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Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Something stirs outside your tent - muffled voices, crunching footsteps in the snow. Inside your down cocoon it's nice and warm but you can feel the crisp, thin air flowing in and out of your lungs. It's 12:00 am on the sixth day and the moonlit trail to the top of Africa awaits. It's time to get up.

Flashback 8 days: You're jamming energy bars and mittens into the little remaining space in your backpack. "Thick socks," you say aloud, "Don't forget those!" The hand-warmers, the books for the plane; a horn sounds from the street letting you know the car is here to race you through rush hour to JFK. Or is it LGA? You pull the door shut behind you with all the things you need to summit the tallest peak in Africa careening off your back. Then you picture your nightstand and the waist wallet that is sitting on it with probably the only thing you REALLY need inside: your passport.

Africa is a magical place - an enormous place. By the time you realize that it has taken you twenty-four hours to touch down on Tanzanian soil, you start second guessing your perception of size and maps. Turns out you would be right to do so. You swap stories with other weary folk about the insanity of air travel as you wait for the stoic customs agent to stamp your visa. Then you head out of the airport and take your first steps toward what Tanzanians call, "The Mountain."

Uhuru peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro, stands at 5,895 meters above sea level. From your hotel in the surrounding towns of Moshi or Arusha, the peak will likely be shrouded in mystery, but you know it's there. When you were planning your trip behind a computer, you may have heard it whispering to you. Now, as you stand at its base, it beckons with deafening silence.

Strap on your day pack, tighten the laces on your trusty, experienced boots, take a few deep breaths and start walking through the forest, over the rocks, across the streams and into the clouds. Watch the vegetation become sparse and the terrain Martian. Listen as the croaks of the ravens signal your mornings. Smile as your friendly Tanzanian ascent team greets the day with, "Good morning! Coffee or tea?" The stress from your life at home diminishes with the lessening oxygen in the air and you simply are there, in the moment, on The Mountain.

If you want to come face to face with fear, joy, pain, elation, doubt and excitement and discover things about yourself that you didn't know existed, climb a mountain. I know a great one. I won't tell you what it's like to watch the sun rise from the top of Africa, but I will say that you will not return from Kilimanjaro the same person as when you left. I'm going to do my best to make the most of every day, and that's something I learned on The Mountain.

By Sam Combs, Discover Outdoors Guide

Categories: Adventure, People, Education