To the Summit and Beyond
Our instructions were to eat dinner and try to get some rest- though at 4,600 meters we were promised little more than short fits of shallow slumber. At 11pm they would wake us, we were to dress warmly, but not wear more than 6 layers on top and 5 layers on bottom. At midnight it was time to go.
This was it. The moment we’d been waiting for and walking towards. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it was now or never.
The ascent to the peak was magical. There were several inches of fresh snow on the ground from the evening storm, and we were truly walking in a winter wonderland.
For nearly 6 hours we moved quietly by glow of our headlamps. The path pointed straight up towards the stars, and at our altitude the constellations seemed just a few meters beyond our grasp. It was still, cold and silent like a Christmas Eve should be.
Time passed faster than we anticipated and before we knew it the horizon had turned a deep red. After such a dark night the sunrise was magical and gave the snow a golden glow as we walked the last 45 minutes to the highest point of Uhuru Peak.
We really made it. I laughed and cried with joy. The last week on the mountain and in the valleys had all been for this very moment.
And then we turned around.
We had reached our goal. It was done. But only, it wasn’t. We were now nearly 6,000 meters in the sky and there wasn’t a helicopter coming to pick us up. We had to rely our incredibly tired legs to carry us all the way down the mountain.
For six days I’d been so worried about the journey up the mountain that I hadn’t taken much time to think about what happened after we reached the top. “Once we get up, the coming down will take care of itself,” I told myself.
As I drug myself 8 hours down the face of Kilimanjaro that day and another 4 hours the next, I had an ephiphany, or mountainside moment of sorts. Living for the summit wasn’t just something I was doing on Kili- it was the way I often lived my life.
I like dreaming big and getting to the peaks. I don’t like the monotonous work that comes after the fireworks go out.
So often we’re so focused on getting to a goal that we completely forget that the work goes on beyond the peak, the launch, or the big break. And the stuff that comes after the great success is often harder because it isn’t exciting or driven by the motivation of uncertainty and potential achievement. There is no wonder or mystery. No fear of failure driving you towards your success.
I’m not sure this is what T.S. Eliot had in mind when he said, “The end is where we start from.” But this is how it felt.
Just because you’ve achieved your dream the work doesn’t automatically finish itself. The hard part is probably just beginning.
Reaching the bottom was the most amazing Christmas gift ever, but in all the excitement, we didn’t forget to write down the lesson:
It doesn’t end at the summit. That is just the start of the journey onward.
Thanks for sticking with me through so many Kilimanjaro stories. Next week, we’ll move onward from Africa with some more tales of travel, giving and living. If you like all the stories be sure to sign up here for our special updates for amazing people. (Don’t worry, it’s free and we don’t believe in junk email)