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The Secret to Climbing Africa's Highest Peak

I just returned from one of the toughest, but also one of the best and most memorable experiences of my life. A little over a month ago, I posted about my preparation and challenges for my upcoming climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. Now that I’ve completed the journey, returned home safely, and had a chance to reflect on the past couple weeks, I’d like to share with you one of the most important take-aways I brought back with me. Something I always knew, but this trip made me see it in a whole other light:  When taking on any major challenge, a solid team with an exceptional leader will make the difference between success and failure.

Overall, our trek up Kili was a very difficult climb — harder than we expected due to some horrible weather conditions. Fortunately, we were accompanied by a team of experienced climbers, including a Chief Guide. Our Chief Guide informed us from that start that every day would be a challenge. She would give us instructions to follow that seem simple, but were critical to making it to the peak (like eating food when we did not have an appetite due to the fact the altitude had killed our appetites).  She kept us on a very short leash, yelling instructions from the minute we got up at 6am until we fell asleep exhausted in our tents at 9pm.  Twice a day we were given information about what lay ahead and what was to be expected.  She was tough on us but we knew what was expected.  She told us over and over again that she and the rest of the team (all 93 of them) were there for us and that everyone wanted to see us at the top!

The most gruelling part of the trip was Summit Night, where we set off to reach the summit starting at midnight. Forming a long conga line of people up the mountain, we had only our headlamps and the night moon to light our way.  As a team, we had to work slowly and take one small step at a time, as anything bigger was dangerous due to the slope of our climb, the darkness and the fear of hitting someone in front of us.  We all had to work as a team to get to the top and we were kept in spirits by Fuso who sang to us to help keep us awake and positive.

It was tempting to let the overall toughness of the challenge consume us but, as our Chief Guide told us, the key is to focus on the step in front of you, and don’t get overwhelmed by the day and its challenges.  It is easier to cope with any problem or task one step at a time. What kept us going was thinking about all the little steps that need to be taken in order to achieve the overall goal of reaching the summit.

Overall, it was a team effort that got us to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Every day had its challenges throughout the journey, but we were well taken care off.  We knew what we had to do and it was one step at a time that led to the ultimate success!