Originally posted March 8, 2017 on wanderlisa
I’m currently in New York City but my heart is in Tanzania. It’s hard to believe that exactly a year ago, on March 8, 2016, International Women’s Day, I reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, along with a group of 22 women, organized through WHOA Travel. It was hands-down one of the best experiences of my life, and also one of the hardest.
I metaphorically carry that mountain with me every day – not as a weight that pushes me down, but as a strength that lifts me up. Whenever I’m having a hard day I say to myself “I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I can get through this.”
I think about Kilimanjaro all the time. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments, and when I reflect on it I smile. It was so hard. SO HARD. But I made it. And I met an incredible network of women through WHOA Travel, and we all have a special bond now from sharing this tough experience.
I would climb Kilimanjaro again in a heartbeat if I had the time and the money. I’m not sure when I’ll conquer that mountain again, but I definitely will one day.
I’ve been inspiring a lot of my friends to want to climb Kilimanjaro. You can do it!*
*if you’re able-bodied, in decent shape, and don’t have asthma
Here’s why you should climb Kilimanjaro/what I learned:
1. You’re stronger than you think.
You don’t need to be an athlete to climb Kilimanjaro. It’s not a skilled climb. If you can walk normally without getting out of breath you can climb Kilimanjaro.
2. Mental strength is more important than physical strength.
I think back to the hardest moment of my climb, in the early morning hours of pitch black darkness before reaching the summit. I felt nauseous and thought I couldn’t walk any farther but I was determined to make it to the summit, so I pushed through. If you want something badly enough, you’ll make it happen.
3. Your health is of utmost importance.
This is obvious, but you should never take your health for granted. You need to listen to your body and to the medics. If they tell you to stop, you need to listen to them.
4. Po-lay, po-lay (slowly, slowly).
Remember the story of the Tortoise and the Hare? “Slow and steady wins the race.” While Kilimanjaro is not a race, it is a test of endurance. Our guides must have told us this Swahili phrase at least a dozen times a day. There were some guys in other groups that were competitive and tried to walk fast but you can’t do that. And not all of them made it to the summit, but my group of 22 women did. At such a high altitude, with a lack of oxygen, it’s so important to slow down. There were points where we were basically walking at a tortoise’s pace. When I’ve tried to demonstrate to friends how slowly we were walking – using all of our strength to put one leg in front of the other – people are shocked. As a fast-walking New Yorker, I hardly believe how slowly I walked. But the summit of Kilimanjaro is at 19,341 feet, and you have to take things at a slower pace. Speaking of which…
5. Unplug, slow down, connect to nature.
Being off the grid for a full week was amazing. It’s unfortunately so rare in this day and age and was definitely one of the best parts of the experience. We slept in tents underneath a sky so clear you could see the Milky Way. I dream of seeing stars like that again. All day long we had the opportunity to appreciate nature in all its glory – from incredible sunrises to crazy hailstorms, and everything in between. We also had the chance to appreciate our bodies and how much they do for us every single day.
6. It takes a team.
Our 60+ porters and guides helped us every step of the way. Whether it was through singing, or carrying our packs, or friendly encouragement, we couldn’t have done it without them. They also set up our tents, cooked meals for us, and checked our vitals every day to make sure we were all healthy enough to continue.
7. You’ll make lasting friendships and share an incredible bond with so many people.
When accomplishing a difficult feat with a group you automatically bond with everyone. I may not speak to everyone from my group all of the time but I think back fondly at our adventure. I’m so grateful to every single person in my group and all of the porters and guides. Everyone had a reason for being there and we accomplished something amazing together.
If you have any questions about climbing Kilimanjaro, please feel free to contact me!
Lisa is an NYC based WHOAlum who summited Kilimanjaro with us on International Women's Day 2016, and she'll be with again as we make our way to Everest Base Camp in April 2018!
Follow more of her adventures at wanderlisa.