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'It's conquering the mountain, and I think the mountain is us': 24 Ontario women set to climb Mount Kilimanjaro

Since August 2022, a group of 24 women has been training — rain, sleet or shine — for the trip of a lifetime.

“The training has been intense. We go out in all weather — rain pants, toques, mitts, freezing rain, sleet, snow. The only thing that will stop us? Tornadoes,” Paula Johnston told CTV News Toronto.

The women — who range in age from 40 to 64 — will be climbing Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro in September.

“It’s almost like a metaphor. It’s conquering the mountain, and I think the mountain is us,” Mary Nacarato said.

The trip was conceived of by friends Antoinetta Botticelli and Dawn Donaldson. The fitness instructor and registered nurse had already undertaken two adventure races before, in Morocco and Senegal.

“It was life changing. It was fantastic,” Donaldson said.

Botticelli and Donaldson felt their treks were so transformational that they wanted to share their experiences with others.

The two organizers of the trip. (Supplied)

“On our way home [from Senegal] I said to Dawn —‘Hey, wouldn’t it be kind of cool if we did a woman-empowering trek?’”

The duo decided Mount Kilimanjaro would be the scene of their next adventure, and last August, they advertised the trip on social media.

“And you know, four minutes later, 24 people signed up,” Botticelli said.

The pair said they originally thought they’d be lucky to see eight people respond, and were amazed by the response.

“I said holy cow,” Donaldson said. “It was remarkable. It’s remarkable.”

Since then, all the women going on the trip have been training — up to five times a week — a testament to their commitment to this journey.

Some of the group headed to Mount Kilimanjaro in the next 100 days. (Supplied)

“I just like to challenge myself, and there’s a great group of people going, so I have people to do things with,” Terri-Lynn Bohnert said.

Catti Rodriguez says her friend, Nacarato, convinced her to undertake this test of strength and will.

“I’m nervous. I’m excited. I’m apprehensive, but I’m looking forward to it with these great ladies,” she said.

The women say — working together toward a common goal has been inspiring.

“The sisterhood that’s been developed in the past year is incredible,” Botticelli said.

Donaldson and Botticelli are under no illusion that this will be an easy trip. And yet — they say they know they can all accomplish the climb.

“We could go tomorrow. Yeah, we’re mentally there. And the best thing is — knowing that we’re doing it together, which is the greatest thing ever,” Botticelli said.

For Donaldson, she says having 23 other women with her will help spur her on.

“We know you’re looking terrible. We know you feel awful. But we’re so going to do this, and it’s one foot in front of the other, and we’re going to get to the top,” she said.

With 100 days to go, these women are already forging friendships, and creating memories, for a trip they will never forget. Top Stories

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