A month after a journey spanning half the globe and ending in Tanzania atop Mount Kilimanjaro, 68-year-old Anne Koehler, 40-year-old Lindsey Palmer and her 12-year-old son Nolan Palmer are still riding high.
The Lincoln trio ascended the world's tallest free-standing summit above sea level — a grueling 16,100 feet — with 15 other climbers and 71 guides in early February. They persevered through struggle, triumph, agony and euphoria on the eight-day climb, which covered 50 miles.
“There was a point where I probably thought I couldn’t do it,” Nolan Palmer said. “But then you just have to keep saying to yourself, ‘You will regret it so much if you leave.’”
It was a difficult undertaking even for Lindsey Palmer, a Boston Marathon runner who described it as the “absolute hardest thing” she’s ever done. Koehler, a family friend of the Palmers, had previously ascended the peak in January 2020.
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The three were part of an effort to raise money for Africa New Life, a Rwandan-based Christian nonprofit that provides food, education and more for needy youth across the continent.
Lindsey Palmer said the trek raised more than $150,000, enough to fund about 200,000 meals for children in need.
There were significant hurdles. Although climbers were well-fed at the campsites, they spent the majority of the trek with frozen fingers, sore leg muscles and aching shoulders.
Just as harsh were some of the mental obstacles they faced. At one point, they were forced to ascend a 1,000-foot cliff known as “Barranco Wall,” a harrowing experience that Nolan Palmer compared to free-solo rock climbing.
Lindsey Palmer credited the guides, many of whom were native to the city of Moshi nestled at the foot of the mountain, who instilled a step-by-step mentality throughout ther trek.
“I’m terrified of heights; there were other people there who were just overwhelmed at how big this was in front of us, but they did such a good job at just focusing on getting you up the wall,” she said.
The guides, she said, seemed to have an infectious joy, fueling the group’s ascent even amid morale-crushing challenges.
Koehler was impressed by Nolan Palmer’s energy. He was the youngest climber in the group by about a half decade.
“He had such a great attitude going up Kilimanjaro,” Koehler said. “He loves the experience, more than even the accomplishment.”
Lindsey Palmer said she was proud of her son's fighting spirit on the trail.
"He pushed through adversity, rain, wind, sleet, sun and was the smiling face that kept me going," she said in a Facebook post after the climb.
The trip originated after a meeting for coffee between Lindsey Palmer and Koehler in 2020. Nolan Palmer tagged along, and when Koehler broached the subject of the climb, he was fixated.
“I don’t say yes to a lot of things; I’m a single mom,” Lindsey Palmer said. “But when Nolan wanted to do this, it was a no-brainer.”
They spent two years preparing with hikes in Colorado, initially planning for a 2022 ascent before being delayed because of the pandemic.
When the time came, they were ready. And when they finally reached the top, Nolan Palmer found himself with newfound wisdom.
“Nothing is impossible as long as you’re trained properly,” the Lincoln Christian sixth grader said. “What’s crazy is, your legs start hurting and you just keep going. At school, you scrape your knee, it’s bleeding, and you go to the nurse; people make it a big deal when it’s really not. … (On the mountain) it’s like, ‘Just walk on.’”
Koehler, who previously climbed the mountain while grieving her husband, said she cried both times after reaching the summit.
The Palmers were also in mourning, two years after the death of Lindsey Palmer’s mother, affectionately referred to as “Wawa” by Nolan Palmer. His love for the outdoors began to grow after the passing of his grandmother, a lover of nature herself.
Both Palmers had her in their thoughts as they marched up the mountain.
“(Nolan) kept saying, ‘Wawa’s here,’ ‘Wawa has the best view,’” Lindsey said. “And it’s like, ‘You’re right. She’s proud of everything you will forever do.’”
For Lindsey Palmer, the feeling at the summit was unlike anything she’d ever felt.
“When you get to the top and it’s like you feel closer to the moon than you do to the ground. It’s restoring to your soul,” she said. “I felt like a different person, like maybe I’m finally over grief once I’ve done that.”