"In the mountains, there you feel free..." T.S. Eliot
What is it about mountains - and climbing them - that captivates us so? People talk of “conquering” mountains. No one “conquers” a mountain.
You conquer what it is inside yourself that makes you think you can’t do it. You conquer parts of yourself that you perhaps didn’t even know existed.
You reach the summit and see the world through different eyes.
There is something about mountains. Pieces of the Earth that rise up and make us feel very small. As you scale a mountain, you leave parts of yourself behind you, and you find parts of yourself you didn’t know existed.
“Home” can seem a long way away. And you realise that “home” is what is inside you.
You go to a place that is uninhabited.
The thin mountain air makes you experience things differently. Amongst the rocks and the sand and the task in front of you, all day-to-day problems seem miniscule.
You learn to listen to your body. You learn that your mind is only limited by your beliefs.
An ordinary person, doing something extraordinary.
These days with all the media we are exposed to, you could be forgiven for believing that climbing Kilimanjaro is something that everyone does.
It’s not so. Twenty years ago, before the internet was available on everyone’s phone, how many of your friends had climbed Kilimanjaro?
It can be life-changing. It can be exhilarating. It can be tough. It can be dangerous.
Climbing Africa’s highest peak, the world’s highest free-standing mountain is a challenge, both physically and mentally.
Whether or not you reach the summit - it’s not guaranteed - the experience is unforgettable.
You see how your body changes as you ascend, responding to the altitude.
You notice when your mind gets in the way of your mission.
You forge friendships and camaraderie with your team.
You learn about different cultures and different environments. All while working towards a common goal - to reach the summit.
The Journey really is more important than the destination.
The summit is the culmination of all the hard work you’ve put into it. Training, buying your gear, travelling across the world to make an epic journey.
The hard work you put into taking yourself from the gate of the Kilimanjaro National Park, all the way to Uhuru Peak, 19,340ft above sea level.
A place of stones and rock and glaciers. A place of bright blue skies and burning sunshine. And ice.
Getting there is hard. As the air gets thinner and colder the comforts of home seem very far away. The relentlessness of the day’s trekking, the little tent buffeted by wind that you call ‘home’ every night.
It’s like meditation. You are alone in the vastness of this remote and beautiful land. Your body taking you higher up the mountain.
At times it can feel as though it is you against yourself. And at times it’s like being in a trance, focused on one thing - moving ever forward.
And yet, you are not alone. You are sharing in a dream, in a reality with others.
We all suffer the same - yet different - challenges. We learn about each other - and ourselves - without any of the trappings of our modern life.
All right. Except the guy who has five solar panels strapped to his daysack, powering every manner of i-Things.
Who we are on the side of that mountain is someone the same - yet different - from the people we are at home.
We connect with the parts of ourselves that we don’t notice in our day to day lives.
The pared-back reality shows us the things we “need” and “want”. We see the disappointment in people’s faces when they are forced to turn back through injury or altitude sickness.
People pushing through discomfort to do something they had dared to dream of.
The journey starts long before you arrive at the bottom of the mountain. It starts with the dream of reaching the summit.
It is arguably the “easiest” of the Seven Summits. Kilimanjaro requires no technical skill to get to the top.
It is in a very beautiful, and accessible part of the world. If you have a clean bill of health from your doctor, nothing is stopping you from attempting it.
I say “attempting”, because that’s what it is. Statistics vary from 50%-65% summit success.
Many factors are at play in the quest for a successful summit. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know whether you can do it.
Unlike many things in life, there are no “tricks” to reaching the summit. You can prepare all you like, then come down with altitude sickness, or a twisted ankle.
When we embark on this journey, we take a step into the unknown. And that’s what so exhilarating about it.
However, preparation is key. You can’t show up in a pair of tatty sneakers and a couple of wooly sweaters and think you’ve got a chance (if anyone would even agree to take you). You need to prepare your body, have the right kit, and prepare your mind.
And then step into the unknown and have the adventure of a lifetime.
Do something extraordinary. Go to a place that will change you. That will make you more “you”.
Embrace the beauty of the land. See the change in climate zones as you climb. Look upon the glaciers. Look down on the world.
Go home with a new inner horizon.
A horizon formed by the sounds of the wind, and the singing of the porters.
Of the black rocks and stony scree. The bright white of the glaciers. Go home with a place in your heart opened up to a beautiful mountain in a beautiful land.