The Invisible Journey

As our flight drew near to Kilimanjaro’s JRO airport for landing, I was glued to the window of 27A, camera in hand, waiting to get the first sight and first shot of the mountain we’d traveled so far to see. I imagined my first glimpse of Kilimanjaro would be like Ernest Hemingway penned:

“There, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.”

But it wasn’t. There was no mountain to be seen at all. I was confused and disappointed. How could a mountain big enough to take eight days to climb up not be visible from the sky.

If I couldn’t see it from the sky, I assumed it must be under the clouds. This secretly made me happy that maybe the mountain would look smaller than I imagined and I wouldn’t feel so scared about climbing it when I saw it.

Outside out of the airport we still couldn’t see it. And in the town of Moshi nestled at Kilimanjaro’s base, we still couldn’t sit it. We went to bed and woke up, still no mountain.

We spent two days in town acclimatizing to the time and altitude, renting the gear we needed for climbing, and waiting for the clouds to disappear so we could get our first glimpse. But the closest thing was a directional sign in the town circle pointing which direction the invisible mountain was supposed to be.

We followed the sign and set out, trusting our guide as we started up the invisible mountain.

I took small comfort in the Sunday school story I learned as a kid about God using a giant cloud to lead the people through the desert. (I also tried not to reflect on the fact that these were the same people who were lost for 40 years.)

Settled into camp on the Shira Ridge on the night of our second day it finally happened. The clouds broke. The sun shone. Kilimanjaro showed her beautiful (and very tall) mountain face. I smiled. And then the mountain disappeared again.

The next six days would be similar. We would walk all day in the clouds, not sure which direction – besides up- that the peak was. At night, the clouds would break, the mountain and the incredible stars would watch over us as we attempted to sleep, and as soon as the sun rose, she would hide her face again until the next night.

At first it was frustrating to be climbing a mountain that I never actually got to see. But then I realized that this little journey was very similar to life.

The big goals and dreams are always there, but you don’t have to have them in perfect focus in order to make progress toward reaching them one day and one step at a time.

When we finished the mountain, Kilimanjaro remained hidden. I was worried that we’d never see her again or get to see her whole. On our last night in town, she teased us for a moment, showing her peak above the cloud line. I was estatic.

And then in a beautiful farewell, as I drove out to the airport to leave Tanzania behind, she showed herself in all her glory as a parting gift of sorts.

I didn’t get to see where I was going, but I finally got to see where I had been.


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