During the biting Calgary winter of second grade, our family left Alberta’s foothills in the rear-view as we drove west to British Columbia. Weaving between the extraordinary Rocky Mountains along the Coquihalla Highway, I pressed my nose against the cold glass window for hours on end in wonder and amazement. I’m so small and inconsequential next to these sleeping giants, I thought.
Now, more than 20 years later, the enchanting pull of the natural world has intensified and become even more irresistible to me.
Perhaps it’s a deep curiosity to learn the stories the mountains tell, or maybe it’s a desire to feel closer to something tangible, part of something bigger than me, but when I’m in the presence of the mountains I connect with the raw pulse of my very existence.
A Word on the Mountain
Since leaving Austin, every night I usually write a short diary entry outlining daily happenings and the like. My ascent up Kilimanjaro was no exception, and I took particular care in documenting the hike as I expected the notes to translate into a blog post.
Then the hike actually happened.
As I collected my thoughts about my experience on the mountain, it didn’t feel appropriate to provide a day-by-day tactical overview, nor did the idea of me being my usual saucy jackass self sit right. When it comes down to it, neither option does the profound power of Kilimanjaro justice.
And frankly my words and photos don’t either, but that’s all I have to work with outside of a class field trip with my subscribers.
Over the course of four days and three nights, I traversed from Machame Gate, 1,640m, to Barafu Camp (Base Camp), 4,673m. At 1 a.m. on the fourth night I embarked on the final summit push, reaching Uhuru Peak, 5,895m, at 5:55 a.m. to see the sunrise. With the exception of two hours recuperating back at base camp, I spent my final day spiraling down toward Mweka Gate, 1,641m, arriving at 4:30 p.m.
Man, the mountain is stunning. Five distinct biosphere belts cinch Kilimanjaro to the summit, all fascinating and exquisite in their own right. Rain forest shrinks to moorland, which transforms into semi- and then alpine-desert, finally resting in the frigid, desolate arctic. The rolling fog casts a eerie, mystical shroud over her peaks and valleys.
I learned that frosted boots fixed to the mountainside and torrid arctic winds furiously howling and biting any unsheltered skin is a humbling feeling. Turns out that sleeping atop a dormant volcano is too.
Despite experiencing feelings of fear, apprehension, and personal limitation both physically and mentally, every single negativity was usurped by a profound feeling of purpose. My desire to embrace the mountain’s kinship and amaze in her beauty couldn’t be overshadowed. Not by the oppressive fog, and certainly not by my own inhibitions.
Summit Push and Uhuru Peak
The final 1,222m from Base Camp to the summit was immensely challenging. Labored breathing, unwieldy feet and frigid temperatures made 100m feel like an eternity.
But something deep down kept driving me forward. As the moon sunk toward the horizon before me and a warm glow crept slowly from behind, I felt an unfathomable wave of emotional power drive through my core, pulsing through my legs, connecting with the earth below and thrusting my body ahead.
Some time later I emerged from my trance-like state to the most inconceivably beautiful sight I’ve ever imagined possible. The mountain, resuscitated from a blustery slumber, danced for me. Tears poured down my numb cheeks as I tried to understand how one moment in time could be so perfect.
The Mountain in Me
Since descending, I’ve realized that the all-encompassing awe that overwhelmed me at that moment has in fact been with me all along.
The little girl driving through the mountains on the way to her new home didn’t feel anxious or scared, she felt wonder and curiosity. And when she got to her new home, the magic grew and she explored the ocean and the forest, and the mountains too.
I feel deeply fortunate that as I grow older my relationship with the natural world strengthens and deepens. It puts my life into context, grounding me and inspiring me.
Maybe I should climb more mountains.
BRB just doing stuff for a bit k?