Raleigh teen climbs Mount Kilimanjaro for charity

Posted August 14, 2008 7:11 p.m. EDT
Updated August 15, 2008 8:45 p.m. EDT

— A 15-year-old Raleigh girl has had a summer vacation like no other. Her family traveled from Raleigh to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Julia Heffring and her father, Peter, spent a grueling three days hiking to the summit, 19,340 feet up. Their whole mountain adventure involved a 40-mile round-trip walk from their starting point.

“It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but as soon as you see the sun coming up and you're on top of the world, it's so worth it,” Julia Heffring said.

This adventure started as a fun family bet five years ago.

“When I was 10, me and my dad made a pact that when I was 15, we would climb the highest peak in Africa,” Julia Heffring said.

“I said, 'I don't think you can climb this mountain,'" Peter Heffring recalled. "'Yes, I could dad,' (Julie said). I said, 'Are you sure?' So I said, 'You're a little too young at 10, but maybe at 15.'”

So what started out as a friendly wager turned into a fundraiser for sick children.

“Make-A-Wish has always been my favorite charity, so I wanted to do something to benefit it,” Julia Heffring said. “I see how fortunate I am and (what) if I had that kind of disease or illness that I couldn't control?"

Being able to climb Mount Kilimanjaro helped inspire Julia to raise $7,500 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The money will sponsor a few children to go on their own adventures.

“I guess the scariest thing is running out of time. So for kids who don't have enough money to do what they really would like to, then it's a good thing," Julia Heffring said.

The Heffring family traveled on the Umbwe route while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. The Umbwe is a seldom-traveled, steeper, more aggressive route up the mountain, Peter Heffring said.

When the family started their hike, they were in shorts and T-shirts. By the time they reached the mountain top, they were in below-zero temperatures, wearing seven layers of clothes.

Forty children at an orphanage in Africa were also touched by the Heffrings' generosity. The family stopped there to volunteer and deliver gifts.

“I think we started to go just for the climb, then it became a family trip with the safari, climb and orphanage, and it all wrapped up into life experience,” Peter Heffring said.

Julia Heffring is a rising sophomore at Ravenscroft School. She rides horses and plays for her school's basketball team.

She said she is not done climbing mountains. Her next challenge is the highest peak in South America, and she plans to do it again for charity.