Part 1: How Do you Prepare to Climb a Mountain?

(Climbing A Mountain is All in Your Head: A Story in 3 Parts)

It was just a tad cold at the summit

This story isn’t actually mine to tell, it’s my friend Christine’s story. After she completed her climb, she told me she felt she could do anything now. Sometimes the things that put us so far outside our comfort zone are the things that help us put the rest of our life into perspective.

Hiking in Cape Town, after her climb

Christine has always been an adventurous dare-devil who loves the outdoors. She hikes, rock climbs, and travels like nobody’s business. Ever since we were in middle school, her dream has been to travel the world. If you tell her the world’s largest free-standing mountain happens to be on the same continent she is studying abroad on, then of course she has to climb it! All while traveling solo, of course.

Since most people do not have vast amounts of knowledge on the world’s mountains, let me start off by saying Mt. Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the African continent and the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

A very quick Google search will tell you that it has three volcanic cones, one of which is dormant but could erupt again. Almost every kind of ecological system is found on this mountain: cultivated land, rain forest, heath, moorland, alpine desert and arctic at the summit (the highest peak).

“This [the Elsamere Nature Reserve] is the most beautiful and relaxing place I’ve ever been on Earth”

But let’s start at the beginning of Christine’s trip, before the climb even began. Her flight landed in Nairobi, Kenya and she had some time to explore the city before her bus to Kilimanjaro.

“I stayed at the Summit Safari Lodge and saw rabbits hopping in the yard. When I went to dinner, I realized the hotel was empty. I had taken my altitude medicine right before dinner and the combination of nerves, nausea and dizziness killed my appetite.”

After dinner, Christine’s symptoms were growing worse. She started panicking, knowing that she had to climb tomorrow. She couldn’t be sick at the start. She decided to ask someone at the hotel if they knew a doctor she could talk to.

“They said I could go to the hospital, so I did. At this point it was 11:00 p.m. and the taxi ride there was taking forever. When I finally got to hospital, the taxi driver took me inside. I wasn’t asked for an insurance card but told to provide my name, birthday and tribe, obviously I couldn’t answer that last question. Immediately I was told I had to pay in cash and was sent back out in the taxi to find a cash machine. I had just thrown up.”

Did you know that Nairobi, Kenya is home to an Elephant Orphanage?

“A thunderstorm was raging outside and the banks ended up being closed. I was crying so hard at this point. The cab driver was saying, ‘Sister, sister,why are you crying?’ ”

The driver eventually found an open cash machine. Christine had no idea how much money she even needed to pay for her visit, hoping she was withdrawing enough. When she finally returned to the hospital it was very late and the staff all looked half asleep. Her doctor said they would have to take a full blood picture, or what we know as a blood test.

Hakuna Matata, contrary to what The Lion King says, actually means ‘no problem.’

While she was receiving her travel immunizations in America, the nurse had told her not to get any tattoos or use any needles because of the risk of disease. Christine was debating whether or not she should give blood, but ultimately decided to. After the blood was drawn, she felt even dizzier. She asked the nurse for a cup of water but was told there wasn’t any clean water in the hospital.

“The doctor ended up giving me one of his bottled waters. He said the results turned out fine, but that I shouldn’t take any more of the altitude medicine since it appeared I was having a strong reaction to it.”

“I had been crying ever since I got in the taxi.The doctor finally asked me what was wrong. I told him I was so anxious for my climb and I felt so sick. He said, ‘Being alone is a sickness. All you have is your thoughts to make you nervous. Go back to your hotel and watch a movie to help quiet your mind.’ ”

The support from her parents was vital in remaining calm that night

Christine returned to the taxi feeling much calmer. Thunder was still booming as they drove on the narrow dirt road, feral dogs barking at the car, heading back to the lodge. When she returned to her room, she played her favorite movie on her iPad to distract herself, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, as per the doctor’s orders.

“Having barely slept, I woke at 7:40 a.m. to take the bus to Kilimanjaro. I completely did not want to do this anymore. I ended up calling my mom. I told her I would rather sit in this hotel for 8 days then climb that mountain. She managed to calm me down and before I knew it I was packing my things and heading to the bus.”

After everything that had just happened, day 1 was starting. Sometimes the worrying that comes before a big event is the hardest part. The fears we have can be scarier than the actual event itself. When you are forced to face a fear alone, your brain runs wild with possibilities. The best way to calm our minds is to be reassured by those who support us.

Ultimately, Christine was able to turn to her support system and start her climb. The circumstances with which the hiked began were not ideal, but there never is a perfect time to begin something. Sometimes we have to be willing to make a leap, even when all of the odds feel stacked against us.

Check out part 2 of the story here:

Arriving at the park and posing for her before picture
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