“I was asked by friends in August of 2016 if I would like to join them on a trip to climb Kilimanjaro in September or October of 2017. I had several reactions to this question the first being to say “I have no technical climbing ability” to which the response was that I didn’t need any. My second was to say “If I decide to go to Africa I’d want to go on a safari.” I was told this was also part of the plan. I told them I would also have to check with my doctor. I was diagnosed in 2013 with Type 2 diabetes and am on insulin and other medications and was not sure how wise it would be to undertake this trip. I wasn’t in the best of shape and really wasn’t sure that any of this was possible. My doctor seemed to think that this was a good option for me and I told my friends that I would join them.
Then I saw the itinerary for the trip. The plan was to hike two mountains the first being a three day hike up to Mt Meru, a mountain that stands over 15000 feet tall, to acclimatize they said. We would have one rest day and the second hike would be a six day trek on Mt. Kilimanjaro. It would take four and a half days to ascend and a day and a half to descend. After a panicked call to my friends asking how they thought this would be possible and a week or two of persuasion that this was the best way to do this I agreed. (My friends live in Denver, CO and with me living here at sea level I thought that I was at a severe disadvantage)
So I started training. I did a combination of stair climber and elliptical training at the club and strength training as well as hiking outside. I tried to do something every day which was more than I was used to but that next July I traveled to Denver where I was able to climb Mt Bierstadt to a height of over 14000 ft. I did some additional hiking out there at the higher altitude but Mt Bierstadt was the highest I would climb before I got to Africa.
In Tanzania on Mt. Meru the days were long and tiring and on summit day we awoke at 11:30 pm and started hiking at midnight. We summited Mt Meru just after dawn and started the descent back to the camp. On our way back I was asked how I was doing and to be honest, I started crying. I knew I had just summited and should have been excited but I was exhausted and I knew that we had to descend that entire mountain that same day. I was thinking about Kilimanjaro and how much further we had to hike before the end of the trip and I wasn’t sure I was equal to the task. We reached our camp where we spent the previous night. There we packed up our stuff to hand off to our porters and continued our descent. We would not finish hiking until about 5:30 that evening
Kilimanjaro was much the same. Hiking all day without too much rest and every morning I found that instead of looking to the summit I was looking toward my feet and saying to myself that I was feeling good enough to take another step, maybe another hour and didn’t look too far into the future to think about if I could accomplish the whole of it. We reached the last camp before the summit and it was suggested that if anyone didn’t want to summit, no one was making us do this. I knew at that point that I had gotten to far to stop and the only thing that WOULD stop me was altitude sickness.
So we got up at 11:30 pm and started walking at midnight in the dark. When I reached Stella Point we stopped for a few minutes to rest and drink water and take a few pictures. The summit was still a little ways off less than a mile I believe but I was having trouble walking a straight line due to the lack of oxygen. A guide stayed at my elbow telling me I was strong enough to get there and all I could think of was finding a nice place to nap and wondering why I hadn’t spent more time at the gym to prepare for this. But in the end I did make it. I was the last of my group to summit by just a few minutes and was able to walk down on my own two feet….with a little support in the first hour of the descent in case I stumbled.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is the most difficult thing I have ever done but I’m glad I did it because it means that I know that difficult things like that are possible.”
Christine is wearing the red jacket in the photo.
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