Four Things I Learned While Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

A lot of people seek to complete a milestone hike like Mount Kilimanjaro so they can push themselves beyond their comfort zones of daily living. "If I could climb that massive mountain, I can do anything in my everyday life!" As I began my journey summiting the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, I dug deep within to discover the internal desires I was hoping to achieve in addition to pushing the envelope when it comes to my body's physical limits. Mount Kilimanjaro was so much more than just a bucket list item for me, more than an impressive set of numbers strung together on my rap sheet of completed hikes. Kilimanjaro was a culmination of years of personal health discoveries and my refusal to let any doctor, diagnosis, or deterioration limit what I can set my mind to achieve. To say that I found a whole new level of mental strength as a result of climbing Kilimanjaro is an absolute understatement and I have discovered that there's a lot more courage and strength hidden within this body of mine than what I tell myself I have on a daily basis.

Here are the top four things I learned on the Roof of Africa:

You are not alone in your internal battles.

This could be anything from a physical limitation to an internal diagnosis or a mental incapacity. Once you're on a mountain with 27 other women and no service for 7 days straight, you get talking to each other.. and what do you know?! The daily B.S. that you really thought you were tackling solo on this great earth... is actually something that your peers may deal with as well! However, it is truly up to you to discover and understand this. Once it clicks that you are not alone in anything you battle within your lifespan, through communication and encouragement you can be armed with the ability to stop letting that struggle limit you from what you can achieve. If you constrict your capabilities by premeditated standards, you are undoubtedly selling yourself short. We are our own worst critics and it's up to you to change this mindset within.

 

You become the company you keep.

Our group of 28 women were accompanied by a crew of over 100 members, working together 24/7 to ensure we reached that summit. The tour company we partnered with, Trek2Kili, was truly a blessing to hike the 7 day route with because their heart, mind, and soul were 100% poured into each and every one of us while on that mountain. Their slogan is printed on all of the tents that you wake up and go to sleep to... so perfectly written as "Your Dream. Our Goal". After viewing the other groups hiking the same route/timetable as us, I can say with confidence that Trek2Kili's positive, upbeat, professional leadership was a huge contribution (if not the main reason) why I successfully summited. When you surround yourself with positive people who are determined to help you reach your goal, your internal voices change... your leaders are constantly around you telling you that you CAN and it slowly chases out those "I can't" whispers that may still be lingering around in your head. I have never danced so much on the trails before than I did with Trek2Kili and starting each day's miles with a smile truly had an everlasting impact on myself when it comes to keeping a positive attitude while tackling obstacles outdoors.

 

You earn the summit, you are not given it.

This is one thing I love about hiking in general. No matter how big or small the summit is, you walk/move up there by yourself and it is YOUR accomplishment, something that nobody can take away from you. There's documentation such as photos, awards, tracking mechanisms that can prove you were there.. but the feeling can only be described through your own words and it is 100% your story, because you earned it. It doesn't matter if it's your backyard hill or Mount Everest.. if anyone attempts to undermine you by saying how easy it is, then they have an issue within themselves if they feel the need to bring someone else down and I'm sorry for them. You still killed it. ..which leads to my next one..

Never undermine someone else's summit accomplishment.

One person may view Kilimanjaro as a tough summit, another may say it's easy. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and that's fine. It's when someone's opinion of tough vs. easy comes up in conversation that it gets tricky. Look, you may think something was easy and that's great for you. Don't tell someone who accomplished something that their accomplishment should have been an easy one, because you may not be taking into consideration the physical limitations, mental limitations, prior experiences, current weather conditions, and all of the other constantly changing variables in the vast equation of "climbing a mountain"... all of the variables that this person may have experienced that YOU didn't while completing it yourself. In addition, elevation and terrain varies by location as well. One area's 3,000ft. summit can be a LOT different than another location's 3,000ft summit (Example - Whistler, British Columbia & Los Angeles, California). This trip was a large reminder to always keep this in mind during everyday hiking banter back home. I'll admit that I've thought some of these in my head before, but we all have room for growth and Kilimanjaro contributed immensely to that for myself. Don't hesitate to celebrate each other's accomplishments, no matter how "big" or "small" it may be in the scheme of things.

I started Girls Who Hike because I had an innate itch to explore the outdoors and I had no girl friends to do this with. My "hiking experience" was fire roads at sea elevation and well marked trails with civilization always a short drive away. Quickly after beginning my GWH journey, I learned that I also had a LOT to learn on the outdoor education side, as this awareness comes naturally when one increases their time outdoors. Once I completed Wilderness First Aid certification through Thomas Coyne Survival Schools, I felt ready to take on tougher challenges to push the envelope mentally. When I discovered WHOATravel though a Refinery29 article about their International Women's Day Kilimanjaro summits, I knew right away that there was something special about how this women's travel company ventured into the unknown. It was as if I was viewing some future international version of how I envisioned GWH's larger hikes. Watching Allison and Danielle (WHOA's founders) live out a vibrant passion of theirs ignited my internal fire and I was immediately sold from the get go. Even though I had only completed one 3 day backpacking trip in my life prior to signing up for Kilimanjaro, I knew that I needed to be thrown into this sort of experience to work through some mental kinks and grow as an individual before moving onto the next chapter of my life.

At the moment of writing this blog while on the south face of the Roof of Africa (sitting at a cool 3,995 meters), I still can't put into words how climbing Kilimanjaro successfully accomplished this internal growth, but I can say with confidence that it damn sure did. Maybe it was the guides forcing my competitive self to hike shower than I ever have in my life (you mean, I CAN'T go 2.5mph here?! I HAVE to go 1mph?!), and being beyond thankful because I woke up without aching muscles the next morning because they forced me to walk slower.. or learning firsthand that I need to drink 4L of water just ASCENDING to 15,600ft. in order to avoid common altitude sickness symptoms (before this trek, I usually drank around 4L total throughout the entirety of a hike)... or learning every time I woke up from a nap with immense nausea and my head spinning only to assess the situation/recognize the symptoms/self treat instead of panicking and relying on someone else to come help me.

I'm coming off of the mountain a completely changed woman as a direct result of every major and minor experience from this 7 day trek. There was a saying during the excursion that there's no pride on the mountain. They're 100% right - you can't let your ego or mental blocks get in the way of the growth that is clearly occurring here.

If you are anything like myself and yearn to push the envelope physically and mentally when it comes to outdoor experiences, I STRONGLY encourage you to go to WHOA's page and try to snag a spot on one of their future Kilimanjaro summits here. You usually have to wait about a year, but with the proper research you'll realize that 12 months is the perfect timeline for purchasing the proper gear and training for the physical portion of the climb. Since WHOA lets you break the cost down into payments.. booking a year in advance comes out to about $280/month (less than some car payments!).

 

I wanted to thank the following groups for making this trip happen -

  • Every single member of the WHOATravel team for partnering up with Girls Who Hike to give our ladies the opportunity to experience this incredible journey throughout 2017-2018 and beyond. To Allison & Danielle - just following your journey as a fellow female entrepreneur is absolutely inspiring (learn more here!). Keep up the immaculate work, you're inspiring so many women around the world including myself. To our lead Group Adventure Leader, Nicole - thank you for taking each of our GWH members under your wing 10,000 miles away from home during this trip. I learned so much from you just by witnessing your leadership throughout our time together and I cannot wait to continue to implement those little elements in the future with Girls Who Hike events.
  • The whole 100+ member crew that made up Trek2Kili, our Tanzanian-based tour company. Every single individual took us ladies in like family and it was apparent how much the company truely cared about our health and happiness throughout the trip. I watched the guides take our members' packs when they showed signs of weakness while climbing, the cooks tell our girls to eat more when they saw our lack of appetite due to altitude, tent team crew members stay up in shifts and watch our campsite throughout every single night and communicate with other staff when they saw us experiencing altitude symptoms in the middle of sleeping, toilet team members sprinting to switch out portable toilets at 15,000ft when multiple people were experience upset stomachs due to altitude and needed help FAST, summit guides running to girls who were throwing up and taking turns doing different things to ensure she was comfortable throughout the process. They let us walk as slow as we needed to, take as many breaks as necessary, and literally assist us with drinking from our water bottles.. whatever got us to the top safely. Every day was Hakuna Matata and they welcomed us into their traditional culture of singing/dancing daily on the mountain, teaching us Swahili and new dance moves to bring back to the United States. Yes, you CAN complete Kilimanjaro cheaper through other travel companies... but when you are a 24 hour plane ride from home in a country you are completely unfamiliar with, is your wellbeing and safety worth pinching pennies for? No, you do it the right way... through an incredible American based female-owned small business who knows what they're doing because the founders have summited half a dozen times themselves, who then partners up with the #1 Tanzanian tour company on the mountain. Simple as that.
  • Lastly, the members of Girls Who Hike who supported me along the way. This year was the first year I have ever traveled internationally and I would have never been able to truly build the confidence to complete these amazing excursions without the members cheering me on along the way. As someone in a newer leadership role, I originally thought that hiding my fears and nerves was the way to lead strongly.. however, I've learned that honesty about my feelings has not only made it raw and real for everyone involved, but it also builds trust along the way. I've grown so much as an individual and I thank God everyday for the community that is Girls Who Hike.. together, our strength is unstoppable, whether it's on a local trail of halfway around the world.

Additional photography provided by Katie Lerch and the WHOATravel team.

Sharron McBride (Instagram: @sharronelizabeth) is the founder of Girls Who Hike, a national women's hiking organization. Find a list of free local Girls Who Hike chapters here. See you out on the trails!

Sharron McBrideComment