My last week in Tanzania has been thus far the most challenging. Why? Simply because the whole week consisted of keeping out of my comfort zone. My program is what my school considers a “Maymester” meaning the study abroad program begins in May and is only typically 3-4 weeks.
So, before the fourth week began about 10 of my classmates ended up flying back home because they opted out of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. On my study abroad program the inevitable happened and by the end of three weeks most people, including myself, had their preferred group of friends to hang out with during our spare time or who to sit with at dinner.
To my luck, all the people I had gotten used to being with were people who weren’t climbing the mountain and I was. First thing that kept me out of my comfort zone, talking to new people from the program. I have always taken an interest in nature and the environment, hence my major, environmental engineering. For years I have wanted to do more hiking but being “busy” kept me away from it. When the opportunity to hike Mount Kilimanjaro arose, I couldn’t pass it up.
As the time came to begin the hike, the more I worried. I was honestly worried about my physical fitness. Growing up I was quite active. I was a cheerleader, a competitive swimmer, I played soccer here and there, and even tried lacrosse. Once I got to college it became a whole different story and I have not been active in any sports. The freshmen fifteen was definitely a true story for me. And to top it off, no I didn’t train at all for this climb. Second thing that kept me out of my comfort zone, doing physical activity for 4-7 hours a day.
The one thing that kept me the most motivated throughout my week on Kilimanjaro was knowing that I wasn’t the one who would decide if I summited or not, but rather it would be up to the mountain’s discretion. At those altitudes the only thing that can real help you is already having exposure to high altitudes. Otherwise everyone’s bodies will react different to the altitude and experience different levels of altitude sickness. There is no amount of physical training that can be done to overcome altitude sickness.
Summit night was by far the most challenging day of my life. I started the night off strong, I consistently stayed at the front of the pack for the first half the night and morale was high. The second half of the climb turned a bit south for me… Although it was physically challenging, that was expected but I had no idea what to expect of altitude sickness because I had yet to experience it on the mountain.
As the night progressed my body began to feel excessively heavy. I was overcome with fatigue, sleepiness, and a headache. Physically challenging reached a whole new level. I ended every six steps with a break to catch my breath. It also became mentally challenging. You don’t spend much time talking with others on your way up, it’s just you, your mind and the mountain. Several times I would start to begin doubting myself and think about asking the guide to turn around and head back down to camp.
I cannot stress how important your guides become to you on this night. Many things kept me going that night and the motivation from my guide was one them. He was also the one who encouraged me to think about my personal reasons to keep going. Knowing how fortunate I was to be experiencing this. Knowing that my parents never had the chance and may never have the chance to do anything like this. Knowing that back in my hometown no other Hispanic student has had the opportunity to experience this. That’s what allowed me to keep pushing towards the summit because I didn’t want to waste this opportunity that many don’t get to experience.
Thanks to the help of my guide, I summited! Standing at the top of the mountain, on the roof of Africa, is an indescribable feeling. I met the summit with tear filled eyes and cried for at least half the time I could be up there. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro has been the most rewarding thing I have done thus far. I would recommend this to everyone and anyone. However, would I ever do it again? Probably not, once might just be enough for me!