If you've been following me on Instagram you'll have already seen some of my Mt Kilimanjaro photos and--spoiler alert--I made it to the top! It was without a doubt, the most incredible experience of my life. I have been thinking about climbing Kili for my 30th birthday for almost 5 years. Ever since reading Me Before You where the main character, Will, says that's what he did for his 30th birthday, I've been inspired to do something epic when I reached that milestone. When I first read it, I thought to myself, 'Yes, I'll do something really exciting but I could never do that.' And after thinking about it a few weeks, I couldn't get it out of my mind and my stubborn streak reared its ugly head and finally said, 'Why CAN'T you climb Mt Kilimanjaro? What's stopping you?'...and from there the dream was born.
I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I knew a lot of people didn't make it to the top. I knew that altitude acclimation is real and have felt the breath-stealing effects of it when on the Inca Trail in Peru. I knew that acute mountain sickness was a reality that you cannot combat, your body either adjusts or it doesn't and there's nothing you can do to fix it. I knew that it wasn't a guarantee. And it was going to be hard. And brutal. And tiring. And I would probably question my own sanity at one point or another...but that's what made it so enticing. I did the Inca Trail in Peru which was ridiculously hard and that moment of accomplishment is something I can still feel when I think back. I wanted that moment again. I wanted that moment of pure, undiluted ecstasy and exhaustion from pushing my body and mind to the limit. I wanted that summit.
It was everything I expected and more. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. It's over 40 miles of hiking in 8 days. Almost 12,000 feet ascent in elevation. And every single step to the top is hard won by your body. Every day when I got to camp I couldn't believe I got through the day. And by the time I was ready to sleep, all I could think about was how hard the next day was going to be. But every morning when I woke up and saw my surroundings it completely rejuvenated me to start the day. It was surreal to wake up and see the beautiful landscapes that Kilimanjaro has to offer.
The feeling of reaching the summit on Day 7 indescribable. I had read several tips and experiences about climbing and every single one of them said that on Summit Day, it's more of a mental game than a physical one. Which is saying a lot seeing as you wake up at 11 pm and start the ascent to the top at midnight. An ascent that takes about 7-8 hours, climbing in the dark only able to see the two feet in front of you. I would now have to completely confirm this statement. I had an epic playlist set of all songs I knew would pump me up and I refused to be defeated. I was excited to start! My goal going into this climb was to keep a positive attitude the whole time. I refused to be defeatist because I knew the mountain would win if I started doubting myself. Nobody was more surprised than me when I woke up at 11 pm so freaking excited to get started. I made it this far and now all I wanted to do was reach the summit and see if my 30 year old body could get me there and I'm convinced positive thinking was 90% of what got me up there.
And get me there it did. Because I did this to celebrate an age milestone, it was that much more satisfying to know my own body got me up every step of this mountain. I did the Lemosho trail which starts pretty low and far back so I didn't even see the mountain for 2 days! It was crazy to think of all day, every day, hiking towards this almost unattainable finish line.
One of the songs I had on my playlist was A Star is Born from Disney's Herclues. As I was climbing it was like I was hearing the words for the first time. As I'm climbing into the dark I hear the verse 'Just remember in your darkest hour within your heart's the power so don't lose hope when you're forlorn.' I heard that at about 3:30 am, almost 4 hours into climbing, it's pitch dark, I'm fucking exhausted almost falling asleep in between each step, and when I heard that tears just started running down my face. I nodded and said to myself through sniffles, yes, you can do this. You got this. Always darkest before the dawn, you can do it. And it was like I had this second wind of energy. Every time I heard that song it was like a new lease on energy. Music and positive thinking is what I am convinced helped power my success to the top.
But it wasn't just about me. The guides and porters on the climb were the most incredible people I have ever met. The 6 other people I climbed with became instant friends. Ironically enough, I climbed with another nurse, two doctors, and then 3 other men. It was hilarious when somebody had a malady they had 4 different people discussing what will work best. It was amazing. Everyone was so encouraging of one another and supportive. Two people from our group didn't make it to the top due to acute mountain sickness and it was so heart-breaking. Regardless, they were so excited when we got back from the summit. These were just some of the most incredible people I have ever met and I know I will never forget any of them. My heart holds an infinitely special place for Tanzania and it's culture and people. They are incredibly kind and helpful and warm-hearted. My favorite memory besides reaching the top is playing cards with the porters and teaching each other our favorite card games. And all of them knowing I would be Queen of the Mountain in a few days was so f'ing funny. I earned my nickname by winning haha.
My final emo moment of this post has got to be thanking Jojo Moyes for her book Me Before You for inspiring me to do this. I never in a million years would have thought about doing this had it not been for Will Traynor and this book. Had I never read this, I never would have been inspired to not only do this but to also try to live life as fully as possible. My favorite quote that I try to live my life by is something Will says. He says, 'You only get one life. It's actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.' I try my best to do this and words cannot describe how grateful I have always been and always will be for this book. It has inspired me to do so many things I thought impossible, including climbing a mountain, and it is always the driving force behind almost everything I do.