Why did I decide to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro? It’s a question I would ask myself more than once while climbing the highest peak in Africa.
I’ve always been a goal-oriented person. A magnet on my fridge says, “If you aren’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” Every time I see it, this reminds me to take chances in life. And I climbed a similar peak…..though 15 years ago, so the memory of that experience had faded much like the pain of delivering a baby, leaving only thoughts of the beautiful scenery, the people you bonded with, and the spiritual feeling of watching the sun rise on a mountaintop.
The idea of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro started as a niggling thought in the back of my mind soon after I joined Water to Thrive as the Executive Director. One of the countries where we provide clean water projects is Tanzania… so why not do the climb while already in the country? After considering the climb, I began to think about inviting others, about making it an awareness and fundraising event for Water to Thrive.
Funny how when you start to talk about doing something that is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, others start to express interest. Of course, expressing interest and actually making a commitment are two very different matters.
By the time of the climb, there would be nine of us total. Our youngest team member was 12 and our oldest? Water to Thrive founder Dick Moeller, who celebrated his 73rd birthday on the mountain.
One thing I’ve heard expressed by other trekkers—and that I can now affirm—is that no matter their age, it was one of the most challenging experiences of their life. The obvious challenge is the physical element. Start with the basic fact of hiking hours upon hours each day. Then, as if the hiking weren’t difficult enough, add in the high altitude—which basically means you’re breathing twice to get the same amount of oxygen into your bloodstream as you normally get in one breath.
At 19,341 feet, Mt. Kilimanjaro is classified as an “extreme altitude mountain trek.” Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can occur at 8,000 feet and above. One of the keys to avoiding AMS and making it through the climb is to acclimatize slowly, which is one of the reasons I chose the Lemosho Route, a seven-day-to-summit trek. After some careful research, I chose Climb Kili as our tour company. I was impressed by their work with other nonprofits and their model of giving back to their local community.
Why did I decide to climb a mountain? My motivation was the miles and miles that women and children walk to collect the dirty, disease-ridden water that is their only option. As one mother said, it is better to provide dirty water than no water at all. Every single trip I take to meet with individuals who’ve been helped by having a clean water source provided in their village, I’m humbled by the tremendous workload of carrying water. I work out. I’m strong. And yet I cannot walk more than a few feet with 45 pounds of water on my back—never mind being able to heft it up on top of my head.
So I thought that as a show of my support of their lives, their fortitude, their gratitude for water, I’d climb a mountain. I know, a little crazy. People have told me I’m brave for traveling to Africa, for visiting rural villages, for enduring long hot days in uncomfortable conditions while I visit the water projects funded through Water to Thrive. But truth be told, my contribution is nothing compared to the sacrifice of the women and children, and my temporary discomfort is part of their daily existence.
I’ve realized that I’m not brave. Rather, I enter into things with either a childlike naivete—or I’m simply oblivious. I’d like to think I’m just really positive and that I don’t worry about things like ….getting frostbite or mountain sickness, or being kidnapped or attacked by wild animals. Of course, I will admit that I don’t always prepare adequately, and this particular trip is no different. Next time, I’ll share what items are crucial should you ever decide to venture off to climb a mountain and to always be sure to check for ice before sitting on a toilet seat.