Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves. Thomas Edison

This is one of my favourite quotes and I have found this quote to be so true for me this year. Since deciding to climb Mount Kilimanjaro early in the year, I have found this to be a year of expanding my ideas of what I thought I was capable of doing. This is the value of having a “big” goal or intention that is in alignment with our energy – it forces us to expand and break through our own self imposed limitations, gently and easily.

By allowing my Universe to guide to me the right trip for me, without doing any real research into it, I found myself climbing the 9 day Western Breach route up Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Western Breach
The Western Breach

When getting my travel insurance the week before I left for Africa, I found out (to my horror) that this route required extra insurance, as it included a lot of rock climbing and scrambling and we were required to wear helmets because of the danger of rock slides. If I had known this before, I would not have signed up for this route as this is something that I would have thought I was not capable of doing. I would have thought it too scary for me! In fact, if I had seen pictures of what we did actually do, I would not have thought I could have done it at all. But, when faced with all these rocks I found it easy to scramble and climb up them. It was not scary at all, it was fun! I also did it all without walking poles, which the rest of the group used, to help with balance on the rocks and take the pressure of your legs. I knew my legs were strong and I trusted my balance so I “knew” I could to do it without.

Climbing the rocks of the Breach
Climbing the rocks of the Breach

Most of our days included around 4 – 7 hours climbing, moving up through the 5 climatic zones on Kilimanjaro – the rain forest, the heather zone, the moorland zone, the alpine desert and the glacial/arctic zone. We saw some amazing scenery as we moved up higher and higher and some of the views, as we looked down from on high, were stunning.

The day we had to climb the Western Breach, which was a huge rock face at the top of what seemed to be an almost vertical slope of rocks, we had to start at 5am, knowing we had at least an 8 hour climb ahead of us. We got up at 4am and had breakfast at 4.30am. I had found it very difficult to sleep in my tent that night – I was so cold, un-comfy and found it hard with the noises all around me. Twice that night I had got up to go to the loo and looked up at the Breach which we were camped below. It was a very clear night with an almost full moon shining right over the top of the Breach, and although it was absolutely beautiful,  the climb looked impossible to me. I felt I just couldn’t do it – it looked far too steep! By the time we got up at 4am I was feeling really negative about it and at that point I wanted to go home!! I knew I had to change the way I felt about it or I would never get up the Breach. So, I asked my Higher Mind for a total change of perspective on this – I asked to be able to see this climb differently.

What happened was that as we started to climb in the dark, I saw that we were surrounded by really beautiful rocks. They were all different colours with what looked like little crystals in them glinting in the light of my head torch. I loved this and spent the entire climb, while we were in the darkness, admiring all these gorgeous looking rocks. I wasn’t thinking about how steep the slope was; I wasn’t thinking “I didn’t want to do this,” I was just looking left and right at all the pretty rocks that were shining at me. I loved it and realised that I was gradually overtaking the rest of my group, having started off at the back, and soon ended up right at the front behind our leader, Wilbert.

Once the sun had risen we were treated to more and more beautiful scenery.

You can see where we came from in this photo
You can see where we came from in this photo

As we climbed the rock face of the Breach I was still enjoying the scenery and did not notice how much climbing and scrambling we were doing. Some of the time we were in the sun and because we were so high, much of the time the clouds were swirling around us, hiding some of the furthest rocks. By this time we were at a very high altitude, around 18,000ft, so whenever I stopped I focused on my breathing, bringing it down into my abdomen in a full “meditation” breath, using as much of my lungs as I could. When we finally made it to the top of the Breach we were rewarded with being really close to one of the glaciers on Kilimanjaro – something I have never been so close to before. It was truly beautiful!

One of the glaciers on the Crater Rim
One of the glaciers on the Crater Rim

For all the climbing we did, I did my best to stay as present as possible. I used my walking meditation a lot to help with this. We were often having to climb on very steep slopes for hours, so by not looking at the top and staying focused on where I was at that present moment in time, I did not get into thinking “oh no, how much further!” I actually really enjoyed all of our climbing and did not find it hard, because I was staying so present. It made me reflect that with so many things that we are focused on achieving, they do seem a long way off and often a big thing to achieve, but if we stay present with our experience as it happens moment to moment, achieving them is easy and we are not focused on the challenge ahead of us.

For me this whole experience has been one of wonderful expansion. At the beginning of the year I thought I could probably just about run a mile – now I know I can run 5; I thought I could walk about 6 – 8 miles, now I know I can easily walk 18; I thought I would never be brave enough to do any rock climbing or scrambling – now I know I actually enjoy it and can trust my own abilities much more. I have also expanded into many other new areas – many new friends made, new places that I have been to and explored, new parts of Africa that I now know a little about.

Certainly too there were things I did not enjoy so much on the climb. I did not like the night times when I could not sleep and lay awake for hours knowing I had a lot of climbing to do the following morning; apparently I got a blood clot in my left lung on the flight out to Tanzania (according to the lovely paramedic in our group who examined me as best as possible in the camp) which meant I was in a lot of pain at night; I have never been so cold in my whole life as the altitude draws any heat out of you very easily and I found it frustrating that at high altitudes even just putting a walking boot on made you puff with exertion as there was so little oxygen in the air. Having said that, I was really grateful that I did not have any symptoms of sickness from the altitude, and unlike many others who climb Kilimanjaro, I did not take drugs to combat the effects of the altitude. I did take the herb Ginko Biloba to help with this and it seemed to work very well for me along with the homeopathic remedy Coca. I also made sure to drink at least 4 litres or more of water every day that helps combat the effects of the altitude and the exertions. But most important of all I listened to my body about everything I did including how fast I could climb, when I needed to stop and rest/drink/eat and that is without doubt the thing that helped me the most.

All in all, it has been a wonderful year for me and I now know “if we did … the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”

On the summit of Kilimanjaro, under many layers of clothes!
On the summit of Kilimanjaro, under many layers of clothes!

Who is Sarah Alexander

Sarah is passionate about supporting business professionals and entrepreneurs in undergoing amazing personal transformation whilst achieving results within their career with low stress.

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