“Do one thing that scares you everyday.”
The day I decided to book a ticket to fly to Tanzania with one of my closet friends, I knew I was in for a few weeks of waking up and doing something that scared me.
When I first gazed upon the beauty that is Mt. Kilimanjaro, snow-capped, majestically towering above everything else around it at 19,341 feet in the air, I thought to myself – I’m going to be on top of that thing.
Fear ran through down my body as I threw my backpack and duffel onto the van, tightened my boots and headed for Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park where we would begin climbing.
Flickr photo via Gary Craig
Around 25,000 adventure-seekers trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro each year, of those a little over half actually get to the top of Uhuru Peak. Even experience hikers can fall short due to dehydration and altitude. Coming from a state with no mountains to speak of, I had hoped my love for running, biking and somehow gift of being able to breath in the thinnest of air would give me a win.
There are many tour groups and tour routes offered for climbing Kili, including Machame, Marangu, Lemosho, Rongai, Shira, Northern Circuit and Umbwe. The most popular of those bing Marangu and Machame.
Marangu (the one I did) is also referred to as the “Coca Cola Route.” As the oldest, well-established route this path offers traditional sleeping huts at stops. This route gradually slops and is usually completed within six days (one day of acclimation at 13,000 feet with a short day hike to Zebra Rocks).
Spending six days on a mountainside, walking 7-8 hours a day, sleeping in huts, washing with buckets of water, eating huddled around your closest friends every night and falling asleep when the sun goes down (around 6 p.m.) legs heavy and body fatigued is an experience unlike any other I’ve had.
For most, summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro is a bucket list item, a personal and physical accomplishment that leaves you with a sense of pride. And, don’t get me wrong, the minute I stepped off that mountain I couldn’t wait to brag a little (I did have a signed certificate saying I did it). But, looking back on the experience a few years later, here are a few things that made the trip more than just a checkmark on a long lists of must-dos.
- Hiking through five different ecosystems.
- Eating vegetable stew with people from all over the world.
- Being above the clouds.
- Sleeping in a room with 8 – 10 other travelers, patiently awaiting 12 a.m. to start summiting.
- Stepping outside of the final hut, not sure what awaits you while you breath in the mountain air and fall in line with several other head torches, all of you aiming for the same goal.
- A guide reaching for your hand and telling you to keep going after the altitude becomes to heavy, the freezing weather become to much to stand and you lose all faith in yourself.
- Coke and Snickers, so many Cokes and Snickers.
- Watching the sunrise as you reach Uhuru Peak.
- Sliding down the loose rocks after summiting, exhausted, sick and hungry but knowing at the bottom you get cold juice.
- Walking, Poli Poli (slowly, slowly) for hours and hours a day, going up and up while you listen to stories from your guide about their life, their family and what it takes to be a guide.
These are just a few things that stick out in my memory from those six-days on the mountain. When we were summiting, I got sick, dehydrated, exhausted and nearly quit. But when a hand reaches for you and tells you to keep going, you get up and you do the thing that scares you – no matter how hopeless you feel.