Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is both the hardest and most magnificent thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Or at least it was the hardest and most magnificent thing since giving birth. And just like most new mothers will tell you that they are quite sure they’ll never want to go through childbirth again, I was absolutely certain, the day we returned from the mountain, that I would never hike it up a second time. But you know what? Just a few days afterwards, I’m not so sure anymore. It was that great.
Kilimanjaro as seen from Mweka route
Conquering a mountain like Kilimanjaro is a testament to the human spirit. You can almost always take one more small step, even if your resolve and your strength are severely tested. Every guide on the mountain knows this basic principle, which is why pole pole (slowly) are the first words you’ll hear before you’ve even started. There is almost no limit to what you might accomplish in life if you just go about it one step at a time.
I’ll tell you more about each day of our adventure in the coming days, and you’ll get to know some of the people I shared it with – yes, we did come up with eight more blog names (more on those later) in the sort of creative frenzy you can only get when you’ve just come off a mountain together and shared one too many rounds of Kilimanjaro beers in the aftermath to expunge forever the lingering taste of seven days worth of water purification tablets.
This much I can tell you now: Climbing Kilimanjaro is something everyone should get to do at least once in their lives. It is a personal journey, almost spiritual, and it will forever be a part of you. You start out with just an idea, a bit crazy perhaps, and when you find yourself actually looking at what you’re trying to attempt you are filled with more and more excitement. You cannot wait to get started and almost race up that mountainside when you’re let off at the starting blocks inside the park gates. And yet Uhuru Peak is as elusive as five minutes of peace at our house when all kids are home. The closer you get, the farther it seems to be out of reach. For days you do nothing but walk uphill, and yet every evening that snow-covered peak seems to hover just as far away as when you started. The final stretch to the summit looms like an insurmountable obstacle and you feel like giving up many times when you’re creeping up at a snail’s pace in the freezing night. If you are fortunate to make it all the way up, you realize that you could never have done it on your own but rather needed those around you to carry you up with their collective spirit.
Early morning between Stella Point and Uhuru Peak
Before I did this, I imagined I’d be happy to have reached a goal of mine and check it off some imaginary list. How wrong I was. It’s not the goal that matters, but being a part of such a great adventure. I’m rather sad and moping around at the moment, knowing that I can never get back what we had on that mountain. The companionship was unforgettable and the incredible kindness and support from our guides and porters was humbling. It was as if the combination of hardship and accomplishment elevated you to a state of permanent high which you’ll inevitably come crashing down from when it ends. And yet it is all worth it, a week in your life where you enjoy every moment as if it was your last and soak up life as much as you can. In other words, hakuna matata.
But enough with the deep thoughts and on to the more profound questions I know you’ve been really dying to ask, like did or did I not use the garden trowel, and did I win the award for most layers of clothing during summit night. Stay tuned for the details as I take you through every one of our days in the coming blog posts.
In the meantime, you’ll need to get to know the main characters our our Kili expedition:
- The Fat Controller, who doesn’t live up to the first part of his name but the second, at one point in time hustling us all out of the tent we were having dinner in to get a better angle for his video camera;
- Woody, of whom I actually don’t recall how he got his name but who was always ready with his quick wit when a joke was needed most;
- Johnny Fartpants, of whom I’m afraid we all do recall very well how he got his name;
- Bo Peep, because of her hat that always shone like a beacon to lead the way (though she was definitely not our Woody’s girlfriend);
- Professor Calculus, who you’ll remember always brings along one of his new scientific discoveries which unfortunately often doesn’t work quite as expected;
- Mr. Potato Head, who already had integral pieces of his gear missing before we’d even gotten to the park entrance (but fortunately got rescued once or twice by the genius of Prof Calculus);
- Sebastian, as in the crab from Ariel, though I think his naming must have occurred past my bedtime as I cannot recall the connection, other than him being able to speak in a really cool accent;
- and, last but not least, Dory, sociable, chatty, positive of attitude, and forever asking questions.
- Zax was christened Reggie, also for reasons unknown to me, but I promised him a new blog name (and an entire recipe’s worth of chocolate chip cookie dough for him alone to eat, unbaked) if he came to Kili with me, so until we’ve figured that one out I think he’ll remain Zax.
- As for myself, apparently I resemble Olive of Popeye fame (must be for my thin build, I’m sure), but as the narrator of this story, I retain the privilege of remaining yours truly, Joburg Expat.