Last week I climbed to the summit of Mount Kilmanjaro. Having lived in the shadow of it for a year here in Tanzania, I felt it was only right that I take on the challenge. With two of my friends and a frightening lack of preparation, we embarked on our 80k trek. Needless to say, the six days on the highest freestanding mountain in the world taught me more than I could ever have imagined.
Lessons from Kilimanjaro
- The capacity of the human spirit is immeasurable.
There are nowhere near enough words in the English language to describe summit night. After three or four days of trekking across the beautiful landscape of Kili, you are faced with the imposing and frightening sight of Kibo, knowing that you will spend that night scaling the sheer scree, scrambling over rocks, and trekking across the peaks to the final 5895m of Uhuru.
Our ascent took 6 and a half gruelling, freezing cold hours. Yet, we kept going. Kilimanjaro is a physical endurance test – but more so a test of your mental strength. The body gives up long before the mind. My friends and I were physically exhausted by hour three or four, and could have easily given up. But the capacity within ourselves to just keep going was incredible. We baby-stepped our way to the summit and every step was a test – but nothing diminished our sheer determination to stand on the roof of Africa. Courage does not always roar – sometimes it is the quiet determination to keep on going.
- Survival instinct, Fuel and Strength
Altitude and extreme conditions can make the body do strange and beautiful things and, having experienced the way my body coped and survived and occasionally thrived on the mountain, I have a whole new appreciation for the human body. 80km of trekking built muscles and used any reserves it could so every evening we would force ourselves to fuel up. Altitude reduces your appetite so you soon find yourself forcing down every spoonful – fully aware that without it your body would not cope with the following days trek. My understanding of how to fuel my body and how much better my body would cope when I had given it the right nutrients, energy and fats to withstand what I was putting it through every day. I discovered strength and endurance that I did not think existed within me as we climbed higher and higher. I found a heightened awareness of my joints, muscles and senses throughout the journey. And, having endured the freezing winds at the peak of Kili, I know my body’s survival instinct is strong.
- Our world is full of stunningly beautiful sights. Stop and take it in. Try to touch the stars.
While on the mountain it can be very easy to focus solely on the path in front of you and putting one foot in front of the other. Yet, Kili taught me the importance of stopping to look around and there are beautiful sights that are locked in my mind forever.
– Sitting above a blanket of clouds drinking hot chocolate.
– Stopping at 4am on summit night, after switch-backing continuously for the past four hours, eating small squares of chocolate and suddenly seeing how close the stars were. We felt like we could have held them in our hands.
-The Moon lighting our path.
– Welcoming sunrise from Gillman’s point.
- Lifetime bonds
It goes without saying that going through this kind of experience bonds people. I was lucky enough to take on this challenge with a friend with whom I have 23 years worth of stories to tell and her partner of 9 years. I felt like my bond with Joolz and Jenn was already strong – but having conquered Kili with them, we are forever bonded by the experiences we had. Without each other for encouragement, support and, occasionally, sheer bloody-minded determination, we would possibly not have made it to the summit. But, together, we did.