At about 4.45am on Monday September 11, Tom Dawson at just ten years and four days old became the youngest person ever to reach Mount Kilimanjaro’s Stellar Point summit in Tanzania.
“It was extraordinary and really, really fun,” he said.
“Our group didn’t realise that I’d get a certificate for reaching to Stellar Point, but when we checked out of Kilimanjaro National Park, they asked for a copy of my passport and then said that I was the youngest person ever to get to the summit.”
Ten-year-olds aren’t allowed to climb above 9,850ft in Tanzania, but Tom is no ordinary ten-year-old.
Along with his mum Phillida Dawson, family friend and experienced mountaineer Chris Weeks, a guide and about 14 other tour party members, Tom had plenty of help in emulating his late relative mountaineer Peter Boardman in climbing Africa’s highest mountain.
Phillida said: “It was the middle of the night when we reached the peak, so it was quite dark and massively windy.
“When we got back to camp, there was the relief of doing what we did but disappointment as well because we didn’t get to where we wanted to.”
Just 456ft separated Tom and his mum from reaching Uhuru Peak, widely acknowledged to be the highest summit of Kilimanjaro at 19,340ft.
“Up to then, our ten-day Kilimanjaro trek had been relaxing but suddenly it turned into a major mountaineering exercise,” Phillida said.
“Some other groups were calling off their summit treks because of the wind and we thought of not going up ourselves.
“But we gave it a go and got to Stellar Point, 18,885ft up which is a big achievement for any adult, let alone someone aged ten.
“We talked about it afterwards with Chris, who got to Uhuru Peak, and he said to us we were just unlucky with the weather.
“But 456ft wasn’t worth dying for.”
Climbing mountains is all about good decision making, a fact children and teachers at Moulton Chapel Primary School will learn when Tom and his mum give a talk to them about their Kilimanjaro experience next month.
Phillida said: “There were times when if our guide had called off the trek, I would have been okay with it as a mother because my job was to stay with Tom whether we made it to the summit or not.”
Record breaker at the age of ten
Stellar Point was the result of 18 months’ worth of preparation for Tom and Phillida that included climbing the Swiss Alps in the summer.
She said: “We made sure of having all the right kit, not forgetting anything we needed, so we were ready for Kilimanjaro.
“But when we first got to Tanzania, it was just so different to how we pictured it.
“We were walking across the Rift Valley with a ranger and when we were going through a jungle, Tom said it reminded him of Jurassic Park because there were lots of animals around like babboons and buffalos.”
During the trek, Tom celebrated his tenth birthday and he was presented with a traditional Maasai sheet or shuka to remind of his experiences in Tanzania.
He said: “They sang Happy Birthday to me in both Swahili and English, then I got some sweets and ate some chicken and chips.
“I was sad to come back but I’m sure me and Mum will find something else to do.”