History remembers Hans Meyer as the first person to reach Kilimanjaro’s summit in 1889, but some accounts award the title to another man: Yohana Kinyala Lauwo.
In 1889, when Hans Meyer came to the villages surrounding Kilimanjaro, searching for a guide, Yohana was an 18-year-old member of the Chagga tribe, a Tanzanian ethnic group that still calls the base of Kilimanjaro home.
Meyer assumed he was getting the best of the best, but in fact Lauwo and the teenagers chosen to act as porters were picked as a form of punishment from the tribal elders, who were upset that they’d been poaching. At the time, the tribe believed Kilimanjaro was an impossible journey; the Chagga chief thought sending the troublemakers up the mountain with Meyer would be the last he’d ever see of them.
What the chief didn’t know is that Yohana may have already reached Kili’s peak; some people believe Yohana had summited as many as nine times before. Either way, Yohana successfully led Meyer to the summit, and went on to earn his living as a Kilimanjaro guide, taking others up less perilous routes than the one he forged on that first, uncharted trek.
Now Yohana’s grandson, Pendaeli, is carrying on the family tradition, leading Thomson Safaris trekkers to Uhuru Peak.
Pendaeli Lauwo trekking with Thomson Safaris Kilimanjaro Program Manager, Katie Cella
How could Yohana’s grandson still be working as a guide, you might ask? Wouldn’t even the grandson of a man born in 1871 be far too old for such a strenuous job?
The answer is that Yohana didn’t just live to tell his tale of Kilimanjaro, he lived to the ripe old age of 125, fathered many children, and only passed away in 1996.
After years as a porter, followed by five years helping trekkers reach the top as an assistant guide, Pendaeli (or “Penda” to his trekkers) was promoted to a head guide position this June.
He’s already proven how great he is at getting trekkers to the top of the mountain. After all, not only does he have years of experience under his belt, reaching Uhuru Peak runs in the family!