After climbing Kili, most of our trekkers realize how integral the porters are to the experience. They carry everything from luggage to dinner tables to tents up the mountain, and they always seem to keep a smile on their faces.

But recent Thomson Safaris trekker Karen Capaldi started connecting with the porters and their dedication even before she arrived in Tanzania. During her research about her upcoming trek, she started to realize just how hard these individuals work, and she wanted to help.

And boy did she ever help.

Partnering with SmartWool, Karen managed to gather 1,200 pairs of socks to donate to the Kilimanjaro Porter’s Assistance Project. We got in touch with Karen post-Kili to learn more about what led to this incredibly generous gesture.

First and foremost, what led you to Kilimanjaro?

I’ve wanted to climb Kili since I was in college in Colorado (where I still live). I studied geology and climate change, and professors used Kilimanjaro as an example of climate change in action. Even then, the topic, and the mountain, fascinated me.

Since college, I’ve stayed active, teaching outdoor education, working as a ski instructor, and working for the forest service. I also participate in an annual event, “the epic relay,” in which 12 women run 200 miles in 32 hours. Two of those women, the Scott sisters, asked me in 2012 if I wanted to join them on their Kilimanjaro trek. I immediately said “YES!”

What made you want to help porters? And why socks?

I started researching the climb a year before our trek [in August, 2013], and I was moved by the porters’ situation. When I got there, our connection was organic, immediate, and simple; they were doing everything they could to help us get up the mountain, and I deeply appreciated their hard work.

I didn’t have loads of money to donate traditionally, but the more I researched, the more I realized that I might be able to help in another way. I dug a little deeper, and learned that socks were something the porters absolutely need on the mountain.

Karen at the summit sign


Karen at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

How did you connect with SmartWool?

I know some people who work there, and started up a dialogue with them a little less than a year ago. It took a little while to work out all the details, but by March, I had started picking up socks. By the time I left for Kilimanjaro, I’d collected 1,200 pairs. Before I left, I reached out to Thomson, who suggested bringing the socks along, and offered to transport me (and all the socks) to the KPAP offices the day we descended the mountain.

Have you heard back about your donation?

I have! Karen Valenti [director of KPAP] sent me a photo of the first recipient of the socks, which was heartwarming. I’m so glad to know that my donation is already doing some good.


Porter wearing donated SmartWool socksThe first porter to receive a pair of socks from Karen.

Thomson Safaris shoutout from Smartwool on Facebook