“That was the hardest thing I've ever done."
Those were the words that were looping in my head as our kitchen porters greeted me back at Kosovo Camp (4,900m). Pouring me a glass of vitamin water, I was given a big, warm congratulatory smile that was common among the crew, and that promptly brought tears to my eyes.
The words continued to echo in my mind, as I downed the glass of sweet vitamin water in seconds and collapsed into my tent, and as one of our guides, Casper, started untying my shoes for me, because I was too exhausted to think of it myself. I felt those words with my entire being as they changed to, “I can’t believe I just did that.” I lay, unmoving, on my back, roughly 9 hours after we began our midnight journey to summit Uhuru Peak, the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
It’s now been two and a half weeks since I reached the roof of Africa with 21 women on International Women’s Day. I’ve been wanting desperately to reflect, to write it all down, before the memories faded, but I haven’t known how to begin.
How do you describe the feeling of your body physically shutting down and refusing to take another step, while your brain forces you to take one more? Or the disconnect between your mind and the pain that your lungs are feeling? How do you describe seeing the summit 200 feet away and feeling like there were still miles to walk - that the past 5 hours of the steep ascent, surrounded by the darkest night, were nothing compared to those last few hundred feet. Or the joy and disorientation I felt being embraced by all the women I became friends with that week, as we all celebrated the accomplishment of reaching the top? How to describe the bond that's formed through suffering and achievement? How to express the immense gratitude towards the local men (and one kickass woman!), lead guides, assistant guides, cooks, kitchen team, and porters (roughly 70 crewmembers in total), who took care of us and literally sang us all the way to the top.
It’s difficult to summarize the week long trek that I went on with WHOA travel in Tanzania. The tallest free standing mountain in the world towers at 5,853 meters, or 19,341 feet. There were so many highs and lows, feelings of utter defeat and pure bliss. The landscape made me feel like I was on another planet with views that literally took my breath away. There was the breath itself - something I rarely think about on a day to day basis, and what turned into hours and days of meditation as I concentrated on the simple act of breathing. There were the guides and porters who were the most encouraging and selfless humans, carrying unfathomable weight on their heads, and who scrambled around and ahead of us daily to have everything set up by the time we stumbled into camp. The stars seemed closer and brighter the higher and higher we got. There were the 21 women, all coming to this mountain for different reasons, supporting and helping each other, making it that much easier to keep going. My mom, who at 52, and battling altitude sickness for the majority of the time, kicked the mountain’s ass and beat me to the top! There was Uhuru Peak, hovering above us for days, taunting us with it's height, which now feels like a blurry memory. It was understanding what pure exhaustion actually meant. Getting a glimpse into why people push themselves to extremes, experiencing the addicting high you get when accomplishing something that feels like it nearly fell out of your grasp.
A few hours before we began our summit bid, I sat in our dining tent, trying hard to not let fear get the best of me. Everyone had a quote in front of them, and mine, by the great Maya Angelou read, "You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it."
The gratitude and respect I feel to this mountain, is hard to describe, but I know I will be trying to find those words for the rest of my life.
words written on 3/26/2016
Trek organized and led by WHOA TRAVEL