For 25 years now, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro has been on my bucket list. And finally, a couple weeks ago, I did it.
And along the way, with my two sisters, our guide Robert, assistant guide, cook, and twelve porters from Kandoo Adventures (yes, 12), I learned a thing or two about what it takes to climb Kilimanjaro.
Here they are:
1. Go slow. “Polepole” – that means “slow” in Swahili, and that was our rallying cry. And we meant it. We might’ve been the slowest hikers there, being passed left and right, but I didn’t care. I’m told that slower you go, the better your chance of success, because you have more time to acclimate to the altitude.
And after the first few bathroom stops, where Karin and Isabel and I would stand around chatting, our guide said, “You need to take shorter breaks. This is taking you longer not because we’re moving slowly, but because your breaks are too long.”
Lesson #1: Go slow, but don’t stop.
2. Everything will pass. The saying “This too shall pass” took on a whole new meaning up there. You have a headache? It’ll pass. You have to throw up? It’ll pass. Your feet are freezing? Every sensation, no matter how uncomfortable, is temporary. It rained a few times, and Robert shrugged and said “We’ll be dry later.” No matter what happened, if you just waited it out, either the circumstances or your feelings about them would change.
Lesson #2: Don’t get too attached to what’s happening. It’ll pass.
3. Passion will prevail. On the sixth day, Robert came into our tent to give us a briefing.
We’d barely touched our dinners, and he knew it. “You’re too nervous,” he said. “You just have to relax. Passion is what will get you to the summit. You’ve already come 70%. Now we have the last 30% to go. Your mind is what will make the difference. If you believe it, and have fun with it, it will work. And if you don’t, then that will stop you.”
There was a lot of time for thinking while we hiked, which means there was a lot of time for self-doubt to creep in. So I used the Mindset Reset process constantly. What do I have? What do I need to believe to make this happen? I used affirmations, especially on Summit Day – literally for nine hours, I repeated “I am healthy, I am strong, I can endure,” remembering those studies about how repeated self-talk is proven to help athletes go further. That positivity helped keep my confidence – and my passion – alive.
Lesson #3: At the end of the day, your passion will drive you to your destination.
4. Break it down into milestones. This one really saved me on the last leg, because it was so steep. It was a nine-hour hike that night, so I broke it down by time. At 1am, I just needed to make it to 2am. Then just till 4. The sun was supposed to come out at 6am (it didn’t, but it was enough to get me there). Then 7am, and by then we reached that first sign. From there, I could see the final sign in the distance, and that was all I needed to go those last few hundred yards. We’d done it.
Lesson #4: Everything can be broken into smaller steps. And you are always capable of small steps.
5. Look back at your success. Looking at the trail ahead, winding up this enormous mountain? Yeah, that was pretty daunting. So I often looked back to our basecamp, and it would look so miniscule it was hard to believe. Every time, that made me realize, “Wow, I’ve come so far already. I can keep going.” It was empowering to see how far we’d come – even while going polepole.
#5: Draw strength from your past.
Whatever mountain you’re climbing – in business, or in relationships, or a personal challenge – just keep putting one foot in front of the other, as slowly as you need to. Look for that next milestone. Remember that everything you’re struggling with will pass. And let passion be your guide.
Go out and shine.
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