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Adventure: Atlanta Women Take on Mt. Kilimanjaro

By Jyothsna Hegde Email By Jyothsna Hegde
May 2022
Adventure: Atlanta Women Take on Mt. Kilimanjaro

“The best views come after the hardest climb,” goes the saying. Atlanta’s Indian-American trekking enthusiasts couldn’t agree more as the community interest grows in trekking. In an effort to encourage adventure sports, India American Cultural Association (IACA) felicitated Gayatri Ayala, Kavita Reddy, and Sirisha Lingareddy—the three women who summited Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, in February this year.

“It is really motivating to see three Atlanta women, without prior experience, summit Mount Kilimanjaro. IACA is planning to encourage adventure sportspersons in mountaineering, long distance running, air diving, kayaking, etc.,” says Chand Akkineni, President, IACA.

The three women felicitated at the event shared their experiences with moderator Prajakta Padgaonkar. “We took the Lemosho route. It is an eight-day route to the Uhuru peak and back. We chose this because, based on our research, the success rate on this route was very high. Plus we wanted to give our bodies enough time to get acclimatized,” notes Ayala.



The ascent to the peak took them six days and about a day-and-half for the descent. “The terrain varies from dense rain forests to the arctic zone with freezing temperatures. The pictures hardly justify the spectacular views we witnessed,” shares Ayala. “I remember camping high above the clouds and looking out west as the sun shined through the sky and cast its orange hue on the thick blanket of clouds. Soon it was dark and you could see nothing but dense white fluffy clouds with a few streaks of city light peering through, like someone shining a torch through a woven blanket,” Tawde describes.

[Right] Ayala, Reddy, and Lingareddy atop Mount Kilimanjaro.

When asked how they got interested, Ayala says, “Kavita Reddy, my neighbor, and now my hiking buddy, introduced me to hiking.” She and Reddy, both moms of two girls and IT professionals, say they did not require any special training but hiked the North Georgia mountains every weekend without fail. And when they did not hike, they walked for at least five-six miles. They also made a few trips to Denver to observe how their body reacted to high altitude and to understand the terrain as well as toughness and physical level required for the climb. Overall, they invested one-and-half years in preparation. To persevere and never give up is Ayala’s takeaway from the experience.

Adventure_4_05_22.jpg“As I was becoming an empty nester, I wanted to ensure that my passion to travel and do outdoor activities remained active. And what better option than hiking to take you to places and explore nature at its finest with like-minded friends,” Reddy quips. Reddy has always enjoyed basketball, tennis, and athletics as a child.

[Left] Dilip Tunki, Johns Creek City Council Member, as he climbs the mountain. 

Tawde, an IT professional and also a mom of a daughter and a Siamese cat, spends her weekends hiking, backpacking the Appalachian trail throughout the year or trail running with her daughter. An athlete all her life and an NCC Cadet, she has earned 1st Dan Black belt in Taekwondo. Competing in 5K runs, CrossFit, and obstacle course racing, Tawde was physically well-prepared for the hike. “For me, it was more mental prep as a solo traveler to a new country for a new and exciting adventure,” she notes. “You need to be physically and mentally fit to enjoy the trek. You should also love the challenges that nature has to offer. The ability to step out of your comfort zone and be ready to experience nature at its best and worst, I feel, is a prerequisite,” she notes. Apart from Kilimanjaro, Tawde also proceeded to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater after the trek, which was an additional four days.

“Nothing can prepare you to ascend from 15,000 feet to 19,350 feet in a few hours in the harshest of conditions,” she remarks about the scariest and the most exciting part of the ascent. Ayala agrees. The unknown factor was scary, they note. There have been people who have been injured and have succumbed to high altitude.


(L to R) Sirisha Linga Reddy, Gayatri Ayala, and Kavitha Reddy

The scariest moment, Tawde recalls, was the potential frostbite that almost had her off the mountain. “You are expected to wear layered clothing, not just on the body but also on the extremities.” On the final summiting night, as she climbed, the temperature dropped so quickly that the warm water in her Nalgene bottle turned solid rock within 30 minutes. The sudden change also affected her fingers as they went from aching to throbbing to then just numb. The guide said that she may have to turn around because these seemed to be signs of frostbite. At that moment, Tawde had to dig deeper to draw strength from within and her hands responded favorably as the body acclimatized in the following hours.

Feeling “grateful” at the summit, Tawde says her takeaway was learning that “each time you pass a new threshold, a new resistance, you build a new muscle.” In the future, she plans to climb Aconcagua. “It’s not the destination but the incredible journey I experienced with friends and crew and, of course, Africa!! Memories will last forever,” Reddy summarizes her takeaway. While Ayala sums up the experience at the summit as “emotional”, Reddy describes it as “soul satisfying”. When asked how they felt when they finally got there, Reddy says, “It was surreal and has not sunk in yet. We shared some hugs and tears with my fellow teammates and the awesome crew who helped us get there.”

While they don’t plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for a second time, they have “tons of plans” to hike one local and one international mountain every year.

An independent IT consultant by profession, Jyothsna Hegde pursues her passion for writing as City News Editor at NRI Pulse while also contributing to many literary publications and nonprofits.

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