Innovation – the New Overused Word in Education

Last week I read a Twitter post from a  colleague who works for my former school board it read, ‘Education is the key to making innovation the new standard.’

First, how can innovation be the standard? Innovation should be on the outside edge – innovation should be challenging the norm and innovators by their very nature are critical of the status quo.

Yesterday, I took part in a good conversation on innovation during one of the #MADPD sessions – a really different way to deliver PD unfettered by the typical school board staff who usually are the deliverers of PD to our educators. We were all very good at congratulating each other on being ‘innovative’, but I think we were all missing the point.

Innovation within a system is almost impossible. What we call innovation is usually just cheerleading, especially what we see summarized in the 140 characters of Twitter. It’s a lot of ‘look at me’ and it’s really not very helpful.

I say this because true innovation unsettles the system. The primary goal of the system, or any large institution –  is to protect itself. Protection means maintaining the status quo. Innovation cannot be the ‘new standard’ because true innovation might very well call for the elimination of large education corporations like the one I worked for.

Let me be very clear. Being innovative in a system can cause a great deal of pain. The organization will do almost anything to protect itself. In my case, this resulted in a fair amount of what I call ‘institutionalized bullying’. I was seen as a pariah for some of the things I said and did and I actually retired early to avoid any further disciplinary action from my employers.

Without going into the grimy details of what happened to me, I was seen as a trouble maker because I refused to just be a cheerleader for the latest system-wide ‘innovation’.

Last year during a study on George Couros’ book, ‘The Innovator’s Mindset’ I took part in a great Voxer chat on topics connected to the book. At one point we got into a conversation on the consequences of being an innovator. I was really surprised by the number of educators who were able to admit that they too had been scapegoated by their board for working outside the norm. You could feel the hurt in their voices as they talked about what had happened to them and I realized my story was in no way unique.

So, when we have conversations about ‘jumping into the unknown’, we should really take a step back. It’s not fun to be an outrider when you work for an education corporation. You shouldn’t be congratulating yourself for being an innovator because no one really likes someone who truly thinks outside the box. If you do, you threaten the box.

So maybe we need more truth-telling on Twitter. Maybe less cheerleading and less ‘8 things you can do today to be an innovator’. Maybe we need more clear and honest criticism of a massive system that eats and spits out those who think differently.

 

Make a Difference PD #MADPD – something new for Personalized Learning

Something new is happening this Sunday (May 7th). People from all over will be presenting live using Youtube and Google Hangouts to deliver a full day of excellent PD.

You can see who is presenting and participating here on this Google Map.

You can add yourself to this map as a presenter or participant. You can also participate live by asking to be included in the Google Hangout. I will be presenting on 1:1 implementation in schools and my live link is here. The idea is that you can click on this link around 3:00 PM this Sunday and you can participate live in my session – how cool is that!

Make a Difference PD – MADPD is the wonderful brainchild of Peter Cameron and Derek Rhodenizer, two great Ontario educators who are making names for themselves as great connectors through blogging, podcasting, twitter and now MADPD.

The schedule for the day is really impressive. We start at 8:00 AM and presentations continue to 8:00 PM. There are now over 60 presenters that will be communicating to the world through Google Hangouts during the day. A full explanation of the day can be found on Peter’s latest blog post.

This is really new PD. No one is telling you to take these sessions and you don’t need to sit through another talking head session that is someone else’s idea of what you need to know about. These sessions are structured in a way that will allow for maximum participation for those who show up. Presenters will do a 15-minute summary of their topic and the rest is up to participants. This is very much like a digital edcamp and I can’t wait to participate!

I hope this is the way of the future. Personalized PD is so important. Educators need to take control of their own learning and push away from the traditional practices regularly imposed on them by their school boards.

So, I urge you all to take control, sign on to MADPD this Sunday!

What are the Key Arguments that keep Ontario Catholic Schools Going?

Are religion and politics really topics that lead to discord and bad blogging? That is hard to say, but it is interesting to read what people say about public schools in Ontario. These are not new arguments, but are these the key points in the debate? Can we take this to a higher level? I have been monitoring a healthy debate on my Facebook page and some key points are coming out. I won’t copy all the comments here, but some of what has been written illustrate some key points in the debate.
I will comment on most of these points, but I don’t profess to have any definitive answers. The debate is sure to continue.

The only way it could save money is to close one system and not educate the kids who are in that system. Funding is on a per pupil basis so the funding would remain the same. It would cost millions extra to do all the administrative changes. So spend millions to save nothing?

 I don’t think this should exclusively be a debate about dollars, but I believe there is a case for rationalizing systems. Here in Ottawa, we have already amalgamated our transportation system and we share resources when it comes to serving some of our neediest students along with the Children’s Hospital of Ontario and the public board. However, we operate parallel systems when it comes to upper management and trustees.
It’s not always about money. There is a message being sent that we are a society divided on religious differences. That message needs to end.
We have to see the truth in this statement. This is a secular society. We are trying to become a more inclusive society in a world that seems to be growing in intolerance for the other. How then can we justify funding a system that keeps us separate as a society?
And it can be about the money… let’s take Stratford as an example. There are 2 public high schools and one Catholic high school. The student population dictates the need for 2 schools. The public board cannot accommodate all its students in one school. If there was only 1 school board, money could be saved by closing one school.
Back to economics. Some schools could be closed if there was one public board. There are many examples now, especially in rural areas of the province where it is no longer feasible to fund schools for more than one system. In my neighbourhood, there are two schools both at 30% capacity – how can we justify this expense?
Parents want choice. Amalgamating boards panders to the lowest common denominator. In Ottawa the public school board has been mismanaged, schools are being closed, kids bused long distances to other schools… Poor management on the part of the public board.
This is the worst type of argument for Catholic schools, but I have heard this for years. There is an underlying bias within the Catholic school system that these schools are simply ‘better’. Somehow, the Catholic system was better managed. I don’t see this. I have been an administrator in the Catholic system and have seen many examples of very poor management. Both systems have their faults. To say that one is inherently better managed than the other shows an embarrassing bias and should not be part of this debate.
Catholic education is protected by the Constitution. We have fought for 150 years for the right to have our schools. We built our own schools, funded them, paid our own teachers, paid to have our students attend, and on top of that, paid public school taxes too. We are not better, just smarter, perhaps because Catholic education was just so important to us. 
The Constitution argument will also not hold water. You can go back to 1791 to find protections for Catholic minorities. Things change a great deal over 200 years. Policies enacted centuries ago do not necessarily have any bearing on what goes on in our society today. Special provisions protecting a Catholic system were designed to sustain minorities in pre-Confederation societies. If we follow along with this logic, we would need to protect a whole host of minorities that did not exist in 1791 or 1867.
Such an important issue to learn and talk about. It is time to look away from the past – what was owed/what used to happen – and look at our schools right now. There is no longer a need for any type of publicly-funded, denominational school. Catholics, formally named, are in decline; active, practicing Catholics even fewer. Our money and our energy should be directed at giving the best, equitable education to all children.
I think this comment speaks for itself.
The conversation is coming to an election soon….. as soon as a party sees it as a winning strategy, they will buy in. I teach in the Catholic system and it has been a positive part of my life for many years – but I have always feared that the end of the system would come from within and not from the outside. Building walls and presenting a message that is not inclusive and welcoming could spell the end….
This is an important point. Every year we witness another story where Catholic schools fail to be inclusive. The most recent example is happening right now in Niagara where Catholic schools are canceling a play designed for elementary students because it explores issues surrounding gender identity. (Niagara Catholic schools nixed play on gender for being ‘not age-appropriate’)

The Silent Topic: Time to Merge School Boards in Ontario?

I listened to a great noon-time discussion on CBC Radio Ottawa on the merger of school boards in Ontario.

Currently, in Ottawa we have four different, publically funded school boards. Two are Catholic, two are public. The origins of this system goes back to 1759 and 1867. The question was brought up during the program why we need to have a system that allows for a faith-based school system?

Originally in Ontario, all education was based on faith. There were Protestant and Catholic school systems. Over time, the Protestant system became public and non-denominational.  I would argue that the same process is happening in the Catholic system that is gradually losing its Catholic character.

Catholic schools now admit students of all faiths – something that I have seen as a very positive step. However, Catholic schools are still allowed to discriminate against teachers who must be Catholic to get a permanent job in this system.

David King, a former Alberta minister of education was the guest during the afternoon show. He made the strong argument that Catholic schools were no longer necessary as the Catholic minority is no longer in a position where their identity is threatened. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, decisions made in 1791, 1846 or 1967 should not guide policy in the 21st Century.

It was interesting to listen to some of the callers during the program. The argument was made by some that Catholics have a right to be taught in a Catholic atmosphere. I am not sure anymore why one group has a special right to an education based on their particular faith. In a secular society, we need to consider how we can combine the strengths of all systems to develop a unified strong public system that caters equally to all families.

In the last school I worked at as a principal, very few students were Catholic. We prided ourselves in being inclusive to all cultures and faiths. We worked hard to support families new to the country. At the same time, another school, also excellent in our neighbourhood supports the same population. Both schools are at approximately at 30% capacity. Why not bring the resources of both schools together to better serve the community?

I hope we in Ontario will have the courage to take on this debate. Public education dollars are scarce, and we have a responsibility to offer our children the best education possible. How are we doing this when so many services in education – especially at the management level are redundant?

Why does this remain – apart from the CBC – the silent topic in Ontario?

 

School Boards in Ontario – Rethinking Governance in Education

Egerton Ryerson, education reformer from Ontario’s past

I think there is lots to write about on the topic of governance in education in Ontario. Recently, the Globe and Mail has tackled this topic, questioning the need for elected boards. It is a really good read and asks important questions on how we organize education in Canada.

The topic has been covered several times by Sheila Stewart in her blog. Her posts are very thought provoking and are important to read if we are interested in this topic. She rightly notes that this is a complex issue with no easy solutions:

There has been a fair bit of discussion about the role and relevancy of education trustees in Ontario lately.  There are many questions, if not confusion, about their role and purpose.  The topic can get quite complex and it is not an easy discussion.  I suspect there is something unique about the culture of every single board of trustees that is in place at each of Ontario’s 72 school boards.  I don’t know the answers regarding what they should be doing, or if they should exist or not.  How can an unbiased discussion about alternatives occur? How can the discussion be kept to be about the role, and not personalities and politics?

The trustee – parent connection in #onted

 

I think we all should be interested in how our education system is organized. We have a system that has been in place going back to the 19th century. Local control of education was established as far back as 1816. Much of our current governance structure hails from this time. The 1816 legislation was, at the time a boon to a growing community. It provided for local control and the appointment of trustees:

The law provided that the people of any village, town, or township might meet together and arrange to establish one or more schools, at each of which the attendance must be not less than twenty. Three suitable trustees were to be chosen to conduct the school, appoint teachers, and select textbooks from a list prescribed by a District Board of Education.

Egerton Ryerson and Education in Upper Canada, Putman, John Harold (1866-1940)

If you follow the story of education in Ontario the name Egerton Ryerson will come up. In 1846, he reorganized the system of education in Ontario, establishing District Superintendents, Normal Schools (later teacher colleges), property taxes for the support of schools, standards for texts and a whole host of regulations establishing a system of education in the new province.

The last review of education governance took place in 2009. It’s a little shocking when you look at the people who were responsible for this review. All were trustees, former school board directors or university professors. From what I can see, this was a group very interested in maintaining the status quo in Ontario. The recommendations from the review do not upset the apple cart, but strongly support the structure first envisioned back in 1846.

Calls for education reform in Ontario and other jurisdictions rarely call for an overall review of governance. Instead, we focus on adjusting teaching methods, exhorting educators to become more ‘connected’ or more innovative within the current box that exists and improving our EQAO scores.

It seems like the greatest call for education reform, especially in Ontario comes in the form of opposition to EQAO. Peter Cameron writes in his post Test Time…stress time?

Perhaps it’s not that teachers need to change; in fact I’d argue that we are always innovating and evolving for the good of our students. Perhaps it’s EQAO that needs to be innovative in how they assess our kids . WHAT IF students could submit ePortfolios, podcasts, videos and screencasts to demonstrate their learning? Better yet, WHAT IF EQAO could send PEOPLE to our schools, to spend time, sitting and listening to our students?

Writing like this is so important – we need educators to challenge a system that seems to have lost its ability to be self critical. I agree with Peter, what would happen, for example, if superintendents became primarily responsible for the success of a small collection of schools and their current ‘busy’ portfolios like ‘student success’ and ‘safe schools’ be turned over to education officials actually trained to deal with these portfolios?

We do not write about what trustees do in the current system apart from vague declarations that education must remain ‘in public hands’. What does that actually mean? Education is highly technical these days. It is unlikely that most trustees even understand what is going on in education. This means they are totally at the mercy of board officials – superintendents and directors that really are not accountable to anyone. These officials have the real power in the system, they can be very good and use their authority responsibly, but there are others who abuse this power and do little to improve the system for our students.

One observation – we have an excellent medical system here in Ontario and no equivalent of local elected boards. How does a system, rooted in reforms over 150 years old actually serve the children in our province? Governance is a topic long overdue for discussion in Ontario.

Should we still have School Boards? A Public Challenge

In today’s education system, in which budgets, curriculum and teaching credentials are handled at the provincial level, school boards are an an anachronism and have few substantive responsibilities. Most of what they do could be transferred to individual school principals, parents’ committees or the province.

Konrad Yakabuski, Globe and Mail, Monday, April 24. The Jig is up for Canada’s school boards

Truer words could not be spoken when it comes to the archaic governance system that controls education in Ontario and I would guess, the rest of the country.

I have worked in the Catholic School system in Ontario as a teacher and administrator for 31 years. I have learned a great deal over these years, but one thing I am now clear on is that we need to totally rework  the governance of schools in Ontario.

The system we have now have is governed by trustees who have little public accountability and in the Catholic system, church leaders who have absolutely no role to play in our children’s education.

Let me be very clear. I worked in this system for 31 years. I also worked at a management level at a Catholic development agency for 6 years. I understand what it is like to work inside Catholic institutions. I understand how they are not agents for innovation and change and should therefore  play no role in the education system.

Yakabuski does not address the urgent need to get rid of the  Catholic School Boards of Ontario. He rightfully goes further and calls for the abolishment of all boards. I believe that one of the greatest impediments to quality education in this province is the needless splitting up of resources between Catholic and Public Boards. This is certainly a taboo subject in Ontario, incredibly taboo, but it must be addressed in a very public forum.

We have schools in the Ottawa area that are at 30% capacity. The two lowest capacity schools are located within 2 kilometres from each other. How is this useful, how does this serve the public?

I have lots of friends in the Catholic system, it has been my home for 31 years. But if we believe in true excellence and the best for our children we really do have to sweep away some of the debilitating bureaucracy that gets in the way. There are other sacred cows that also must fall in Ontario, but better to go one at a time.

 

 

The Importance of Team on Kilimanjaro

our group photo on the Stella Point summit

Every day new impressions come to me about the Dream Mountains Kilimanjaro experience. Today I am thinking about the importance of team in our success in making it up the mountain.

Team is something that Shawn Dawson and the other leaders emphasized throughout our seven-month training period. We did group hikes in the Gatineau, we climbed Mt. Marcy, we got to know each other through team socials and events throughout the fall and winter. The importance of ‘team’ was pounded into us.

We actually only really came together as a group once we were all together in Tanzania as our team came from locations across the country.

Through six days of hard climbing on the mountain things changed. We really became a solid unit. We were all that we had. On the mountain we added 93 porters and guides to our ever expanding team. We were becoming a unit moving towards the summit.

another day of trekking up Kilimanjaro – we always climbed as a group

This is where team becomes real. I remember one day near the Lava Tower. I was totally exhausted mainly due to the effects of altitude sickness. My group headed out and I just couldn’t keep up with them as we scrambled down steep scree. I should have stayed behind, but that was my group and I needed to be with them. After a few minutes of scrambling, dizzy and head aching, I saw just ahead of me a smiling Jason Colley, calming waiting for me. ‘We saw you on the scree, so I thought I would wait for you’.

Saved by the group! I formed up with the others and made it down the steep descent to our next camp. Jason, our group leader stayed behind me the rest of the way to make sure I made it down safely to camp.

On the summit night, I was part of a group of climbers who found ourselves together, alone on the mountain slope. The sun was just coming up, but we were chilled to the bone and exhausted. We sought shelter behind a big rock and tried to figure out what to do. Some of us – including me – suggested turning around. We really didn’t know where we were on where we were heading. We were immobilized as more climbers piled into our shelter equally exhausted. Then a super duo, Megan and Heather Benoit (twins no less), told us all to get our act together and get climbing. No one had a better idea so slowly we started following Heather and Megan up the slope.

On the slope close to our group’s ‘moment of truth’

This was the ultimate team moment. Shawn couldn’t do any more for us. He had trained us well, now it was up to us. We all turned toward the summit and every member of our group summited within the next two hours.

This was for me the most dramatic moment in the climb. We were a true group, formed through challenge and hardship, totally trusting in each other. We encouraged each other for the next two hours and then happily embraced when we finally made it to Stella Point.

Another moment. Much later in the day we descended from the peak to a rain forest camp. I had injured my leg on the initial descent and was very slow getting down. The other climbers, equally exhausted had gone ahead and I was alone on a steep and rocky trail.

A porter, carrying another mammoth load saw me and stayed with me all the way down to the camp. It got very dark on the trail and I didn’t want to stop to find my headlamp. No need, the porter lighted my way down all the way to camp. Once we finally arrived, he made sure I signed in and then passed me off to another porter who led me to my tent in the pitch darkness. I thankfully collapsed into our tent so grateful again for the wonderful team who shared the mountain with us.

Our wonderful team gathers for a photo on the last morning of our descent to the park gates

Do the best teams develop through adversity and challenge? I am not sure. I only know that I feel closer to these people than I have felt to any group for years. Obviously, I don’t include my family and the people I worked with at my last wonderful school, but apart from these people, I can’t think of another group of people that I feel a closer bond to.

What a wonderful privilege to have experienced this level of closeness with people who were complete strangers only a few months ago – what a true gift. Maybe this is the true meaning behind this experience, there is huge value in working closely with people in situations of true adversity – this is where you really can define what it means to be a member of a team.

If I decide to climb again, the group experience will certainly be one of the main reasons for going through all of this again!


a wonderful, joyous celebration with our porters and guides the morning of the final descent

Lessons learned while climbing Kilimanjaro

On Mt. Kilimanjaro, we climbed for 8 days, usually 6-8 hours a day, not including the 16-hour summit day.

That gives a climber lots of time to think.

Now that I am back in Canada, I am trying to put together some of the lessons I have learned while on the climb. There are several I am mulling over now, I am sure there will be more later.

First, take risks. Its a short life and it is very easy to get caught up in the comfortable routine of everyday life. I sincerely believe that you need to be looking for the risks out there that will make you a stronger person, that will help your school, that will enhance learning and that ultimately will stretch you out of the comfort zones we all enjoy too much.

For me, I needed to get out of the destructive cycle of work and I needed to challenge myself physically and spiritually. In some ways, I needed to find some way to cleanse myself from the corporate education world. Bitterness and cynicism were seeping in and I needed a totally new challenge to break a destructive cycle. Climbing the highest mountain in Africa seemed to be the ticket.

The Barranco Wall – looking down

If you are not taking risks, what are you doing? What are you waiting for? Why are you wasting your time waiting for something to happen – nothing will unless you make it happen.

Second, your body is your vehicle. I have taken part in some challenging physical ventures over the years. As a youth, I planted trees in the mountains of British Columbia. Later, I ran marathons and more recently, I took part in bike touring events stretching over two days and over 300 Km.

What I learned from these experiences and again on Kilimanjaro was that without a well-maintained body I was going nowhere. I trained hard for six months to build up my muscles and lung capacity, I was careful about what I ate, I drank up to 6 litres of water every day on the mountain. All of this because I wasn’t going to make it if my body shut down – it was the only way I was going to summit.

This is a great thing. We really don’t have to depend on our bodies very much. We may appreciate them more when we get sick, but generally, we live a pretty sedentary life and we make few demands on our bodies. It is liberating to turn your focus on your own body and see it as the only vehicle that will help you reach your goals. I appreciate my body more now and am committed to keeping it in good shape to be ready for the next challenge.

Tough morning of steep climbing on the way to Shira Camp

Third, what is your social mission? We are all connected and many of us in the Global North are very privileged. So when choosing a venture or a project, ask yourself what is the social good I am creating as part of this project. For us, this was easy, each of us was connected to a charity through the Dream Mountains Foundation.

If I ever do this again (I can’t believe I just wrote that), I will do it because the expedition will allow me to give back to the community – in my case the Sens Foundation.  Everything we do is social and everything we do should have some social good attached to it. When I worked at my last school, all our projects were designed around the idea of helping students and families that did not have the same opportunities as most of us enjoy. All of the Dream Mountains charities try to address this imbalance.

Finally, listen to people who know what they are talking about. As a principal, it was easy to disregard the advice I received from many people. Part of this was plain arrogance, part of this was based on the fact that I didn’t always receive very good advice that could help our students and our school – very few people at the district level had a good understanding of the roadblocks to progress that existed for our children.

So, it is important to discern. Who has valuable advice. Who is motivated to work with you to make you and others successful? This is a challenging process and you may be disappointed – many times over. Having said this, there are good, wise people out there who will work with you and will ensure that you are successful.

On Kilimanjaro, we had three people like this – Shawn Dawson, Kristi Johnston and Jason Colley – our Canadian guides. Each of these people consistently gave us all important advice that prepared us for this incredible climb and that protected us on the mountain. I can’t say I always liked their advice, but they were right, they were experienced and most importantly they knew how to lead people – a very rare commodity in my opinion.

I can say I listened to them, I took their advice and I have immense respect for all three of them. In your own ventures and work, try to seek out people like this, people you can really trust who will not let you down.

If you are a leader, try and do this yourself. Don’t disappoint the people who work with you. Strive to give them advice that will empower them and help them grow.

Make sure they make it to the top of their mountain.

Our Dream Mountains Team at the beginning of the climb

Summiting Kilimanjaro

Very early in the morning (around midnight), we begin our push to the summit. This is the most mentally and physically challenging portion of the trek. The wind and cold at this elevation and time of day can be extreme. We ascend in the darkness for several hours while taking frequent, but short, breaks. Near Stella Point (18,900 ft), you  will be rewarded with the most magnificent sunrise you are ever likely to see coming over Mawenzi Peak.

Ultimate Kilimanjaro – Machame Route

This is a challenging post to write, but it is the post that needs to be written now – how we summited Mount Kilimanjaro on April 7th and 8th.

We trained very hard for this climb and our training never let us down. We were able to trek for days up the Machame Route, considered a high difficulty route, especially in the rainy season.

Because of the roundabout nature of the route, we saw the summit almost every day, although for days the summit seemed elusive and distant. How we were going to summit such a massive peak remained a mystery.

Our route up the mountain recorded by my InReach tool and translated to Google Earth
The summit in the distance

We worked our way up through the camps, dealing daily with less oxygen, to the point where it was a major struggle to put your socks on in the morning. Scurrying up a short incline would leave you breathless and all our Canadian and Tanzanian guides had to warn us not to rush – ever.

Our approach to the summit involved a 5-hour climb to Karanga Camp (elevation 13,106 ft). We realized that we would never sleep at this camp. We ate a great lunch (the food was always great!) and then rested for the afternoon. At 6:30 PM we all gathered for dinner and were organized into three summiting groups, each led by a Canadian and Tanzanian guide. I was part of the first (slowest) group and we were instructed to be ready to summit by 11:00 PM that night.

Karanga Camp

At the appointed time, we gathered up in a straight line in complete darkness, illuminated only by our headlamps.

We were in utter darkness, totally dependant on our guides, heading now to a summit that was invisible. Soon, the weather turned vicious. The group was buffeted by very strong ice cold winds that cut through all of our clothing layers. We hid behind rocky outcrops to get respite from the wind and to layer up. Eventually, I was wearing everything I had with me – two tightly woven merino wool layers, a hard rain shell, my down-filled Kilimanjaro puffy and another hard shell.

This bizarre combination seemed to do the trick, allowing me to move without being cut in two by the winds.

We climbed very slowly through the night, sometimes with our guides who encouraged us to dance and sing to keep warm, sometimes on our own. The night went on forever. Far below, we could see the second group coming up the trail by their bobbing string of lights.

At some point, probably around 7:00 AM, we found ourselves on a broad, steep slope. We were scattered all over the mountain with no real sense of where we were heading.

dawn on the mountainside

This is when high altitude really began to kick in. Nothing can prepare you for this. It is very easy to get disorientated above 18,000 ft and as a group, even with the encouragement of our Tanzanian guides, we really didn’t know what we were doing.

We decided as a group to continue up the mountain face, even though it was impossible to see the summit! We were reaching for the crater rim – Stella Point (elevation 18,884 feet). The summit was really a long ridge and I really didn’t know we were at the summit until I stumbled up to it.

The crest of the summit – Stella Point

We had probably been climbing for around 11 hours at this point and our little group was totally exhausted. We could have continued to move on the Uhuru Peak, but almost all of our group was wiped by the night climb and only three of 30 climbers made it to the next peak on the volcano rim.

This was an incredible feat. As I wrote about the Barranco Wall, it takes a few days to realize what an achievement this is. It is starting to sink in at this point, especially the incredible will power it took to make that night climb.

We did really well – 28 climbers summited at Stella Point. The general overall success rate is around 65%, so we did much better than the average. I think our success has a great deal to do with the incredible training and leadership of our Canadian guide team – Shawn Dawson, Kristi Johnston and Jason Colley and the amazing support of our families and friends back home.

The climb is over, we are safely home, we have achieved something special.

 

The Barranco Wall – Don’t Look Down

Climbing the Barranco Wall

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Technical climbing

Climbing involving a rope and some means of protection, as opposed to scrambling or glacier travel.

Barranco Wall was one of many great challenges on our climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. While some people contend that Kilimanjaro is a ‘non-technical’ climb, Barranco Wall really challenges this assumption.

Barranco Wall in the twilight

I looked up at Barranco Wall for the first time after an 11-hour trek in the rain. I remembered years ago planting trees in the mountains of British Columbia and remembered that I actually found mountains threatening and sometimes foreboding. Staring up at the wall, I actually could not see a way up the rock face. Intimidating for sure.

Heading out in the early morning to scale the wall.

There is a way up the wall, it reveals itself the closer you get to the rocky face. One by one we slowly made our way up a very steep incline. In writing this post, I looked over all the photos I have taken and really didn’t find any that do justice to the climb. I realize that even though I had four cameras with me, I was more focussed on getting up the wall in one piece.

One section of the climb is called the ‘kissing wall’ – at this point, you have to hug the wall as closely as possible and step over an open section of the rock face. We stepped out into the abyss to be caught on the other side by one of our wonderful guides. We followed their advice and did not look down!

An interesting thing about some of the really challenging portions of the Kilimanjaro climb, you really don’t have any chance but to go up. Your body can do this, you just have to will yourself to keep climbing, no matter what is behind you – just keep moving up the mountain.

 

scrambling up the rock face

Looking back on Barranco, I think this will be one of the moments I was proud of what I could do and what our team could accomplish. It takes a few days away from the mountain to really discern the moments that are unique and worthy of celebration.

Barranco was certainly one of those. We didn’t flinch, we climbed the wall.

Celebrating on top of the wall