Carol A. Criner trekked Mount Kilimanjaro with Thomson Safaris in 2003. In her article below, she reflects on one of the most important journeys of her life.
I’ve been busy-attacking-life in the ten years since climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. I rarely speak of my life-changing experience of slowly hiking the 19,341 ft. (5,895m). However, this morning I reconnected with the smiling 35-year-old who summited at 7:33AM on August 28, 2003.
As I gaze at the certificate and photos on the wall of my home office, I quietly feel that sense of accomplishment bubble up through my chest. My smile widens. My journey began with a phone call from my college sorority sister, another restless spirit and novice hiker who was ready for a challenge…
Ten years later, I am reminded of three Life Lessons from my Kilimanjaro journey:
1. First, confidently commit to the goal. You’ll be surprised by what you may accomplish.
As soon as Christina suggested we tackle Kilimanjaro, I was excited. I was also nervous. Can I really do this? Initially, I was unsure. My first step was to research summit success rates, mountain injuries, and recommended advance physical conditioning. My initial low moment was a phone call I placed to inquire whether my health insurance would airlift me to a hospital if injured.
My second low point was standing at the starting area of the climb; we were well rested and ready to hike in our newly purchased outfits and gear. A husky voice emerged from behind us in line and loudly stated ‘pardon me ladies; your mud gaiters are backwards. You might want to fix that’. Oh my, is it now obvious to everyone hiking the mountain that we don’t know what we’re doing? Quickly, we had to stamp-out the self-doubt and get moving.
Confidently committing to the goal of summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro was closely connected to ultimately achieving success. We focused with the end in mind. That commitment, to the goal as well as to each other, pulled us through mud, fatigue, and the impact of altitude.
2. Although the destination is important; the journey is equally valuable. Take it in.
The terrain changed each day. A long walk through a forest one day would transition the following morning to hikes through barren land, and periods of rock scrambling the day after. Beautiful!
I also fondly remember celebrating my birthday one evening. The crew kindly delivered a small cake, lit a candle, and sang Happy Birthday. We all danced. In the past 10 years, it’s been hard to top that birthday celebration on the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I remember late night talks in the tent about husbands, boyfriends, career challenges, and life. I loved the moments of laughter on the trail as we met many teams of friends and families along the journey. The opportunity to learn each person’s story and share a portion of the climb together was an unexpected gift.
Ironically, the actual summit lasted approximately 10 minutes. We hugged, smiled, cheered, took photos, grabbed a drink of water, and were once again on our way. Time to get moving down the mountain.
The summit was an awesome moment, but the wonderful memories and lasting feeling of accomplishment were collected over multiple days.
3. We all need regular encouragement and positive re-enforcement.
The final summit hike began shortly after midnight as we joined a long line of hikers walking up a steep terrain. The line of hikers reminded me of a string of Christmas lights extending far along the black night sky. The hike seemed to last forever. Step. Step. Keep moving. I remember starting to feel pain and light-headed. I called over to Christina, ‘I am in pain. Is the appendix on the right side or left side?’ The long line of white lights seemed to never end. Would this hike also continue forever? At sunrise, we were still moving and growing tired. Finally, a rest break.
As we rested, Christina communicated that she would no longer continue the hike. ‘I’ll wait for you here’. We debated the subject. Finally, a familiar hiker walked past us, a new friend we met several days ago. He had just summited and was heading back towards camp. He asked how we were doing, clearly concerned. He said ‘Come on! Ladies, get moving. The summit is only about 200 yards away. Start walking that way. You can do it. It’s literally right around the corner. Go!’
Christina and I looked at each other—how silly are we? If we’re that close, we can finish. Let’s get moving. We started walking. And walking. As we continued forward, we were far beyond the 200 yards suggested. Then, we became angry. Why would he lie to us? More than forty-five minutes later, we summited. We hugged, took photos, and celebrated! Later that evening, we met our friend again and asked why he misled us. His answer I’ll forever remember. ‘Ladies, you looked terrible. You needed a push or you’d miss the chance of a lifetime. Now, aren’t you both glad I did that for you?’ Yes!
Thank you Mt. Kilimanjaro, Christina, Thomson Safaris, and all the supportive hikers we met on our journey. I will forever cherish the many memories and life lessons, and will faithfully carry these memories with me for the next 10 years.
Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – I highly recommend it!
Your hiking boots are the most important gear you’ll have on Kilimanjaro! They are your first step on the journey to Uhuru Peak.
While they should be warm, waterproof and have ankle support, above all make sure they’re broken in by the time you land in Tanzania. If you can’t get some good trail hikes in prior to your trip, wear them to the office, while you walk the dog, on the treadmill at the gym… It’ll be a great conversation starter!
It might be a bit early for some of us to hit the trails, so before summer is in full swing, did you know you can start training for Kilimanjaro in a parking garage (or any tall building)? Stair climbing intervals are a great way to get your legs and lungs in shape for the climb. Mix things up by alternating legs or skipping steps, and be sure to add on your boots and day pack for full effect. TS staffer Ali even trained in a subway station!
Photo of Porter Square Station courtesy of Tracy Levin
Pole-pole! Take your time trekking to the summit of Kilimanjaro!
A positive attitude and measured pace will keep your heart rate low and your breathing steady, helping you feel well as you reach higher and higher elevations. Our guides know that this relaxed pace helps with acclimatization, and they’ll make sure you’re on track to safely summit with reminders to go pole pole, Swahili for slowly, slowly.