carolyn hiking Kilimanjaro

As someone who described themselves as a “non-exerciser,” the idea of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro seemed like a faraway dream. But, all of this was about to change when Thomson staffer Carolyn stepped out of her comfort zone and took on one of the world’s Seven Summits.

After months of training, working muscles she never knew she had, hiking countless trails for the first time, buying unfamiliar gear and trying her best to learn how to use it, Carolyn had done all she could to prepare for Kilimanjaro. It was time to put her newfound skills to the test to stand atop the “roof of Africa.”

Touch Down in Tanzania

“I’m a chronic overthinker and stresser, so I had to try really hard not to think about anything too far ahead of time because I knew I would completely spiral,” Carolyn said.

This was reinforced when Carolyn’s trekking group, strangers that would become like family, had their first briefing with head guide, MC. He gave them a brief overview of the day-by-day itineraries, but made it clear, “we’re not going to really talk about the summit bid until the night before the summit bid. We’re going to take this day-by-day,” MC said.

“With this in mind, I really just tried to focus on what was the very next thing I had to do,” Carolyn said. “Like, right now I just have to weigh my duffel. Right now, we’re walking to the park gate.”

But then, that seemingly innocuous sentence hit her – they were at the park gate, they were ready to begin.

Ready. Set. Go.

“That was a punch in the gut,” Carolyn said. “It’s starting.”

In her mind, her peers were all so cool, calm and collected as they began their trek, while an instant sense of self-doubt washed over Carolyn. She wasn’t ready…or maybe, she was? Thankfully, her apprehension turned to pure joy as she and fellow her trekkers approached camp. The melodic sounds filled the thick rain forest air, as all of the porters sang them into camp, welcoming them to Kilimanjaro.

For the first few days of the journey, the mountain was shrouded in a mixture of clouds and fog, so the destination remained a bit elusive. But, as the group awoke on day four, Carolyn finally got a clear view.

“The guides pointed out the top of Kilimanjaro and it just seemed so incredibly far away. It was intimidating to see where we were going. Yet, on the other hand, we could look back and see how far we’d already come.”

Trust the Process

As all who climb Kilimanjaro learn, the most important thing you can do on the mountain is to trust your guides. With 100-200+ professional Kilimanjaro summits under their belts and the highest guide certification on the mountain, it’s not hard to feel completely at peace on the mountain.

“In retrospect, it’s pretty funny; it usually takes people years to form trust with one another, yet you have to show up and immediately put all of your trust into these guides,” Carolyn said. “But here’s the thing, they make it so easy. They are just remarkable, remarkable people.”

On the morning of their summit bid, with just hours left to trek, Carolyn described an eerie calm that washed over the group: “I don’t know if everyone was tired or nervous or focused. It was extremely surreal.”

At this point, Carolyn’s tactic was to simply revert back to a toddler state, as exhaustion set in.

“I literally just stared at our guide’s shoes for seven hours. I just put my feet where his just were…Everything was just kind of matter a fact,” Carolyn said. “If he thinks we can climb up this rock face, we can climb up this rock face. If he thinks we should take a break, we should take a break.”

Stella Point Tears

As she put one foot in front of another, eventually those tired, yet determined feet reached Stella Point, the last stop before Uhuru Peak.

Knowing that she had just made it through the hardest stretch, Carolyn burst into tears.

“Because I had reached Stella, I now knew I could get to the summit,” Carolyn said. “It got really encouraging at this point. Trekking to the summit, we passed a few groups who were coming back down. Every single person you pass congratulates you. That was really great.”

Uhuru Elation

One hour later, Carolyn stood atop Mount Kilimanjaro and burst into tears once more. She had reached Uhuru Peak.

“Every single trekker, every porter, every guide, we all hugged each other,” Carolyn said. “It was such a celebration. Pure joy.”

Then, one of the guides that Carolyn credits with getting her up the mountain said something she’ll always remember: “He said, ‘you’re here because you’re so strong and you had this in you the whole time.’ I’ll never forget that.”

“I know it sounds cheesy, but I left part of myself on the mountain,” Carolyn said. “That is my home now and the guides and porters are my family; it’s where I will always belong. I feel like I will spend the rest of my life trying to get back there.”