What I Learned About Myself on Mount Kilimanjaro

This week I was asked, “What did you learn about yourself while on Kilimanjaro?” I paused to think, and then a wave of pride washed over me. I realized that I didn’t really learn anything new about myself, but the trip up and down the mountain really drove home something big: I am mentally, emotionally, and physically strong. 

The climb was long. We were scheduled for 7 days on the mountain, but did the climb in 6 (more on that later). The first 5 days were filled with uphill walks, downhill jaunts, and some scrambling mixed in. Then, after reaching high camp on the afternoon of day 5, we started to prep for the summit. The summit was a 7-ish hour journey up starting at midnight. We climbed in the dark until the sun rose, with the cold wind stinging any exposed skin most of the way.

Sunrise and the curve of the earth.

The walk to the summit wasn’t easy, but I never felt like I couldn’t do it. I never felt like I had to turn around. Yes, my toes were cold. And yes, I did get hungry. But, because I had such a great handle on my breath and anxiety, those things didn’t bother me. I breathed deep, I snacked on a Snickers (my best purchase in Africa), and I told myself that any pain or discomfort was temporary. I was safe and I was strong.

Those are things I remind myself of often: I am safe and I am strong.

After summiting, I was back to high camp a little before 9am. That morning, we decided we were going to attempt the trek all the way down the mountain (instead of going halfway to camp and finish the next morning).

We made it with tired knees, sore legs, and grateful hearts. When we got to the hotel in Arusha, Tanzania, we had been awake for 24 hours straight, working off very little sleep before that. It felt amazing to eat pizza in a lobby, chug a Tusker (for hydration, of course), sleep in a bed, and wake up with nowhere special to walk to except the pool. Oh, and the hot showers were nice too.

Something else I was reminded on this trek: I am so grateful for my yoga practice. It is 100% what helped me summit and endure the grueling walk down. I had great control over my anxiety the entire time, and didn’t get overwhelmed.

Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t get emotional or cry. When I felt a wave of emotion come, I rode it out. At 5am on our summit trek (about an hour from Stella Point), we could see where Kilimanjaro leveled off. I started to get emotional and had to tell myself, “No crying just yet. The air is thin and you have some ways to go.” When we reached Stella Point and were on level ground, the tears started to flow. We were still 45 minutes from the true summit, but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly proud of myself.

I’ll share more about my experience soon. Until then, I’ll leave you with this: Try something that scares the sh*t out of you — your mind and body will surprise you. Remind yourself that you are safe and you are strong.

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