Friday, August 26, 2016

Lesson #9 from Climbing Kilimanjaro: Personal victories are satisfying. Shared victories are sublime

Peter and I at Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro

I was reading a post from Uncornerd Market entitled "Climbing Kilimanjaro: Life Lessons from the Top of Africa" and lesson #9 struck me so deeply I decided to write a blog, something I've never really considered doing before and might not do again. I just felt the need to write my story from climbing Kilimanjaro and why lesson #9 made me burst into a sobbing mess sitting by myself on the couch. So here it is:

I climbed Kilimanjaro with my older brother, Peter, and his best friend, Topher, in July 2001. I had just turned 19, they 26, and they let me tag along on their African summer adventure after my brother had  finished his 2 1/2 year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa. The finale of my 2 month backpacking with them from Cape Town to Kenya was climbing Kili. We did it on the fastest route possible, the Marangu route, because my brother was one of the cheapest people on the planet (and that was before living in a village in Africa for 2 years), so we were up in 3 1/2 days and down in 1 1/2.

We fared pretty well, I'm sure helped by our years growing up in Colorado and hiking on the weekends.  They say if you are raised in Colorado you have bigger lungs -- I have no idea if that's true or not -- and, regardless, I was fine through the last camp which was above 15,000 ft, higher than I had ever been before, even while other climbers were already beginning to show signs of altitude sickness.

We woke up the day of the summit climb at 12am and began hiking in the pitch black. The ascent was so steep we were doing mini-switch backs, one after the other, on what looked like snow, but what I later realized was volcanic ash, for an endless, freezing 6 hours until we finally reached Gilman's Point, the rim of the crater. This was probably the hardest 6 hours of my life up to this point and upon learning that we still had 2 more hours to reach the actual summit of the mountain, I began to sob, which at 18,640 ft., made it even harder to breath and I was just done, physically and emotionally, done.

It was at that point that Peter went into big brother mode and made jokes to make me laugh, platitudes to make me feel better, and also threw in some brotherly tough love that made me get up and let him pull me (I'm only half joking) those last two agonizing hours to the top.

At Gilman's Point: Me, crying and miserable; Peter, with his usual grin

Just three short years later, my big brother died of cancer at the young age of 29. So for me, all that matters now is that we did it together, that it's an amazing adventure that we shared and a memory of him that I cling to. Sublime doesn't even begin to describe it....