A few days before I said good-bye to my Mom for what would be the last time, we had one of the most heartfelt and memorable conversations. While she lay on the couch and I sat on the coffee table next to her, we reminisced over past trips, favorite memories, and all the good times we had experienced. It was then that my Mom looked me in the eye and made me promise I would fulfill my dream of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro for the both of us.
As with any trip I have ever planned, things did not turn out the way I envisioned. When I began looking into climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and all it would entail, I knew my husband and son would not be up for it. However, my Father said he would go and my Mom planned to meet us there and join us for a safari afterward. After booking the travel plans for the “trip of a lifetime,” we learned the cancer my Mom thought she had beat was back and had spread. We were told there was little-to-no hope and it was only a matter of time before she would leave our world. Not knowing how much time we would have left with her, my Father and I decided to postpone our trip. The next few months were some of the hardest of my life. My Mom, being the strong woman she was, fought tooth and nail, but on December 24, 2014 she passed away. After some time had passed I approached the subject of our trip with my Father but he said he no longer had the heart to go. I tried to persuade both my Father and husband to change their minds, but soon realized if I was going to go it would have to be on my own.
On June 5, 2016, I set out on my adventure. Although this would not be my first solo overseas adventure, it would be the first “big” solo overseas adventure since the birth of my son. Twenty-four hours after leaving the United States, I arrived in Tanzania ready for anything and everything; I had no idea what to expect, yet with a backpack and duffle bag full of gear, an open mind, and an eagerness I hadn’t felt in years, I was as ready as I could be. The trip would last 11 days door-to-door, 7 days of which would be on the mountain and because I was the only solo female in our group, I would have single accommodations from start to finish. I met the others that would be on the trek with me at the airport; there were seven of us total: a family and their daughter’s boyfriend, a solo male, and me.
The first two nights were spent at an amazing villa outside of the city of Arusha. My hut was something out of a luxurious travel magazine; the large four-post bed had beautiful white mosquito netting draped around it and the en-suite bathroom had a beautiful walk in shower and deep soaking tub made of stone with flower petals placed on the sides. If it weren’t for the sign on the water pitcher that read “Safe to Drink,” I would never have known I was in a third-world country.
The first morning at the villa I woke up to the sound of monkeys playing on the thatched roof of my hut. When I looked out my window I could see monkeys everywhere; I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I put on my boots, grabbed my camera, and ran outside to take pictures. Even now as I think back on this moment, I cannot think of a better way to have started my adventure.
The second morning of our trip we left Arusha for the Machame Gate in Kilimanjaro National Park. This marked the beginning of our trek to the “Roof of Africa”. On our trek we had one head guide, Bernard, two assistant guides, Calvin and Gama, and approximately 37 porters. I had read that English is readily spoken in Tanzania; however, I was still surprised by how easily I could communicate with those I met. For each of the seven days I was on the mountain I spent hours talking, singing, and dancing with our guides, specifically Calvin and Gama. Every day we would hike for 8-10 hours and I would pass the time hiking with that day’s lead guide picking their brain about life in Tanzania, their family, and stories of their numerous climbs up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
On our second night on the mountain, at Shira camp, Gama and I talked while we watched the sunset over Shira Peak, one of the three peaks that make up Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was then I realized taking this trip “alone” truly allowed me to ingrain myself in the experience and see everything in a different light. Even though I didn’t have the “safety” of family or friends to withdrawal to when it was quiet or when I felt tired, I realized I had strength within me that I had never really tapped into. Everything about this moment, the view, the sounds, and the feeling of freedom and strength will always stay with me! I may have been on a mountain in Africa, but I felt so safe and secure with the guides, porters, and everyone on the trek that it felt like home.
As we climbed the mountain and entered the different climate zones, experiencing different landscapes, my eyes saw more and more of the world and life around me. Our trek started in the Rainforest at roughly 5,700 feet. Over the course of five days we traveled through the Heath, Moorland, and Alpine climate zones before reaching the summit, Uhuru Peak, in the Artic climate zone at 19,341 feet. Descending off the mountain takes all of two days; but it is all downhill; luckily, my knees were up for the challenge and I only fell twice. Knowing the amount of physical fitness required for such a climb I began my training months before our original trip was supposed to take place in 2015. In order to prepare I joined a local CrossFit gym, took up running, and hiked as much as possible. Training for this trek truly got me in the best shape of my life.
On June 13, 2016, at the age of 33, I reached the “Roof of Africa”. Thankfully, all of us on the trek reached the summit; although some felt the effects of the altitude more than others. As we all took photos and embraced each other at the summit I was overwhelmed with emotions. I had finally fulfilled one of the last promises I had made to my Mom. She would have loved to have been there physically but I know without a doubt she was there with me in spirit!
The experience of climbing the mountain and being on the summit was amazing, but I can honestly say the best part of my experience was the people. Over the course of the trek I created a bond with our guides and became Calvin and Gama’s sister (“Dada” in Swahili) and they became my bothers (“Kaka” in Swahili). In many ways they truly did become like brothers. They kept an eye on me, laughed with me, talked with me, and even made fun of me. On more than one occasion I was asked if I ever stopped smiling because from the moment I arrived I had a smile from ear to ear on my face. I found a peace on that mountain that I hadn’t felt in years. Saying good-bye to my Tanzanian brothers was hard, but I came home with a fire for life and a craving for more!
Since coming home I have continued to explore the mountains and hills around me and have made a list of other mountains I will climb in my lifetime. Thankfully I have the full support and understanding of my family. My passion for the outdoors has been renewed and I cannot wait for the adventures that lay ahead.