12 August 2016 will forever remain etched on my mind as the day I reached Uhuru Peak, the summit on Kilimanjaro Mountain. Kilimanjaro is situated in Tanzania, a country that shares its border with Malawi. Though it is in the neighboring country, it always seemed so very far away as I did not know how to embark on such an epic journey. That is, until a chance meeting with my friend Kelvin at a local gym in my neighborhood. Kelvin comes from Tanzania and Kilimanjaro shadows his village just outside Moshi, a tourist city from which most hikes are launched.
I had seen Kelvin before at the premises of a mutual client but being an introvert, we did not exchange any words. However, when I saw him again at the gym I was attracted to his gym routine. Kelvin is a very dedicated young man, and when he grabs the iron he pumps it with focus and consistency until the bar just melts before your wandering eyes. I admire such discipline and commitment. Soon he was showing me the ropes, and being that I visit the gym once a month every decade, I appreciated the gesture coming from him.
One day, when I knew he was from East Africa I brought up a topic about Kilimanjaro, the most famous mountain in Africa, which also happens to be the biggest free standing mountain in the world. Standing at 5,895 masl, it is proudly the tallest mountain in Africa. I had seen its snow capped peak shining above the clouds once from the window on a flight that was hopping through Nairobi, the Capital City of Kenya. I was therefore, surprised to hear that Kilimanjaro is in his village, which is roughly in central Tanzania. I immediately protested having been taught in school that Kilimanjaro Mountain was located in Kenya. At least, that was my impression at the time.
And when I expressed my desire to go and see it one day, he brought the sweetest news of 2015. He quietly said that if I was interested in hiking Kilimanjaro, he could connect me with his cousin who runs a professional tour company. It took me less than it takes to blink to accept the offer. I have been trained to analyze situations thoroughly before jumping to a conclusion, and to only commit when 100% sure everything is in place. But then sometimes a moment comes when a lifetime opportunity presents itself, that the conventional wisdom simply does not hold. A moment that requires an instant decision to be made on the spot. This was exactly that special moment. Deep down I knew God had just handed me a special gift and had opened a door I could not have managed to swing out on my own. Kelvin was the key to that door.
So Kelvin got me in touch with his cousin Ulomi, the managing director of Professional Kilimanjaro Adventure (PK Adventure). He also committed to come along with me. This was good news because I knew that he would help me overcome any language barriers, Tanzania being predominantly a Swahili speaking country. My knowledge of this beautiful language is less than the total annual rainfall in a hot desert – it is basically nonexistent.
I got in touch with Ulomi, who promptly sent me all I needed to know to get started, like the list of trails and the corresponding details; the cost of each option; the list of required equipment and hiking gear. The cost of hiring the equipment and the cost of buying it. And so on and forth.
I soon settled for the route and the date of the hike. I picked the 7-Day Machame Route, which has the highest success rate for summiting Kilimanjaro. It is best suited for rookies because it provides enough time for the body to adjust to high altitude. It also has a fantastic view from the beginning to the end, and back. I picked August because that is when the weather is between summer and winter. At this time, it has stopped raining but the dust from summer has not shown up yet. It is a sweet spot, with everything balanced just right. Unfortunately, since the hiking season is still on, the numbers trying to reach the peak will be significant and the prices of things will be enjoying hot summer nights.
Having anchored the dates, it was now time to go into preparations. Kelvin and I, essentially had less than one year to be in peak form and face the biggest challenge in our separate lives at this point. He soon returned to Tanzania and I remained in Malawi, ready to get ready. With Kilimanjaro on my mind, I closed the year with new levels of determination and focus I never knew I possessed. At decision level, I knew this was a point of no return.
I will continue my narration in the next post. So I invite you to come with me and witness each stage as it unfolds.