Meet Our Climbers: Cindy Lou and Whit Aillaud
We’re excited to introduce you to some of the climbers who’ve made Embark expeditions so memorable. Today, we’re sharing the inspiring story of Cindy Lou and Whit Aillaud.
The husband-and-wife team of Cindy Lou and Whit Aillaud were no strangers to altitude when they decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The duo had four earlier experiences between 14,000 and 18,000 feet – and while each outing was successful, they knew things could easily go awry at such high altitude.
And, as if the altitude weren’t enough, Cindy Lou and Whit were 63 and 64 when they stepped onto the trail at Mount Kilimanjaro in late 2018.
But the pair summited a few days later, capping a memorable trek and standing 19,341 feet over the surrounding African landscapes.
Cindy Lou and Whit discussed their first trek with Embark Exploration Co. – why they eyed Mount Kilimanjaro, what it was like to summit the highest peak in Africa, and how Embark played a role in their success.
Why did you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
We had a lifelong curiosity about Kilimanjaro. Seeing and climbing this massive, equatorial volcano perpetually cloaked with snow – and surrounded by some of the planet’s best wildlife – has always been one of our dreams. That it is in Africa added to its mystique. The peak’s lofty altitude was also a draw; even without technical skills, one could reach 19,341 feet.
Do any particular memories stand out?
Needless to say, standing atop Uhuru Peak – at 19,341 feet – is something we will never forget.
But there was much more.
Ascending the summit in the dark and witnessing eventual sunrise will be with us forever. The crew was amazing, and being included in their evening dances was unforgettable. Climbing through the many vegetation zones was fascinating, as was the geology and glaciology.
We also enjoyed seeing such a wide variety of landscapes, such as obsidian outcrops and massive walls of ice on the summit. The 9,000-foot, one-day descent from the summit was pretty memorable, as well.
How did you connect with Embark Exploration Co.?
Cindy lost her father to leukemia in 2012 and has since participated in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team in Training program. She ran marathons, including the tough Equinox in Fairbanks, Alaska, and dedicated some of her Pacific Crest Trail hikes to the cause.
Though we had dreams of Kilimanjaro, we were reluctant to commit due to concerns about altitude and age. Then Cindy Lou saw that Team in Training was having a Climb2Cure trek on Kilimanjaro. She signed up – and then told her husband. A short time later, Whit was on the roster. As it happened, LLS had partnered with Embark for the Climb2Cure.
Embark helped in two very significant ways. First, they had an excellent fitness program. Those who followed it greatly improved their ability to succeed. We began our fitness program on the Pacific Crest Trail, but when hiking ended, we switched over to Embark’s plan and followed it religiously. Secondly, they contracted with an outstanding company in Tanzania that put together a terrific crew and provided hikers with many comforts.
Embark helped in other ways, as well – such as providing gear lists and flight recommendations. They were also fantastic in assisting us with an attached safari. However, we were impressed that our support crew spoke very highly of Embark; they paid well, treated the crew respectfully, and were regarded as one of the best to companies for which to work.