Climbing Kilimanjaro: How my brain took the lead when my body gave up

I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro between the 22nd and 27th of July 2018. I successfully reached the summit, Uhuru Peak, in the morning of the 26th of July.

img_20180727_095746

Despite the title, this post is NOT to convince you not to climb Kili. It is without doubt a life changing experience and I’d highly encourage everyone to do it.

But. Yes, there is a but. It’s a very challenging adventure, both mentally and physically. So challenging that some people give up and turn around.

Luckily for me, I had enough mental strength not to give up but it was challenging enough for me to burst into tears few times. And throw up. Also few times.

For the sake of statistics, I cried 4 times in total and threw up 3 times. All the throwing up happened on Summit Day. Yes. I left my vomit on the glacier.

Day 3 was our first real test with altitude and acclimatization, we were hiking through a semi desert and rocky landscape with the aim of reaching Lava Tower at 4500m.

20180724_114957

It all started well until it was scorching hot. Despite drinking water, I started having a headache. A headache that was getting worse with every step.

It doesn’t matter how hard you try to relax and enjoy the experience, when you are setting off to summit a big mountain like Kilimanjaro, you worry about the smallest thing that could stop you from achieving your goal. High altitude sickness is a serious thing to worry about.

So when I had the headache, my brain started playing games with me. I was worried I’m having high altitude sickness. I was also worried if I’m already struggling with altitude on day 3 at 4000m, how am I ever going to reach the summit?

Worse than the headaches, were the thoughts I had. It all conspired against me. My body couldn’t hold me anymore and I felt like giving up.

The first rule of Kilimanjaro is “Pole, Pole” which means “slowly, slowly”. But at that time, slowing down or stopping for breaks meant not being able to walk again. Instead, I just kept going. Every step was bringing me closer to my goal. Every step was bringing me closer to Lava tower.

I’m not the fastest walker among my group, if anything I was among the group of the slow walkers but that day I was the first one to reach Lava Tower.

I didn’t even pay attention to my pace, I didn’t plan to be fast or to lead the walk. My brain was telling me to just keep going. Just keep going.

When I reached Lava Tower, I burst into tears. To my own surprise. Tears of pain and pride. The pain of the headache. The pride that I did it despite the pain.

I guess I was proud of my mental strength. This was the first mental challenge on the mountain and my brain did carry me through when my physical strength couldn’t do it anymore.

IMG_20180724_140011

 

I wasn’t done with tears that day.

Another rule of the mountain is : Walk high, sleep low. Camps are usually at a reasonable altitude.

So after reaching Lava tower and having lunch there, we had to walk some more to spend the night in Baranco Camp at 3900m altitude.

The rocky route wasn’t kind to my knees and the headaches weren’t kind to my head.

I felt like the path would never end and I would never reach the camp. It took me way too long. I arrived just about sunset and I burst in tears again.

Then I “superwoman” posed for the camera and smiled.

IMG_20180724_181724

 

Day 6 was THE day, summit day.

Day 5, we reached base camp around mid day, we had lunch then we went for a nap. An early dinner was served at 6PM then we went to get few hours of sleep since day 6 starts at midnight.

We started hiking towards the summit in the dark.

1535455426964

 

Despite the anxiety and anticipation, it was a beautiful hike. The path was lighted by the climbers head torches and the chants of the guides filled the void.

The views of the mountain and the sunrise were spectacular.

I did my research and I knew it’s absolutely crucial to keep drinking water and eating on summit day. I needed all the energy of the world. Reality was a different matter. I didn’t really eat or drink and ended up severely exhausted and delirious.

Once again I knew that I just need to keep going despite the pain.

My pain was so obvious that other climbers were being supportive telling me that Stella peak wasn’t far away and I was almost there. But I couldn’t see the sign.

When I finally saw the sign, I cried. I cried because I made it. I cried when my teammate told me “I’m one tough cookie”.

IMG_20180727_074953

 

It takes only about 40 minutes from Stella point to reach Uhuru peak. I never thought about stopping at Stella, not at any point. But I also had no idea or energy on how I’d walk for another 40 minutes.

Half way through And I couldn’t keep going anymore. I was told that the peak is around the corner.

When I turned around the corner, I could see the peak. It was around 100 metres away. 100 metres that felt like 100 kilometers. I cried “It’s too far away”. And I threw up.

20180727_094600

5 minutes later, I made it to Uhuru. I faked a smile and took a photo in front of the sign.

I learnt that day that I’m stronger than what I think. I also learnt that summiting is not the best of Kilimanjaro.

Stay tuned for my best of Kilimanjaro in the next post 😉

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s