You vs Yourself

6 years ago this week, I , along with 20 or so others was busy preparing for what was to become one of the most enjoyable, challenging, rewarding experiences of our lives – climbing Africa’s highest Mountain – Kilimanjaro.

A 40 minute turbo-prop flight from my former home in Mwanza, Kili overshadows the north eastern Tanzanian town of Moshi – a peaceful cool and calm ex-colonial settlement surrounded by leafy coffee plantations. With clean mountain air, cool mornings and on a good day, a stunning view of the twin peaks of Mwenzi and Kibo which constitute Kilimanjaro, it is one of my favourite places in East Africa.

Chatting to my Kili group over the years since we climbed in 2011, we have all kept our own special memories. They share similar themes, but are very personal. For me, a few stick out;

Being on the side of Kibo’s almost sheer, frozen scree slope at 4am, exhausted, not quite coherent, with a splitting headache and numb fingers and toes. But somehow summoning the strength and drawing on the support, love and encouragement of our group to make it to the crater rim in time for sunrise. And thereafter the 2 hour slog to the very top. Elation doesn’t cover it.

Being out of breath in an instant should you mistakenly try even a ‘Dad-run’ to catch up with someone just a few yards in front of you.

The mystical bird we saw at the top – an eagle type creature that soared above in the sunshine (but birds aren’t supposed to fly that high).

The best sleep of your life returning to Horombo huts having been on the move for 18 hours solid, and reaching the highest point on the continent.

We talked often during that week about what it meant to conquer the mountain. Henk, our guide, who is a legend, a man mountain himself (in many ways) and probably climbs Kili 7 or 8 times a year (but would never let on), spoke more in terms of us ‘asking permission’ to summit.

I think pretty soon after you start the climb, you get a strong sense of awe, of respect and reverence for the ecosystem on which you stand. And I came to not see it as something to be conquered, but more a beautiful means to conquering adversity within. In the end, the battle isn’t with the mountain, it’s with yourself – it’s in your mind and over your body to keep going when you think you’ve got nothing left. Which is what life is all about – and not just when you’re on a mountain.

I recall these memories today because this weekend our latest Bridge2Aid group will be landing at Kilimanjaro International Airport. They will touch down in the evening, after the African sunset has dropped an inky blanket over the surrounding countryside, and the 1 hour drive to the lodge will be pretty dark. They will need to wait for the next morning to hopefully get their first glimpse of Kibo peeking through the clouds, making an imposing and intimidating statement as it towers above their hotel in the foothills. I get goosebumps just typing the words…

It has been great to read some of the tweets, blogs and Facebook posts of some of the group getting ready to go. I remember that mix of excitement and nerves very well, and I am very envious. I know many of my Kili family feel the same when this time of year comes around. That week we spent together, disconnected from the outside world with nothing to do or think about but putting one foot in front of the other was a precious one.

In the end it’s just you versus yourself, and remember – pole pole on the mountain!

Previously posted at Bridge2Aid

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