The group prepares to start the trek at the Umbwe Gate in June 2010
We talk a lot about what happens before and during your Kilimanjaro trek. But what happens after the trek?
What happens when your goal is behind you, when you’ve finally showered and taken off your boots? What happens when you’re home, back at work on a regular Monday? What happens you start planning your next adventure? What happens weeks, months or years after such a defining moment?
As it turns out, Kilimanjaro leaves such an impact that even ten years post-trek, it’s still with you.
A group of strangers, including Thomson staffer Ali, joined one of Thomson Safaris’ Kilimanjaro treks on the Umbwe Route in June 2010. Last month was the ten-year anniversary of their climb, so they decided to reunite (virtually) to reminisce about their time on the Roof of Africa.
Zoom call in June 2020
Seven of the ten in their group chatted over Zoom, sharing insights on what their trek means to them all these years later. Regardless of any initial expectations, Kilimanjaro became a defining moment for many, and is something they still think about on a regular basis.
They thought back to the people that were beside them…
Solo trekker Christine admires the view at the top of the Barranco Wall
Thomson’s small groups are often made of a variety of people. Some might come with lifelong friends, or father and son pairs, and others are on a solo adventure of their own. Together, you’ll all get to know the guides and porters in your team like family.
Great camaraderie with fun and adventurous people, and new friends for life. The guides were amazing and the entire Thomson team was very welcoming and friendly. – Ken Hosch
I found we would have these rolling one on one conversations where we had lots of time to talk without the weight of really being in each other’s world outside of this one event. Really open, honest and interesting conversations. – Howard Margolis
I didn’t come with a friend to the trek and was anxious about the whole thing. But the other hikers and crew were engaging, interesting, supportive and welcoming. – Eric Hankinson
I think I belly laughed and giggled my way up the mountain! Our group was so much fun and tremendously supportive of one another. It was really amazing – almost surreal – to see the faces of people who shared a pivotal time in your life looking back at you and enjoying the moment for the same reason. – Ali Riley
And the beauty of what they experienced…
The group in the rainforest
The group treks through Kili’s lunar-like landscape
Kilimanjaro spans five climate zones. Many trekkers spend so much time envisioning the sign at the summit, they’re taken aback by the rest of the incredible scenery throughout their trip!
Nature is powerful and humbling, I love that. Being immersed in a place that is so much bigger than you and recognizing the respect it demands is part of the journey. – Ali Riley
It was so amazing to trek through such beautiful terrain, encounter breathtaking vistas at every turn, and even see the curvature of the earth so clearly. – Ken Hosch
For the first time in my life I realized what the term “Milky Way” was about, spectacular! – Dr. Ken Spiller
There were so many stars that the Milky Way literally looked like a collection of clouds. One of the most wonderful things that I’ve seen. – Ken Hosch
They joked about their memories…
Breaking for water and laughs
Still joking 10 years later!
Although laughter might not actually be the best medicine for altitude sickness and sore muscles, it definitely helps lift the spirits! Reaching the summit is an inspiring, intimidating goal – but it’s important to have fun along the way!
[I remember] getting up early, smelling absolutely terrible (ha!) – Eric Hankinson
We joked that high altitude makes you stupid. We tried to play trivia games in the dining tent and just could not do it! – Ali Riley
The check in stations where the officials would look at me and my passport and say “OOH, You old Mama”. – Christine Jacobs
They talked about the difficulty of what they accomplished…
A portion of the group at the summit
Proper training is incredibly important when climbing Kilimanjaro, but even with perfect preparation, the difficulty still surprises most trekkers. And contrary to what many may think, much of it is more mental than physical.
For the most part I think of it as more difficult mentally than physically. Until that last day when it was the hardest physical challenge and it took all I had mentally to keep at it. – Christine Jacobs
It has allowed me to realize that I can push through difficult things and challenge myself. – Howard Margolis
To me, it meant the ability to succeed when I shouldn’t have. – Eric Hankinson
But most importantly, how it has affected their lives since…
Treks and travels inspired by Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro is more than a check box on a bucket list. For most trekkers it serves as a benchmark for the rest of their life. Especially when it comes to the way they view themselves and difficulties they come across.
It didn’t happen overnight or even quickly, but soon I dramatically improved my lifestyle. More focused on health, fitness and mental wellness. – Eric Hankinson
Kili leaves me with many cherished memories, a significant physical accomplishment and a new-found understanding of mental and physical stamina. – Ken Hosch
Summit morning gave me confidence in myself that no other experience could have given me. I gained confidence an adult, as a mom, as a wife, as a colleague, you name it. When you accomplish something as big as Kili, you know other challenges pale in comparison. – Ali Riley
When something difficult comes up I remember that I did this trip, accomplished my goal and so I can persevere at anything. I still love throwing it into conversation when people start to doubt me – “Excuse me, I climbed Kilimanjaro. Trust me, this isn’t so bad”. – Christine Jacobs
And as for what it was like to talk with their group again…
Not every Kilimanjaro group gets the chance to reminisce, praise one another’s efforts, or catch up years after the trek. But some share such a connection and gain so much respect for their fellow trekkers that a reunion feels instinctive.
Kili was not some trip we did and then moved on from, it was the trailhead to new adventures for many of us. It was so cool to see faces I haven’t seen in 10 years and ones that I knew for only a short time, looking out from the screen like friends you’ve known for a lifetime. – Ali Riley
The group on the final day of the trek
So what happens after you climb Kilimanjaro?
Kilimanjaro is a powerful mountain, an indelible force of nature. It will stay with you long after you fly home and return to work. Even when your family and friends stop asking how your trip was, and even when you start thinking about a next vacation, it will still be with you.
The dirt on your boots will wash away. You might forget the words to the songs your porters sang. Maybe the scent of ginger tea fades from memory. But this Umbwe group proved that what doesn’t wash away or slip your mind is the feeling you have when standing at the summit; how the night sky made you feel; who you were and the strength you found in yourself.