The top of Kilimanjaro, en route.
"The Mountain will set you free"
These were the words that the briefing representative from Nature Discovery Tours said to us as we sat on the porch of our room at the Mt. Meru Hotel in Arusha, Tanzania, on June 24, 2000. It was the day before my climbing partner Susanne and I were to begin our ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak and the world’s highest free-standing mountain.
These were also the words that echoed through my mind many times during our week-long trek on the mountain, becoming, if not a mantra, than at least a primary motivation for continuing the trek when it seemed too difficult to continue.
Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa at 19,340 feet. The highest point on the mountain is Uhuru Peak. Uhuru means "freedom" in Swahili. I’m sure people decide to climb Kilimanjaro—Kili for short—for many different reasons. After climbing the mountain myself, I know that a person must be absolutely committed to reaching the peak, for whatever reason, or it won’t happen. A commitment to climb Kili must be absolute.
My climbing partner Susanne was climbing Kili to raise money for Cheetah Conservation, a cause to which she is dedicated. On a personal level, she wanted to rise above health problems that years before created a stumbling block on her road to becoming an Olympic sprinter. My personal reason for climbing was similar. Having spent all my life battling obesity and yo-yo dieting, I had finally reached a point where my weight was under control: a five-year-plus regimen of exercise and sensible eating left me 200 pounds lighter, a 42-year-old, strong and healthy woman—but I wanted to climb the mountain to prove that to myself finally, to erase lingering doubts about who I am and my limitations due to my weight. I wanted to leave my past behind once and for all. My goal was to bury the worst "fat picture" of myself that I could find at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The Mountain would, in effect, set us both free.
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