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For the past 3 months I’ve been contemplating a solo adventure.  With my 35th birthday coming up next year I’ve had this fierce desire to accomplish something great, to scale a mountain or run a marathon or just do something that required strength, perseverance and no small amount of courage.  Something that I had to do all on my own, without the help of anyone.

Looking back on my life I’ve realized that all my major accomplishments couldn’t be accredited to me alone.  I never graduated college, walking across a stage to receive a diploma as my family cheered me on.  My marriage is a partnership in the same way that parenting Stink is.  Heck, I didn’t even give birth to her, someone else did all the hard work for me!  I think that’s why I’ve held onto this adventure idea for the past few months.  This is an opportunity for me to do something I can be proud of, to finally overcome my weight issue and prove to myself that I have the dedication to get fit again and actually finish something without giving up when the going gets tough.

In March I announced that I would be running the Disney half-marathon with my sister.  Recently those plans have fallen through.  Life happens and I’m not too disappointed because running was never really my thing.  Besides, I had always wanted to do something so much bigger than jogging for a few hours in a theme park.  I tried to talk my sister into joining me on this much bigger adventure but was unsuccessful and the half-marathon was the only thing we could agree on.  Now that I’m flying solo I’ve decided to reach for my dream, come hell or high water.

You see, ever since March I’ve been seriously considering climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  It’s the highest peak in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world.  Many of those who climbed the mountain said that success has less to do with physical endurance and more to do with mental perseverance.  “Mind over matter” they all say.  A 6 or 7-day hike would give me the greatest chance of summiting but even then only about 70% of hikers reach the top.

And that’s where my courage fails me.  For some reason I can’t help but think that I would be one of those hikers in the 30%.  To train for months and travel such a long way only to never summit the mountain.  I know me, my resolve is weak and I give up too easily.  In 2008 I hiked with Brandon up Machu Picchu mountain only to turn around 1/3 of the way up.  Brandon continued on and later told me that the mountain gets much more difficult towards the top but I still very much regret not scaling that mountain with him.

inca trail vs kilimanjaro
Machu Picchu Mountain, not to be confused with the more famous Huayna Picchu which I would never climb in a million years

Which brings to me another option: the Inca Trail in Peru.  This is an option I’ve only begun to consider within the past week so I don’t have as much information about this trip as I do with the other.  Compared to Mount Kilimanjaro this trek is shorter (43 km vs. 62 km) and only takes 4 days.  Hiking the Inca Trail would mean returning to Cusco and Machu Picchu, two destinations I would love to visit again, but it would also mean not seeing anything new and I love new destinations.  So I’ve decided to create a pro’s & con’s list to compare these two very different adventures.

Inca Trail Pro’s Mount Kilimanjaro Pro’s
Cheapest option (~$600 vs. $2,000) More challenging, higher sense of accomplishment if I succeed
Allows me to go when I want, could get to Machu Picchu on Dad’s  birthday Chance to go with an all-women’s group (but that’s a $3K cost vs. $2K average cost)
Higher chance of successfully completing Chance to go to a new destination and continent
Chance to see Machu Picchu again (and climb that f’ing mountain) Chance to go on a 2-3 day safari afterward
Less language barrier as I know some Spanish Can choose between 6 routes which may increase chance of success
Shortest journey (4 days vs. 6/7 days)

I’ve highlighted the most important pro and con of each adventure.  Overall it looks like the Inca Trail is the clear winner when it comes to pro’s, though Mount Kilimanjaro does have its draw with the higher sense of accomplishment.  Just the thought of reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro has brought me to tears.  While I’m sure I would find a great sense of accomplishment by finishing the Inca Trail I just don’t know if it would compare to summiting a mountain.  Now let’s look at the con’s.

Inca Trail Con’s Mount Kilimanjaro Con’s
It leads to a destination I’ve already seen 70% chance of success
Wouldn’t be traveling with an all-women group Much tougher climb, I would need to practice hiking in boots
No opportunities to see anything I haven’t already seen in Peru (except the Inca trail) All-women’s group travels outside Brandon’s spring break; we would have to consider the cost of daycare
March is the rainy season and is the month I would like to travel      Cost of equipment is much higher (good clothing, etc)
 Bathrooms on the trail are gross; must bring own TP! Big fear of heights, climbing along exposed trail (could apply to Inca trail too)
All-women’s group is much larger than most groups (up to 30 hikers)
 Fear of altitude sickness

Hiking Kili is obviously more risky.  I have a real fear of actually dying on that mountain, not so much with the Inca Trail.  But I also don’t want to be miserable hiking the Inca Trail in a torrential downpour either.  But perhaps that can be part of the challenge of that journey.  June is another possible month but not ideal.  If we plan to move to Germany in August then we’ll be busy that summer getting ready and packing up our belongings.  March is still the better option as it allows me to travel during Brandon’s spring break and we won’t have a need to put Stink in full-time daycare during my absence.

Some of the pro’s and con’s on Mount Kilimanjaro have to do with the all-women tour I’ve been researching and it’s not set in stone whether I would choose them or not.  They seem to be one of the most expensive tour groups I’ve researched so choosing the Inca Trail over budget or scheduling alone shouldn’t be considered.  I want to weight ALL of the factors involved.

inca trail vs kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

This is a big decision for me and one that I hope to make over the next 4-6 weeks.  I’ve already begun training at the gym by focusing on the stair climber to build leg muscle and the elliptical trainer to increase my lung capacity and endurance.  My diet is going great but unfortunately I haven’t seen the scale budge at all this week.  Perhaps my muscle and fat are just balancing out and I’ll see some results in the next few weeks.

If anyone has any experience with hiking the Inca Trail or climbing Kilimanjaro I would love your feedback and suggestions!

16 Comments

  1. Whenever we are faced with a choice that we just cannot seem to make between two options, for my husband and myself it boils down to “which of these if I don’t do, will I regret the most?” Only you know. Either one is a fine option, but I think if I were you having already been to Macchu Pichu (which I have not), I’d choose Kilimanjaro. I think even though I’ve not been to Macchu Pichu, I’d still choose Kilimanjaro. Perhaps there’s a less expensive option than the women’s tour group. The good news is if you climb Kilimanjaro, you’ll probably be in great shape to go back to Peru and make that climb! 😉

    • SO true! I think I would enjoy Kilimanjaro more but the fear of failure is what’s holding me back. But after researching it more I think that if I chose a tour company that allowed for longer treks (7-8 days) and had a smaller group then I could get to the top at my own pace.

  2. Hmm those are some tough pro and con lists. But I agree with Betsy, I would lean towards Africa. And, I know it’s probably easier said than done, but even if you don’t make it all the way to the top, hey at least you did it! Go as far as you want to go! It’s your journey, not anyone else’s! You’re pretty awesome for getting this far! 😉

  3. I have been thinking of a similar challenge for myself for my upcoming 40th birthday. I have done the Inca Trail – when I was 28. It was my first hike of any significance. I didn’t train, but I did go to the gym 3x a week for a couple of months. that said.. I was also a smoker at the time, so not sure how good of shape my lungs were in. But I did it. It was hard, but not unbearable. We had an amazing guide who said just keep your pace steady so that your breathing never becomes labored. As long as you follow this rule, you will be able to do it as well.

    I know several people who have recently hiked Kilimanjaro and have so many wild stories. People vomiting on the side lines, being so woozy at the top that they almost fell off the mountain, etc. It does sound scary, but it also sounds like a great challenge. Before the earthquake in Nepal I was thinking of trying to do the Annapurna circuit.. Lets see. Look forward to seeing what you decide!

    • Karilyn, did hike the Inca Trail solo or with a group? I might have a friend who will hike with me which would be so wonderful, I’m a little hesitant to hike in a group with a bunch of strangers. Of course, I could always end up going home with new friends too! And yes, I too have heard the vomiting, altitude sickness stories!

  4. I haven’t done either but I’m certain whatever you choose, you will succeed and love it. I look forward to following along 🙂

  5. Hey, if you can’t decide perhaps you should do both? Inca Trail now, as it’s easier, and Kilimanjaro next. Maybe that for the next birthday? Or without a reason? You can have more than one solo adventure!

  6. That’s so awesome you are challenging yourself to partake in new adventures. I haven’t hiked the Inca Trail or climbed Kilimanjaro, so I’m no help there. Both sound amazing, and I can’t wait to learn which you choose!

  7. Feeling so curious to know everything about the Inca trail! Will you be writing more about it?

  8. I agree with zof! Dont pick which to do, just pick which to do first!
    😉

  9. Sounds like both mountains are challenging!
    We’ve only been on a hike once before, and it took 6 hours, not day to complete. We couldn’t imagine what mental strength it takes. These hikes sound very interesting now, maybe we should look into it.
    Just keep working hard until your goal! You will reach it! Good luck 🙂

  10. Wow, either one sounds amazing! It can be so tough making a big decision like this, but either one will be a major accomplishment! Even if you don’t finish, you will have done something that many people never even consider!

  11. Either of these would be such great accomplishments! good luck to you! i Climbed to the base camp of Mt Kinabalu but didn’t make the summit. at that time hiking wasn’t important to me, but looking back i with i had pushed myself and done it!

  12. I have never been to Peru or done the inca trail and I am curious to see what you have experienced.

  13. I have been fortunate enough to travel the inca trail and I loved every minute of it. In 2012 I was sitting on a bus weighing in at over 250 lbs and at the time I could not imagine climbing up Kili. So next summer I am going to tackle it. Africa is surreal!!!

  14. I have been fortunate enough to travel the inca trail and I loved every minute of it. In 2012 I was sitting on a bus passing by Kilimanjaro weighing in at over 250 lbs and at the time I could not imagine climbing up Kili. So next summer I am going to tackle it. Africa is surreal!!!

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