Guest post by: AIMEE ADDINGTON
Before you scroll past this thinking it must be for the elite explorer, let me assure you that I am far from a fitness freak. My activity level is fairly average and my fat cell to muscle cell ratio is probably in the region of 2:1. The only reason I exercise is so I can eat cake… often. While I am fortunate to have a job that keeps me on my feet all day and I did a considerable amount of additional training, Kilimanjaro really is much more accessible than many people realize.
“Pole, pole" (which means “slowly, slowly” in Swahili) is the motto of the mountain and has become my motto in daily life. Through this short series of blogs, I hope to whet your appetite for the awesomeness (not the commonplace definition we’ve reduced that word to in daily life; but the awe-inspiring, humbling, heart-stopping magnificence) of training yourself to explore more of nature and creation that is all around us.
Turning 30 was a big deal for me and I wanted to do something memorable to celebrate it – not just a big event or magical destination; I wanted to accomplish something remarkable. People kept warning me: “it’s all downhill from 30, you know?” I decided to prove a point by spending the first 8 hours of my 30th birthday on a relentless uphill climb to the summit of the highest mountain in Africa.
It’s a mental battle as much as a physical one.
We reached base camp at around 3 pm on day 4 of the 7-day expedition. After a quick cup of tea, we climbed the first hour of the summit route, which would help us acclimatize better the next day. It was super tough, and I began to doubt whether I would make it the whole way up. Once back at base camp, we were told to rest as much as we could before supper, and then again after supper. The climb to the summit would begin at midnight.
You may be wondering what kind of depraved person would add to the already torturous trek by making you start at such an ungodly hour, but it’s actually with good reason. Due to intense UV exposure at high altitudes and unpredictable weather conditions, it’s best to reach Uhuru peak (the summit point) early in the morning. The distance from base camp to Uhuru Peak is only about 5km but it takes a good 7-8 hours to cover it!
After reaching the summit at 07:40 am and experiencing the awe of sunrise at the top of Kilimanjaro on my 30th birthday, it actually was all downhill from there. The descent was relentless and, surprisingly, the toughest part for me. We arrived back at base camp around 11:00 am, squeezed in a quick 1-hour nap before lunch, and then still had a 4-5-hour trek down to our camp for that night. The euphoria of summiting began to wear off about 2 hours in and was replaced by aching quads and angry knees.
We arrived at camp around 5 pm and I moodily limped in silence straight for my tent to pull my boots off, clean layers of dust off, and apply ample arnica gel to my legs. All I wanted was to crawl into my sleeping bag and stay there for the foreseeable future... but since food always trumps sleep, I obeyed the call to our dining tent for an early supper and joined the rest of my group.
Suddenly, the whole team of guides and porters who had been climbing with us huddled together and broke out into a very familiar song that took me a few seconds to recognize: they were singing “Happy Birthday” to me in Swahili. I was stunned! They came dancing into the tent holding a birthday cake and a bottle of wine that we all shared together.
I discovered later that one of the porters had walked 3 hours down to the main gate of the national park and 3 hours back up just to fetch the cake, and our chief guide had carried the wine in his backpack the whole way up the mountain! The genuine care and affection that these incredible people show to every group they guide up Kilimanjaro week in and week out is phenomenal! They seem to have boundless joy and vigor despite the harsh realities of their daily life.
Feature image by: David Clode