There are countless blogs and articles providing tips on how to train for Mt Kilimanjaro, what to wear, how your boots should fit, what aperture to have your camera on for certain times of the day, and what to pack in your first aid kit – but can you ever be truly prepared for the adventure that awaits you? There were some things that I was not anticipating on my 2017 adventure to Mt Kilimanjaro.
Look at me in this photo – I’m the epitome of preparedness! I trained well, my boots were worn in and I was ready for the physical challenge of the hike. I’d packed (almost) enough clothes to keep me warm on the -15 degree summit night and exactly the right amount of snacks to see me through the week.
What I learnt was, it’s not all about getting to the top. I didn’t make it to the highest point on Mt Kilimanjaro, which is Uhuru Peak at 5,895m above sea level. I made it to Stella Point at 5,756m, which is the top, but not the ‘top top’ if you know what I mean. I still got a certificate though so it totally counts!
It wasn’t the epiphany-inducing euphoric experience I had dreamed about and I only spent about five minutes up there. It was bloody freezing and once you’ve got a few happy snaps it is a long, slippery, knee-jarring race against time back to the comfort and safety of a lower camp before sunset.
It is physically tough, but now one year on, I don’t recall memories of the blisters on my feet, or the inflamed knees, or the smell from not showering for a week. I remember seeing the sun rise from such a height that I could just about make out the curvature of the earth. I remember the unadulterated joy of singing and dancing with our guides in celebration. I remember the deep and meaningful conversations I had with people who were at the time complete strangers.
Friendships will form or deepen and you’ll always have this phenomenal experience you’ve shared that will keep you bonded for a lifetime. With that being said however, sometimes the biggest challenge can be relationships within your group.
You get to see the best and worst in people when they are pushed to their physical and emotional limits. Fortunately, I was blessed to hike with some of the most genuinely beautiful humans I’ve ever met… but there were also moments where I would burst into spontaneous sobbing out of pure frustration.
Keep in mind that everyone has their own coping mechanisms (including you) and you need to just be patient with each other. It is the mutual encouragement that will get you through, rather than how many hours you put in on the stair master back home. I think being a fundraiser for Kenyan children’s charity, Rafiki Mwema helped too, because when times got tough, we remembered that we were all doing it for something much bigger than ourselves.
Appreciate the unique and changing landscapes around you. Savour that blissful moment of taking your boots off in the tent each night. Cherish the daily victory of making it to the next camp. Get to know your fellow hikers and let them get to know you. Laugh, cry, overshare and let your emotions run freely. Soak it all in and let it all out.
So can you be prepared for the adventure of hiking Mt Kilimanjaro? Not really. It’s the adventure that prepares you for life.