Despite the incredible difficulty of the trip, Bertie Nel says he would recommend a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro to anyone who is capable of making the climb.

Conquering Mt. Kilimanjaro

Oct. 6, 2011

By Tom McGuire

Student-athletes routinely face significant challenges at Notre Dame. This past summer, two Irish men’s swimmers decided to take on an especially steep challenge – climbing one of the tallest mountains in the world.

Bertie Nel and Mason Weber climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. For both, climbing Africa’s tallest mountain was an experience they will never forget.

Nel and Weber took separate paths to the top of the 19,348-foot mountain.

Weber, a junior pre-med major, traveled to Tanzania to work with a medical service project organized through the International Service Learning Program.

“Basically, we would go out into rural villages and triage individual homes to see if there were any health issues,” says the Marshall, Mo., native. “We would also run a clinic every three to four days with local doctors and help diagnose any illnesses. We ran a makeshift pharmacy out of the clinic and distributed medication to those who needed it.”

Weber knew he had the opportunity to do something special.

“I decided I would probably only be in the area maybe once in my lifetime, so I wanted to climb `Kili’ while I had the chance,” he says.

The trip is something that will always stay with Weber. He is not only grateful for the opportunity to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, but also to make such a positive impact on the world.

“I had an amazing trip, especially when you include the month of medical service beforehand,” Weber says. “The extreme poverty, lack of health care and poor infrastructure in the country was something that will definitely stick with me. It makes me want to focus on international service throughout my future in medicine.”

For Nel, a sophomore, climbing `the roof of Africa’ was a chance to share a special experience with his father. A native of Tzaneen, South Africa, he does not get to see his parents very often while attending school in the United States.

“I remember when I first found out I was going to take the trip,” Nel says. “My dad phoned me on my birthday, told me we were going to be able to take this trip together. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and it was definitely on my bucket list.”

The seven-day expedition was certainly not easy.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but was definitely worth it,” he remarks. “On the day of the expedition, we woke up around 11:00 p.m. and climbed through the middle of the night until about noon the next day. From atop the mountain, you could see forever. You couldn’t see the ground though–we were above the clouds. It’s something I think about every day.”

Despite the incredible difficulty of the trip, Nel says he would recommend a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro to anyone who is capable of making the climb.

“It was so mentally draining, but it made me mentally stronger when I came down from the mountain,” Nel says. “It’s also a great team building experience. You learn a lot about the guys who are making the climb with you.”

The trip also gave Nel and his father the chance to share a unique moment with one another.

“Doing it with my dad was so cool,” he recalls. “I don’t get to see my parents that often, so getting to share this with him was really special.”

Reaching the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro is something neither will ever forgot.

Nel and Weber have shared experiences from their trips with teammates, and numerous members of the team are interested in climbing `Kili.’

“A few of the guys on the team said they might try it,” Nel says.

But his incredible experience on the mountain hasn’t made him eager to go back with his teammates.

“I don’t want to do that again for a while – maybe ever!” Nel remarks. “It was such a difficult trip – definitely worth doing, but I’m not sure I’d be able to do it more than once.”

Weber and Nel learned a lot about conquering adversity. They are bringing the lessons they learned on the mountain back to Notre Dame, and will refocus toward their goals with the knowledge that anything is possible with dedication and hard work.