Martin and I had a list of places to which we wanted to travel. The most endangered and possibly the most physically challenging was Kilimanjaro. Knowing the glaciers would be gone possibly within the decade, we took the leap and started planning.
Most of our pre-trip research involved choosing the guide and ascent route. We knew I’d probably have a problem with altitude sickness at some point (I’d had prior issues at alititude), so we looked for the longest possible route, which provides the most time for acclimatization. Tusker Trail is one of the companies that uses the Lemosho Route, one of the longest and least-used routes. They also carry oxygen and a hyperbaric oxygen bag and have guides that are certified high altitude first responders. The odds of making the summit would be much higher. Tusker Trail turned out to be a very good choice.
Finally, the time came to hoist the load and hit the trail. Each of us carried only a day pack. The porters, three per person, carried everything else. They took off quickly ahead of us. We walked slowly, very slowly, polé, polé.
At one point, I noticed our guides Tobias and Gaudence talking almost constantly. I repeatedly heard “mama,” “baba,” and “dada,” which mean Mama, Dad, and Sister. When we first told Gaudence that we figured out his code, he smiled and changed the subject. Then I pointed to myself and said “Mama” and he immediately started a fast conversation with Tobias in Swahili. We had them. It was comforting to know that they were watching us all the time looking for signs of problems, adjusting the pace, and further insuring we’d make it to the top. We were having the experience of a lifetime, and they were making it possible for us to succeed.
On the way to Moir Camp, one of our guides, Stanford, taught Emily and me a little song:
Jambo, Jambo Bwana
Habari gani, Msuri sana,
Kilimanjaro, Hakuna Matata.
Yes, they really do say “hakuna matata,” it really means “no worries,” and The Lion King is quite popular in Tanzania.
As we approached Moir Camp, we could see our porters were waiting for us. They were always cheerful, welcoming, and congratulatory as we made camp. This time, they sang the song Stanford had taught us, with harmony and huge smiles. Martin and I dropped our packs and danced. It was incredible.
I admit having tears in my eyes as we made the final approach. Years of dreaming and months of preparation were about to pay off. Standing at 19,340 feet, Uhuru Peak, was incredible. It’s the highest point in Africa, one of the seven summits, the highest freestanding mountain in the world, the roof of Africa. I took pictures. Jim soaked it in. Martin did cartwheels.
Together, our guides Tobias, Gaudence and Stanford made it possible for me to achieve my goal and a dream I had carried for many years. We took a few more pictures and said our goodbyes. I admit crying just a little. It was quite a trip.
Now, we’re home, still pouring through the nearly 1300 photos we took, finishing the journal, and capturing memories before they fade. We’re still recovering in some ways. Finishing an adventure of this magnitude and saying goodbye to new friends leaves behind a sense of accomplishment as well as a sense of loss that needs to be mourned. Although I hesitate to use the cliché, this really was much more a journey than a destination. The summit of Kili was incredible, but the new friends that made it possible will be a part of our lives for a long time.
On a lighter note, if you haven’t recently, watch The Lion King. The opening song shows Kili. The people of Tanzania really do say “hakuna matata,” and the “Circle of Life” is real, no matter where you are.