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Mount Kilimanjaro: An Expedition of Discovery through Climbing

It was around 2:30 am on that night. Heavy breathing, nausea, and a constant lingering pain in my head got me questioning every step I ascended. I had been walking for a mere 4 hours that night however the exhaustion from the past 5 days of climbing was telling heavily on my body and mind. My sleep-deprived body was screaming for me to stop and rest but I had to keep going despite the fatigue weighing me down on my shoulders. Turning back was not an option. Sometimes ascending at 30 degrees elevation, with air thinning every few meters, I had to take it extremely slow to acclimate my body. Around 7:30 AM I finally reached Gilman Point. The toughest leg of the climb was nearly over and it encouraged me to keep on going until I reached the summit. I could see a short wooden structure erected at the far end of the mountain top, another 2-3 hours of a relatively flat walk from Gilman Point. It was where our ultimate destination was, Uhuru Peak, the highest marked point on Mount Kilimanjaro.  With each step we inched closer to the peak, trodding through fresh patches of snow. At 10:30 AM on 7th March 24, we finally stood atop the world’s 7th highest peak, Africa’s highest free-standing, solitary volcano, 5895 meters above sea level Mount Kilimanjaro. Strong winds shook the ground beneath us but then we had already learned how to hold our footing.  

‘Congratulations, You are now at Uhuru Peak…Africa’s highest point...’ The wooden sign behind me read as I proudly posed with my country’s flag. There were celebrations everywhere, and people were cheering with happy cries. But wait. The euphoria was all over in a few minutes when we realised that we had to descend.  A wave of mixed emotions engulfed me. It wasn’t about walking back the entire distance I started from, but the sudden abrupt cessation of the exhilarating feeling, that accompanied me the past few days.

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.” —Greg Child

Just 6 days before, I was piling on calories at Bao restaurant right outside Dar-Es-Slaam airport, with no better way of killing time before I boarded the flight to Kilimanjaro. After a short 40-minute flight, the Bombardier turboprop plane from Dar-Es-Salaam landed in Kilimanjaro at 9 PM. The next morning I excitedly ran to the hotel's terrace in Moshi to get the first glimpse of the mountain. The very sight of Mount Kili gave me jitters and my first reaction “This is so big!” brought an unbelievable feeling of attempting to climb that humongous mountain. 

On 3rd March our team and a group of porters left Moshi. At Marangu gate, after finishing the formalities, we set off! The six long days of the trek took us from the lush tropical rainforest of Marangu Gate to Mandara Hut. En route to the second base camp at Horombo, we traversed a vast expanse of moorland, with short grasses and ferns surrounding the midslope region of the mountain. From Horombo to Gilman Point, we had to clamber through steep, uneven, rocky terrain coated with black volcanic sand, ultimately leading to the snow-capped mountaintop. 


So what lessons does mountaineering offer for any endeavor one chooses to undertake?

The best view is always seen from the top - In my wildest dreams, I had never imagined climbing a mountain, let alone Mount Kilimanjaro. The moment I reach Uhuru Peak, I will filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. I was there, the ultimate goal I had been working towards for the past few months. The last stretch of my climb, from Gilman Point to Uhuru peak was a pristine white blanket of snow, the end visible from the far stretch, view unobstructed by the glistening crisp morning sunrays. It was a moment of epiphany, reminding me, why I signed up for this adventure.   The sense of attainment I derived at that moment made me humbled by how we are at the mercy of the power of nature, miniscule in front of the humungous mountain,  helpless without its blessing. 

The right mindset wins you battles - The trek from Mandara hut to Kibo was fun and easy. Although 5 days of walking had our energy level sunk a bit, the summit night push got us all jittery for what was to come our way. It's one thing to anticipate and plan and a completely other thing to experience it firsthand. Kibo to Gilman was one hell of a climb. Steep, gaining another 1165 meters of altitude, battling AMS, nauseating every few hundred meters, while trying to stay awake at the wee hours of the day. At that break or make the moment, it was a test of mind over body and I had to press on despite the pain.  Reflection on that moment reinforces the saying - “pain is temporary, pride is forever” 

Winning is a team effort - “You are strong like a Simba,” the words echoed in my ears by the buoyant porter who accompanied me starting from Kibo hut as if he knew that I would need these words of encouragement as I progressed with my climb. The final push started at 10:30 PM in the night and ended exactly at 15:30 back at Kibo. My body was screeching with fatigue by then but that wasn't the end. I had another 4 hrs of walking down to Horombo Hut camp but this time I walked comfortably, numb. Recollecting that night of 6th March when I began my summit push, I couldn’t thank every single person around me who encouraged me and helped me achieve the goal I came to conquer.  The porter who led the way for us, the one who helped me with juggling with my oversized glove, and pole loop strap, pulling down my balaclava so that I can take a sip of water now and then. The spirit-lifting Swahili songs they sang echoed in the backdrop of the still midnight as we marched ‘pole-pole’, urging us to keep going and achieve what we have set to accomplish. Our trek lead, attempting to engage in casual conversation while subtly checking on our well-being. Fellow team members, although struggling with their challenges, still try to put up a brave front in the face of their adversity. The number of other fellow climbers who on their way back congratulated us with friendly and casual retorts, saying  “You are almost there”. I couldn’t imagine traveling this arduous climb without the support of these people.  


Joy is in the journey - As I reminisce on my expedition, the time I spent trekking between Marangu Gate and Uhuru Peak remains the fondest of all. The anticipation of reaching the next base camp, stopping for a while to appreciate the vast horizon overlooking other smaller peaks, or taking those little breaks for snacking and posing for photographs, along with the camaraderie built with team members and understanding each of their individual stories, provided depth and a profound sense of meaning to the journey.  Pleasantries were exchanged, with each passerby greeted with 'Jambo' or 'Jambo Phua.' Admiring the swift pace at which the porters carried loads between camps, sometimes sprinting downhill between the camps, exhibiting a natural talent as they raced by. The whimsical rains played tricks on us each time we debated whether to cover ourselves up. I was with 14 other team members and for 6 continuous days, we lived night and day with each other.  The occasional waves of laughter we shared, the jokes we cracked, the games we played, the videos we shot, the bonds we forged, and the hardships we shared brought fresh meaning to every new day that began.


“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome." - Arthur Ashe   

Training and preparation are the bedrock for any ascent - Months of rigorous but systematic training, finally culminated in our impressive results. Training was an essential component of the climb and non-negotiable. With past trekking experience under my belt, I was ingrained with the understanding that the harder I sweat it out in the gym, the more enjoyable the ascent would be. If I were to draw parallels between mountaineering and the corporate world or any ambitious endeavor for that matter, I would find common threads of perseverance, teamwork, meticulous planning, and navigating challenges to reach lofty summits of success.

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Alpa, you and your journeys are truly inspiring!!! Wishing you the best for your next!

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