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8 Things I Learned From Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

  • Maria Popo President of a Tech Company. Founder of a Non-Profit. Leader of the Unnervingly Brilliant.
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I recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the seven summits and the highest peak in Africa at 19,341 feet. Here are my post-climb observations.
8. Climbing one of the seven summits makes you “skinny.” I wanted to be sure I could physically make it to the top of the mountain and survive the experience, so I became a running, spinning, kickboxing, weightlifting fool for at least eight weeks before the climb. I lost over ten pounds finally becoming my version of skinny.
7. Climbing one of the seven summits makes you cool. You’re cool if you do something that seems slightly stupid and physically difficult, so upon my return I posted photos of the trek. The unanimous feedback was that I am incredibly impressive and inspirational!
6. Skinny and cool lasts less than six weeks. The weight is now back. My social media friends have since moved on to the slightly stupid and physically difficult challenge of a friend who ate 12 hot dogs in one sitting.
5. Enjoy the journey. My experience climbing Kilimanjaro was undoubtedly different from everyone else. While we were hiking, I was almost never smiling, usually deep in thought. It could have seemed that I hated the trek or was sick. I wasn’t feeling any of those things. I was just working hard to get my ass up the mountain. If I could rewind time, I’d work on being more engaged in every moment as it was happening.
4. The adventure was even better AFTER the trip. Although energized when we finally reached the summit, I appreciate the experience so much more now as I reflect back. The photos and videos are reminders of what I accomplished that I didn’t fully recognize during the trek itself.
3. You forget about being perfect when in survival mode (and you should do this more often). On day 5 of the climb we ascended Barranco Wall, a 1000 ft. vertical climb up and down. As we traversed the wall, the head guide kept assisting me. At first I wondered why he was helping ME. Was I not I good enough? Too slow? Not strong enough? My thoughts changed quickly. After just a couple minutes of busting my butt stepping straight up over rocks, I clutched his helping hand with gratitude much to the happiness of my fatiguing muscles. It didn’t matter how I scrambled to the top of the rock wall. The goal was to get up there! In that moment, I didn’t care what others thought of my need for help and the reality is they didn’t think anything of it. They were happy to see me successful.
2. Motivation comes from unexpected sources. Before this trip, I had never hiked up mountains or slept in tents. I embraced the trek as a fit person with a good chance of making it due to a 7-day approach and being accustomed to the altitude in Denver. When we started the climb, it was clear that the others were more experienced. They felt comfortable in their hiking boots. They were faster and more agile. Instead of feeling lifted by their ease and confidence, I wondered why I even attempted the trip. The second day, it was the other least experienced hiker that motivated me through her own self-questioning but steadfast determination. Plus, she told ME that I motivated HER! Therefore, failure was not an option for either of us. Through mutual encouragement including that of our guides and fellow hikers, we made it to the top. Moral of the story: You don’t have to be the best to inspire others. You inspire them through your understanding, authenticity, laughter and collaboration towards the common goal.
1. The people were the BEST part of the adventure. The main reason I accepted the Kili challenge was because two extraordinary women invited me. Laurel Werner had climbed Kilimanjaro the previous year with her family. Laurel was so moved by the experience that she created the Kilimanjaro Technology Foundation to support rural African communities in Tanzania. You can find the KiliTech website HERE. Next was Nomi Bergman, President of Bright House Networks, which is currently being sold to Charter Communications in a deal valued over $10 billion. Nomi is well known in the cable industry for her operations, technology and leadership savvy. How could I possibly say no to such an unbelievable journey with such fantastic women?
It gets even better. The remaining three trekkers that we met on the trip were, Ann Oppenheim, Bob Hand and Christina Lane, each one incredibly funny and special. Plus our team of guides, porters and kitchen support were genuinely caring people. Head guide and master motivator was Onesphory Mtui. Thanks to all of these people our entire adventure was wrapped in laughter and joy.
Yes, we made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro together. It was a life experience I’ll never forget. Thomson Safaris was our tour company and made sure we were prepared, safe and comfortable as possible. For those that are interested in what the trek was like, HERE is a video pieced together by Nomi’s daughter, Dori. We’re grateful to her for taking the time to create it. Enjoy!

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