The Dugers reach the summit

This trip was cooked up by my dad who has wanted to summit Kilimanjaro and go on a safari for as long as he can remember.  He painstakingly planned this entire trip so it would be a trip of a lifetime for everyone.  Every detail was thought out. However, life threw him a curve ball when he found out he needed back surgery. With the trip already planned and our climbers and safari-goers committed, he planned the surgery for February, 2013 so he would have ample time to recover before setting out for the climb.

So, six and a half months before the trip, he had major back surgery (twice, but that’s another story!). He went through months of recovery and rehab and physical therapy all with the goal of summiting still at the front of his mind.  With loads of family care and encouragement and personal determination, he was up and walking again and eventually exercising and training for the trek!

My fiance, Dan, and I had already been in Africa for about a month and a half prior to the rest of the Duger group coming over to Tanzania.

We were ecstatic to be meeting up with family and friends! Setting out for the trek was exciting and nerve-wracking. Not knowing what to expect was scary, but there were 9 other family members and friends to keep me going.

There were times on the trek where we were each fatigued, tired, injured, sick, questioning this choice, wondering if we would make it, wondering why we did this- the list goes on.  But our group was nothing short of amazing.  We all worked hard, kept a positive attitude, encouraged one another and hiked 5 days until we got to the ‘base camp’ of Kili where we would set out at midnight of that same night to make our push to the top.

We hiked for about 6 hours straight up in the darkness with nothing to guide us but our headlamps and the bright moon and millions of stars.  Our guides encouraged us to keep moving, so not to get too cold.

Our head guide William’s mantra of “internal push” was playing over and over in my head as we gained 4,000 feet overnight.  As we reached Stella Point, the sun was rising around us, giving us the extra push we needed.

The beautiful silence as the sun rose around us allowed us to experience one of the few moments in life when you realize you are a part of something much larger than yourself. It was this point that I knew that we would all make it to the top and reach a goal most of us had set out to accomplish over two years ago. To my dad, this was a goal that he had waited decades to accomplish.

As we stood on the rim of a volcanic crater that is hundreds of thousands of years old, the view was surreal. We were above the clouds, looking down on all of Africa, it seemed.  But still, we had to dig deeper. Another push of an hour awaited us to reach the highest point on the rim, Uhuru peak.

After all of the planning and effort and what he had been through over the past year, it seemed fitting that we all followed behind my dad who lead us to the top. It’s impossible to describe the emotions that we all felt as we finally accomplished this goal that, at times, seemed daunting.

Exhausted, we relished in our accomplishments. I can honestly say it was absolutely the most physically and mentally challenging and exhausting thing that I have ever been a part of.

We owe a huge thank you to our wonderful guides and crew. Without these amazing individuals, the experience would not have been the same. They shared knowledge and expertise and their example of what it really means to be tough is what took us to the top. I cannot stress enough how wonderful our guides were- Renautus, Jackson, Charles and of course, William. Each one of us created a special bond with these great guys and we are forever indebted to them for their patience, kindness and encouragement.

Now that it has been more than 6 months since we returned, I can also say that it was hands-down the most rewarding and challenging experience that I have ever had.  I will forever cherish the memories that I made with this group over a week.  I am extremely grateful to my co-trekkers that encouraged me, supported me and kept me laughing throughout the entire journey. Words cannot explain how fortunate I feel to have had such a special bonding experience with the other group members and to have seen the amazing scenery and flora that has made Kilimanjaro so beautiful and enticing for tens of thousands of hikers!