When Nat Gallen, who has CF, was in second grade, he read a book about Mt. Kilimanjaro and decided he wanted to climb the mountain. He fulfilled his dream this summer at the age of 15. “You might get told you can’t do something because you have a medical condition, but only you can decide what you’re capable of. You have to believe in yourself,” Nat said.
At more than 19,000 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. Only 40 percent of those who attempt to climb the mountain make it to the summit.
But that didn’t deter 15-year-old Nat Gallen.
On August 4, after five days of hiking, Nat became the youngest person with CF to successfully complete the climb. In doing so, he fulfilled a dream he’s held for nearly half of his life.
“I read about the mountain in a book when I was in second grade. I brought the book home, showed my dad, and told him about it,” said Nat. “I wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and that’s what I set my mind to.”
Nat’s father, John, helped his son embrace that dream. The duo trained for years, climbing through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Rockies in Colorado.
“Mountain climbing has been my dad’s hobby forever, so he knows what it takes. We first climbed in the U.S. to see if I was mentally tough enough for Kilimanjaro, which is the tallest mountain in all of Africa,” Nat said.
On August 4, after five days of hiking, Nat became the youngest person with CF to successfully make it to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa.
Concerns for Nat’s health and safety went beyond what most climbers experience, though. Each day, in order to stay healthy, Nat has to wear a mechanical vest that helps shake thick, sticky mucus from his lungs, and take nebulizers. Those therapies, plus additional precautions, had to be part of his regimen on the mountain.
“The entire time we were climbing I carefully monitored Nat’s fluid and salt intake, as well as the amount of calories he ate,” John said. “Hydration at high altitudes is a great way to fight headaches, but it also helps with breathing. I made him drink so much water that he earned the nickname ‘Aquaman.’”
Nat hopes his adventures will inspire other people with CF to live their dreams, despite what others may say.
“You might get told you can’t do something because you have a medical condition, but only you can decide what you’re capable of. You have to believe in yourself,” Nat said.
And for Nat, the sky is the limit. This adventurous 15-year-old is already looking for his next challenge.
“Climbing this mountain had been the main goal I’ve held for most of my life,” he said. “So, when I was at the top of Kilimanjaro, I felt proud for having come so far, but at the same time, I asked myself, ‘what’s next?’”