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A Force to be Reckoned With: A Journey to the Top of Mount Kilimanjaro (Part 1)

Posted by Suzanne Heskin on 21st Jan 2016

In the summer of 2014, my dear friend Anne called me one day and asked, "Want to climb Kilimanjaro with me?" Anne is always up for travel, adventures and projects, and part of me didn't think this would actually ever happen, so I said yes. James came home and I nonchalantly asked if I could climb it with Anne.

Fast forward a year later. Our team had 9 people, each of whom had raised at least $8k for the American Foundation for Children with AIDs, a charity based out of Harrisburg, PA. Raising that much money was something none of us had done before, nor did we know how it would go. We all succeeded, each accomplishing the task in our own ways. It was hard and humbling, but very rewarding. The generosity of people in my life was impressive, and it was interesting to see who donated and what their response was when approached.

Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa, rising above the plains of East Africa to an impressive 19,341 feet. It's the world's tallest free standing mountain, and while it's climbable (is that a word?) to many, it's still a force to be reckoned with.

On August 1, my friend Donnie and I boarded a flight from Denver to Minneapolis, beginning what would be two weeks of smiles, laughter, blisters, wet wipe baths, tears, dust, and many, many hugs. We flew from Denver to Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro. The flight to Kilimanjaro was full of people who clearly had plans to climb the mountain. I kept eyeing them (obvious with their new packs and boots, just like me), wondering, "will SHE make it up? If THAT guy can do it, surely I can." There was always a chance I wouldn't make it. Altitude does crazy and unpredictable things to people, and doesn't care what shape you're in or how many miles you've logged in your boots.

We landed in the dark at Kilimanjaro airport around 8:30pm and stepped onto the tarmac to feel the warm breeze on our skin; not sticky like I was expecting. Customs and Immigration was easy, and once we had our bags, drivers from the American Foundation for Children with AIDs were there waiting for us. We climbed into a green Land Cruiser and started the two hour drive to where we were staying, Mbahe Farm. The guide (Manase) and driver (Mohammed) poured Swahili words into us, so by the time we got to the farm, we could say things like "where are the stars today?" and "coffee please". I loved being in a place where people say jambo (hello) and hakuna matata (no worries).

The next morning, I woke early and did a wee bit of exploring of the farm. We had a lovely breakfast, including lots of water, coffee from the farm, fresh pineapple, papaya, bananas and passion fruit, banana bread, toast, and omelettes.

After being well fed, lectured about water intake and having our vitals taken (O2 levels, heart rate and respiration rate), Wilson inspected our gear piece by piece, advising us what to pack in our day pack (carried by us) and what to go in the duffel (which would be carried up by a porter and inaccessible during the day).

Wilson liked to talk, but I listened well, as he has summited Kilimanjaro more than 1000 times! I tried to think of something I have done more than 1000 times and all I could think of was eat and sleep...

We were shown how coffee is grown, harvested and processed there on the farm. Interesting process, especially when you get to see it done by hand. Many of our group purchased coffee, supporting the farm. Some of us walked around the village a bit, and had a chance to see how people in Mbahe live. These are the moments that stay with me, that make me grateful for what I have, and remind me that I have more than enough, remind me about what I can share.

We had dinner, drank lots of water, then all headed to bed. Tomorrow we would start climbing.

Read more about Suzanne's climb, and see how you can do your own Climb Up with AFCA.