First Female Quadriplegic to Summit Africa’s Highest Peak

Tracking map screenshot
The route up the world’s tallest freestanding mountain. Photo by The Chaeli Campaign.

21-year-old South African ‘ability activist’ Chaeli Mycroft has become the first female quadriplegic to reach the top of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro.

Chaeli and her team—the Chaeli Kili Climbers—reached the summit early Thursday morning after five days of gruelling ascent in a specialised wheelchair.

“This is the day of days,” read a message from expedition leader Carel Verhoef late Wednesday evening just before the final push to the summit.

“Two years in the making. Hold thumbs people.”

Chaeli Mycroft – the first female quadriplegic to summit Kilimanjaro. Photo by The Chaeli Campaign

Chaeli and the team have been posting live updates from the five-day ascent, allowing people to follow their progress in real time.

“Everyone to the summit, including Chaeli!” said an update from the team on Thursday afternoon. “We reached the summit at 0800 this morning. A very long day… Chaeli made it!”

Born with cerebral palsy, Chaeli Mycroft has never been one to let a disability get in the way of success. When she was just nine years old, she teamed up with her sister and three friends to raise R20 000 ($1500) for her motorised wheelchair.

The success of this small project began a bigger mission, and she later founded a non-profit organisation that provides services to children with disabilities. Since 2004, the “Chaeli Campaign” has assisted over 3 000 children to receive wheelchairs, hearing aids, food supplements and more.

Training climb in Cape Town in June
Photo by The Chaeli Campaign.

In 2011 Chaeli won the International Children’s Peace Prize; in 2012 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Laureates’ Medal for Social Activism, and then won the World of Children Youth Award in 2013. She has been recognised by former president of South Africa, FW De Klerk, and Desmond Tu Tu.

For Chaeli, reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro has been a long time dream.

It is enough of a challenge for able-bodied individuals to attempt a climb. Facing altitude sickness, temperatures that fall below freezing, with minimal movement in Chaeli’s a specially designed ‘mountain wheelchair’, the expedition was anything but easy.

But her teamwork won in the end. With help from the Kili Climbers, who pushed, pulled and carried her through ice, snow, and tundra, the team finally arrived on the roof of Africa.

“Last supper on the mountain,” said one of the latest updates from the team. “Everyone well and relaxed.”

“Can’t wait to see you all later,” said Chaeli’s mother, Zelda, in a message to the team.

“Insane with excitement!”

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Meet the Author
Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram