Throughout my life, I’ve had moments permanently etched into my memory—instances in time where I’ve taken a mental snapshot of my life and held it close to my heart, in the hopes that I’d never forget, and always be thankful for witnessing. Summit Day on Mount Kilimanjaro was one of them.
Around midnight on July 2, 2012, a group of my teammates and I embarked from high camp at Barafu to head toward the summit.
I will always remember the smell of camp stoves cooking a light breakfast; the wind-whipped chill of the cold mountain air; and the black-indigo of the night sky, with bright stars illuminated all around. I still reminisce about how absolutely cold it was to the bone, and yet my heart was still warm and aflutter with anticipation and excitement
But more than anything, I remember looking out toward Uhuru Peak and seeing traces of headlamps twinkling along a serpentine path on the way to the summit. They were like ants along a trail. Peering up at those small beacons of light made me so nervous while I was preparing my body with enough fuel and clothing for the final 4,000 foot climb.
Soon the time had come to start climbing, one foot in front of the other, slowly, “pole pole” as they say on the mountain—never truly gazing up to see where my group was along the trail, but rather to look out at those blips of light up ahead on the way to summit, and silently cheering them on. It took great effort to see faces, to remove a glove, or to talk with my teammates.
Onward we pressed, until the first vestiges of orange, fuschia, and aubergine made their way over the horizon. I couldn’t look up at the trail of headlamps any longer, only at the heels of the person in front of me. We kept climbing after a tasty treat of hot tea and sugar cookies, and finally made it to Stella Point. A large sign greeted us, but we weren’t done yet. There were still forty five minutes to go before summiting.
As we walked, the sky began to fade into cerulean. It matched the glacier on top of the peak. Finally, off in the distance, we saw the huge green summit sign, and I started to cry tears of joy. They danced down my face and froze on my eyelashes. I swear it actually got colder as we approached Uhuru, but I was warmly comforted with the thought of the people I was summitting for; my uncle, my grandmother, and countless others that I had carried with me from the base.
We posed for photos and reveled in our accomplishments. The glacial winds increased as the sun fully rose, and we wondered how we’d get down the steep incline we had just successfully completed. We traversed back to Stella Point and then planted our heels into the ground and pushed off the land with our trekking poles. We skiied on scree the remaining 4,000 feet below back to Barafu. Exhausted. Elated. Elevated. Happy.
I’ve been back in Austin now for a full year, dealing with the mundane, annoying details of my personal life, and wishing to somehow be transported back to that moment in time I remember so clearly. I can only hope I have more instances in my life like Summit Day, where sounds, sights, and smells remind me that I’m lucky to be alive—and to even be dealing with the nitty-gritty, silly, stupid problems that life throws my way. Some days, it’s harder than others to be thankful.
What I’ve learned, though, is how to summit a challenge, each and every day, whether it’s at 19, 341 feet, or just in my backyard.
Perspective, like memory, is a beautiful thing.
Today marks one year since my teammates and I embarked on our trip to Tanzania to summit Kilimanjaro for charity. Can’t believe how fast time flies sometimes. I’m definitely thinking of my fellow “partners in climb" today, and I’ll wishing us all many more amazing journeys in the years to come.
Fun fact from todaysdocument: today, June 7, 2013, marks the 100 year anniversary of the first documented ascent of the tallest peak in North America, Denali (aka Mount McKinley). Alaskan Native Walter Harper was the first to summit. Be sure to check out the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North Tumblr for more details on the actual ascent.
Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire.
The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down.
You climb the mountain in equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion.
Then when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end, but a unique event in itself.
This leaf has jagged edges. This rock is loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though close.
These are things you should notice anyway.
To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountains, which sustain life, not the top.
It’s been a year since I set up my Tumblr to get the word out about my climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro to fight cancer. Here was my first post, which has since been updated to reflect 365 days, 441 posts, and one very big summit (19,341 feet to be exact—which still sounds crazy) later. Some things have changed, but still there are things that stay the same: I still aspire to be the best person I can be, and each and every day, I’m learning how to do just that. There will be missteps along the way for sure, but all I can do it put one foot in front of the other and keep on climbing.
On January 15, 2012, I publicly announced that I was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with Survivor Summit to help fight cancer. After many miles of traveling on airplanes, over 38 miles of hiking, and climbing 19,341 feet, I summitted the roof of Africa on July 2, 2012.
It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by since I started to fundraise money for a wonderful cause, and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.
But the funny thing about adventure is that it doesn’t always include mountains, expeditions, or crazy goals. Sometimes, life has plans of its own that it likes to throw in, just to keep you on your toes. For me, I’ve definitely had my share of highs this past year, but I also encountered some pretty big lows—like landing myself in the hospital for two days for a recurring health issue.
But even though my expedition up Kili has long since ended, my adventure goes on. I’m reminded of a quote from Yvon Chouinard:
“The word ‘adventure’ has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts.”
I’m not sure why, but in challenging times, this quote really helps bring me some perspective. I have no way of knowing what this year has in store for me, but I hope to learn and grow from whatever challenges—good or bad—may come my way, so that I can savor the “adventure” that is called life.
[When] one climbs, one sees. [When] one descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.
"If you knew of a spectacular mountain that was very, very tall, yet climbable, and if it was well established that from its peak, you could literally see all the love that bathes the world, dance with the angels, and party with the gods: would you curse or celebrate each step you took as you ascended it?…life is that mountain, and each day a step.”