Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

On August 21st, 2022, I embarked on what was probably one of the most challenging and most extraordinary adventures of my life, climbing the tallest free-standing mountain in the world and the sixth-tallest mountain in the world from the Earth’s core. Last year, the first time I saw Kilimanjaro, I was speechless. My jaw dropped at the sight of such a tall and mighty mountain standing alone. I knew from that moment on I wanted to climb it. 

One of the best parts of this story is that I’m not typically one to climb mountains; actually, I’ve never climbed a mountain… I grew up hiking through many parts of the United States, and although rafting the Grand Canyon and hiking through Arches national park were on my recent bucket list, hiking a mountain was certainly not. But there was something so adventurous and mystical about Kilimanjaro that made me want to climb it and complete it with everything inside of me. 

In the months leading up to Kilimanjaro, when many people would spend time training for climbing such a massive mountain by climbing smaller mountains or learning to exercise with low oxygen, I simply did nothing. I got my steps in every day by serving at a restaurant all summer, and as much as my parents and others told me I should probably train, I don’t know; I just didn’t feel the urge or need to. I’m not sure what that was about; maybe there was a reason for it. Would training have made my hike up the mountain a bit easier? Yes, for sure. But I don’t think I would have learned as much as I did about my body and mind from the intense suffering and pushing I had to do to make it as far as I did.

I think I knew somewhere inside that climbing Kilimanjaro wasn’t just about climbing a massive mountain and making it to the top; it was also about learning so much about the way our bodies and minds are connected and how incredibly capable our bodies are. These were lessons that had been a long time coming for me.

Honestly, I don’t think many people close to me were convinced I would make it far. And truthfully, that’s what pushed me most days to keep going. Because I wanted to prove to everybody that I could do it, but most importantly, prove to myself that I was capable of such a thing.

Day 1: Naima, Katie, and I woke up super early Sunday morning, August 21st, in a giddy but nervous state. We were all so excited to start our climb but a little nervous about what was ahead; truthfully, we had no idea what to expect. Our car broke down on the way to Moshi, where we would meet up with our climbing group. I was worried that maybe that was some sort of bad omen, but I think we were just getting all the bad luck out of the way. We arrived to Moshi, where we grabbed our rental hiking gear and met up with our team. Naima, Katie, and I would embark on this journey with our three local guides: George, Hussein, and Eli, as well as two other climbers, a dad and a son from Israel.

On the car ride to the Machame gate, we were lucky enough to have clear skies to see Kilimanjaro from afar. It was so surreal that I would be climbing it. When we arrived at the gate, there were tons and tons of climbers getting ready. August is the most popular month to climb Kilimanjaro because it’s the end of winter here in Tanzania, so the weather is perfect, and there’s no rain. Machame is also known as the “Whiskey Route” because it’s hard to climb, like it’s hard to drink. Machame is the most popular route because of how scenic it is.

The View of Kilimanjaro from our car ride to the gate!

At the starting gate for the Machame route!

We waited at the gate for almost two hours while our porters, who carried all our bags and supplies each day, packed up our stuff and our guides registered us. I remember thinking these might be some of the final moments I feel relaxed and in no pain; I was a tad worried that I might think, “what the hell did I sign up for” in just a few short hours. Finally, around 2 pm that Sunday, we began our ascent up Kilimanjaro! 

The first day was HARD!! My body had not hiked that far uphill in a long time, so the adjustment was not so fun. We hiked seven miles through a rainforest, all uphill. I quickly learned that my backpack was too heavy and full of toiletries, jackets, and snacks because I wanted to be prepared for anything. The guides quickly told me my bag should only have my water and a little bit of food; halfway through the hike that day, my wonderful guide Hussein carried my heavy ass bag like it was the easiest thing he’s ever done as I struggled to walk uphill with nothing on my back, lol. 

Although the first day was hard, and I knew it would only get harder, I had a lot of determination inside of me that carried me through. As the sun set and we started to gain elevation, I found it hard to breathe for the first time. Thankfully Naima taught me a trick that saved me throughout my entire climb. “Put your hands on your hips and look up to the sky and inhale; that is the key to keeping on breathing.” 

Finally, around 9 pm that night, I made it to our first camp: “Machame Camp,” which sits almost 10,000 feet. As soon as we got to the camp, we could see the peak of Kilimanjaro with the stars shining bright above it, and I couldn’t help but cry. I was already so proud of myself for pushing my body seven miles uphill and honestly just so in awe of the sight before me. The stars were so magical, seriously like nothing I’d ever seen, and they only got better each night. You could see the Milkyway, constellations, and so much more. I couldn’t have captured a photo that did that night sky justice even if I tried. 

Unfortunately, as soon as I got into my tent and laid down, the altitude sickness hit me like a truck. I had a migraine and such bad nausea. Whatever dinner I was able to eat ended up coming back out. I remember Katie and I had just gotten into our tent for the night, and I had taken all my medications when I was suddenly like: “Wait, hold on, Katie.” I opened the tent door and threw it all up. Thankfully Katie, Naima, and I were all super chill about each other’s bodily fluids and how disgusting we all smelled each night; very thankful for that.

Before I continue, I should probably put out a disclaimer that there will be lots of talk about puke and poop in this blog 🤣 so if that stuff grosses you out, I’m sorry lol; it was honestly just a major part of this journey.

I hardly got any sleep that night because I had yet another bad altitude sickness symptom: diarrhea! So fun!! But let me tell you, there is nothing like having diarrhea in the middle of the night on a mountain when you can barely pull your pants down because it’s so damn cold, and you can’t properly sit because the toilet is a cold and grassy ground!

Day 2: Wake up call each morning was 6 am; not a fun time waking up before the sun has even risen, it’s freezing cold, and you still feel like you need another 5 hours of sleep. I’ve never been a breakfast person; my stomach is just not ready to eat that early in the morning. But unfortunately, when you are climbing a mountain, breakfast is crucial, which is something I learned the hard way on day two. I think maybe I had a bite of toast, but even the act of putting food near my mouth made me nauseous. So after purifying my water, I decided I would be fine, and we should just go.

Not even five minutes after starting our day two hike, I felt extremely nauseous and light-headed. I had a panic moment, wondering what the hell I was doing. I could not do this. I was not prepared, and I was already feeling so sick on day two. I began to cry out of pure fear that I was not going to be ok. But Naima, Katie, and my guide Eli assured me I could do it, so I did. The entire hike that day was a very steep and rocky uphill climb. During the first half of the hike, I stayed back with Eli, and that part was a blur to me. I remember having to stop every two minutes to catch my breath, bend over and try to vomit and reassure myself that I could do it. 

Halfway through the hike, we met up with our other guide George. As you’ll learn, I began to have a love/hate relationship with George. He is probably the main reason I made it as far as I did, but he also forced me to do many things I did not want to do to maintain my good health. He was doing his job perfectly, but it just sucked at times. George saw my state and forced me to eat a muffin and drink juice to get some sugar in my body. Eating that muffin was torture because eating when you are nauseous is torture. But for almost the rest of day two’s hike, I was able to push through and feel a bit better now that I had energy in my body! 

The final stretch of day two was rough. The sugar had worn off, and it felt like there was no end in sight. Finally, that afternoon I made it to camp two. I remember the first thing I saw was a large circle of yellow stones; I was then informed that it was a helicopter pad for rescues. I genuinely wanted to be taken away by a helicopter at that moment. I was so weak, so nauseous, and had no clue in the world how I was going to make it past day two if I was already this sick. As soon as I got to my tent, I vomited and wanted to sleep for the rest of eternity, lol. We had only hiked roughly two and a half miles that day, but because of the terrain and elevation gain, it was a tough and long two and a half miles. 

The view from Day 2’s climb.

My first clear sneak peek of the peak of Kilimanjaro after half of day 2’s climb!

A very nauseous but happy climber making it to night 2’s camp

Camp two was at “Shira Camp,” which sits at 12,467 feet. We had gained some serious elevation, and my body was definitely just trying to adjust to it all. After waking up from a long nap, I felt so much better, and the views at Shira camp helped me feel motivated to keep going. We were officially sleeping above the clouds, and we could see the peak of Kilimanjaro so clearly! The sunset was absolutely beautiful, and even though I was terrified to keep going, I knew I needed to. 

A beautiful view of the peek at Shira Camp during sunset.

Night 2’s sunset above the clouds ❤

Day 3: This day of the climb was an interesting one for me! It was split between another horrible morning that then became a wonderful afternoon as my body finally adjusted to the elevation. George had suggested I start the hike earlier than the others since it took me longer to hike, so we set off around 7 am that morning. Day three was split into two parts; it was the longest day of hiking. The first half of the day was a 4-mile climb to Lava Tower, which sits at 15,000 feet. This would be the highest elevation we would reach until we began our summit hike, so it was crucial that once we made it to Lava Tower, we rested and ate lunch so our guides could examine our health.

The next part of the day would be a two-mile hike to our camp for the night, which would be a mostly downhill hike because it was too unsafe at this point to sleep at such a high elevation. The climb to Lava camp was similar to the climb on day two regarding terrain and how I felt. I still could not eat much for dinner the night before or breakfast that morning, so my body was still low on energy. As we climbed higher, it was getting harder to breathe, so Eli, my guide, carried my backpack for me once again; such a lifesaving act. Halfway through, I forced myself to eat a bit of a snickers bar, which helped me for a little bit.

We were finally so close to Lava Tower, but because we were reaching nearly 15,000 feet in elevation, my body really began to have a hard time. The way your body feels when you are that high up is sorta hard to explain. I just remember that being one of the worst times of my entire climb, I was not doing well at all, and I found out later that if I hadn’t recovered at lunch, my guide, George, would have suggested I go back down the mountain. But thank god, after reaching Lava Tower and eating some food, my body began to rebuild its strength.

The view halfway to Lava Tower!

Halfway done with day 3, standing in front of Lava Tower!

After lunch, we began our hike down to our camp for the night. This started my streak of finally feeling happy and healthy for a while! As we walked down the mountain, the terrain began to change into this insane desert with these trees that almost made it look like we were on another planet. I was finally able to really enjoy myself while hiking, and that felt so nice. Once we reached camp, I got a bit of cell reception which allowed me to text my family and let them know I was alive and doing it!! Their words of encouragement were extremely helpful to me during this time as I needed a bit of a push, and knowing that they believed in me made me feel that I really could do it.

Night three was spent at “Baranco Camp,” which sits at 12,795 feet. It was a beautiful camp as we were surrounded by those magical trees and a fantastic view of the peak. For the first time, I didn’t feel nauseous, and I was so thankful for that. Before dinner that night, our tour guides and porters danced and sang for us with the peak of Kilimanjaro in the background. It was such a beautiful and joyful moment that brought me to tears. Something that I think is so special about climbing large mountains in different countries is that you really get to learn and appreciate the culture of the local people. I felt so much gratitude for these people who were working hard to make sure I could enjoy my journey on Kilimanjaro.

The magical trees on our way down to Baranco Camp.

Arriving at Baranco Camp!
The amazing view from our tents during night 3.

Day 4: I woke up so scared for the day that was ahead. George forced me to eat four sandwiches full of peanut butter which was incredibly hard for my stomach so early in the morning, but it set me up for a great day. The beginning of our climb would include climbing the Baranco wall, which is a massive 800-foot wall that essentially gets you to the other side of the mountain.

From afar, the wall looked like a giant, a mountain in itself. But to my surprise, this massive and scary wall ended up being much easier than I thought and actually enjoyable! As long as you don’t look down when you are walking, haha. The wall had so many rocks and boulders on it that it was essentially more rock climbing than hiking. Because of that, it wasn’t as physically exhausting, and it made for a slower climb. It takes anywhere from one to two hours to climb the wall, but once you get to the top, you feel so close to the peak, like you are almost there, and that is an amazing feeling.

The sky was so blue and clear, and the sea of clouds below us made for a spectacular view. I was feeling energized and ready to conquer what was ahead! The rest of the hike on day four was a combination of hiking up and hiking down into the Karanga Valley. I was so proud of myself as I was finally making good time and going at a good pace without having to stop and catch my breath every few minutes. When George and Eli acknowledged I was doing really well, it made me so hopeful that I was over a hump of sickness and I could keep pushing. That afternoon after hiking roughly four miles, we made it to “Karanga Camp,” which sits at 13,123 feet.

Katie and I climbing the Baranco Wall!
Katie, Naima, and I at the top of the Baranco Wall, feeling so close to the peek!
At the top of the wall jumping above the sea of clouds below 🙂

I spent the afternoon calling Sam, who I hadn’t been able to talk to in a few days, and that really was the icing on top of the cake after a great day! I was so exhausted from our climb that I fell asleep on a nice rock under the sun when all of a sudden, I heard George calling my name to wake me up. George insisted that we take a “bonus hike” up a hill so that our bodies could continue to acclimate to the altitude. Although this was a brilliant thing to do, I was so mad at George. All I wanted to do was rest! During the bonus hike, I discovered that my face and ears had gotten severely sunburnt. I’m already so bad at remembering to apply sunscreen, and because it was cold, I didn’t even think about it. But truthfully, we were much closer to the sun’s rays being that high up, and it got me good.

Another thing that hit me once we reached the top of the hill was how mentally exhausted I was, more mentally exhausted than physically exhausted. You go into climbing a mountain knowing your body will be very tired, but what I didn’t realize was that my mind was working just as hard as my body was. Hiking Kilimanjaro was truly a mental game. Making sure your mind is always in a positive state is very important because the only way to keep pushing your body is for your mind to tell it to keep going. And that can be a challenging thing to do. I had another breakdown when we got to the top of the hill. I was so mentally exhausted, and my mind was done pushing my body for the day.

Reaching Karanga Camp!

The sunset at night 4 was so spectacular.

Day 5: Arguably the most important day of the climb, day five is all about prepping your body to summit Kilimanjaro that night. I remember us all waking up that morning excited but nervous; we were hours away from reaching the highest point in Africa. The hike to Base camp is the shortest hike of the week, so you don’t overwork your body. The almost one-and-a-half-mile hike to base camp was a hike through land that felt like mars or another planet.

The mostly flat walk was through a vast land full of tiny rocks that were once lava. Yes, Kilimanjaro is still an active volcano and could erupt again, which was fun and kinda scary to joke about, lol. Reaching Barafu Base Camp was a weird and euphoric feeling. For many people, including myself, Base Camp is a huge accomplishment in itself. It’s the last camp before the summit sitting at an elevation of 15,331 thousand feet. Some people don’t even make it past Base Camp and consider it their summit if their guides think it’s too unsafe to continue.

Had to snap a photo mid-climb day 5 with this amazing view of the peek behind us.

All of the ancient lava rocks on the way to Base Camp.

Making it to Base Camp!! Hell Yeah!!!

Deep down inside, I was at peace with reaching Base Camp; I was going to go as far as I could but reaching Base Camp was an accomplishment that, on day two, I never saw myself completing. Soon after getting inside our tents for a quick nap before lunch, a “tornado” hit. This tornado is not like the typical tornado we have in the US, it was sunny, and there was no rain in sight, but it was so windy that if you weren’t in your tent, it would have blown away, which is why the guides call it a tornado.

It made for a somewhat unsettling afternoon as it was hard to sleep with the sound of howling wind and the anxious thoughts of summiting that night. I ate the most that day that I had eaten all week, thanks to George, who insisted I eat as much as I could. We had our lunch and then took another nap until around five that evening, when George woke me up to eat an enormous plate of spaghetti and chicken. George wouldn’t leave my tent until I finished the plate which was a struggle.

George helped me lay out my summit outfit which consisted of many, many layers. We started with long underwear bottoms and a fleece turtle neck. Next was regular socks with foot warmers and wool socks on top. Then I had a pullover sweater with a fleece jacket, a down winter jacket, and a ski jacket to top it off. Over my long underwear, I had leggings and ski pants on top and, of course, a hat and gloves. I woke up from my final slumber around 10 pm that night and layered myself like a walking marshmallow. It turns out hiking a mountain in layer upon layer isn’t so easy! I began my summit walk around 11 pm that night with my favorite guide, Hussein, who was such an angel in how he catered to my needs.

Hussein carried my day pack full of water, snacks, and a thermos of hot water to de-freeze my drinking water as it would start to freeze as the temps dropped. Along with us was also one of our amazing porters who carried an oxygen tank for me in case I needed it. And so it began… the longest climb of my entire life. Climbing in the dark was super eerie because all you could see was a trail of lights behind and in front of you at all times, as well as the most magnificent sky of stars. The first half of the climb was through a very rocky area which meant rock climbing in layers of clothing which was extremely exhausting. Unfortunately, most of my summit walk is a blur to me because of how out of body and high I felt the entire time, and not in a good way.

All I can remember is having to stop about every 60 seconds to breathe and cough/gag, which was sucking up my energy like a straw. Somehow time slipped away, and I honestly have no reconciliation of time because when you are that high up, nothing really makes sense. Around 3:30 am, after climbing for four and a half hours, I reached 17,160 feet and was about a mile from Stella point, which is the last stop before Uhuru Peak, aka the top. To put it into perspective, the summit climb was so hard that it took me four and a half hours to climb 2 miles.

I was done. Every breath felt impossible, and every step felt like taking a thousand steps; I was hallucinating, and thankfully my guide Hussein decided it was no longer safe to continue. I remember immediately feeling disappointed that I wouldn’t make it to the top but refusing to be disappointed in myself because I knew I was a badass who had almost reached the top.

I wanted nothing more but to be snuggled up in my tent, so Hussein and I practically ran back down to Base Camp to ensure my safety. We arrived at Base Camp around 5 am, and I slept peacefully until Hussein woke me up at 8 am to begin my hike back down the mountain. My two amazing and badass friends, Katie and Naima, made it to the summit around the time I was leaving to walk down. They recall being so happy but so out of it when they summited, which made me feel less alone in my experience; I was so proud of them. Proud that I had these two amazing women to hike Kilimanjaro with and proud that they were able to push themselves so far; they are great examples of how we women can do anything we want when we really push for it.

My “Summit” photo the morning after attempting to summit. I was extremely proud of myself and even prouder to be holding the Tanzania flag, representing the country I love so dearly.

Day 6: My walk down Kilimanjaro was really peaceful and beautiful. It was just me and Hussein all day. The first half of the hike down is through a very desert-like terrain. After the desert, it’s just miles of jungle and rocks. Hussein and I had some great conversations, and it was special to share my life experiences with him and to hear about his life experiences! I learned that Hussein has three children and a wife that he supports. His last baby is premature and has a lot of medical issues; his wife was out of work for awhile while she recovered from a traumatic birth. Hussein has been climbing Kilimajro since he was a teenager, and he is currently in his mid-30s.

He once climbed the entire mountain in just 48 hours, which makes him a certified superhuman. Hussein climbs Kilimanjaro every week, goes home for a day or two, and then starts another climb as a guide to support his family. Hussein is such an inspiring and extraordinary human, and I feel so blessed that I was able to spend all of day six listening to his stories, which would not have happened if I ended up summiting, a blessing in disguise.

At the end of the day, after walking miles downhill, we finally reached our very last camp, which was only about 2 or 3 miles from the end gate. My feet had genuinely never hurt more in my entire life from being pressed at the top of my boots all day walking downhill, and I was covered in dust, and mud, on day seven of no shower, but I was so happy and thankful to have basically made it to the end. I was obviously the first of my group to arrive, so I took a very long-awaited nap that evening while I waited for Naima and Katie to arrive. Finally, around dinner time, the rest of our group arrived, and I remember being ecstatic to see Naima and Katie. We had so much fun sharing stories over our last supper on the mountain together, and I felt so thankful to be healthy and happy and deeply looking forward to a shower and good food the next day, haha.

Our last supper with our climbing group!

Day 7: We woke up bright and early per usual on our last day, got dressed, and ate breakfast in record time as we were so excited and ready to get back to Arusha! After breakfast, our amazing and magical guides and porters sang and danced for us one last time, which was such a beautiful and celebratory moment. We all cried and hugged, so happy and proud of each other. We bolted down that mountain for our last hike; lol, which was somewhere between 2 and 3 miles from the gate where we got picked up.

It was a muddy hike through a rainforest, and we were all so exhausted and ready to be done. At the last twenty minutes of the hike, Katie literally sprinted to the gate; if I had the energy, I probably would have to. We took photos at the “Congratulations” sign, and I spent $6 (a ridiculous amount) on a water bottle because all I wanted was some ice-cold water. A bus picked us up and brought us back to Moshi, where we said goodbye to our amazing guides.

We made it to the end! Pictured: Naima, George, and me!

Naima, Katie, and I took a car back to the hotel in Arusha, where we stored all of our stuff and enjoyed our first real meal in a week. Unfortunately, they don’t make great American burgers in Tanzania lol, but a warm hamburger was all your girl wanted; I mean, I did basically climb the tallest mountain in Africa and the 6th tallest mountain in the world 😉

Honestly, I think climbing Kilimanjaro rewired my entire brain and body. It showed me that I’m capable of absolutely anything, and it gave me so much confidence and self-love. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it has made me rethink everything I want for myself and my future. It was a traumatic experience in the best way possible if that makes any sense. I think trauma can come from bad experiences and good ones, and good trauma can shift the way you view yourself and the world, which is really special and magical.

Being so intensely connected to the earth for a week like that has brought out a new spiritual side in me where I’m learning to become very in tune with earth’s gifts like crystals, herbs, and the moon. The Earth is our medicine, and I’m in the lifelong process of learning how to use its properties to heal myself and others. In the future, I would love to climb more mountains and would one day love to climb to the base camp of Mt. Everest, which is actually the same distance and elevation as the top of Kilimajaro!

Mountains are more than just mountains. They are beautiful creations that hold so much beauty, culture, stories, and magic. I’m now a firm believer that you can learn more about yourself and the world by climbing a mountain than any college class could ever teach you. So get out there and climb a mountain!! I’m arguably the least athletic person ever, so if I can climb the tallest mountain in Africa, you sure as hell can too.

But ultimately, I hope the message people take away from this story is that truly everything in life is mind over matter. It sounds cheesy and sometimes easier said than done, but anything is possible when you have the courage and confidence to tell your mind that it’s possible. It’s kind of like manifesting; whether you believe in manifesting or not, telling yourself something is possible and will happen is replacing the negative energy with the positive energy, which ultimately sends signals to your body to keep pushing on in whatever ways it needs to.

I think I could go on and on forever about how thankful I am for the opportunity to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’ll be thinking about the experience for the rest of my life as it continues to alter the way I view the world and live my life. Take a big opportunity, have a crazy adventure, or climb a mountain because it just might change your life…

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