Lisa and her husband Joe at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro
Life-changing treks can have a powerful effect on our everyday lives. Thomson trekker Lisa Garruzzo of Go. Own It ®discovered this for herself when she set out to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro in late 2021; she found that the journey to Uhuru Peak became an immutable part of herself, compelling her to reexamine her values and perspectives long after she and her fellow trekkers wiped the mud from their boots.
The result? The awareness that strife creates strength. The recognition that, wherever we go, people are what matters most. The realization that conscientious trekking creates a higher-quality experience for everyone.
“The hardships we endured and the people who assisted us, without whom we could not have summited successfully, have irrevocably changed our lives forever,” Lisa said.
So, what made Lisa’s trek so transformative?
Lisa at Karanga Camp
Lisa took Thomson’s Western Approach to Uhuru Peak, a 9-day route offering the most acclimatization time possible and a daytime summit bid. Traveling through five climate zones, ranging from tropical rainforest to frozen tundra, it’s one of the most accessible, yet consistently challenging routes of the world’s Seven Summits.
Lisa and her group were amazed by the immensity of the task before them. At camp on their first day, they looked up at the mountain and were filled with awe.
“The great mountain sprung from the earth, reaching into the ether, seemingly residing in another plane of existence,” she said on her blog.
Lisa and Joe with guides Alex, Liberate, Paul and Jackson at Mweka Camp
Time and again, Lisa found herself moved by the people she met on the mountain. Like all Kili routes, the Western Approach is led by a team of guides and porters–55 of them on Lisa’s trek–who were well prepared to help her combat physical difficulties and the effects of altitude as she ascended from the heath to the moorlands, the alpine desert to the arctic regions.
When Lisa’s Achilles tendons and calves started tightening up painfully on the second day, her guide Liberate walked with her at a slower pace, talking, joking and enjoying her company.
Lisa’s personal porter, Robert, helped her carry the 25 pounds of gear she needed on her journey. He also kept her spirits up with Swahili lessons, ensured she drank plenty of water and asked that she go “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly).
“Robert served as more than someone that would help me carry my gear; he became a companion and a brother,” Lisa said. “If it weren’t for Robert, I’m not sure I would have made it to the summit.”
Lisa and Joe with personal porter Robert at the summit
Because of Kili’s challenging conditions, Lisa forged inseparable bonds with her support crew: Alex, Jackson, Paul and Liberate, among others.
“Ethical and responsible tourism is vital to sustaining a thriving community and environment!” Lisa said. “Thomson Safaris has the highest standards when it comes to the compensation and welfare of team members.”
The view from Karanga Camp
Lisa’s greatest challenge came on day five at the Barranco Wall, a rocky slope rising 843 feet up Kili’s side. She’s no stranger to challenging treks–she’s summited Mt. Whitney twice–but this was a true test of her strength. Lisa was already feeling poorly when she started climbing the wall. Between the fatigue and the altitude, the steep scramble became a challenge unlike any she had undertaken on any of her previous expeditions.
“I broke down and cried because I felt inadequate and weak,” Lisa said. “I had trained and prepared so much for this endeavor, yet I felt like I was failing.”
The support of her guides, Alex and Liberate, as well as her trekking team helped her overcome these challenges.
“When I felt insecure or doubtful, there was always someone to step up and bolster my confidence, allowing me to tap into that person inside me that knew I could rise to the challenge,” Lisa said.
In the end, Lisa did rise up to the challenge–she gained the strength to overcome the Barranco Wall. She was on to Uhuru.
The trekking team shares an emotional moment at the summit
Over the next couple days, Lisa trekked through dramatically shifting landscapes, from the lunar-like surface of the Karanga Valley to the glacial zones near the summit. She ate delicious, nutritionist-designed meals – filled with the calories and protein needed to get her to the summit – cooked by porters on portable cookstoves, and she woke in the morning to receive freshly brewed coffee and tea.
On day seven, it was time for the final push to the summit.
The path from camp to Stella Point, the last major milestone before Uhuru Peak, was exceedingly steep. Lisa’s ankles and calves were tight and in pain. Lisa said she was in agony until she found a way to beat it.
“I overcame this by modifying my steps using a mountaineering rest step,” Lisa said. “Pole-pole was vital!”
She pushed through to Stella Point and found a renewed sense of vigor. She said she even enjoyed the final trek to Uhuru Peak, towering above Africa at 19,341′. Finally, after so many trials and tribulations, she had made it to the Roof of Africa.
“I was so overloaded with adrenaline at the summit that it was almost like an out-of-body experience,” she said. “An event so surreal that it didn’t register until well after coming down the mountain.”
Only after the trek, when Lisa was leaving and she saw Kili recede in the distance, did the impact of all that she had done and experienced finally register. “I was on the summit of that! WOW!” she said.
Lisa said that the mountain was tremendous, and the climbing was epic, but the people she climbed with was what impacted her most.
“Words cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel towards these men,” Lisa said. “I’ve never thought about how scaling earth’s most magnificent features could have such a profound effect on the way I view humanity and the importance of connection–connection to our inner selves and each other.”