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How I Got Started as a Plus-Size Adventurer

On the eve of my first Mount Kilimanjaro hike, I started to panic. It was 2007—and while I started my journey to wellness at 360 pounds and had since dropped dozens of pounds—I was still very much a plus-size adventurer. I was afraid I had bitten off more than I could chew.

I had been training for months but now, in the day before the massive journey ahead to Africa's highest peak at 19,343 feet, it felt like an insurmountable goal.

Kara Richardson Whitely, right, at KilimanjaroA fellow hiker, who had conquered Kilimanjaro's summit 2 years prior, said not to worry, we weren't taking on the mountain tomorrow.

"Huh?", I said, taking a moment from carbo-loading from the Kibo Hotel buffet.

"That's right. Tomorrow you'll take a day hike. It's about 4 hours. It's pretty easy. Think you can handle that?"

"Sure. That's a walk in the park," I thought, remembering the months of training in my home state of New Jersey.

"Great," she said. "The next day's hike is a bit longer, about 8 hours. Are you up for that?"

That was just like Watchung Reservation's White Trail, which I did with my husband, I thought.

"Things get a little steeper the following day, but you'll only go for about 4 hours and you'll have time to rest. Then, the last hike is pretty flat through the saddle, but if you hang in there, you'll be just fine. Every hike will prepare you for the next one. When it comes time for summit night, your body will be ready," she said.

I felt like I could exhale. This was what I was prepared for, ready to conquer. One day hike at a time.

That's really what my wellness journey has been all along. My weight has gone up and down like a mountain range, but each hike has been a step towards better health.

When I started, weighing 360 pounds, I could barely hike a staircase. My first big goal was Camel's Hump, Vermont's second highest peak, which left me winded and forced me to turn back 20 minutes into a 5-hour trek with some college friends.

Now I've hiked Mount Kilimanjaro 3 times to raise money for a charity, Global Alliance for Africa, a Chicago-based organization that supports and empowers AIDS orphans. I'm also hoping to inspire others to get fit by documenting my own fitness and weight-loss journey.

In fact, my most recent hike for Global Alliance for Africa will be featured in a documentary called Big Fat Mountain. Take a look at my Big Fat Mountain website to learn more and possibly get involved in the project yourself.

I've learned that whenever a challenge seems too daunting, break it down into smaller pieces and take it from there. Remember, each step turns mountains into molehills.

Editor's note: Kara will speak about "Conquering Kilimanjaro and Moving Mountains" at the following REI stores:
     Thursday, March 1: 7pm  at the REI Framingham, Mass., store.
     Monday, March 5: 7pm at the REI East Hanover, N.J., store.

About Kara Richardson Whitely: Kara grew up nestled by mountains in South Burlington, Vt., but the only thing that went up was her weight. She now lives in Summit, N.J., and is plus-size adventurer and an advocate for the outdoors and fitness. She is a professional public speaker, author of Fat Woman on the Mountain and a content developer for a branding agency in New York City.


Posted on at 2:50 PM

Tagged: Hiking, Kara Richardson Whitely, Kilimanjaro and fitness

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You are such an inspiration! You should know that there are many people supporting you in your efforts and there will be plenty more. Your blog and video has brought me to tears and I hope you stay strong throughout your journey.

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Kara, what a magnificent accomplishment! I have yet to make it above 16,000 ft, so your story is quite an encouragement to anyone who has climbing and mountaineering aspirations, no matter their body size. Keep on hiking!


You Rock! I've always felt self conscious out on the trail, especially with an oh so flattering hip belt squishing me in all the wrong places. But you know what? I love it, I never feel stronger or more confident than when I am on the trail.


I applaud your perseverance and wish you continued joy in good health. I don't climb, but have a similar story with biking. I love it when people find better health and an outdoor experience they love.

What frustrates me though is the lack of plus size fitness clothing. REI has some, but I have to order them as the store nearest to me (Bellingham) very rarely have any in stock.

When you are determined, nothing can deter you and you'll wear whatever you can, but having technical clothing that is good looking and fits you does make a difference in how you feel about yourself as you move from the high numbers to the more regular numbers.

Kara Richardson Whitely

Your kind words are making my heart sing!

I'm doing my documentary about my journey so my story can be shared on every coast and in between!

Be sure to check out and support my documentary , which is on Kickstarter til March 15!

Happy trails,


I have always been overweight and have recently started hiking to help me accomplish my weight loss goals in a fun way. Thank you for inspiring me to keep going. It's difficult at times when everyone around you is in great shape and you're struggling to make it to the finish. I wish you continued success!


I've been hiking every weekend since last august. Some days I can go 5 miles. Some days I give up and turn around before I've even made it once. The hardest part are the people who give you these piting looks. Last weekend near my house I went on a hike. About 3 1/2 miles in I stopped and had lunch and was sitting on a rock reading a book on the side of the trail and 2 guys come up. The 1st says hello and keeps going. The 2nd stops and asks if I need him to get help. Really? Fat chick sitting on a rock with a book just screams can't walk??? It's not the first time I've had someone ask me if I needed them to call someone or get help. Or walk with me just in case. I tried joining the $10 a month gym and people would do the same kind of things. It's very discouraging. And it makes you not want to go out again.

I applaude you for keeping going. When you have those embarrassing moments and thos lonely moments I'll be sending what courage I have. I'll be out at dawn every weekend training. I hope to do a hut to hut in the white mountains some day. I just have to find a group as slow as myself :)


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