella Point – one of the three official summit points on Mount Kilimanjaro, claiming the title of the youngest Sri Lankan ever to do so. Located in Tanzania, 5895m above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest mountain and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. This snow-capped peak of Africa is a dormant volcano found inside the Kilimanjaro National Park of Tanzania and is one of the Seven Summits of the World. While climbing Kilimanjaro is not known to be a difficult hike, the altitude and the rate of ascent has presented itself as a challenge to many – especially to those unaccustomed to such climates. Now trekking through mountains is not a novel experience for Jaith, he has climbed a few in Sri Lanka and even around the world, including Mount Batur, an active volcano in Bali, Indonesia. But even he agrees that Kilimanjaro was in a league of its own and his hardest yet, which raises a rather curious question as to why a 13-year-old would venture out on this experience in the first place.
The answer is simple but endearing; a father-son trip that simply ended up becoming one of Jaith’s biggest achievements. His father, Vidusha Nathavitharana has had Kilimanjaro on his bucket list ever since he was 16 years old. Though he had attempted to embark on the trip several times, it never quite materialised until now, when a quick advert on a popular local travel company had him signing up and asking Jaith (or ‘Little Man’ as he fondly calls him) to join. It was a yes; the trip was booked; the bags were packed, and the father and son duo set off to conquer the highest free-standing mountain in the world together. Jaith and his father left Sri Lanka on the 1st of August and joined a group of 13 people with the travel company to embark on the trek.
There are seven main routes leading to the official summit points; Stella Point has four – Machame route, Lemosho route, Umbwe route and Shira route. Jaith’s group took the Lemosho Route which at 70 kms, takes around roughly 6-7 days to reach the summit. Though considered one of the easiest and most scenic routes on Kilimanjaro as its longer itinerary allows for better acclimatisation, the climb up to the summit is considered steep and difficult. “I did find the summit night difficult,” Jaith agrees. “The altitude sickness didn’t hit me much until the last few days and the summit night was the most challenging, it was a long and treacherous walk to the top.”
As a sportsman playing for his school, Jaith is physically fit and he and his father trained weeks ahead of the trip in preparation for the challenges of the trek but since there are no mountains in Sri Lanka that are even remotely close to the 6000m they were to climb, altitude sickness was a big concern, even for the more experienced. Naturally, when Jaith struggled with the altitude on the last day of the summit, developing a cough due to the lack of oxygen and shivering in -6 temperature, his father Vidushan shared that it was the most gut-wrenching six hours of his life.
“As excited as I was to have Jaith join me, I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t worried and concerned and a little scared too. I ensured I made contingencies with our team leader, and I was all ready to pack and come back at any point if he was not okay or didn’t want to continue. But he insisted that he wanted to climb up, and he pushed ahead and made it to the top – I had to order him to come back down!” There is a certain exhilaration to conquering a difficult and daunting challenge and Jaith, despite all adversity, had done it. He made it to the top. He says that standing at the summit, all he felt at first was disbelief, then surprise, then relief and finally - happiness.
“The feeling of making it to the top is indescribable, it was the most memorable part of the journey. Making this trip with my dad and having this experience with him, meant a whole lot more to me. His presence made the trip easy and I saw a side of him I hadn’t seen before. We really bonded”. Vidushan shares the same sentiment, adding that there is nothing better than taking on a challenge with your child by your side, “I genuinely think bonds that are built through shared adversity and difficulties strengthen relationships, especially between children and parents. This is why the ‘brothers in arms’ feeling soldiers share last lifetimes. I think we all ought to spend a bit more time with our kids without devices and give our kids the chance to ‘get to know’ their parents in a very, very different way to how they see us in everyday life.” When Jaith finally descended from the mountain, there was only one thing on his mind; sleep. Jaith shares that his priority was a nice, long nap.
Rejuvenated and refreshed, he’s faced with what he has accomplished, and the realisation leaves him with a strong sense of pride and achievement; the youngest Sri Lankan yet to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. “I am very proud of myself for achieving this. I didn’t know about this until after I submitted it! Our tour guide told my father while climbing but they waited to tell me because they thought it might pressurise me into completing the trek. It felt great to receive the news.” He advises anyone who is keen to try the experience to keep an open mind, “try not to overthink it too much. There are going to be challenges, but practice and train hard – it will always help you overcome them”. When asked about his next potential adventure, Jaith shares that he’s already got something in mind, “We heard a lot about the Everest base camp from the other hikers in our group. I was interested after hearing all about it and I asked my dad if we could do it. Hopefully, with enough training – maybe next year?”.