Fat Girls Climb Mountains Too
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.