Summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro

By Heather Backman

There is a phrase that says, “No pain, no gain!” While I don’t love that saying, there is a universal law at play here. Without one opposite, the other cannot exist and therefore would be meaningless. Opposing forces bring life, variety, meaning, and joy into this world.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “With great victory, comes great sacrifice.” As a young adult I had a dream to go to Africa. Later on, the opportunity came, but with that opportunity came the chance to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro if we chose to extend our trip 1 week and pay a little extra! My best friend and I jumped at the chance. We were warned to train 5 days a week for the next 3 months before our trip was to commence. So we did just that! 

I sacrificed time with friends and family to be in the gym doing anything I thought would help me prepare to reach the summit of the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. I ran, did the stair stepper, the elliptical, lifted weights, etc. I worked hard to prepare my body for this once in a lifetime experience.

Time came to fly to Africa. I was sooo excited! I could hardly sleep the night we arrived. It was an incredible trip filled with humanitarian service and fun. I loved the people, loved the beautiful savannah, and loved serving. At the end, those of us who decided to extend our trip to climb the mountain said goodbye to the rest who chose to fly home. We took our camping gear and ascended the mountain. We hiked and walked nearly all day every day for several days. We went through several different climate zones – sea level, rainforest, mooreland, desert, and arctic summit. It was so beautiful! My favorite was when we were hiking in the clouds. It was so mystical! 

The final day came, the ascent was very steep and we gained elevation very quickly. In fact, you gain it so quickly that the African porters recommended we climb it in the middle of the night so that our eyes wouldn’t play tricks on us because of how steep its rocky mountain face is. 

By this point I had learned that my best friend and I were the ONLY ones who took the instructions seriously about training for this expedition. And this last ascent, it showed!! All but my best friend and I experienced mild to severe repercussions. Several were nauseous and having hallucinations, a few couldn’t stop throwing up, one kept passing out, and one had no strength to walk anymore and had to be carried up to the summit by the African porters. I was amazed that these people’s choice to neglect putting in the work and sacrifice to prepare, caused them to have such hard experiences and not be able to enjoy the journey as much nor fully enjoy summiting the mountain. I was so grateful I had done the work and had sacrificed my time to prepare!

Being at the top was incredible! I loved the entire experience! I could see the curvature of the earth up there. IT WAS INCREDIBLE!!! I have photos that capture the bow of the sky. It was unlike anything I had ever seen! Because of my preparation and hard work, I was not only able to enjoy every step of the way, but I was also able to fully feel and experience the VICTORY at the top! Great sacrifice brings forth great rewards!


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Heather Backman
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2 Responses

  1. I agree with Marina. I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in 2015 when I was 60 years old. I had good general fitness but did not do any special training. The reason my companions and I were successful is that we took a longer route to reach the summit, giving us more time to acclimate and avoid mountain sickness. We were also supported by a terrific team of leaders and porters, all locals, without whom we would not have reached the summit.

  2. Congratulation on your climb! Having reached the summit of Kilimanjaro recently I know what an accomplishment it is. However, I will say that it sounds like your fellow climbers were suffering from AMS (altitude sickness) which made it harder for them to summit, not necessarily lack of training. AMS can strike anyone regardless of how fit or healthy they are.

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