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Summiting Kilimanjaro

When I first started in real estate thirty-two years ago, the company I was with brought in Laurie Skesrit, the first Canadian to climb Mount Everest. As a motivational speaker, he was meant to inspire agents to reach the peak of their potential. I found his presentation captivating. Although I would never come to have the desire to climb Everest, the thought of such an undertaking stuck with me. The challenge most certainly peaked my interest.

About fourteen years later, a colleague in my office was preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa with Summits of Hope, a charity for Children’s Hospital. I remember being so in awe of his determination. He was taking donations to place flags on the top of the mountain and, since my father had recently passed away, I purchased a flag in my dad’s honour. I thought at the time that if this fellow realtor could do such a climb perhaps one day I could as well.

Years later the premier of our province, Gordon Campbell, did the same Kilimanjaro climb and it was then that I started to think I should give it a try. The climb is not technical in nature, no crampons, ropes or crevices to overcome, but the mountain is 19,450 feet high so problems with altitude can be an issue. I started talking openly about it and finally decided it would be my goal for my sixtieth birthday. My husband and I planned the trip and then started hiking in preparation.

In Tanzania, hiking Kilimanjaro is a highly regulated enterprise that provides employment, so we were joined on our excursion by two guides, a cook and a server, and ten porters. Imagine having a crew of fourteen for just the two of us! When we arrived at the base of Kilimanjaro I was terrified, but I knew that like any goal worth achieving it would require a lot of hard work. For the next eight nights my husband and I slept in a small tent and our only other shelter was the occasional use of a dining tent that doubled as a sleeping space for some of the porters. We were fed well and guided every minute of the day. The daily treks were hard and we were constantly instructed to move slowly to allow our bodies to adjust to the altitude. On day five we approached a solid rock wall to overcome but the narrowest of paths allowed us to safely traverse.

On day six we reached the base camp and went to bed early knowing we would be woken at 11:30 pm to get dressed and prepare to summit (we slept in most of our clothing anyway because it was so cold). We left our camp in the dark with our two guides, one in front and one behind. We had headlamps on to illuminate the trail and we were dressed as warmly as possible. One slow step at a time up a very steep 4.5 km trail got us to Stella point in just over five hours. The wind was blowing and our Camelback watering tubes were frozen solid, but we made it. We had another forty-five minute hike to Uhuru point (the peak of Kibo, the highest of the three Kilimanjaro craters) but that last kilometer was much easier and, despite the altitude, I was so excited I was practically skipping to the top. It certainly helped that, as we were making the last push, a beautiful African sunrise greeted us.

We reached the summit sign post, hugged our guides, took the obligatory photos and then had a good look around. It was an amazing view of the glaciers, the crater, and beyond. We were so thrilled to have made it - what a wonderful feeling. We probably stayed less than fifteen minutes because of the cold and altitude but it was with pure elation that we headed back down to the base camp. Thankfully, the altitude was never a big problem for my husband or myself with only slight symptoms on various days. The next morning, as we headed out for our last ten-kilometer hike to the exit gate and the bus back to our hotel, I can say that it was one of the happier days of my life.

I understand that hiking Kilimanjaro might not be for everyone, but everyone has aspirations. For me, deciding to take on the challenge, executing a plan, and achieving my objective, was a richly rewarding experience. I encourage you to find your Kilimanjaro - it is worth every minute.

N.B. - One of the things I learned throughout our travels in Africa is the high levels of unemployment, and the struggle for families to provide their children an education. One of my clients is Vice-President of Operations for Power of Education Africa (POEA), a Canadian Charitable Foundation that assists girls in impoverished areas of Kenya, gain access to secondary and higher levels of education. Our business spotlight this week features POEA.    

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