Kilimanjaro: Summit or Bust!
Well guys, I’m back from Tanzania and I’m proud to say that I made it through 7 days of hiking and summited the tallest mountain in Africa.
Well, kind of.
I made it to Stella Point, roughly 150 meters below the summit. I just could not find a single ounce of energy to trek another hour to Uhuru Peak and even if I did my guide likely wouldn’t have allowed it because I moved SO SLOWLY on that mountain. 20 hours of hiking in one day versus 18 hours of hiking in one day can make a huge difference.
So I don’t feel as though I can say “I summited Mount Kilimanjaro” even though I did receive an official summit certificate for reaching Stella Point. I feel it’s more accurate to say “I made 2nd Place” which is still something I’m extremely proud of.
I have no regrets about not reaching Uhuru Peak. For 7 days I pushed my body far beyond what I thought it was capable of doing and the physical and emotional struggles I experienced on the mountain were much greater than I had anticipated. I gave it my all and if Stella Point was the highest I could reach then I’m okay with that.
Still, my overall experience wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting for the 6 months leading up to this adventure. I was so looking forward to making life-long friendships on the mountain and when I first arrived in Tanzania and had the opportunity to hang out with some of my fellow hikers it seemed like that very thing would happen.
And then we hit the trail.
Within the first half hour I was struggling. There’s no other way to to put it: I was a slow hiker. While the other girls were chatting happily ahead of me I was struggling up the wooden steps in the rainforest, having to take a breather every few minutes. While the other girls bounded over rocks I was taking my time, carefully planning every step I took. That first day I arrived into camp two hours behind the others, choking back tears along the way as I thought to myself “I don’t belong on this mountain.”
I was so slow that I had a guide all to myself and while I wasn’t truly alone on the trails I did feel quite lonely without the group. My guide Desi kept reminding me that I needed to go at my own pace and not try to keep up with anyone else. Climbing the mountain wasn’t a race and I knew that in my heart but I also knew that I signed up with a group because I didn’t want to hike this mountain alone. The whole purpose was to share the experience with others and I was missing out on that because I was just too slow.
The second day of our hike was just as bad as the first but by Day 3 I was feeling a little bit stronger. I would still waver between acceptance of hiking alone and sadness that I wasn’t part of the group. The lead guides had me leaving an hour earlier than the rest of the group with the hope that I’d make it to camp with them at the end of each day. That never worked out. I’d be the first to leave and still the last to arrive which meant 2-3 hours less rest than everyone else. It was HARD.
There were a few happy moments, though. I managed to catch up to the group at the top of Lava Tower on Day 3 just as they were packing up from lunch. I missed having a hot lunch with them but was rewarded with a round of hugs, some hot cocoa and a table all to myself. I also was able to hang out with the group for a rest at the top of the Barranco Wall on Day 4 and saw more wildlife in the rainforest than the rest of the women did.
After I reached Stella Point and was making my way down the mountain I was passed by dozens of porters and guides who expressed their disbelief that I made it to the top. I later learned that after seeing me struggle on Day 1 none of them thought I would make it as far as I did. I’m proud that I proved them all wrong but it was still hard to hear. I guess not many fat girls try to climb Kilimanjaro.
My time on the mountain was far different than I expected it to be. I came back home feeling a little disappointed that my experience didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Then my sister made a great point that really resonated with me. She said that hiking/yoga/running were regular hobbies for the rest of the women in this adventure group. Climbing Kilimanjaro was really just an extension of those hobbies. That wasn’t the case for me. I’m not an active person at all and climbing Kilimanjaro was going to be a huge challenge unlike any I had ever faced. That’s why I chose to climb it in the first place. Everyone in our group was drawn to the mountain for various reasons, mine just happened to be different from everyone else’s. And that’s why my experience was different. I couldn’t have had the challenge of hiking the mountain and keep up with the group at the same time. If I was fit enough to keep up with them then the mountain wouldn’t have been as challenging as I wanted it to be, and where’s the fun in that?
So was the difficult journey worth it? ABSOLUTELY. Would I ever do it again? ABSOLUTELY NOT. It’s been 11 days since I left Kilimanjaro and my feet and knees are still recovering. You couldn’t pay me to climb that mountain again. But I’m glad I did it and I’m glad that I didn’t give up during the many times on the mountain that I doubted myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I’m not a quitter and that’s exactly what I did. Now it’s time to cross other things off my bucket list.