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It’s the climb: The ‘Kiliqueens’ conquer Mt. Kilimanjaro

By The Health News Team | September 11, 2023
Julie Boorman of Sharp HealthCare at Mount Kilimanjaro

Julie Boorman, an imaging specialist at Sharp Rees-Stealy, on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, in February 2023.

Climbing to the top of one of the tallest peaks in the world takes strength, endurance and motivation. It’s a journey one group of local women embarked on together earlier this year.

Julie Boorman, an imaging specialist at Sharp Rees-Stealy Rancho Bernardo, has been a mammographer for more than 35 years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when social distancing became the norm, hiking was one of the few activities she and her friends could enjoy together.

Their shared passion led to a resolute pact: to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — Africa’s highest peak. Mt. Kilimanjaro is one of the coveted Seven Summits, attracting thrill-seekers worldwide. “The bucket list item was ready to be checked off,” Boorman says.

All of the women ranged in age between 58 and 66, and the group called themselves the “Kiliqueens.” To prepare for the big trek, the 11 women spent months building up their strength and endurance. Part of their training included completing hikes in the area, including San Diego’s Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge, which covers six iconic San Diego County mountains.

The journey begins

In February 2023, it was time to start their adventure. Boorman and her friends set out for Tanzania. To guide their expedition, they enlisted Kiliwarrior, a Canadian climbing outfitter. The climb unfolded over nine days, and three of those days were filled with extreme challenges.

Julie Boorman of Sharp HealthCare and the "Kiliqueens" climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

The Kiliqueens making their ascent up Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The Kiliqueens received critical support from the daypack porters hired by the outfitter, who helped carry about 40 pounds of gear per person up the mountain. They also had meals carefully prepared to fuel them with the necessary energy and nutrients to help them reach the peak.

Boorman and her friends took a route called the Western Breach, an ascent path that leads up the western slopes of the mountain's snowy summit. Not only is it the most difficult and dangerous route, it’s also the longest. However, the longer path gave them time to acclimate to the altitude.

On their way up, they were met with steep terrain, ice and jagged rocks. Eventually, the group reached the rapidly receding Furtwängler Glacier, which is expected to be completely melted by the year 2050. As they continued their climb, the porters kept track of their oxygen levels and tested their cognitive function to monitor their health.

“We knew we had to go slowly,” Boorman says. “And in Swahili, there is a phrase repeated over and over — ‘pole, pole, pole.’ It means ‘go slowly.’”

Slow and steady

Embracing a slower pace is one of the keys to success in summiting. Still, altitude sickness affected the whole group and resulted in three members being unable to continue their ascent.

Finally, Boorman and seven other women made it to the top. But it wasn’t just about summiting, Boorman says. What mattered most was the journey to get there and the bond that formed among the entire group.

The "Kiliqueens" on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

The "Kiliqueens" on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, in February 2023.

Boorman reveals that beyond personal accomplishment, the ascent was a tribute to friends and patients who've confronted breast cancer. "We did these things for them too," she says.

On the day they reached the peak, Boorman gave each member of the group a pink ribbon to wear. The Kiliqueens’ climb, she says, stands as an inspiring testament to the power of determination, camaraderie and the human spirit.

Boorman encourages others to start their own journey, emphasizing that their goal doesn't necessarily have to involve summiting a mountain. Instead, it's about pushing oneself to conquer challenges, regardless of age, gender or ability.

“Do it. Go for it. Don't wait,” she says. “Now's the time.”

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