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Chilliwack teen to hike Kilimanjaro to raise funds for youth mental health

Alan Cao, 17, travelling to Africa alone to raise money for Chilliwack Youth Health Centre
Alan Cao, a 17-year-old teenager from Chilliwack, is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro this summer to raise money for the Chilliwack Youth Health Centre.

A 17-year-old Chilliwack teen will be climbing the highest mountain in Africa to raise money for charity and to bring awareness to youth mental health.

Alan Cao is travelling to Tanzania alone to hike up Mount Kilimanjaro in August as a fundraiser for Chilliwack Youth Health Centre.

For most of his life he never experienced any major mental health issues, but recently an "unfortunately incident" happened to him, he said.

"What I previously thought was a mental fortitude of steel, was not so true," he said. "There are definitely people out there who were like me – or are like me – and think they're immune to whatever is out there. They should know that it's all right to need help sometimes and being in a bad spot is not an embarrassment, or shameful, or anything like that."

Cao, who's a Singaporean-Canadian, has a friend who showed him what poor mental health can look like and he said it's "not great."

"I'm sure most people are aware of this, but I'm sure some aren't, especially from a Chinese household. Mental health isn't spoken much of in China… it's just not normalized," he added. "Having travelled around a lot, North America is pretty open about this stuff. But the rest of the world, not so."

Now he's combining his love of travelling and hiking to raise money for a good cause. He's calling it Ascent for Awareness and is raising funds through a GoFundMe account.

Why Kilimanjaro?

"I stumbled on a story about the youngest guy to summit K2 and it wasn't a very shocking age – it was 20-something. I googled Everest and it was a 13-year-old boy, and I was completely dumbfounded. So I was like, I wanna do cool things like this, too."

He's already travelled solo twice – once to China, and then to the East Coast where he visited New York and Boston. He's leaving mid-July for another solo trip to Korea, Japan and China, before heading to Africa on Aug. 20 for Kilimanjaro – also by himself.

"It's free when I travel alone, compared to travelling with my brother or my parents. I can wake up whenever I want, do whatever. I eat whatever I want, and I don't have to worry about taking care of someone else. I can just go and take care of myself."

Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano in Tanzania, has an elevation of 5,895 metres. It's known as a "walk-up" mountain, he said.

"It's not flat, but it's not like Everest where you're scaling ice walls or things like that."

To compare, Everest is 8,849 metres and K2 (second-highest mountain) is 8,611 metres. B.C.'s tallest peak, Mount Fairweather, is 4,671 metres, while Mt. Cheam is 2,104 metres and Baker is 3,288 metres.

The trek up Kilimanjaro will take seven days and six nights, including the descent, and will be a challenge. Cao has been preparing for the climb by hiking local mountains, running, doing leg and back exercises, and doing whatever he can to simulate low oxygen.

Although he's travelling alone to Africa, he won't be climbing by himself. He'll be with expert guides and climbers who will supply most of the gear, like a tent and sleeping bag. There could be upwards of 10 climbers signed up to hike on Aug. 24, the first day of Cao's climb.

There's more than one trail to take and he'll be hiking the Lemosho Route, considered to be the most beautiful one on Mount Kilimanjaro. He will reach the summit on Aug. 29.

"Summit night is going to be incredibly hard, incredibly cold, incredibly dark. It's difficult."

But, he's fully confident that he'll make it to the top, and said it's realistically doable and a great challenge.

"I don't doubt my ability at all. I'm relatively fit now and with my training, fitness shouldn't be a problem."

Cao is funding his trip with the money he's earned as a part-time dishwasher. Ninety per cent of his income is going towards this journey. He set up a GoFundMe with a goal of $5,000 to raise money for Chilliwack Youth Health Centre and is asking for some funds to help pay for his trip.

"No more than $1000 will be needed to support my journey. Anything more will be going towards the charity."

Being physically prepared is one thing, but being mentally prepared is another, and Cao admits he doesn't yet know how to prepare his mind for the ascent.

"But, I know that one of the reasons I'm taking on Kili is to prove to myself that no matter how hard it can get, I have the mental will to get to the top."

To donate to Alan Cao's Ascent for Awareness, a fundraiser for Chilliwack Youth Health Centre, go to the GoFundMe page at Anyone wishing to sponsor Cao can contact him through the fundraiser page.


Jenna Hauck

About the Author: Jenna Hauck

I started my career at The Chilliwack Progress in 2000 as a photojournalist.
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