Have you ever had a life quest? Something you have wanted to do for a couple of years, or something you have thought about or worked towards for years? And have you ever completed said dream? I hope so. If you haven’t, sit down right now and mike a list and then pick something and work towards it, whether that is saving money to do something or planning the details, or physically training or intellectually studying something. Dream it. Explore it. Prepare for it. Do it. Life should have those ultimate experiences sprinkled through the years.
So one of mine happened this week. The first time the idea even creeped into my head was a couple on our Rainier climb in 2005 described their experience. Then after climbing Mt Rainier twice I thought I might try one other high peak. Which ultimately led me to this experience, at this time in my life with this particular climbing group. For me it was truly liminal in so many ways.
So here are several observations and my final point of reflection at the end.
⁃ 19,430’ is way higher than my previous height of 14,310’. My body felt it although I functioned fine until the summit.
⁃ Acclimatization helps but when you are in anything above 10,000’ it is hard to breathe. The least amount of exertion and you are out of breath or a headache will onset.
⁃ Pressure breathing is a technique of pushing out all of the air in your lungs and allows them to refill bringing in as much of the thin O2 as possible. This is the first line of defense towards altitude side effects.
⁃ Living above the clouds for 5 days is indescribable. Looking down upon the clouds from camp each night was a humbling reminder of how small our worlds can become daily, even with massive amounts of connecting technology. If you love looking out your window in an airplane, this trip was living that perspective daily.
⁃ Seeing the stars at night was even more spectacular! The Southern Hemisphere revealed the Southern Cross which can’t be seen from home. (Looks like a kite in the sky.) We saw four planets in the sky at one time which was amazing to me- Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus. The Milky Way was so vivid and stars actually twinkled since there was absolutely zero light pollution. Again, humbling.
⁃ The down side to being so out in Mother Nature that happens to be the side of a mountain is nothing is level, including your tent. It took me until night 4 to figure out how to maneuver my stuff so I could push myself back up to the top of the tent in my sleeping bag!
⁃ Self inflating camping sleep pads work a lot better when you blow them up and actually tighten the cap. The first night I failed to do this and felt every rock underneath me. I bruised my hips from day one simply by being stupid. But it was one of many laughable incidents for me!
⁃ When you have the right equipment and gear, you can manage the cold temperatures. I honestly never felt uncomfortably cold. However at night except at high camp we got hot water bottles to stuff in our sleeping bags. Oh my gosh was that an amazing gift.
⁃ Barking Zebra was our local outfitter and Rainer Mountaineering, Inc was our climbing and trip organizer. We had 51 staff from Barking Zebra climb with a team of 11! They were amazing. 5 guides helped guide us up the mountain looking over us like shepherd dogs caring for their sheep. A team of 6 fed us- I’m sure I’ve actually gained weight the food was that good on the mountain, all prepared from one cooking tent that was picked up and hauled further up the mountain on several porter’s heads each day! And porter’s put our bags in water proof bags and hauled their stuff and ours up the hikes we made each day. They have a 50 pound limit by law.
⁃ There were places on our hike where we were using two hands and scrambling around rock. It wasn’t horribly hard but when we saw the porters do this with 50 pounds of stuff on their heads and backs, it was mind boggling!
⁃ While this ratio of support staff to climber seems excessive, these are good paying jobs into this economy and I was grateful for every bit of help we received.
⁃ Going without a shower for a week feels and smells just as nasty as it sounds. It took three shampoo applications before my hair would lather. Do not take your showers/baths for granted!
⁃ My hiking poles and hiking boots were the two best pieces of equipment I brought. No blisters from my awesome boots in spite of one day of 17 hours worth of hiking. And coming down was so very hard on my 48 year old knees. Poles helped soften the blow a bit.
⁃ And finally, apparently my right eyeball does not like windy conditions. 2 out of 3 times of being in high altitudes my cornea has frozen. We had unusually windy conditions that made our ascent particularly difficult. Thankfully I felt physically strong but by the time we got to the top, I was in slow motion because my brain was a little out of it.
Just a word about the summit, I’ll write more later. 9 out of our 10 team members made it to the top. It was different from Rainier in that the final 45 minute hike from the crater rim of the ancient volcano to the highest peak was a walk through knee to waist high ice channels. It was a brutal haul in 35-40 mph wind gusts that could knock you into these ice walls. But it was at that moment that I felt this shedding of so much stuff in my life that has in recent times caused me to struggle internally. To look around on top of a mountain and feel almost triumphant was in a way liberating. But to become weepy when your tears freeze and your runny nose impedes your breathing is a little inconvenient!
But here’s the real catch in all of this. Two days before summit day as I was watching the most beautiful sunset I heard God say two things to me. First was very clearly, “You can do this.” However immediately followed by that was “But you can’t do it alone.” And that is exactly the way this went down. I did not climb Kilimanjaro. “We climbed Kilimanjaro.” And that ”we” consists of my will and determination. It includes the 51 staff of Barking Zebra that fed, protected and provided places of rest for 6 nights and 7 days. It was the encouragement of my teammates. It was the specific assistance and guidance from my American guide, Dave Hahn. It was all of your prayers which I truly felt. It was the amazing encouragement from my amazing husband these past several months. All of this got me up that mountain and I’m deeply grateful and not too proud to admit that truth. Not “I” but “we”.
And the powerful lesson I learned from God once again is that I am not in this thing called life alone. Even when I’m surrounded by perfect strangers and I’m feeling homesick and alone, faraway from everyone I know and love. Even when I’m challenged to my physical limits. Even when I’ve come out of a difficult season of life where some people did not act kindly or trust worthy. Even when you are the sole one responsible for a given situation, whether its managing yourself on the side of a mountain or managing yourself in your family or work life, you do not have to go through this alone. God provides support to get you through whatever you are facing. Look for the “porter” in your life that is helping carrying your load. Especially over the craggy, rocky places so you can hold on with two hands. Look for the “guides” in your life that show you where to put your foot to take the next difficult step and that form a human wall at the tricky parts to make sure you feel secure. They are there. I promise. See them. Thank them. And know that God has said to us, we can do it. Just not alone. “We”, not “I”.
Grace and Peace,
(PS. Tomorrow I will describe the summit day in more detail if you are interested. Now I must go sleep in a level bed with a mattress!!!)