This “Why I Climb” goes out to our fearless expedition leaders for our Kilimanjaro climb, Earth Treks’ Chris Warner and Nelson Laur.
Leading up to our climb, the Survivor Summit team would convene over conference calls to discuss logistics and equipment with Chris. He took the time to answer all our questions with as much detail as possible. He would always note that his job was to make sure we were safe, which would put my mind at ease. When we arrived in Tanzania, I expected to meet someone who was serious, detailed, regimented, and straight-laced.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
So Chris met us at the airport, and he was ready to joke with us immediately, even when we made our way up the mountain. Yes, he made sure to take care of the important issues that needed to be addressed, but he also wanted to ask us what our favorite road trip movies were or who we thought the worst actress of all time was. Additionally, he wanted to make fun of me for being from New Jersey (takes one to know one, Chris!). His counterpart, Nelson, was no different. He, too, instantly let his awesome personality shine while he led us across the trails of the mountain.
Both of these amazing guys would tell us ridiculous mountaineering tales over breakfast and dinner, then switch into serious discussion about our plans for climbing the following day, and then start joking again without missing a beat. All in all, their demeanor kept us focused and positive, as well as constantly amused.
The hours of hiking would fly by whenever Chris or Nelson were near me. I loved listening to both of them tell us stories, and I also appreciated that I always learned something new from them, whether it was about life, Kilimanjaro, climbing and hiking in general, or movie trivia. These guys had plenty of knowledge and experience to share, and I was always happy to hear about it.
Another great thing about our Earth Treks guides is that they were incredibly smart, quick-thinkers who could pretty much MacGyver their way around any situation. There was always a Plan B, C, or D. I was seriously impressed, for example, when Nelson led Mindy up the Barranco Wall with a rope in case she needed it, and designed a fool-proof, well-executed plan to help her (and the rest of us!) summit.
Chris and Nelson are incredibly well-traveled guys who have pretty much been through it all. And while climbing might be their job, tackling the next mountain or setting a new record isn’t the most important thing to them. Instead, they are very kind men with genuine adoration for their families. When I asked Nelson about the first meal he planned to eat when he got back to the United States, he smiled and replied, “a home-cooked meal. My wife is the best cook.” Same with Chris, whose smile beamed with pride whenever he would talk about how intelligent his young daughter is.
I think that the most valuable lesson I learned from both of them wasn’t: “how to summit a mountain.” It was: “how to live your life with plenty of heart.” Even when the climb was done, Chris and Nelson made sure we didn’t miss the point of it all. They had us sit in a circle and remark on the lessons we learned from/what we admired most about each other. And Chris’ blog post reiterated that our climb was made with great purpose and a lot of love. He wrote, “it is amazing how climbing for others brings out the very best in people.”
It was Chris and Nelson who truly helped bring out the best in all of us, and I will always consider them to be members of our Survivor Summit team. Thanks for everything, guys—I couldn’t have made it without both of you. Today, I climb for you.