4AM Reflections on Why I’m attempting Kilimanjaro

The author backpacking in Denali. Training is not the equal of preparation.

The author backpacking in Denali. Training is not preparation’s equal.

Perhaps these thoughts seethe with pre-dawn drivel, but here’s what i think I know. Among other things, I need this—or something like it—to rejuvenate my soul. I was a burnt out bitch from time to time at my summer job and although my work performance was still top notch, that’s no way to live. It doesn’t have to be Kilimanjaro—in fact, in some ways I am more excited about whatever cultural experience I’ll have subsequently in Rwanda than I am for the climb, but the invitation to climb Kilimanjaro is the welcome mat  that got me through the African door for the first time.

Something must propel me from the safety of my culture, clear my mind and get my head out of my ass. Opportunities abroad make work and life hassles worth enduring, and even prepare us for them in some ways. Travel is integral to the nomadic cadence; it is the antidote for the negativity that infects our lives.


I have no idea why I’m attempting this climb

Some people climb “because it’s there.” I’ve never identified with that phrase, although in some ways it captures the inexplicable. Plenty of people can see “it’s there” but aren’t motivated to climb, so its existence is not a ubiquitous magnet in and of itself. My climbing partner, Peter, is using this climb as a test to see if he might endure climbing Denali in the future. That makes sense. This is a nontechnical, slightly smaller, and shorter climb to provide such insight. While standing in line for my Tanzanian visa, I met an Irish boy and his father who would be attempting this climb, as well. A year ago, the boy’s grandfather died of heart disease and it was twelve-year old Zach’s idea to raise money for the disease. His father thought they’d do something like a 5K, but Zach dreamed bigger. As Zach bounced around the airport in excitement, his father told me the boy had single-handedly raised $11,000 for the cause. Like Peter, Zach’s motivation is linear—if follows a clear path of logical desire from A to B. For me, the reasons are not so opaque.

Personally, I’ve never endeavored to climb anything exceptionally large, however I do seek refuge in the wilderness from time to time and I think I’ve grasped those motivations. I yearn to test myself on a primitive level to more fully understand an environment, and as a human the only method I know of achieving this is through the lens of the self. It is not sufficient to read books and watch nature documentaries, although those mediums are the great instigators. One must look a landscape in the eye and learn it on an intimate basis—traveler’s diarrhea and all. The nomadic element compels me to delve into new experiences both culturally and in nature, and I strive to collect them—not as trophies, but as building blocks to shape my perspectives and comprise my opinions. Through this, I begin to understand the world and learn my place within it.

A worker carries sulphur from Kawah Ijen in Indonesia

A worker carries sulfur from Kawah Ijen in Indonesia


The summit, though alluring, is irrelevant

Trials fortify the soul—it doesn’t matter if one succeeds or fails. I want to know the smells of Tanzania, observe the morning light as it unfolds across the landscape, feel the texture of Kilimanjaro’s soil, and discover if the humidity will make me sweat even at a standstill. Will altitude debilitate me? Will my knees bother me? How will I fare mentally if those hurdles materialize? Am I as stubborn as I think I am or will the mountain call bullshit?

In the documentary 180 Degrees South, Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, reflects on the value of immersing in a long term voyage versus climbing Everest. The whole quote is so good I refuse to trim it: “Taking a trip for six months to get in the rhythm of it. It feels like you can go on forever doing that. Climbing Everest is the ultimate and opposite of that. Because you get the high powered plastic surgeons and CEOS and they pay $80,000 and have Sherpas put the ladders in place and 8,000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”

Kawah Igen's caldera. Pictures are the great instigator but they cannot fully encompass a moment.

Kawah Igen’s caldera. Pictures are the great instigator but they cannot fully convey a moment.

Kilimanjaro is a nontechnical, guided climb to 19,340 feet. There will be porters and cooks, though hopefully not many. It is because I agree with Chouinard that I must admit those details. I crave a 3-dimensional picture of this place in this time and space intertwined with my mind, body, and soul as they are in this moment. I trained but probably inadequately, and now it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing left to alter the course. It’s my me, my mind, and my stamina, and the mountain will inflict its weather and challenges, and the dance will play out however fate drums up the beat. If I fail, I will fail in truth. Anything less and undoubtedly I would be an asshole.

Denali Highway 157

Alaskan light

Perhaps in some sense I am attempting Kilimanjaro “because it’s there,” but that statement only has value because I’m here; I exist, as well. Curiosity is the cosmic gift from the universe to strive to understand that which is outside our individual paradigm. John Muir said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” To me the beckoning is a little broader than that: the world is calling and I must learn its language.


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  1. Pingback: Resolving to Your Natural New Year | Professional Nomads

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