Life Lessons from Kilimanjaro

In Pitch Like a GirlRonna Lichtenberg writes, “The purpose of visioning, then, is to move yourself toward a bigger, deeper desire- a truer, more satisfying win.

It’s a scary proposition for most of us. Yes is almost always scarier than no. Think of it this way: If you confide in me about your biggest, most heart-felt dream and I tell you that maybe you’re a little too bigheaded and you shouldn’t aim so high, you may be a little pissed off. But you’ll probably also find it kind of comforting to make the target less ambitious and a whole lot easier to reach. If, on the other hand, I say to you, “You’re looking at a hill, which is fine, but you should be looking at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro because you are capable of climbing it,” that’s scary. It’s scary because a big vision raises the possibility of a failure that feels like real failure. This is where the tummy-churning fear we talked about comes in.” We are all capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for and I am living proof of that.

In 2008, I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa along with my husband and eleven other friends. At the time, I was 4 months pregnant with our son, Tyler. I found out I was pregnant after we had already put down a non-refundable deposit for the trip and I had gotten all the shots I needed to go to Africa. I was in good health and my pregnancy was not high risk, so my doctors left the decision up to me. They told me there aren't any studies about the effects of high altitude on a fetus and said, "the baby is like a parasite, he will get what he needs; if anything, you will suffer more of the effects." I was not allowed to take any medication to help the effects of altitude sickness or preventative medication for malaria, but I chose to go on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure and I have never regretted that decision. The lessons I learned and the beauty I witnessed on the hike and safari far outweigh the risks in my opinion, especially since Tyler was born super healthy.

At 19,341 feet, Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa and the fourth highest in the world; however, it is unique among the seven summits because it's the only one you don't need any special equipment (ropes) in order to climb. To get to the top, all you really need is the will to do it, the means to get there and some level of physical fitness. Over the seven day hike, I learned some great lessons about life in general that I’d like to share with you:

This is an old version of Brotha James singing Slow Down. To check out his evolution check out his new album Abracadabra

  1. Slow Down- In Swahili, there is a saying you hear a lot while hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, “Pole, Pole.” It means, “slow, slow.” Often our guides told us to slow down to conserve our energy for summit day. The air thins as you ascend the mountain making it more difficult to breathe along with other symptoms of altitude sickness include vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, suppression of appetite and hallucinations. In episode 152 of the Achieve Your Goals Podcast, The author of The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod, discussed some of the lessons he’s learning as he fights a rare form of cancer. One of the most important is to slow down to enjoy the journey. When our lives are full to the brim with things that keep us “busy” it’s hard to truly be present and keep our focus on the things that are truly important. Our good buddy Brotha James also has an amazing song on this topic. 
  2. Be Prepared- To hike a 19,341-foot mountain, you have to do at least a little training. The days are pretty grueling and if you’ve never hiked before, the chances you will make it to the top are pretty slim. Another cool thing about Kili is that you pass through five distinct climates on the way up. As the hike begins, you pass through a beautiful rainforest with monkeys swinging from the trees and beautiful flowers all around. Naturally in the rainforest, you need to be prepared for rain. It’s the first day of the hike, so if all your gear gets soaked you will most likely be pretty miserable for the remainder of the hike. At the summit, you are standing on top of a glacier and it's literally freezing, so you need to be prepared for that as well. When hiking, you need to make sure you have the right gear and dress in layers because the weather is unpredictable. You also have to keep in mind that you have to carry it all, so you want to try to find harmony between being prepared and not taking on too much weight. In life, the more purposeful we are with our actions and the things we keep around us, the happier we will be. This goes for the company we keep, the foods we choose to eat, where we live and the things we buy. When we can clear the mental and physical clutter we give ourselves space to allow our dreams to come to fruition.
  3. Get a Guide- When you hike a big mountain (or attempt anything in life you’ve never done before), it is prudent to go with someone who has done it before or at the very least a buddy. We went with REI Adventures when we hiked Kili and our guides and porters were amazing. The crew would take our bigger bag ahead for us to the next campsite and prepare all our meals. All we had to worry about was putting one foot in front of the other and staying hydrated. Our guide was with us the whole time pointing out native plants and giving us information about what to expect, giving us pointers and encouraging us to conserve energy. I have a coach named Jenai Lane, Founder of Spirit Coach Training. Her guidance has been invaluable in my spiritual evolution and living the life of my dreams. I highly recommend getting a coach or accountability partner of your own to help keep you on track. Any dream you have, there are people already living that dream. Learn from them, model their behavior, and surround yourself with people on a similar journey.
  5. Celebrate Your Accomplishments- At the end of our Kili hike, our guides held a celebration for us. If you make it to either Gillman’s Point (18,640 ft) or Uhuru Peak (19,341 ft), they give you a certificate with your name, time of summit and age. Since I was pregnant and we already knew the baby was a boy and his name would be Tyler, we asked our guides if we could get a certificate for him too. They obliged and we hung it up in his nursery along with a picture of Mike and I in front of the iconic mountain and animal pictures from our safari. It was nice to pause after a hard journey to take it all in and celebrate that accomplishment. In Jon Vroman’s book, The Front Row Factor, he documents some lessons his wish organization has learned about living life from those fighting for theirs. One of those lessons it to Celebrate our Experiences. He writes, “No matter what happens, we can always choose to celebrate what we learn, and therefore turn every failure into a valuable life lesson. Celebrations don’t always have to be our favorites, but they can be favorable.” Some people in our party did not make it to the top, but we still celebrated their journey. The journey was not easy and there are no showers for a week, so we were all kind of stinky and tired and we still found the energy to celebrate. So many times we just move from one thing to the next and don't take the time to savor our wins. Everyday we have things we can celebrate. When we are filled with gratitude and are present to the small moments is when we truly recognize how sweet life really is. 
  6. The View from the Top is Amazing and Fleeting- On summit day, we started from Kibo hut (15,420 ft) around midnight after about 4 hours of restless sleep. You hike by headlamp (or in our case the light of the full moon). It is freezing and you’re hiking on scree (a slope covered with small loose stones) so each step you take up you slip back about a half step. It is very slow going. After a few hours you reach Gillman’s point where you take a break and have something warm to drink. The sun is still not up, but you’re past the scree and back on a solid path. At this point, there is still about 1,000 vertical feet until the summit. You’re so close but you feel so far away. This is also when altitude sickness kicks into high gear. As we made our way to the summit, the sun finally came up, which gave us renewed energy and was the most beautiful sunrise I've ever witnessed. After a few more hours of hiking, the summit is within view. Once your reach the summit, you may wait a few minutes for others in your group, but it’s hard to move up there. It’s cold and windy and the air is hard to breathe, so you don’t stay on top long. This happens in life too. No matter how successful you are, there is someone waiting in the wings to take the top spot. We constantly have to evolve and continue to grow and adapt to keep up. There is always a next step, another level to reach and improvement to be made. Life is a journey and not a destination, so enjoy the view when you're on top, celebrate your wins, slow down so you can savor it and don't become complacient. 

I had the privilege to hear Kim Hess speak at our FamBundace retreat last winter and I love her message. Kim has completed 6 of the 7 summits and also has plans to trek to the north and south poles to become the 13th woman in the world and if all goes to plan, the youngest woman to ever complete the Explorers Grand Slam. If you ever feel like your dreams are too big, think again and then go bigger! You are the only one that can get in your way to the top. 


I’m grateful for the experience I had climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and the many lessons I learned on that journey. I’m grateful Tyler was born healthy and strong and with a really cool story. I’m grateful to spend half of my time surrounded by beauty of the Rocky Mountains that serve as a reminder to the lessons I’ve learned about life from hiking. I’m grateful to our guides for keeping us safe and well feed on our journey.

In Gratitude,