Scouting can take you to some pretty incredible places.
For proof, look up — way up — at a pair of Scouts BSA troops from Connecticut that successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.
Troop 175 for boys and Troop 1175 for girls were led by senior patrol leaders Max and Kate Hollister. The siblings say their parallel Scouting journeys have brought them closer together and unlocked experiences they wouldn’t get outside of Scouting.
Their journey began not at the base of the mountain in Tanzania but two years early when they started fundraising for this trip of a lifetime. They sold citrus fruit, did yardwork, shoveled snow, mowed lawns, petsat and babysat — all with an eye toward Kilimanjaro.
All those fundraisers, all the planning meetings, all the training made the view from the top so much sweeter.
“Feeling the wave of accomplishment of achieving a dream I’ve had for so long and all the preparation that went into it — I felt like I was on top of the world,” Max says.
Kate, who says her troop is the first Scouts BSA troop for girls to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, agrees.
“No matter how hard you think it will be, it will be harder, but it will impact you in a big way,” she says. “It has given me perspective in other parts of my life, too. In school, I can confidently say to myself, ‘I summited Kilimanjaro; this is nothing. I can do it.'”
Troop 175 Scoutmaster Brad Mead watched with pride as these Scouts made it to the 19,341-foot summit, where the temperature was 5 degrees Fahrenheit and the oxygen level was 40% what it is at sea level.
“Properly prepared, teenagers can do extraordinary things,” he says. “Scouting provides those opportunities.”
Bryan on Scouting: How did you all come up with the idea to climb Kilimanjaro?
Max Hollister: I was introduced to the idea of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro when I was a Cub Scout and came to joining night with Troop 175. The climb, and adventures like it, is what drew me to the troop.
BOS: What was it like climbing with your sister?
MH: It was the first big hike I’ve ever done with my sister. Having my sister along wasn’t very different from my other Scout friends, but I knew I had someone to look out for — and I had someone looking out for me.
BOS: What was the most difficult part of the climb?
MH: It was 4 a.m. and still pitch black. We’d been hiking for four hours already, and all we could see was the headlamps from the people above us. We knew they were a long way away. It was tough to know that our goal wasn’t where those people were — it was where they were headed, which was much farther. I felt some anxiety about whether or not I would be able to make it. I wondered if I had done enough prep. It started to feel like a really bad idea.
BOS: How did you overcome that?
MH: By putting one foot in front of the other and by singing, which is really hard to do when there is less oxygen and when you are tone-deaf. I had done hard stuff before. I knew I had more in my tank.
BOS: What was it like up there on the summit?
MH: It was hard to breathe. It was also pretty surreal to realize what I’d just done halfway across the world from my regular life.
BOS: What was the toughest part about being the senior patrol leader on this trip?
MH: The biggest challenge was supporting each other on the way up. It showed me that there are a lot tougher things than putting together and running a 90-minute troop meeting.
BOS: What’s your advice for other Scouts as they plan their own grand adventure?
MH: Just like climbing a mountain, take one step at a time. You have to take a lot of small steps to reach the top. But starting the challenge — whether it is a hike or an Eagle project — is worth the effort.
BOS: What did you think when you first heard about the idea to climb Kilimanjaro?
Kate Hollister: My troop is the sister troop of a high-adventure boys troop, and I wanted to make sure that the girls had the same opportunities as the boys did. I had my doubts about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, but the rest of my family was very interested in the trip. I was willing to give it a try.
BOS: Did your brother encourage you during the climb? If so, how?
KH: On the final push for the summit, at about 4 a.m., we stopped for a rest break. I was thinking I wasn’t going to make it. I went to Max and told him I didn’t think I was going to make it and he was going to have to take my troop’s flag up to the top. He told me, “When you think you’re done and your body tells you to give up, you’ve only done about 40% of what you can do. You just need to keep pushing.” Max refused to take my flag.
BOS: What did you learn in that experience?
KH: It showed me I am capable of a lot more than I think I am. It showed me that even though my brother and I don’t always get along, we are still there to support and encourage each other.
BOS: What were the leadership challenges you encountered?
KH: We were a small group with strong personalities, which made it important to focus on the positive and encourage each other.
BOS: What did you learn about leadership during the trip?
KH: The whole experience taught me that I can lead Scouts even when it’s hard. The Scouts in my troop respect and look up to me in part because of what I achieved. Climbing Kilimanjaro showed me what it meant to have support during tough moments. I’ve tried to help cultivate a positive and inclusive culture in our troop.
BOS: You’re kind of a pioneer — joining Scouts BSA in its inaugural year and climbing Kilimanjaro as an all-girl troop. How does that make you feel?
KH: Hopefully, in addition to climbing Kilimajaro, I will become one of the first female Eagle Scouts. I’m working hard to accomplish this big goal of mine. I want to tell anyone, not just the girls, but anyone who wants to be a Scout, or become more active in the outdoors and community: Go for it. It takes time and effort, but it is well worth it — not just to be able to say you have done something, but proving to yourself that you can persevere through hard times and can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
The Scouts and adults
Though this post focuses on Max and Kate, let’s recognize all the Scouts who made this incredible journey.
Scouts from Troop 175, led by Max Hollister: Eric Barch, Carson Boyko, Charlie Brinegar, Joe Carollo, Cam Delo, Luke Doskos, Dillon Hermsen, Patrick Long, Kyle Pilon, Chris Reilly, Alex Stine, Bryce Tomasino, Sean Vargas, Alejandro Vargas and Lucus Watson.
Scouts from Troop 1175, led by Kate Hollister: Stella Perdikis and Teagan Reilly.
Adults participating in the climb: Chris Doskos, Todd Hollister, Valorie Hollister, Dimitri Perdikis, Patty Reilly, Brian Tomasino, Armando Vargas, Erin Vargas and Brad Mead.