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climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

A few months ago I wrote a post about doing something big before my 35th birthday next summer.  At first my sister and I planned to run a half-marathon at Disney but that quickly fizzled out.  Then I decided to either hike Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania or walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

Can you guess which one I picked?

Making the Decision

It wasn’t an easy job, researching all the logistics to properly compare these two adventures.  I really wanted to find a hiking buddy and came so close to enlisting a friend to go with me but for big adventures like these it doesn’t always work out.

To be honest there was always a special tug at my heart for Kilimanjaro, a mountain so tall I could practically reach out and touch the heavens.  It would be the closest I’ve been to my dad in more than 2 years.  I could even summit the mountain on March 20th, what would have been his 57th birthday, if I organized a private climb.

So even when I was talking with my friend about which adventure we could take together I was secretly hoping she would pick Kilimanjaro.  I was disappointed that she couldn’t come but still determined to find a way to get to the top of that mountain.

climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Finding a Trekking Company

There are DOZENS of companies that organize climbs up Mount Kilimanjaro.  For someone just getting started in the research process it can be completely overwhelming.  Do I choose a US-based company for ease of payment and communication?  Do I choose a local company to cut out the middle-man and save a few hundred dollars?  Some companies offer budget hikes with basic equipment and cheap food but many times it’s the porters that suffer with low (or even no) wages.  Other companies offer higher standards of service…along with a higher price.  How does one choose a company that is both reputable and affordable?

My main concern was safety.  I sought hiking companies that provided their guides with oximeters and emergency oxygen.  Allowing hikers to add a day to their climb if necessary was another consideration.  Many times altitude sickness hits because a hiker tries to summit too quickly.  Having an extra day on the mountain to acclimatize can mean the difference between success and failure.

Affordability was another concern I had.  Could we afford to do a private climb with just 2 hikers?  Would we need to join a group climb with set dates?  Between Brandon’s school schedule and my friend’s school schedule we knew it would be hard to match up Spring Breaks and figure out a window that would work for both of us.  In the end this was the main reason she was unable to join me.

Once I was on my own for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro I needed to re-research everything again.  I still wanted a safe trekking group but I didn’t want to go alone.  I finally settled on WHOA Travel, a women’s adventure group that was a sponsor at this year’s Women in Travel Summit.  WHOA (Women High on Adventure) organizes a Kilimanjaro trek every March with a summit attempt on International Women’s Day followed by a day of volunteering in a local village.

climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
Image courtesy of WHOA Travel

It sounded like a perfect opportunity.  An all-women’s group climbing Mount Kilimanjaro during the exact month I wanted to visit.  The dates didn’t match up perfectly with Brandon’s Spring Break or my dad’s birthday but that’s a minor issue.  I still had a few concerns though.

WHOA Travel takes up to 30 women on this hike which is a BIG group for a Kilimanjaro trek.  What if I’m the slowest hiker?  What if I’m too slow?  Would I be turned around on the mountain and be told to head back without being given a chance to summit?  How will my introverted self feel about being in such a large group of strangers?  Is there a way I can get to know these ladies before we meet up in Tanzania?

I spoke with one of the owners at WHOA and she answered all my questions and then some.  No, I will not be turned around on the mountain.  The big group naturally breaks up into smaller packs of hikers based on everyone’s pace on the mountain.  Because there are so many women going I’ll likely have someone who is just as slow as me.  This will give me a chance to get to know my hiking buddies on a more personal basis.

I talked it over with Brandon and decided to put down a deposit to secure my spot on the hike.  Unfortunately I suck at following instructions and ended up paying for the trip in full.

Oops.

Good thing I signed up for a new credit card whose sign-up bonus gave me enough airline miles for a flight to Tanzania.  I just love saving money!

Preparing for the Climb

There’s still so much I have left to do.  I need to decide whether to take a safari after the hike and for how long.  After sleeping in a tent for 6 days I’m certainly going to want a proper bed but do I want to pay extra for “luxury” items like hot water?  That will drain my budget quickly which would mean a shorter safari.  There’s a lot I need to research before making a decision on this.

I’ve already started purchasing some gear and clothing online from REI but I need to make a packing list to ensure I don’t forget anything.  In the next few weeks I’ll head to my closest REI store to try on hiking boots.  This fall and winter will be spent breaking them in.  By January it will be too cold and snowy to be doing much outdoor hiking so I need to get started early.

climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
I scored this awesome North Face jacket for $100 AND it’s in my favorite color!

I’m also going to the gym 2-3 days a week.  I walk, lift weights and alternate between the stair climber and the elliptical trainer to improve my endurance and lung capacity.  I spend about 2 hours at the gym during my regular visits but once a month I’ll spend 4+ hours there to really ramp up my endurance.

Dieting hasn’t been as successful for me.  Cutting back on carbs and counting calories leaves me frustrated and hungry so I’ve decided to focus on getting in shape for the climb and letting my increased metabolism burn the fat off.  I haven’t seen the scale budge in a while but I do feel like I’m in better shape than I was at the beginning of summer.  It’s a start, anyway.

At first I felt nothing but excitement for this trip but now that it’s booked anxiety and doubt are starting to creep in.  For now I’m just trying to stay motivated enough to hit the gym and distracted enough to not completely freak out.  I’m constantly having to remind myself that this experience will be worth it, that I chose this trip because it’s hard.  I’ve taken the easy road all my life, giving up when the going gets tough.  I’ve promised myself that this time will be different.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” -Confucius

33 Comments

  1. I’m so excited for you! I have a couple trips on my bucket list that I need to get in shape for too. You’re an inspiration!

  2. You are going to ROCK this. I am so, so happy to be reading this post of yours. All of that research sounds like a pain in the butt, but I am so glad that you are making this happen. WHOA sounds like an incredible group to hike with. Keep your confidence strong! You are amazing!

  3. Wow, fair play to you!! I reckon ALOT of training is in order!
    I’ve been saying for years I’m going to do it someday, but the fear of being too slow / not fit enough totally puts me off. But then of course I meet a 65 year old down the pub who recalls doing it last year! 😀 So I reckon I can push myself to do it someday in the future!
    Looking forward to hearing how your prep goes – awesome blog!

  4. Wow! Sounds like you have a tremendous adventure ahead of you! I can’t wait to hear all about it and see the amazing pictures you will take! Happy early birthday!

  5. First, I think the is pretty awesome! I mean, I have no desire to summit a damn thing, but good for you for having such a big goal and actually booking the trip!! Most people say they would love to, and then never take it any further. So be proud already, truly!

    Second, and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, because I truly and curious and would love to be able to apply your tricks and tips to my life…but how on earth do you afford a trip like that when you are a SAHM and your hubs is a student? Because you travel pretty frequently already, and I would imagine a trip like that is a major expense. I truly am curious how you make it work! Especially also considering all the gear you would need to get is probably specific and expensive, too. I mean, just a jacket costing $100 seems like a lot to me.

    Also…are you going on the trip alone completely or with the hubs? And what would you do with Stink during this trip, or where would she stay? How long of a trip is it, anyway? I would guess 2 weeks, but I really have no clue!

    Thanks in advance if you can answer any of my questions.

    • I’m actually working on a post about that very topic but I’ll share a bit of information here first. First, Brandon’s tuition is paid by the GI Bill which also gives us a housing allowance and book stipend. That coupled with the $15K we save up before he left the military is what pays our bills, though I’m currently looking for a job. The money we use for travel comes from a life insurance policy from my father’s death. I planned to spread that money out over the course of my life and it took a while to decide to let go of some of it but now I’m okay with spending a little of it. That doesn’t stop me from being frugal though. I use travel hacking, coupons and rewards which saves me about $800 a year. Not much but enough for a nice domestic trip once a year. I hope this helps but stay tuned for more detailed posts on what I use to earn/save extra money for travel.

      I’m going alone for this trip so we’ll probably hire a baby-sitter during that time, or find drop-in daycare that we can use. I think I’ll be gone 2 weeks if I go on the safari, 9 or 10 days if I don’t. The climb itself is 7 days, 6 up and 1 down. Funny how it takes so long to get up the mountain but you can get down in just a day!

  6. Kilimanjaro, a good choice! You are one step closer to achieving an incredible goal. Something that you will remember and be proud of for the rest of your life!

  7. You have me all excited! You are so brave! I am glad you are going. I wanted to join you after the first few sentences. It is going to be an awesome experience. I can’t wait to tag along as you blog about it! You are a great example of …you can do anything you set your mind to no matter what size you are!

  8. whoaa!!! Kilimanjaro… I can only dream about)))
    You go girl!!! and come back with lots of things to share and many memories
    Have fun!!!

  9. what an adventure! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it! And, that’s a useful link to the woman’s hiking group I might use myself!

  10. How exciting! I hope you have an amazing time! I’ve been thinking about Mount Kilimanjaro a lot recently–would be such a fun (and challenging) hike to do! Sounds like you are doing a good job training as well!

  11. What a great effort – really well done! Your determination and discipline shall be an example for all of us!

  12. Such an amazing project! You can already be so proud of yourself!

  13. Congratulations for taking the first step in making this adventure happen. I’m sure with your determination, you’ll do great! Can’t wait to read about your climb! 🙂

  14. Believe it or not Christa, this post is truly inspirational! It makes me want to go and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with you! I like how personal this post is! And hey – the airline miles and free flight for signing up a new credit card – that’s just amazing! I wish we had that in Slovakia! 🙂

  15. You are awesome making it happen! What an amazing trip that’s going to be!! Love that green jacket-my fave color too 🙂 Very inspirational post, can’t wait to follow along on your adventure!

  16. Kilimanjaro is on my bucket list too and I’m glad you shared your concerns, I’ll be coming back to this when I decide on a time. Good luck to you, I cannot wait to read about your experience. For the time being, I’m trying to motivate myself to hit the gym again after a long break just so I can experience an adventure like this, so this comes as a good reminder.

  17. This sounds like a great goal to aim for, and I wish you all the best! I don’t know if you have your boots already sorted out, but it really helps to go out doing some long walks in them to help break them in. That way, your feet will be used to them when you come to do the climb itself. Good luck!

  18. It is so strange to read this right now. I’ve started writing my 30s list (I turn 30 at the end of next week) and I want some new challenges. Kilimanjaro climb is on my list! It sounds fantastic and I think you’ll have a very rewarding time with WHOA. Doing it on or near your fathers birthday is very touching. I hope to read all about it

  19. Congrats to you for choosing and preparing for such a big adventure! When it gets hard just remember this quote by Jack Kerouac-“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

  20. What a great thing to do for yourself! And such a great choice. I know it’s hard to go it alone sometimes, especially when you really want a buddy along, and for such a big occasion, but it often turns up that joining a group is the best and most fun way to do it anyway.

  21. You rock girl! I’m sure you can do it. A first trek is always nerve wrecking (mine was the Inca Trail) but once on trail – you’ll be fine. If you prepare enough, you will do good and everyone will see that you are doing your utter best! Good luck with the journey towards the top of Kilimanjaro!

  22. Girl, you got this!!! I’m really happy for you! I mean, you’re determined about this by trying to diet, working out, preparing and researching! I’m looking forward to your future post! 🙂 WHOA sounds like a great one too! Think positive and it’s okay to be slow, it’s no competition. Rooting for you! 🙂

  23. Wonderful. I’m looking forward to reading more as the time comes. This is of special interest, because we’ve been hesitant to tackle this trek, based on age and lung capacity! Maybe we’ll follow your lead to Kilimanjaro.

  24. Congraz on making the decision to climb. I really want to see that mountain and climb to the top. I hope you make it to the top. I love summiting mountains.

  25. Wow you are purely awesome! No goals are ever too big! That’s great that you are doing everything you can to prepare yourself, I wish you nothing but the best! That’s really cool that you did the half marathon, I did three half-marathon for Disney (regular, Avengers and Star Wars) and I thought those were crazy haha. You can do it! Looking forward to seeing your success!

  26. You are going to have an amazing time! It will truly surprise you what you can put your body through and it just does what it needs to do, it will get you where you need to go. 🙂 I am so excited for your adventure! This trip is going to be so spiritually rewarding for you and I’m certain it will be an eye opener! Have an amazing time, I know you will! 🙂

  27. Sounds like such an amazing trip!! I bet you’ll have a blast for your 35th

  28. Go you!!! What an inspiration you are, this is very cool! My hubby has been talking about doing a two week mountain trail hike, and I thought there was no way I could even consider it. You have me thinking. 😉

  29. Wow, good for you! I was in a similar experience when we booked a trip to Peru to hike the Inca trial. It was the hardest but most rewarding travel experience I’ve ever had. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. Best of luck as you prepare for the trip!

  30. This will be so amazing. I’m so excited for you and hope that one day I’ll be doing this as well!

  31. Don’t worry about the speed. There is guides say in pole pole, which means slower ..

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