Today’s post was written by Kathy about her recent trip to conquer Mt Kilimanjaro. A PR of gargantuan proportions, her story is of the victory of mind over matter.
They say when you climb Kilimanjaro and stand on the roof of Africa, you see the world in a different way. For some, it may have been the splendid views of the Serengeti or the sunrise on Uhuru Peak that inspired transformation. For me, it was the extreme weather conditions for the majority of the trek and sheer mental willpower it took to actually summit, that showed me what seems impossible in life might just be doable.
Over this holiday season, 4 of my friends and I undertook the 7 day Machame trail to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro along with 3 trusty guides, 1 talented cook and 16 very-sturdy porters. Little did we know that amongst being one of the most popular and scenic trails to the summit, the Machame trail is also considered the second most difficult way up. While we had trained for 6 months in the mountains of Southern California, nothing prepared us for inclimate, verging-on-hostile weather. Despite being the “dry” season, according to our guides, global warming has made the weather on the mountain unpredictable. So we were “blessed” with pouring rain for 4 days straight which turned rocky paths treacherous, a hail/thunder/lightning storm on our way to base camp (which resulted in the death of Irishman Ian McKeever when he was struck by lightning), and white-out conditions on summit day. The only sunny day we had was day 7, with the mountain apparently happy to see us go.
From a technical standpoint, the trail is not for beginners and is challenging physically, because it is predominately uphill for dozens of miles with a handful of rock scrambles thrown in, but very doable in perfect conditions. However, the altitude affects each person differently. For me I had a constant headache. For others, the altitude was debilitating. On day 3, my stubborn-self tried to hike ahead of the group, telling our guide that the “pole pole” pace they had everybody on (which in Swahili means “slowly, slowly”) was way too slow for me. An hour later, the group had caught me, stopping far fewer times than I had at my quicker pace. I soon learned that “pole pole” – an even, fairly slow step – led me to expend less energy, and acclimatize better because I was taking in the elevation changes more gradually. On the mountain, being prepared meant regulating every aspect of my being, whether it was food, clothing, sleep, or pacing, to increase my chances of making it to the summit.
The most difficult day was day 6 – summit day – the longest hiking day of my life. Day 5 was a short 5 hour hike to base camp, elevation 15,000 feet. The day started off sunny, but shortly we were caught in a hail/thunder/ lightning storm, and freezing cold by the time we made it to base camp, which was covered with snow. We attempted to nap for a few hours, ate dinner, napped for a couple more hours, then woke up at 11pm to begin the trek to the summit. We started off, in the dark, at a steep incline, each of us wearing 5 layers of clothing to keep warm, because it was snowing and the ground was slippery and snow covered. All one could see was the dark formidable shadow of the mountain and little specks of light (headlamps of the other trekkers) winding up the mountainside. We kept a “pole pole, pole pole” pace (extra slow) for 7 hours to reach Stella Ridge. From there, it was 1 more hour to the summit. By that point, we had lost 1 member of our group to altitude-sickness, our hands were frozen, and our legs were physically done. The last bit of the trek took everything I had mentally to make it, but I knew I was going to summit. And reaching Uhuru Peak (meaning “Freedom” in Swahili) was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
Even though I spent a maximum of 10 minutes at the top (because it was so cold and we had to hike 8 hours down that day to reach the next camp), those 10 minutes have made a world of difference in my life. Things that may have appeared difficult in the past, just don’t present obstacles anymore. Like on the mountain, you just keep going until you get to the next camp, or until the worst is over and you’re in a better place. And on days when I am staring down the barrel at a multitude of tasks, instead of rushing forward, I take a breath and remember “pole pole.” Slowly slowly, and anything can be done. All your goals can be met.
Press 3×5 / Wendler
5 Power Cleans
10 Bar Facing Burpees
15 Medball Situps