How far will you go for family? For sisters Angela and Ashley, the sky is the limit–literally. This spring, they’re climbing into the clouds on a 19,341′ quest to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro!
Angela Woods is Thomson’s Manager of Guest Services and a Kilimanjaro veteran—she lives and breathes Tanzania, and knows every trekking route, packing list and campsite like the back of her hand.
Her sister Ashely is a fitness juggernaut and running guru–she’s never met a half marathon or mud-splattered Spartan race she wasn’t thrilled about.
How has training brought them closer? We sat down with Angela and Ashley to discuss their preparations, training and how Kilimanjaro is taking siblinghood to new heights.
Why do you want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro together?
Angela: In my six years at Thomson, I’ve helped lots of climbers trek the world’s tallest freestanding mountain. Everyone comes back with inspiring stories. I wanted to be a part of that.
But I swear, it was Ashley who mentioned she was interested in trekking first! I was so excited to do this with my sister, who is such a beast of an athlete and excels at everything she does.
Ashely: Thank you, Angela! Trekking is a very different experience from running, so it’s new territory for me. But it’s definitely attainable, and I’m pumped to make the journey with you.
Why choose Thomson’s Western Approach itinerary?
Ashley: I’ll let Angela answer, because I wanted to do a shorter one. (laughter)
Angela: That’s what everyone wants! I told Ashley what I tell guests: because this is her first high-altitude trek, it’s best to choose a route that offers the maximum amount of time to acclimatize.
With that in mind, the Western Approach just made sense. It gives you nine days on the mountain, which is a lot of time to adjust to the crazy high altitude–which is especially useful when you don’t know how your body will react. That extra time is what gets trekkers like me to the summit. It’s one of the big reasons Thomson has a 98% summit success rate!
Do you train together?
Ashley: We live in different cities, so it’s hard, but that’s no excuse! We’ll often text each other, “Did you go to the gym today?” and hold each other accountable.
I happened to be in season for marathon training when I started training for Kili. I go on four short runs a week, then a 10-mile run on Saturdays. I’ve also added more StairMaster to my training. A couple hikes here and there.
Angela: I’m the complete opposite. I don’t love running. My knees don’t love it. I’m honestly starting from zero (laughter). No, seriously—I’ve joined gyms in the past, but this is the first year I’ve gone beyond the 3-month trial membership.
I’ve been hitting the steps of the Harvard stadium and spending my weekends hiking in New England’s White Mountains. But I’ve also been using a custom workout program from Fit For Trips—they built me a personalized training program based on my itinerary and my fitness level. They’ve made training so much easier. Thomson trekkers like me even get 25% off their program!
Angela on a training hike in the White Mountains
Thomson staffers Carolyn and Halee join Angela for a stadium stair workout at Harvard
What has been the most rewarding part of your training?
Angela: A few weeks ago, I met Ashley in Virginia, and together we hiked Old Rag Mountain in Shanandoah National Park. It’s a 9-mile loop with some rock scrambles. It was beautiful, and fun, and amazing!
Ashley: I felt prepared for the physical challenges of the hike. But mentally, the rock scrambles were very difficult. I know there’s only one relatively easy rock scramble on Kili, and that Thomson’s guides and porters will help me through every step. But still, it’s something I didn’t think I needed to prepare for. This hike taught me that I’ll need to incorporate a lot of mindfulness into my trek.
Overall, Angela and I hiked well together. She was very supportive.
Angela: When we got to the summit, Ashley asked me why I liked hiking. I gestured to the wide-open vista in front of us. “This!” I said. Ashley agreed, and we laughed. This moment–the whole hike–brought us closer together in so many ways.
What keeps you motivated as you train for Kili?
Ashley: My sister. We’ve been thinking about this trek for months now, and there’s just no chance we’re not doing it. We’re going all the way to the top!
Angela: Yes! And I think trekking “pole, pole,” slowly, slowly in Swahili, is important. Just putting one foot in front of the next. We’re going to get there. Together. If we believe we can do it, we can do it.
What does it mean to you, to train for and trek Kili together?
Ashley: It’s scary to think about being on a mountain for nine days with Angela. (laughter) But seriously, I know that when I start to feel anxious, I can remember that Angela is on my team. She’s very, very, very supportive. There’s nobody else that would give so much support.
Angela: I love this trek so much, because we’re going to be out of our comfort zones in so many ways. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone on the planet besides her. I’m already so proud of her, and I’m excited to show everyone how awesome she is.
Also, I’m in love with Tanzania. I got married there. I’m so excited to show my sister, my best friend, what it’s all about. We’re taking a post-trek extension to the luxurious Gibb’s Farm for what I imagine will be the most well-earned massages of our lives. And after that, we’ll try to spot the Big Five on a Ngorongoro Crater safari!
Any advice for aspiring Kili trekkers?
Ashley: Pay attention to your packing list. If you’re like me, you’ll see things there you don’t think you’ll need until you learn more about Kili’s five climate zones, when you realize you’ll need them. I got all my gear at Thomson’s online store–it had all the essentials!
Angela: It sounds cliché, but it’s important to train physically and mentally. It’s not just one foot in front of the other–it’s one foot in front of the other at altitude, in an environment you’re not familiar with.
I would also say it’s important to come up with a training plan and hold yourself accountable to it. Having my sister on this journey is like having a built-in accountability buddy. Having her text me, asking, “Did you go to the gym today?” has been enough to get me off the couch. I need that!