Saturday, April 20, 2024

My Journey Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

November 7, 2011  
Filed under Coffee Table

By Shigei Gebremedhin —

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

-Robert Ashe, Jr.

mount kiliminjaro20 hours and five in-flight movies later, I finally arrived in Nairobi, Kenya. I stood at the baggage claim, praying that my checked-in duffel bag would roll down the conveyor belt, as my experience has taught me that this is not a guarantee when it comes to international flights. As I stood there, I saw a tall man donned with brand new hiking boots and an overstuffed backpack, and my intuition told me we were here for the same reason. I turned around and asked if he had plans on climbing a mountain. His eyes lit up and I immediately knew my intuition had served me well. He, too, was a member of the 2011 Accenture-Voluntary Service Overseas Mount Kilimanjaro Corporate Challenge, and had been on my final connecting flight.

As we sat in a cab from the airport to the hotel, I tried to balance my attention between my new friend and the view from the window. It was almost as if I had an internal chant in my head…We are in Nairobi, Kenya. Nairobi…Kenya. To climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Mount…Kilimanjaro. We are here. I am here. This is happening.

Day one primarily consisted of getting checked into the hotel and having dinner with the trek group. As we got to know each other, it was clear that we were quite a diverse bunch, as we represented different cities from around the world, spoke different languages, fell in different age brackets, and held different positions within the firm. Even with all these variances, I felt a sense of harmony around the table, of compassion, competitiveness, and excitement.

In the morning of day two, we regrouped and headed out to visit one of the projects, the Kenya Association of the Intellectually Handicapped that benefited from the Mount Kilimanjaro Corporate Challenge trek. We spent the day understanding the goals of the organization and had the opportunity to get to know some of the volunteers and beneficiaries. The day reinforced the reason why we were there and brought the real goal home.

Day three, we crossed countries from Nairobi, Kenya to Marangu, Tanzania. Between mini-naps, I noticed that the 10-hour drive exposed us to attractive forestry and plains. We mentally prepared ourselves for the next morning where we planned to embark on our trek, beginning at the Rongai National Park gate.

Day four to eight, we saw both extremes of vegetation, from beautiful, lush rainforests to dry, barren desert land. Days would begin with warm temperatures that required only t-shirts, shorts, and layers of sunscreen and would end with brutally cold nights that required at least four wool layers of clothes to survive in our frost coated tents. We were left with only the most meager of resources, where the luxury of a warm shower was only a dream and nourishment was only enough to sustain us for our grueling journey.

Day nine was the day that we would finally achieve our goal of reaching the Summit, which would have to be earned in one of the most exhausting physical and mental challenges that I have ever faced. We left camp at midnight to commence the trek up the steep scree slopes to Gillman’s Point, continuing around the rim, passed Stella Point and onto the highest point of Africa – Uhuru Point. We experienced a snow-ice-rain storm that continued on for 36 hours. We climbed for eight hours in -10C degree weather and heavy snow, and quickly learned that the only way to get through it was to keep our heads down and let the light from our head torch guide the way. Summit night included nausea, darkness, extreme cold, and a throbbing headache due to the altitude. We focused on matching the stride of our leg to the swing of our arm with our walking pole. All of us were pressed to our limits, and in spite of their valiant efforts, we succumbed to mountain sickness, exhaustion, and some of the many perils of our journey. Nevertheless, the majority of us were able to reach the Summit of Kilimanjaro with the help of supportive guides and amazing porters, most of whom climbed the mountain at least 10 times.


climbing kiliminjaroThere were 25 of us that were part of the Corporate Challenge, many of whom met their threshold on that mountain. Six of the 25 capitulated before reaching Uhuru Point due to exhaustion or altitude sickness. I never heard and saw so many people regurgitate. Throughout our climb, we took two-minute breaks to fuel our bodies with protein bars and water droplets from our frozen bottles.

As I reflect back on how I was able to reach the summit of 5,895m, I have come up with 4 reasons:

  1. Charity: I kept thinking of the volunteers and beneficiaries that we met our first full day in Nairobi
  2. Friends/Family: The generous fundraising supporters
  3. Trek Group: We looked out for each other on that mountain
  4. Personal drive: There is no way I flew all this way, and for the last five consecutive days, slept on rocky slopes and stuffed myself with porridge and energy bars without reaching the top.

We spent only 15 minutes at Uhuru Peak. We stood on the roof of Africa, and took pictures, tried to hug each other over down jackets, and just breathed—with the little oxygen that we had. Although everyone’s hair and clothes were weighed down with ice, and our muscles screamed at us, we all felt so alive! We were infected with excitement and a sense of achievement. We made it. Shortly after, we started our descent at record speed, where we were able to literally ski down the loose volcanic scree trail. The day was a total of 11 hours of trekking.

Day 10, we set off early to trek to Marangu Gate. It was a mixture of happiness and relief that got our exhausted bodies moving forward for our last walk. After five hours of trekking, we reached the gates at Marangu, where our bus waited to take us to the hotel for a well-appreciated shower and celebratory dinner.

Day 11, we were on a bus for 10 hours, returning to Nairobi. We spent the day recounting what we had seen and how we felt. We looked at each others’ pictures and agreed that the entire trek was lined with panoramic views that we did our best to capture on memory cards. As trying as the adventure was, we all felt a sense of connection to the mountain, to each other, and to the charity. I remember the drive back being very peaceful.

It was a rewarding experience that will never be forgotten. This epic journey reminded me that life is a marathon, not a sprint. And I could not have asked for a better group of people to share this journey with. As a group, we raised almost $150K and still counting! This certainly could not have been done without the thoughtfulness and generosity of so many friends and family members.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to climb the world’s largest free standing mountain with such amazing people in support of an incredible charity. It still feels surreal…



2 Responses to “My Journey Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro”
  1. Mickal says:

    SO proud of u! You definitely conquered it…

  2. Charles says:

    This is one of the best experience you can ever get in Africans highest Mountain.

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