This “Why I Climb” is dedicated to Mike King.
Mike is one of the founders of Survivor Summit, an organization which aims to lead cancer survivors and their supporters on life-altering journeys. The mission of this great organization is to inspire survivors, fighters, and communities to challenge the mental and physical boundaries associated with cancer.
Our climb of Kilimanjaro was the inaugural event for Survivor Summit, and the funds we raised benefited LIVESTRONG’s cancer programs and services. Mike and his brothers formulated the idea for the climb after Mike had summitted Kilimanjaro through a leadership program available at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
So, a funny story about Mike is that he was wholly unprepared for his first trip to Africa’s highest peak because he didn’t bring the right gear at all. His sleeping bag was soaked at one point, and as a result, he had a few uncomfortably cold nights on the way to summit. But he still made it to the 19,341 foot peak, which speaks to the strength of his character and his determination.
This time around, Mike was so prepared; he had all the correct equipment and was able to lead the rest of us during conference calls when we were unsure about what to expect. If we needed to call him to ask him a question, he’d get back to us immediately. Additionally, he helped prepare all of our logistics and rescue insurance, and made sure that everything was attended to before we landed in Tanzania.
But I think being a leader is more than making sure that the odds-and-ends are all secured. Instead, I believe that a good leader is someone who shows genuine care and concern for others, and wants to see everyone succeed, even if it means taking a little longer than expected. Mike was an exceptional leader in this respect, as he often checked in on everyone during the climb, and would slow his pace down to reflect that of his teammates.
One of the things I will always fondly remember about Mike happened on Summit Day. Our plan was to break up into three groups, with:
Team Mindy (Mindy, Lachlan, Daniel, and Chad, with Earth Treks’ Nelson Laur leading), leaving first for Uhuru peak at 10:30 p.m.
Team K2 (Kim, Katie, Scott S., Scott A., Brian, Amy, and Danny, with Earth Treks’ Chris Warner leading) departing for summit at 11:30 p.m.
And Team Simba (Mike, Mona, Caroline, Missy, Chasse, and I) taking off after midnight.
The group I was with ended up passing the other groups within the first three hours or so of the climb (probably because we were motivated to climb quickly since it was so cold!). We made it to Stella Point by 6:30 a.m., and walked to the summit by 7:00 a.m. to watch the sun rise. Temperatures were -35 degree Fahrenheit. We took photos and held our honor flag high. We were instructed to make it down to Barafu camp after about 30 minutes. Missy and Caroline were beginning to develop headaches, so they took off quickly for the camp below. It looked like the rest of us would follow suit.
As I got ready to head for Barafu with Mona and Chasse, I planted my heels into the scree to ski down with my trekking poles. I then turned to see Mike looking elated to see the other group at Stella Point. He said that he was physically fine and that he wanted to hand off our honor flag to Team K2 and see how they were doing. Basically, he was going to stick around on the top of the mountain and summit twice that morning.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. I descended 4,000 feet to Barafu, all the while remembering the incredible leadership Mike had just displayed. I think he would have stayed for the rest of the day to see Team Mindy summit, too, if it had been physically possible. Mike was amazing that morning, as he made sure that our honor flag and our team all made it intact. Our entire team made it to 19,341 feet. The very first Survivor Summit event went off perfectly thanks to Mike.
“Leader.” That word describes Mike King perfectly, and it’s why I climb for him today, tomorrow, and always.