- By Pam LeBlanc American-Statesman Staff
An Austin 7-year-old is angling to become the youngest girl to summit Mount Kilimanjaro.
Montannah Kenney, a second-grader at River Ridge Elementary School, has been hiking up and down hills around Austin in preparation for her trek, which is set to begin March 10. If all goes as planned, she’ll reach the top of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world on March 17 or 18.
Montannah and her mom are heading to Tanzania in memory of Montannah’s dad, who died a week after Montannah’s third birthday in 2013.
“The higher I go, the closer I am to him in heaven,” Montannah says.
Don’t worry, she’s pretty tough. A triathlete, swimmer and runner who plays basketball and soccer, she’s always followed the lead of her mother, Hollie Kenney, 45, a former professional triathlete who now runs a swim coaching business and leads the volunteer program for Team Beef. Together, they have been hiking the Hill of Life and Riverplace to strengthen their legs for their adventure.
Montannah describes her training as “really long.”
“Sometimes my friends come with us and sometimes my mom makes me do math problems when we see signs of how far we have gone, and how far we have to go,” Montannah says.
An estimated 25,000 people set out to climb the 19,341-foot mountain each year; about two-thirds make it to the top. Park rules require that climbers be 10 years old, but officials also issue special permits for younger climbers, which Montannah has obtained.
Currently, Roxy Getter of Florida, who was 8 when she made the climb, holds the record for the youngest female; Keats Boyd of Los Angeles was 7 when he climbed. The oldest climber to date was 88 when he slogged his way up. (You can check all the records, including records for the fastest ascent and descent at www.climbmountkilimanjaro.com.)
Conditions vary along the route, but the Kenneys will probably face temperature extremes from 90 degrees down to well below freezing — and winds like freight trains. They say they are prepared for very non-Texas conditions of snow or sleet.
“I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro because it would be a fun adventure with my mom, and because it would be really cool to try to break the world record, but I would want to climb it anyway because I don’t care if I break it,” Montannah says.
If she is successful, it will mark her first world record.
It will also mark the first time she’s ever camped.
Surf’s up at NLand
You’d rather surf than brave the crowds in Austin during South by Southwest, wouldn’t you?
We would, and it turns out you don’t have to drive all the way to the coast to do that. NLand Surf Park reopens its 14-acre surf lagoon (and brewery!) for the season on March 10.
To celebrate, the park will host something called Sound Wave, an all-day beach concert featuring music by Abram Shook, Löwin and Go Fever, plus local disc jockeys, on March 10. Of special note to fitness junkies? CrossFit and Austin Bouldering Project will lead free workouts, and the lagoon will be open for surfing (you have to pay for that). Hours are 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Then, on March 11, the park will present Surf Sanctuary, a day of wellness and confidence-boosting activities. Free shuttles will operate from downtown Austin, and a limited number of $30 surf passes are available, and include a dry land lesson and use of a soft board. Non-surfing activities such as yoga sessions from Wanderlust and Cristi Christensen, live music from the Wild Now and Tameca Jones, vendors, breakout sessions with life coaches and free wine tastings are also planned (and free). Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Later in March, NLand will launch its Geeks Who (surf first then) Drink series. The sessions will take place at 6 p.m. every Wednesday starting March 21. And on Saturdays, a local yoga studio partner will lead free one-hour restorative yoga classes on the shore.
All through March, the park will offer a discount to locals - residents of the greater Austin area can bring a buddy to surf the bay wave for free as long as they have a local ID. For more information go to nlandsurfpark.com.
Local movie connection
If you made it to the first night of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, you probably noticed that one of the films featured a cyclist wearing a kit from Lance Armstrong’s Austin-based bike shop Mellow Johnny’s.
The documentary “Ascend” stars Jon Wilson, who lost his leg to a rare type of soft tissue cancer as a young adult. He’s shown hopping up ledgey rock and swooping down flowy singletrack trails in Dorset, Vermont. In about 5 seconds, the film takes away any excuse you ever had for not kicking butt on a mountain bike and replaces it with motivation.
The film also explains how waking up with one leg after surgery marked one of the happiest moments of Wilson’s life. That’s because when doctors put him under, they told him they’d only remove the limb if his cancer hadn’t spread to his lymph nodes.
It hadn’t. He got to live a little longer, something he takes advantage of every time he climbs on his bike. “If I don’t ride a bike, I will lose my mind,” he says.
Just don’t call him amazing, no matter how tempting that might be. He insists he’s not. “Just because I lost my leg I’m amazing? There’s nothing inherently different about me just because I lost my leg,” he says. “I could be a real a-hole. You don’t even know me.”
Wilson, a high school teacher, wear shorts and a jersey from Mellow Johnny’s during the entire 6-minute film.
So what’s the connection? Simon Perkins, the filmmaker behind the project, met Bart Knaggs, a close friend of Lance Armstrong, while guiding him on fly fishing trips in Montana. Through Knaggs, he also met Todd Church. Perkins told Knaggs about Wilson, and the two Texans provided the inspiring cyclist with some Mellow Johnny’s kits.
Other highlights from this year’s festival showing included a film about a honey hunter in Nepal, slackliners in the Faroe islands, a mountain runner and skier named Kilian Jornet, a cyclist who pedals to the Arctic sea, and a doughnut-eating free climber named Brad Gobright.