Kilimanjaro is a strenuous physical challenge under fairly extreme external constraints including altitude and cold. But on the other hand, Kilimanjaro has been called, “Everyman’s Everest,” implying that most people – even ordinary people – should be able to do it.
The REAL challenge to Kilimanjaro is psychological. That mountain has some seriously intimidating mojo. Our Head Guide told us that in his experience (190 ascents over 15 years) the people that perform best on Kilimanjaro are over 50 years old. That is because the 20-somethings while having the obvious physical advantage, have psychological issues that get in the way. They can’t get their heads straight.
Our guides advised us when we started, “While you are climbing, don’t think too much about the mountain. Let the mountain think about you and you can think about the mountain on the way back down.” They were, I think, telling us, don’t let the mountain inside your head. Don’t let it work its Jedi mind tricks on you.
That worked pretty good for me for the first three days and 12000 feet, but then the mountain threw us an exhausting and terrifying 14-hour hike through snow and sleet ending in a midnight descent of an icy cliff – and that managed to get inside my head and eat away at my motivation. We ended up getting to about 14000 feet before we decided we were pushing our luck.
But we had a blast, stretched our capacities, got some exercise, and we count it as a successful expedition even though we didn’t reach Uhuru Peak at 19341 feet. People ask me if we’re going back to complete it. Maybe. It’s likely going to take us a couple of years to get that mountain out of my mind and get my head straight – but by that time I’ll be the perfect age to make another attempt! 😉