I think I've been on a total of 5 hikes in my entire life...so what made me think I could climb the tallest free-standing mountain in the world...I'm not really sure. Maybe it was Bret's enthusiasm, excitement, and confidence. Maybe it was my fear of regretting not trying it later. Or maybe I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
When I first arrived in Tanzania I had no intention of climbing Mountain Kilimanjaro. Too tall. Too cold. Too expensive. Too scary. Four very good reasons to stick to the beach and safaris. But when Bret suggested we climb Kili during his last vacation, I couldn't let the idea drop. I realized that the parts of me that were anti-Kili (aka the cheap and chicken parts) weren't necessarily beasts I wanted to feed. So with a little prodding from my mom--I agreed.
After a bit of research and a whole lot of discussion, Bret and I chose a route (Machame, 6-day) and a trekking company (Gladys Adventures). We only had about a month to prepare mentally and physically. We took one hike to Matema Beach and did a bit of strength training whenever we could find the time. Soon I was doing wall-sits so often I thought I was back on modified basketball (Yes, yes...I played basketball. I believe I accrued more fouls than points...). Before I knew it we were on a 16-hour bus ride from Mbeya to Moshi.
The next day we went in to see Gladys and rent some equipment. When we were there we met a nice Dutch couple who agreed to climb with us the next day. I found I was shockingly not nervous. I would either make it to the top or I'd get a damn-good story trying. So Bret and I stuffed ourselves with mzungu food (hamburgers, ice cream, and Italian food) and watched the World Cup practically forgetting what was coming next.
On Monday morning we began our climb. The first few days were pretty easy and breathtakingly beautiful. Everyday boasted a completely different ecosystem. They split the climb into short pieces to aid acclimatization so that you don't get altitude sickness. Not to say these days weren't hard. I got sick the second day (probably from all the junk food I ate) and had horrible cramps the third day, but I survived. Bret and my Dutch friends and guides were all very encouraging. Plus it didn't hurt to be puking up papaya while enjoying of the most breath-taking views in the world. Perspective, right?
On the night of day four we woke up at 11:30 pm to prepare to summit. After a nice breakfast of lemon-infused oatmeal, tea, and sugar cookies in our tent, I piled on the layers (2 thermal shirts, a wool sweater, a fleece jacket, a down coat, 2 thermal pants, a hat, fleece pajama bottoms, snow pants, 2 pairs of gloves, and 2 pairs of socks) and headed out (I, of course, am not a fan of the cold so I may have gone a bit overboard. The porters laughed hysterically as I gave them a very sweaty strip tease upon returning to camp...).
I've once heard summit Kili described as "the worst night of my life plus four hours." This turned out to be somewhat accurate. The night of the hike was a huge jump in elevation on a difficult trail done in the dark and the cold. But there was something in me that kept me going. Maybe it was the stars over Mwenyezi peak of the glow of head lamps ahead. Maybe it was the Snickers in Bret's bag that he'd been denying me for the last four days. Maybe it was pride. Or maybe it was all the people I was carrying with me in my The Northface backpack. As I climbed in the dark I thought of all the people who had given or lent me something for the climb.
- Sam--my sunglasses
- Hillary--my sports bra and CamelPak
- Sarah--my fleece pants
- Marie--my raincoat and sweater
- Mom and Dad--my packs, socks, hat, boots, sleeping bag, and nearly all my clothes
- My friends at St. Paul's--my sleeping bag lines and bandanna
- Anita--my poles
I wanted to summit with all these people. I wanted to do it for them. And I heard the voices of my friends and relatives encouraging me. Not that I really told anyone we were climbing Kili, but when you've been supported and encouraged your whole life it's not hard to summon those voices. I heard Mrs. Westervelt me to "never say can't" and my PTs and my brother and telling me "you can do it." And they were right.
I made it to the top.
At 6:22 am I had arrived at the highest point in Africa: 5,895 meters...just in time to watch on of the most amazing sunrises of my life. After Bret, my Dutch friends and I had frolicked about and taken ample pictures we headed back down.
The way back down the mountain was no where near as inspirational and exciting. Matter of fact, for me and my bad knees it was tiring and scary. But I made it down. And once I reached the bottom I realized how thankful I was that Bret had encouraged me to climb that mountain. Not only did I get to see what we could do together (and it must have been quite the feat for Bret to point up with my complaints during those cold, windy nights), but I was reminded of what I could do, not on my own, but with 25 years of friendships, relationships, and experiences under my belt. I don't think I've taken nearly enough opportunities to thank my family, friends, teachers, doctors, youth workers, etc. for all the support you've given me over the years. You might think you only played a small role at some random point in my life, but that's not true. I carry you with me. And that's baggage that doesn't weigh down my pack. You helped me climb Kili, move to Africa, graduate from college, win soccer games, walk again, sing in front of hundreds, and accomplish countless other victories throughout my life. I'm eternally grateful to you. And I beg you to stay with me on all of the other treks I have to look forward to in life--no matter how much I might whine on the way. :-)