Why you shouldn’t climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
View from the top
By Dr. Elke
If you’re not down for crushing some life goals, hiking, connecting with nature and all of its benefits, and reconnecting with who you are, then climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro may not be your thing.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro has been a goal of mine since I heard the name as a kid. I had no idea what it was but I knew I wanted to meet it. As I got older and realized what Mt. Kilimanjaro was, I was even more intrigued and decided that I really did want to climb the world’s tallest hike-able mountain. That means, no ice picks, crampons, and climbing gear necessary. There is a path. Altitude sickness however, can be a real thing.
As I’ve reflected on myself and my goals over the last year I’ve come to really settle into not just these goals but the feelings that I associate with them, the ‘why’ behind it all. It’s not just to say I’ve accomplished something, but to feel it, and not only after I’ve accomplished it, but also as I journey towards it. Mt. Kilimanjaro was a constant reminder of these desired feelings in my life and that it truly is about the journey. Most of the time it was hard to appreciate how far I had walked unless I looked back to see where I had come from and the INSANE view from where I stood. This is the key – syncing the feelings we want in our lives with our goals so we have a greater appreciation for the journey. Here is what you can expect…
First of all, hiking. A lot of hiking. The benefits of hiking are bountiful. We energize our minds, we spark our cardiovascular systems, we positively stress our bones with weight-bearing exercise, and we flood our bodies with some serious in-house chemicals that make us feel good. Mt. Kilimanjaro has many routes to choose from; there are short routes, long routes, busier routes, quieter routes, more scenic routes, and more dangerous routes – you choose your own adventure. The route we chose was a little longer and more scenic: Lemosho. We hiked up for six days and down for two. At the western base of Kilimanjaro, our starting altitude was 6,889ft (2,100m). From there we hiked for six days along the Shira plateau and around the southern circuit with some pretty killer views, summiting 19,341ft (5,895m) along the eastern side of the peak just in time for sunrise on our seventh day. From the first gate to the last, the route spanned 70km. A lot of hiking. If you’re down for a solid walk, you can climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The walk was nothing of course without the nature. Every time I stick my arm out the window of a moving car, I’m reminded to take life in, to listen to my inner voice, to breathe. Why is it that being in nature makes us feel so good? If you’ve read any of my other articles, you know I love me some good research. There are so many scientific reasons why nature is good for us. It helps to minimize stress not only by ‘getting away’ but by directing our attention at something other than what may be stressful. This aids in the recovery of said attention and improves cognitive functioning (1, 2). Being in nature can also reduce feelings of depression, anger, anxiety and increase mood and self-esteem (3), and those who live in areas with more green space actually have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone (4).
But for me, it’s the reminder that we don’t really need much to be happy. In a consumer-driven world we are often caught up in the deluded wave of adding more to our lives to make us happy. Everyone defines happiness in their own way of course but when you get right to the core of it, often the more we take away, the more we see ourselves. The simplicity of connecting our souls with nature reminds us how uncomplicated our lives are when we listen to the voice telling us who we are and what we truly desire. Having fear of that voice may be an indication that deep down, we don’t want to acknowledge what we know it will say. Listening to that voice however, is true wisdom.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was always a goal of mine, however it’s interesting to me that it didn’t come into fruition until I connected a feeling to it. Instead of being about pride, it was about feeling joyful and in harmony with myself. The joy came from immersion in nature, and the balancing effect of that, plus the fact that I accomplished it with my husband, had time to look inward, and could push myself to another level – these things brought me harmony. By virtue of timing, achieving this goal became a rite of passage. My husband and I were opening up the conversation of starting a family and we decided it would be stellar to climb Kilimanjaro before doing it – to have this potentially metamorphic experience together before another definite metamorphosis. After returning home I thought about how great it would be if before every big (or small) step in our lives, we took on something together, however big or small, as a rite of passage. I mean, killing a lion with nothing but a spear (like the Maasai men), or jumping out of a tree headfirst with nothing but vines attached to your ankles (like the men of Vanuatu) might be a bit much. But the idea of accomplishing one thing that has significance before the next journey resonates well with me.
Finally, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro connects us to the community of the world. We hiked with an amazing team from G Adventures. Not only did this mean sustainable travel and the opportunity to give back to the communities we were engaging with, but also to connect with a group of humans that were there to lift each other up, laugh and sing with, hike silently with, smile with, to give support to and to see that as human beings we are the same.
Through the heat, the rain and the hail, camping above the clouds and below grand peaks, to tears of joy and holding hands and hearts with the people that helped get us to the summit, we watched the sun rise on a new day and a slightly upgraded version of ourselves.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was all of that, but you don’t need to travel to the other side of the world to feel the same. You can step outside and breathe, you can meditate, you can walk around your block or find a park to explore, you can journal; reconnect with yourself, even if it’s in your backyard. And if you do want to climb something like Mt. Kilimanjaro, know that it will be an awesome addition to your life, and remember: what goes up, must come down.
- Kaplan S. The restorative benefits of nature: towards an integrative framework. Journal of environmental psychology. 1995 (15).
- Berman MG, Jonides J, Kaplan S. The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science. 2008; 19:1207.
- Barton J, Hine R, Pretty J. The health benefits of walking in greenspaces of high natural and heritage value. Journal of integrative environmental sciences. 2009; 6 (4).
- Main E. The natural way to calm down. Prevention [Internet]. 2012 [cited Mar 2 2017]. Prevention. Available from: http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/spending-time-outside-relieves-stress