Climbing for a Cause

For many people, Mondays are hard work. They can be uninspiring and unwelcome reminders of things that we hate about our lives. Since I’ve taken the risk of leaving an unfulfilling job to pursue my passions, I’ve learnt that no day is ever ordinary.  There is always something incredible in the works. Each day, we are presented with the opportunity to take what appears to be dull and mundane and turn it into something extraordinary. That is exactly what Michael Marillier is doing as you read this – Today he is busy climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in aid of his colleague, Gcobisa, who is battling cancer.

Michael grew up in Newcastle, a Northern KwaZulu Natal town on the edge of the Drakensberg that is surrounded by mountains. Growing up, he spent his weekends either playing sport or hanging out with his parents at the nearby dam. He is now a TV producer at a news channel based in Johannesburg.  He enjoys the pace of live television and loves that it involves communicating with people.

 “It takes skill to convey a complex situation in a simple, entertaining way, and if you get it right, you can make a difference. It keeps me on my toes”, says Michael.

 So how did he go from his every day life as a TV producer to climbing Kilimanjaro?

 Michael’s father invited him to join the expedition. He is a teacher at St. Dominic’s Academy and is one of the expedition leaders.

 “One of my dad’s students came up with the idea last year.  My dad invited me on the expedition and I didn’t think twice when he told me about it. I enjoy endurance events and thought this would provide a real test of my character.  I also wanted to do something with my dad. He grew up in the bush and loves adventure, and this challenge has given us something we can share.”

 So he is part of The Saints – the St Dominic’s Academy climbing team. The team is made up of eight learners, four teachers and five parents. The youngest team member is 13. The oldest is 59.  St Dominic’s will be one of only a few schools to attempt the climb, so it’s a watershed moment for the Academy. Michael spent ten years at St Dominic’s, so it’s close to his heart, and he hopes that the experience will show him what he’s made of.

 “You only really find that out when you push yourself. I want to see how I respond when I feel like I can’t take another step. I hope I’ll also learn to look at the bigger picture. The world and its worries tend to look quite small when you’re on a mountain,” Michael adds.

True to his compassionate nature, he is also making the best of this opportunity to help raise money for a colleague who is battling cancer at the moment and who he says has gone through some really painful treatment and has shown immense courage and faith through it all.


  On asking about his experience with mountains, Michael answered that he has climbed a few mountains, but nothing as tough as Kilimanjaro. He has climbed Table Mountain a few times and has also conquered Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest peak in Southern Africa.

 “I like the fact that mountains force you to dig deep.  Sometimes you have to take the next step, no matter how bad you feel.  Your survival depends on it. The mountain is also a very consistent opponent. It never has a bad day. It never plays poorly, or makes it easy for you to win. So, you’ve really got no excuses.  Mountains force you to take a long, hard look in the mirror,” he adds.

Like all such pursuits, preparation and training is important. Michael indicates that climbers need to be fairly fit, but mental strength is probably more important. Just about everyone has to deal with nausea and headaches when they reach altitudes above 4000 metres. The summit of Kilimanjaro is 5895 metres above sea level. He says that you also need emotional discipline. If you rush up the mountain, you’ll struggle to make it to the top. Climbers often get carried away by the excitement, and soon run out of steam. You need to keep your emotions in check, which is difficult when you’re about to summit a major peak.

 They had to do a fair amount of training, which included a few day hikes in Northern KZN before heading to Lesotho to climb Thabana Ntlenyana where they camped in sub-zero temperatures. This gave them a taste of the conditions on Kilimanjaro, which he says “was damn cold!

 Michael anticipates that the climb will test him and the team’s ability to endure hardship.

There’s no escaping the fact that we’ll get altitude sickness in some form or another. So, we’ll have to find a way to manage our thoughts and our emotions – work through the pain and put one foot in front of the other. I guess it’s a little like life. You have to keep moving, no matter how slowly.”

My favourite question to ask people is – What inspires you in life/in general? To this Michael responded:


I admire people with grit. I tend to identify with people who aren’t necessarily the fastest, strongest or smartest. I root for the guy who won’t give up – the one who wants it the most.  There’ll always be someone better than you, but you can want it more. And if you want it more, you’re halfway there.

The Saint’s hope to summit in the early hours of Saturday, 30 June and should return to South Africa the next week.  If you would like to support the cause that he is climbing for and make a donation towards helping Gcobisa in her battle against cancer, then make a pledge by sending an email to: Please note that he may only be able to respond with the payment details once he returns from Tanzania. 


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