Reaching the Summit Kilimanjaro
On August 12, 2013 in Tanzania… more than 9,000 miles from home… I, along with five other adventurous climbers, stood beneath the breath-taking shadow of the roof of Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro, with one goal in mind – to make the 19,341-foot climb up the highest peak on the African continent. Without a doubt, the task that stood before me bordered on daunting – sending intermittent shock waves throughout my body. Countless hours of training and mental preparation had reached its zenith. Now everything would be put to the test.
Our arduous odyssey entailed a plan that included hiking the Shira Plateau route, a 7-day journey to the summit and after spending the night in its crater – a two-day descent down the Mweka route.
The diligent hiking guides who oversaw the group in which I traveled instructed us to take it slowly. The locals called it Pole, Pole (pronounced pole –ay, pole –ay) it’s Swahili for “slowly, slowly.” Our pokey pace up the mountainside was in many ways a blessing as it helped our bodies to acclimate to the higher altitudes, lack of oxygen and eliminating possible mountain sickness.
With the journey toward my destiny to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro going well… fate’s fickle finger surfaced, deflating some of the natural highs I gained through the first part of the journey. At the Lava Tower camp, around the 15,000 feet mark, my body began struggling to adapt to the altitude and my appetite disappeared on that day; it was the beginning stages of mountain sickness. Burning an average of 3000 to 4000 calories daily my system had to re-adjust if I were going to make it to the summit. I had to eat to reenergize my body… or fail in my attempt to achieve my goal.
Engulfed by a blanket of pride, I recoiled from telling anyone about my struggles. After a few hours of internal conflict, I removed from the cover of pride and talked to our main hike guide Emmanuel. He promptly advised me that the antidote to my difficulties was eating as much food as possible – even if it meant forcing it down and subsequently regurgitating. I balked briefly at his advice before acquiescing.
Sure enough, dinner came quickly and so did some torment and anguish. I forced fed myself, made a mad dash outside our mess hall tent, curled over by the tent’s side and brought up all that I had consumed. After a few moments and the settling of my stomach, I started feeling much better. I was ready to continue my journey to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but not before asking Emmanuel how he knew what I needed to do to overcome the onset of my mountain sickness. With a smile he reminded me that he has spent the last 10 years hiking up and down Mt. Kili. He said: “When you’re at that stage of mountain sickness, the people that don’t throw up don’t make it to the top. You would have gotten worse and then brought down. Most people fight it and don’t push themselves to eat. This is the worst thing to do. You gotta throw up”
The professionalism Emmanuel exude is priceless; not because he has university degrees, but because he has 10 years of experience and hundreds of climbs up Mt. Kili. His presence served as a great reminder why we hired the company, Berg Adventures to help us to get to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We hired the best.
My experience at the 15,000-foot mark was a stark reminder that teamwork and asking for help are two primary hallmarks for success and achieving your goals. If I had not used the available resource and try to continue my hike within my own silo, I would have failed.
How often do you refuse to ask for assistance? How often do we think we have to do it on our own?
Emmanuel and the other guides represented vital resources in our journey. They were the mentors we needed in order to make it to the top.
In the Business World:
Do you have an experienced mentor that you can go to for advice?
Do you have access to an entity that you can go to for assistance with your questions and challenges?
After getting advice, do you have the mental strength and discipline to follow through and execute even if un-mitigating circumstances surface?
In my effort to get to the top of Kili and achieve the goal, I had to force myself to eat. Every bite I took was terrible, and I wanted to stop. My little voice (what Blair Singer talked about in his book, Little Voice Mastery) was screaming at me to stop and just go lay down.
Throughout my ascent I had a choice: Do I ask or do I not ask Emmanuel for advice? Do I take his advice or do I ignore it? I was willing to follow his advice, and I am grateful I did. His suggestion put me back in the game. But the last of my challenges was yet to come.
A faint feeling enfolded me as I began to struggle with my breathing due to a lack of oxygen.
With the goal of making it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro a heartbeat away… every breathe I took required me to be present. My focus and my concentration were paramount. No longer could I daydream or let my thoughts drift. Killi now required everyone in our group to pay attention, breathe and take it pole, pole.
The higher we hiked the thinner the air became. The sparseness of oxygen near the majestic summit makes growing plants and trees impossible. As hikers struggled with their breathing the demand for portable oxygen mask grew… but getting one of these came with a price – foregoing the rest of your journey and begin your descent immediately.
How close; but yet so far!
The final five hours to the summit saw at least 20 people taken off the train and brought down the mountain. In a few instances… some were on stretchers and others just outright gave up.
With hikers falling by the wayside one by one… and with less than 5 hours to go before reaching the summit, it was sad to see the degrading countenance of those who came so far but failed. The physical, mental, and spiritual demands became more grueling as we got closer to the top.
For those still in the running, insecurities and doubt crept into the equation. Were we going to make it? Would we be carried down like those we just saw? Which one of us would be the next to fail in our attempt?
“Settle down Josh and breathe, everything is okay. Pole, Pole.” That was the mantra that echoed in my head, as we got closer to the summit. Our group of six included a family from Canada with two daughters… 18 and 20 years old. It was amazing to be side by side with them and to witness their sheer determination to reach the summit together as a family.
After a few more hours of hiking and quieting the internal chatter – We Finally Made It! Our group members celebrated, embracing each other at the top of the summit. It was a breathtaking sight as we perched above the clouds, having journeyed so far and overcoming the many obstacles that stood in our way. We had an infinite sense of accomplishment. We reached the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro because we stuck together as a team and were open to the suggestions of our guides who provided us with invaluable insight and encouragement along the way.
Standing atop the roof of Africa, I reflected on the 7-day odyssey acknowledging the sacrifices and commitments made to get to this shining moment in life. However, I could not get the image of all the people that were carried down; their dreams dashed as their bodies or mental strength gave way. It made me reminisce about the times in my life when had I been so close … yet so far from reaching a summit in my life. I reflected on the amount of times I had given up and the number of times I was encouraged to get up and carry on.
As I stood high above the Serengeti looking out above the clouds, a rush of gratitude enveloped me as my eyes tear up and a little voice in my head said “thank you.” Why? I did not give in to my internal fears. I kept moving forward, even when everything inside was telling me to stop.
In retrospect, each of us has a summit to climb. As a result, it’s important to highlight our personal and professional summits/goals in life and resolutely strive to achieve them. For example, what are your summits as they pertain to health, wealth and happiness? Have you set the next target for reaching a dream your in life?
I recommend sitting down and writing down your next summit(s).
What is it?
Who will be on the team?
What’s your target date for achieving this summit?
And Why is this summit important to you?
Invest the time to map out the details of your pending summit. Chart your course… visualize what it will feel like when you reach the top. Imagine who will be there with you. And resolve to commit to going the distance – no matter the circumstance. Take it pole, pole…one step at a time… and don’t be afraid to ask mentors for guidance along the way.
To Your Continued Success.