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Jimmy Chin and Alexandra Cousteau with local people during Kilimanjaro climb

Actors, Musicians, Explorers Climb Kilimanjaro for Clean Water – Documentary Airs on Sunday

In January, a team of actors, musicians, and National Geographic explorers—Jimmy Chin and Alexandra Cousteau—set out to climb Africa’s tallest peak, 19,340-foot Kilimanjaro, to raise awareness about the global clean water crisis. (Read more from Chin and Cousteau in interviews we will post later today.)

According to the United Nations' Millennium Water for Life initiative, 18 percent of the world’s population doesn’t have access to safe drinking water and 42 percent doesn’t have access to sanitation, resulting in deadly waterborne diseases.

“Mountains are like the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter who anyone is or what they do,” says big-wall climber and photographer Chin, referring to the challenge posed to his fellow hikers, actors Emile Hirsch and Jessica Biel and musicians Santigold and Kenna, the Ethiopia-born singer-songwriter leading the Summit on the Summit initiative.

The team's trek up the Shira route in Tanzania covered approximately 50 miles over 7 days (5.5 days up, 1.5 days down). Upon reaching the summit, whiteout conditions robbed them of a bird’s-eye view of all of Kilimanjaro’s legendary glaciers, which are predicted to be gone in a dozen years due to human-caused global warming. For millions of people, the mountain's glaciers are an important and threatened source of water.

But the clean water problem is one we all share. “Water is our most critical life support system, and it’s getting degraded here as much as anywhere else,” says water advocate and Blue Legacy founder Cousteau. “It is critical to make wise choices here at home, understanding that all of our water resources are connected, and that we are all downstream from one another.”

The physical climb may be over, but the hard work has just begun. “Now we have the real climb,” says Chin, “which is to get the word out and get people to understand how they can contribute to helping solve the global clean water crisis."

Watch a documentary featuring this climb on MTV on Sunday, March 14, at 9 p.m. For more informationor to get involved, go to

Text by Mary Anne Potts; Photograph by Jimmy Chin