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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.

trip report kilimanjaro

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.”

trip report Kilimanjaro
This is a highly accurate representation of how I felt every day on the 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.

trip report kilimanjaro
Hot cocoa on a cold day can make all the difference in the world

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?

trip report Kilimanjaro
The views from the trail are incredibly beautiful. Mount Meru stands tall in the distance

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.

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15 Comments

  1. You are my hero and a kindred spirit in so many ways. I only had wished we had been able to hike the mountain together. I am shooting for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro next summer, but have yet to find a gal like me to do a slow hike over 10 days. Your story is one of incredible inner strength. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!

  2. I think it is so amazing that you did this!! You are such an inspiration! I travel every year on my birthday :). It’s a great way to celebrate.

  3. Girl! Good freaking job, this is awesome! The highest I have climbed is about 4,000m and I thought it was brutal. You have something to be proud of for sure!

  4. Congrats Christa!
    You deserve all the compliments, what you did is fenomenal!
    You have a strong mind and persistence, virtues that are far more important than a fit body! A great example to follow!
    Wish you a full recovery!
    Nat

  5. I love the honesty in this piece! I have definitely been the last one in a group of hikers on multiple occasions, and I know the feeling and the pressure we put on ourselves. The fact that you achieved what you did, and even tried to climb it in the first place, is amazing! You should definitely be proud of yourself! One of my best friends just did Kili and she said the same thing- glad she did it, won’t do it again 🙂

  6. Good for you!! You did a great job, more than most!! That’s something to be very proud of 🙂

  7. Even if you didn’t quite make it to the summit, you should be so happy with yourself for enduring such physical and mental exhaustion for so long. I know that I would struggle to hike for that long. Great work!

  8. Well done! I know your feeling because it happened to me that I did not reach a summit many times, as well. I always felt bad about it because it felt like failure, but learned to live with the idea that it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Just imagine all these people who are on their couch now, never exercising at all. You’ve done great!

  9. You kicked ass! So admirable and this girl is really proud of you! #travelfearlessly

  10. I would have been back there with you, taking each step slowly. That was a huge undertaking and that you did it at all is a major accomplishment. You should be really proud of yourself!

  11. Wow, the emotional part of your journey sounds even more challenging than the physical aspect of the hike – which is hard to imagine! You are incredibly strong and that must have felt so good proving everyone wrong, even if you didn’t make it all the way to the top. You definitely inspired me!!

  12. Whoa, good job! I have been dreaming of landing to Africa some day and your post here reaffirms more as to why. Great to hear that you conquered this mountain — no matter what happened, you did conquer it 😉 Kudos!

  13. So I turned 29 yesterday and for the last 5 years I have been telling myself that when I turn 30 (in 364 days) I’m hiking Kilimanjaro! So one day after my birthday, it’s research time! This was the first blog post I stumbled upon about hiking it, and I’m so glad it was! I don’t know you, but I’m so happy that you made it almost to the top! What an incredible and challenging experience, especially for someone who does not consider themselves an active person! This post has seriously ignited my excitement for this adventure!

  14. Thanks so much for all the details of your adventure. I leave in two days for Kili and I am doing it for my husband’s 50th birthday wish. I feel like I am mostly going to support him and hike with him, but if I do make it as far as you did, it will be the biggest accomplishment in my life (aside from raising two wonderful daughters). I am going to push myself, but not be disappointed if I do not make it to Uhuru. Please let me know of any advice you might have for packing. I have a pretty large Patagonia duffel and I wondering if it might be too big? I just don’t want to be cold, so am packing lots of layers, etc. I also want to make sure I take proper hygiene items (i.e., tp or wet wipes?, did you do the pantyliner thing?, do you do a lot of squatting to pee?- sorry for the graphic questions, but I figure we are both girls here:) Thanks for any tips, as we are leaving this Saturday for our Machame 7 day climb.

    • How exciting!! I wish you the best of luck. I’ve been meaning to write a packing list post but haven’t gotten around to it. I packed pretty light but I’m also VERY hot natured and didn’t need that many layers. In fact I was eating dinner in leggings and a t-shirt while most of the ladies were sporting their down jackets! So I might not be the best at giving advice on that. But even with all my stuff I was a few pounds under the weight limit for my duffle bag, and that’s with bringing along a tripod and my Harry Potter book. You can always bring the stuff and if you’re over weight then leave it at the hotel.

      The panty liners are a MUST, I brought just a few thinking I wouldn’t need that many but used them every day. There’s no place to put TP on the trail and I felt terrible littering a pee spot with my TP so I just dripped dry and relied on my panty liner. I just used my TP at camp but your hiking company should provide some too. I brought a P-style but never used it, just squatted. And unless you’ve been through menopause bring along tampons: the higher altitude will cause your cycle to wack out and you’ll spot or bleed. Almost all the ladies had this issue on the hike.

      You can’t see Stella Point when you’re making that final slog up the mountain and it’s a motivation killer. But if you make it to Stella Point you can actually see Uhuru Peak from there which was nice for me. I always like to know when the end is in sight. That might help motivate you to make that final push. Good luck!

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