I am fortunate to be able to climb big, beautiful mountains. After recently summiting Mount Kilimanjaro I am now twice as lucky because I got to accompany my 20-year old daughter, Jess, on her first high-altitude ascent.
We discovered a treasure trove of experiences and spectacular views. Here are our best photos and lessons from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet).
Great experiences require great effort. Preparing for our trip demanded saving and planning, as well as training and travel. Refining these important skills makes you a savvy traveler and opens up an immense world for your career, personal life and adventure pursuits. Jess journeyed to Tanzania by way of South Africa, and it took me 40 hours of grinding travel to get there.
Starting a long journey creates a bubbling emotional cauldron of hope and fear, excitement and trepidation. As we hiked up the rain forest trail, we discussed the importance of controlling our pace, focusing on our goals (fun, safety and summit), and accepting whatever awaited us. Blending focus with open mindedness is crucial for long journeys, no matter the circumstances.
Spotting the snowy top of Kilimanjaro far above us was both inspiring and intimidating. The legendary summit beckoned us, but the 13,000 vertical feet between us and the summit stood as an imposing barrier that we would have to chip away at. We had to accept the work and be willing to endure.
Embracing adventure means accepting misadventure. Out in the wild (and in life) things do not always go smoothly or as planned. To prevent these inevitable mishaps from upsetting you, expecting setbacks. On Kili, we knew that rain, mud and sogginess were likely. By expecting these minor setbacks, when they happened we were assured (“Yes, this is normal”) rather than surprised or upset.
Climbing safely and successfully to high altitudes requires that you ascend slowly so your body can acclimatize. With the oxygen level at 18,000 feet only half that of sea level, we chose a gradual, 6-day ascent of Kilimanjaro. Step by step, day by day, tenacity produces progress. Having the patience for a steady, controlled pace meant that by the fifth afternoon, we were comfortably camped at 15,350 feet. And, we were now in position to try for the summit at midnight.
Trust the process, your teammates & yourself
With less than two hours of sleep, it’s tempting to be cranky or lethargic when the alarm goes off at 11:30 pm. But, attitudes are contagious. So, Jess and I agreed that we would awaken excited and energized to start our summit push. While a roaring wind jostled our tent, we wrestled into our winter gear and then stepped out into the inky night. A million stars invited us farther up the mountain. A churning cloud bank hovering over Kilimanjaro’s east shoulder threatened that conditions might get too rough for us to summit.
Seven hours of uphill work into the ever-thinner air awaited us. Our plan was the exactly the same as it had been for the previous five days: Set a sustainable pace. Stay hydrated. Be disciplined. Our excellent guides, Kilian and Julius, knew the way to the top and we both felt strong. So now, we had to just trust the process, each other and ourselves.
It was time to endure, suffer well and be resilient. Hours ticked past. Our booted feet kept churning, and we reeled in elevation steadily. My altimeter indicted that we passed by 17,000 feet. Then 18,000 feet. With each step, Jess kept setting herself a new personal altitude record. As the veteran climber (age 52) and as her worrisome father, I watched Jess carefully for signs of illness or hesitation. She seemed fine. When I saw her dancing during a rest stop, I knew she would make it!
On the summit of Kilimanjaro, we hugged, cried and laughed. It was a thrill, an honor and a privilege to summit and celebrate Kilimanjaro with my daughter.
Life is an adventure, and every adventure has magic moments. Some moments are subtle, like the confident look on your teammate’s frosty face that assures you all is well. Some magic moments are boldly obvious, like when on safari 3 days later, you hear and feel a leopard’s deep roar from the treetop right in front of you.
So, get out there! Pick your big adventure, follow the steps above, and experience the magic.