When I mentioned to family and friends that I planned to climb Kilimanjaro, the overwhelming majority laughed. Not in a malicious way, but in a “you over-estimate your abilities” type of way.
Because for an adventurous girl, I’ll admit that I wasn’t very fit. Ice-cream and chocolate were put on this earth to indulge, and I had developed an overly severe reaction to the gym. (To clarify, I was thin, just not fit).
And honestly, to begin with, I didn’t really care if I climbed Kilimanjaro or not. I was going to be in Tanzania, the mountain was going to be there, and I had read a feature about Thérèse Rein and vaguely remembered that the climb was something you could brag about having done (I still use it as a sticking point on my adventurous resume to this day).
But for my original indifference of whether I completed the climb or not, the decision was made when I was told “it’s a lovely goal, I just don’t think you’ll get to the top.”
And honestly, I thank every single person who said this to me. Because this was the motivating factor which got me to the top. Come hell or high water (I did trek through hell, just not high water!), I was going to prove every single one of them wrong.
I often write about what travel has taught me, and how travel has changed my perspective on life. However a lot of my transformation happened on that mountain top.
How Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro Changed My Perspective on Life
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I’m Stronger Than I Thought I Was
For everyone who warned me about over estimating my abilities, I acknowledge that it was brutal climb. And in ways I could have never imagined.
On the night before the summit, you sleep for 3 hours to wake up at midnight to start your final climb. You’re tired, its freezing cold, and you’re following a line of head torches which snake their way through the darkness at what looks like a 90 degree angle into the sky. The altitude made me dry retch and the oxygen is so thin that it’s an extra effort just to take each breath. And you’re hiking through sand and pebbles so steep that sometimes it’s actually difficult to stand upright.
But as long as you can keep putting one foot in front of the other you CAN reach the top. For everyone who questioned my physical fitness, it was willpower and sheer determination which saw me reach the summit. I had to summit the mountain in my mind, which was the more stubborn mountain to climb.
And along the way I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was. I learned the immense power of the human spirit, and that if you can overcome self doubt and mental fatigue, there are no limits to the heights of your capability and strength.
There was nothing more gratifying than taking that final step onto the crater rim after 6 hard and grueling days of climbing. I collapsed into a heap and tears filled my eyes. Not because I was physically wrecked – which I was – and not because I was an emotional wreck – which I was – but because I had achieved something so incredible, and everything that had previously seemed impossible in life was suddenly possible once more.
And that knowledge is empowering. It gives you a renewed sense of self confidence and makes you fearless. And I learnt that if all else fails, I can rely on myself.
After picking myself up and drying my eyes, I witnessed the most incredible sunrise of my life, standing 5,895 meters above the ground, at the highest point in Africa.
It Humbled Me to My Core
Kilimanjaro strips you down, and humbles you to your core. Standing atop this colossal mountain, you quickly realize what a small part in the world you actually occupy, and realize that it’s about more than just you.
And any-one with an over inflated sense of self worth will have Mother Nature to answer to. There are no shortcuts on the mountain. No way to cheat the system or rig the climb. Everyone is the same, and everyone puts in the same amount of effort to reach the summit. You’re not better than anyone else on the climb.
And for this reason, it’s sensational to hear of ground breaking responsible tourism initiatives, like the World Expeditions Porter Protection Program, which has been set up to improve the working conditions of the local team who share the same needs for safety as travelers in the mountain environment.
I Learned to Value Support
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life was to graciously accept support when it’s given – because even in the midst of your greatest challenges you’re never alone.
I resisted my porter in the final hours of my summit climb when he tried to shoulder my backpack for me. I could get there on my own. But why was I being so stubborn? What was the point in struggling more than I had to, when someone was offering to help?
While Kilimanjaro is a personal achievement, you’re surrounded by support. Between the porters, guides, cooks and other members on your climb, you all need to get up the mountain, so whether it’s sharing your water, or knowing the right thing to say, accept support when it’s given, and offer it if you’re in a position to do the same. While “personal victories are satisfying, shared victories are sublime” – Daniel Noll.
I Took a Hard Lesson in Patience and Persistence
I find that it’s easy in today’s world to become swept up by instant gratification, and give up if something becomes too hard. But you have to take Kilimanjaro Pole. Pole. (Swahili for “Slowly. Slowly”). And you’ll hear this on the mountain a thousand times.
Forced to move up the mountain at a snail’s pace might be exasperating at times, but this slow and deliberate pace allows you to preserve energy and become properly acclimatized to the high altitudes.
Everyone struggled, but those who raced up the mountain struggled a lot more. They over exerted themselves, and didn’t accept that it wasn’t a race. You’re taught on Kilimanjaro that to reach your goal you must slowly, surely, and deliberately put one foot in front of the other, all the way to the end, and I find that this is the same in life.
So when you’re on Kilimanjaro, take an extra day if you have to. Book with a company like World Expeditions who offer longer, more creative itineraries. Whether you get to the top in 5 days or 7, everyone receives the same reward. A personal journey is never a race.
I Learnt How to Be Present
When you climb Kilimanjaro you’re mindfully aware of what is going on right here and now. You’re not spending time in the past or the future, you’re focused on what’s right in front of you.
You’re overcome with a much heightened sense of clarity and calm, as the rest of the world slowly disappears behind you. You fully appreciate the moments of the day, and soak in as much of the experience as you possibly can – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the emotions, the triumphs, and the struggle.
In a world where we’re either dwelling on the past or fantasizing about the future, the mountain teaches you how to be present. How to stop worrying about tomorrow and simply enjoy the moment today.
I Recognize the Benefits of Venturing Out of Your Comfort Zone
For all of the above lessons, I learnt that they came from venturing out of my comfort zone. You won’t find adventure from staying safely within your comfort zone. You won’t grow as a person without having your perspectives challenged in life.
As it turns out, Kilimanjaro is powerful, awe-inspiring, and an experience which inspires transformation. When you stand on the roof of Africa, you see the world in a different way.
For more information on climbing Kilimanjaro, World Expeditions is one of the world’s leading adventure travel companies having operated small group trekking and adventure travel holidays and vacations since 1975.
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Photo credits: Featured header by Stig Nygaard. View from Barafu Camp by ConstantineD.
Disclosure: This article is brought to you by World Expeditions #WEVentureOut; break out of your comfort zone to venture into something new! All opinions expressed here are my own.
There is another Swahili saying: haraka haraka haina baraka–hurry hurry has no blessing (haste makes waste).
The porters are truly heroes.
I haven’t come across “haraka haraka haina baraka” before, but love it! So true. Yes, the porters are the most incredible people – their support was invaluable in making it all the way.
Can you please take the Donald on a climb? Maybe it would humble him. Ha!
Haha – brill idea! Maybe we can leave him at the top :P
Good post. This is why I always love adventure travel and the outdoors. From rock climbing to mountaineering! I do train pretty hard to keep up with it and surround myself with people who are faster and stronger. It motivates me to be better and strive to accomplish goals! Very worth it in the end even if you’re not smiling and enjoying it the entire time!
Thanks Angela :) I agree, surrounding yourself with people who motivate you is definitely key – for me, there was a 10 year old boy also doing the climb, so not only did I want to prove everyone wrong, but figured I didn’t want to be shown up by a kid too!
Totally agree that it’s always worthwhile in the end even if it’s challenging sometimes.
Slowly. Slowly. I love that you say it twice so as not to rush past the sentiment. I can’t imagine not climbing Kilimanjaro slowly, so I’m also glad that’s the way to go! If I ever decide it’s something I want to do, you can bet it will be slow with plenty of time to be in the moment.
Absolutely Erin! You’re literally walking at a snails pace, and as a whole group too. I’m with you, I’ve heard of people who aim to set records for the quickest pace, but I can’t imagine climbing it any faster than we did.
“Slowly. Slowly” was the perfect pace :)
Love this post Megan. Takes me right back to that summit night. I was throwing up behind a rock…. not quite how I planned it. Those steps from stella point almost finished me off. I actually laid down on a few rocks but somehow kept myself moving. So dare I ask what is your next challenge!!
Thanks Becky! Oh God, yes, I didn’t actually throw up thank God but I was halfway there with violent dry retching!! I’m sure the mountain sees quite a bit of that!!
Massive congrats on pushing through all of that to get to the top – it’s an incredible accomplishment … especially when you’re so beat!
Our next challenge is laying low for a bit to recoup and recover from our last trip … probably the most challenging of all!!
Happy travels :)
This is SO inspiring. I just did my first snow trek to the highest shiva temple in the world. It was just a 5-6 hour trek but boy was I proud of myself. I totally understand how this changes your lookout on about anything.
Thankyou Jo! Wow, conrgats on your snow trek! That sounds quite incredible! I can imaging it would have been incredible rewarding reaching the top :)
You are inspiring! Charting your own path and exploring new horizons is really commendable. Kilimanjaro has definitely transformed you. Our travels have also transformed us in small ways that we sometimes do not even realize. We too have learned to stay and enjoy the present, each second at a time.
Thankyou Sandy & Vyjay! I agree that travel in general has a very transformative effect even in ways we don’t realize until we sit back and reflect.
So glad that you’ve taken similar lessons from your travels too :)
Oh your post took me right back to when I summited Mt Kilimanjaro on my birthday and I had everyone singing to me on the top. What a lovely read and beautiful pictures. It is nice to know that getting out of your comfort zone changed you for the better.
Wow what an incredible way to celebrate your birthday Mel!
I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post and we could take you back to that day. Massive congrats for summiting as well :)
I did the same hike and I had very similar feelings. I didnt realize how hard it was to make it up there and I was totally exhausted after reaching the camp. I learned that the body is much stronger than we think it is.
Massive congrats Barbara on achieving the summit too! It’s nice to hear that I wasn’t the only one who felt like death on the day lol! But yes, absolutely agree – I had no idea my body was capable of pushing through something like that. Really opened my eyes to my boundaries and how you can always push through.
Awesome.My husband said some of these things when he returned from EBC especially stressing the part about how small you feel when surrounded by the Himalayas. A small shake and all in the vicinity are gone. Similar to Harka….in Nepal mountains they say Bistare Bistare Jam Jam. Meaning roughly “Let us go slowly”
Wow I can imagine trekking in the Himalayas would have been equally incredible! Glad to hear they take it slowly too!
Adventure is my life as i love tourism and your article attract me a lot to visit these places with my wife, thanks for such a wonderful article
I’m glad that you enjoyed the post – hope you have the chance to experience the climb with your wife :)
Megan this is so amazing. I am one of those who want to scale all the summits (at least 6 of them) and Mt Kilimanjaro has been on my bucket list. Its so wonderful to read your experience – from a person who has experienced it first hand. I am glad that you had so many beautiful life lessons.
Hi Raksha, thanks for stopping by – wow all 6 summits is an incredible goal! Kilimanjaro is probably one of the easier of the summits because it’s a non technical climb. Obviously still difficult in it’s own right though!
Let me know if you have any questions in the lead up to your trip. Wishing you all the best in reaching your 6!
I know how it feels when it comes to hiking and climbing the big climbs. It made me think a lot about life in general and which direction I wanted to head into next. This is a great read Meg and very inspiring :)
So much opportunity for personal growth and reflection on these challenging trips. So glad you enjoyed the post :)
Loved this! It brought me to tears. I leave in 88 days for my first Kilimanjaro hike! ❤️
Thankyou so much Jenny! Wow, you’ll have an incredible time! It’s challenging for sure, and there are many difficult points, but once you’re at the top, the challenges and the hardships on the trail melt away and you’re left with a stunning sunrise and intense emotional joy!
Hope you have a great climb!
Love this post so much! I always get so frustrated when people try to discourage others and tell them they can’t achieve something. So glad it made you more determined to push on! Such a great accomplishment–congrats on making it to the top! I know it won’t be easy, but I’ve always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, too. Hope we can make it there sometime soon!
Thanks Jenna!! Yes, so do I re discouraging others to reaching a goal. Only ever makes me more determined to succeed!!
I hope you have the chance to climb also – and then you can reward yourself with an African safari after having reached the top!
Such an inspiring post Megan. I could relate to almost all of these when I did a couple of treks in the Himalayas. And I’m totally a mountain person who adores and respect its mammoth presence. It’s so true that it humbles you, makes you conquer your mind first and finally rewards you with views and memories that are going to be with you for long! Very well done :) Tanzania is one of the countries that’s on my list and Mt. Kilimanjaro is of course there. Inspired by you to go!
Thankyou Reshma :) Wow, I can imagine that hiking in the Himalayas would be just incredible! And equally as humbling as you’ve mentioned too.
I hope you have the chance to take in Tanzania and Kilimanjaro – if you’ve made it through the Himalayas you can definitely get to the top here too! :)
Africa has a habit of tearing you down before making you feel like you can accomplish anything! Its a brutal and beautiful continent that is as much about self discovery as it is about exploring vast relatively unexplored countries.
Congrats on getting to the top – it was definitely worth it for bragging points (and the self-discovery!)if nothing else!
Absolutely Vicki! Beautifully worded – so true!
Thankyou! It was absolutely worth it for the bragging points lol even though it was around 7 years ago now I’m still using it!
Kili has always been high on my list of places to go. Great story and great set of perspectives. I know the feeling of not wanting support, but it’s great you were willing to take the help to get to the summit at the end there.
I hope you have the chance to carve out some time for the climb :) Really is one of those incredible experiences and yes, I battled with accepting support because I’m a very stubborn person, but I think on reflection this was a very good lesson to have learnt :)
This is gold Megan! We have done a few mountain / volcano hikes in our travels and I 100% agree with what you’ve written. Doing the slow and often torturous climb up a high altitude mountain really teaches you a thing or two about exactly what you can and can’t do. It’s amazing what the mind can push you to do long after the body has given up!
Thanks Guy! Yes absolutely – I was really amazed at the power of the human spirit and mind. You hear about people pushing through incredible challenges and obstacles all the time, fetes that it sounds like the human body shouldn’t be able to do. But you never really fully understand until it happens to you.
I’m so glad I did this climb :)
I am glad that you had so many beautiful life lessons.
Thankyou slope :) Hope you have the chance to visit the mountain too :)
Awesome job conquering Kilmanjaro. When I went to Tanzania, I knew I was not in a physical condition to take on such a hike so it wasn’t even considered as part of my trip. I’d definitely have to get back in better shape to take on a hike like this.
Thanks Jennifer! Always have to do what’s right for you :) I wasn’t overly fit, so definitely appreciated that they take the climb at a snails pace. It’s more endurance than anything :)
Mountains have their own way of communicating to us.in a clear,whispered manner that no one can ignore.it’s also true that unlike in real life there are no shortcuts absolutely to reach to the top.it’s raw,bare,personal,brutal and eternally defining.Congrats for finally finding your true self Meg -everyone has this untapped potential that if pushed just thrusts out.Now please climb Mt.Kenya and it’s jagged peaks and it will awe you.you are loved!
Totally agree with you – the message from the mountain was definitely one which I couldn’t ignore! I genuinely believe the experience changed me to my very core. Or perhaps just stripped everything else away and let me discover my true self.
Thankyou Kanja! Yes, Mt. Kenya is definitely on the list!
You are great to overcome yourself, conquer Mount Kilimanjaro.
Thankyou fnaf – it was an incredible challenge to take on, and a thrill to overcome it :)