SUMMITING KILIMANJARO––Discovering endurance and answering the riddle of what is enough

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xplor.earth team summits – Gilman’s Point

His first words to me through the ether about the xplor.earth team at the summit of Kilimanjaro said it all….
“Everyone safe, some not very lucid, but thrilled nevertheless after having pushed body and mind to extreme limits. Proud of the team, from 15 to 53 years old!” Harsh Patil, founder and leader of xplor.earth excursions
High altitude can hamper our physical abilities and our decision-making process. Those feeling the impact of altitude sickness are monitored and helped by the expert guide team. Testing the limits of our physical comfort zone can be a daunting exercise, but so can staying within the lines. Sometimes I wonder about the illusion of safety and why more people don’t say yes to their primal longings.
After reading Harsh’s words, I instantly recalled the thrill of glimpsing Mt. Everest for the first time as I rounded the Everest Base Camp Trail. In the seemingly endless trekking, something deep had shifted inside of me, perhaps on the cellular level.
As a world traveler, I admire people who find a way to go to the ends of the earth to enhance their experiences and their lives. There is always a reason to say no, to put it off, to think that climbing a mountain is out of reach, even crazy. So why would the xplor.earth team do it? Just hours after their successful summit of Kilimanjaro I got my answers.
LE: Harsh, can you share your thoughts on what it means to climb Kilimanjaro? Relive some moments experienced by the ten climbers––made up of one family, six men, one woman, a fifteen-year-old boy, and a man with a dream?
HARSH: These types of climbs are so much more than making a dream come true and more far-reaching than simply checking off an item on a bucket list.
To summit Kilimanjaro is to find out what it means to endure. One discovers what is enough for yourself and for others, for it will demand way more than just enough from you. The most oft repeated question by team members was “How long is the climb today?” “How much more to go?” Minutes turned to endless hours until all sense of time was lost and all some could feel was the merciful screaming of bone and muscle.
LE: Each mountain and mountain range has a distinct personality. Something that infuses the spirit and reveals the mysteries of what it entails to push your physical & mental limits beyond imagination. Can you tell me a bit more about the personality of Kilimanjaro, a mountain I have yet to climb?
Harsh Patil founder xplor.earth – on route to Kikelewa Camp
HARSH: “Kilimanjaro is not only the tallest mountain in Africa, but it is the highest “walkable” peak in the world. As such, it acts as a magnet for people around the world in search of a truly life-punctuating challenge. The mountain is remarkable as it rises out of an otherwise flat and dry landscape, disappearing majestically into the clouds. When the clouds part to permit a view of the snow-covered summit, it is so utterly out of place in Equatorial Africa that one can easily understand why this mystical mountain is the inspiration for so many adventurers. The park itself extends over the whole mountain and down the lower slopes in all directions––almost as far as the surrounding plateau.

LE: For the 6-day, 5-night journey across the popular Rongai route, xplor.earth teamed up with a leading local operator. The team was certainly well set up for the upcoming challenge. What was your view from the top, literally and figuratively?

HARSH: “Pamoja Tunaweza means Together We Can in Swahili. Together we summited and experienced the excitement upon achieving a physical and personal milestone.
The Saddle before Kibo Peak

There was more snow at the peak this time around. As I stood high above the clouds, gazing into the far away Serengeti plain, I recalled what it took to get there, reliving the arduous trek that leads across The Saddle between the two volcanoes of Mawenzi and towering Kibo. Howling winds, blazing sunshine, and the haze over Kibo Hut Camp, which made it appear to get further away with every step. I recall us collapsing in the shade of some boulders to hide from the elements. Now all this hard work and pain was put aside – it had been so worth enduring.

LE: You mentioned that that you were awakened for the summit attempt somewhere between 11PM and midnight and began the ascent with aid of headlamps, reaching Gilman’s Point in time for sunrise over the distant Serengeti plains. When you eventually summited, what was your most vivid thought as you lead 9 novice climbers to the top and made so many dreams come true?

HARSH: “Kili is a special place in Africa and certainly for all mountain climbers. As I reached the top, I felt gratitude towards Mother Nature and the serenity of the place brought forth images of Buddha. Though drained, a sense of calm descended upon me for a few moments. Kilimanjaro may be a non-technical climb, but very arduous and much harder than meets the eye. Five to six hours of trudging up generally well-graded zigzags––this way and that, backwards and forwards in the dark, and uphill all the way––had stretched our bodies beyond their limit. At the summit I cast these thoughts aside as the enormity of the achievement slowly enveloped me.”

The ‘shining mountain’ awaits us – heavenly view night before the summit
LE: As you met the struggles of the climb and helped each other along, what were the most challenging moments along the ascent?
HARSH: “Heading up past Williams Point (5000m) you climb to Hans Meyer Cave (5182m) and all the way the lead guide keeps egging you on––not too fast, not too slow, taking regular rest stops to drink and catch your breath. The air now is incredibly thin, so dizziness and fatigue set in. On our long, 8-plus hours of trekking most days, winds whipped cold and dusty under the blazing sun and tested our willingness to go on. And then with the necessary evil of hydrating so much, we were forced to wake up at odd hours to pee.”
LE: Certainly, awkward night-peeing must have been a surprise for most of the team. I wonder, what was the funniest moment on the ascent?
HARSH: “That’s easy. The funniest moments were of Prasanna falling off to sleep and snoring loudly every chance he got, whether on trail stops or in the mess tent.” I have to laugh recalling snoring moments of my pilgrimages and treks in the past––the moments when world-champion snoring would compromise my best earplugs. The team impressed me with the way they harnessed the incredible ability of napping anywhere at any time.
LE: Did you recall any moments of your first climb on this second summit? What about Kilimanjaro makes it different from any other mountain you’ve ever climbed?

HARSH: “Every turn, rocky outcrop, and mountain stream brought back thrilling memories of my last Kili climb. Its landscape changes every day, beginning with thick rain forest which transforms into montane forest, desert moonscapes, and finally to volcanic ash and rocky wastelands. But all the memories came back in pieces as each day passed. I don’t recall it being as windy as this summit though.”

His vivid poignant pictures of vast desolate landscapes caught my imagination. His fun candid shots of the team brought a wide smile to his face and mine. I wanted to dig a little deeper into the xplor.earth team’s unique experiences, so I asked about their most cherished memories.

High altitude bonding – Kilimanjaro climb a family adventure
“The most challenging part for our family was to keep ourselves hydrated at all times and not curse the fact that we had to wake up at odd hours in the night. This climb meant being together in every sense of the word. We had no time for electronic devices and ways we used to live. We didn’t have phones or iPads or laptops. Connectivity instead meant experiencing togetherness with one another and the beauty around us! We have absolutely enjoyed each and every moment.”
– Nandi, Prassana with 15-year-old son Rishi on a family adventure all the way from Singapore “I think regardless of how far you have climbed there is so much beauty in the mountain––there is beauty in the rainforest, beauty in the desert and beauty at the peak. Whether you summit or not, you will enjoy the trip. Harsh did a great job of sending out information to prepare everyone physically. The moon over Mawenzi peak is absolutely stunning. Do it for the beauty and enjoy your walk in Kilimanjaro park. Enjoy the journey and don’t just focus on the peak. If you are focused on the peak you are going to miss the beauty that is along the way. Thank you Harsh!” –– Vijay Patel, California Scale the peak, but don’t miss the beauty along the way. Sometimes digging deep means to simply surrender––to the mountain, to the pain, to what is enough for you and the climb, and to the mercies that allow you to see the beauty of the journey and forget the struggles.
Laura Elliott writes to encourage with a focus on life-changing, planet-healing stories featuring self-discovery, pilgrimages, ecotravel and journeys of the heart at Laurasmagicday.com.

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