What is it that makes us, as humans, strive through pain to reach the end of a life-changing journey? Is it courage? Or is it just the fear of failure? For me, it’s the pain that makes that journey worthwhile and unforgettable. Let me tell you all about my ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro.
This summer I embarked upon a six-day trek to reach the roof of Africa. A trek that well and truly transformed my view on the world and my body.
From the moment you step through Machame Gate to the moment you leave, one signature draws you away from the life you are used to living. As you pick up the pen and scribble down your name, you commit yourself to the cause, and in this time, your life belongs to the mountain.
Through the mud and the rainforest, the damp aura that nature elicits is crushed by your team’s buzz and determination. After each step, your wondering mind pictures the summit you’ve not yet seen. It’s the porter’s singing and surprising levels of oxygen that get you through the rainforest – Machame Camp, 2835m up and day one is over.
The pallet of greens and browns fade into a misty haze of fluffy cloud, seeping over you quicker than the passing porters packing weighted bags on their heads. Oh, the porters. The mountain’s true heroes. There’s a sudden moment of realisation as to why you’re here now. One look to the right and one look to the left, you stand as a team above the Tanzanian kingdom. The clouds are below you and for the first time you realise, you’re climbing Kilimanjaro.
This is the night you lose yourself to the mountain, evolving as each camp is reached; you’re now part of a family. Your team have done this together, and as you clutch onto your warm evening beverage and watch the clouds in the sky that have dyed pomegranate pink, you’re all blissfully unaware of the pain that being 3750m up can cause at Shira Cave Camp.
On Kilimanjaro, you learn to mute your negative thoughts and just let your body control you. The wonders of Lava Tower can’t be overseen by a thunderous pain in the back of your skull, but each step is one step closer to the top. A lesson you learn is that your mind is only limited by your beliefs.
Your forged camaraderie with your teammates and porters is that of a family now, and each night you return to the tent that you now call home. On a rocky surface, full of carbohydrates, sleeping is made easier at Baranco Camp, 3900m up, by the purple night’s sky freckled with stars that reflect off the icy heights of the mountain.
Rahisi, Hakuna Matata. You here this commonly as your body starts to falter with a lack of oxygen. It’s Swahili for ‘piece of cake, no worries’. As you scale the sheer-faced rocks of Baranco Wall, as you’re hit with adrenaline way beyond the clouds, or as burning sunshine beams off of blinding ice – Kilimanjaro’s most mysterious description is ‘a piece of cake.’
4673m up, Barafu camp is where you now rest before summit. It’s the worst place to sleep but the best place to dream. This summit night is the culmination of the last 4 days of heroic work.
Step by step to the roof of Africa, you follow weaving lines of speckled light that illuminate the face of the mountain. Each head-torch that lies ahead is escaping your grasp, and it becomes you against yourself.
Diagonal lines will now plague my life with memories of the time myself and 13 others slowly meandered vertically from midnight to 6am.
It is now when you realise that everything you have worked for; the money raised, the equipment bought, the vaccinations injected, that this is what life can really offer. You and your team stand in the vastness of this remote and gracious peak, as the first of the orange rays appear above distant cloud and land. Night turns to day in a lucid transition that to this day remains the best moment of my life.
The luxury of home seems so far away as you take your final steps to Uhuru Peak. Crisp wind and thin air set up a gruelling journey contrasting to the beautiful glacier surroundings. It is in this moment you control your body with your mind, and every step becomes a battle. A battle to be won. A battle that was won.
There you are, 5895m up. Standing boldly over African land swamped in cloud, looking down from the pinnacle of Kilimanjaro, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. Sharing this epic journey with your team as you summit together brings the day’s first smile and the last time on this adventure, you can in that moment, feel like you’re on top of the world.
Life on the mountain shows that we don’t truly know ourselves until we are contained to a task that is beyond our physical limits. We all suffer the same, but you find within yourself something you’ve not yet discovered. It was life’s first true fight against me.
The pain is what gets you there, combined with the vision of mountaineering success and self-achieved goals. As you board that outbound plane, you go home with a place in your heart that has been undone to a special mountain in a spectacular world.