Hanna Cofer 

Ubuntu Life Foundation Manager

First of all, I think I have put more thought into this article than I did into deciding to climb Kilimanjaro to begin with.  I decided years ago that I wanted to summit Kilimanjaro, before I had even been to that part of the continent. It was a combination of the lore of the mountain and the need in my life to find a summit, to create for myself the very literal representation of overcoming something. Sometimes when we face heartbreak in our lives we don't get that opportunity to create closure within ourselves and open the next chapter rejuvenated. On my first trip to Kenya with Ubuntu Life I spent some time at Amboseli National Park, watching the majesty of the herds of elephants travel across the Mara with a grace and power that can be felt as much as it can be seen. That cemented it - I would prioritize this as a gift to myself, something we never truly do enough.

 

Climbing Kili was definitely one of the most challenging things I have ever done - mentally and physically. The more days that pass since I summited Uhuru peak, the more distant that pain becomes. But as I listen to the daily voice notes that I created for myself, I am reminded that we are always stronger than we think, in heart and in mind, and that yes - it was hard.

Determination over Experience

A lot of my friends have asked me what fitness level is required for Kili and what I did to train. Honestly, I had big plans to pack up my day pack as I would for the big hike and make regular treks up and down the local greenbelt to prepare. In the end, I decided fairly last minute (2 weeks before leaving Austin) to book the trek during my summer trip to Kenya, so my 'training' time came down to 2 local hikes and a few preparation hikes in Kenya, in the Karura Forest which was flat and definitely not a preparation for anything except my mindset, and on Mount Longenot, which was much more difficult than expected and honestly gave me concern about my ability to hike twice that long and hard daily for 6 days. And in the end the Kili 'hike' felt more like being on a stairmaster at the highest intensity for at least 5 hours at a time. 

What it came down to for me was that my determination to climb Kili superseded my inexperience with climbing. I did it because I needed to prove something to myself, not because I thought I could or because I wanted to prove it to anyone else. That desire and determination is the only thing that got me to Uhuru peak.

There were times when I didn't think I could take the next step, that I wanted to take a little nap and head back down to the land of bubble baths and down comforters. But to be honest that never felt like a real option, so I just took the next step, over and over again. Feeling like one of those massive slow moving elephants down below. It was a joy to truly experience that your body is more powerful than you can imagine.

 

 

Something Borrowed, Something New

I. Love. Lists. Much to my delight, there are a million lists out there about what gear to bring on this trip. I printed one such list and headed to REI, ready to expand my repertoire of gear and personalize my experience with fun gadgets. After an hour of aimlessly walking around the store overwhelmed, I walked right back out and called all of the friends in town I knew that had summited Kili. Conveniently enough, there were at least 4 of them. Within a few days, I had everything I needed. And having those pieces of something borrowed during my trek actually made it feel like I had support all around me, literally my friends keeping me warm at night, keeping the ash out of my boots, and keeping me hydrated.

 

The only thing missing were a good pair of hiking boots and appropriate snacks for the trek, which everyone insisted was a game changer. Out of all the hiking I’ve done, I’ve never truly owned a good pair of hiking boots that weren't bulky, heavy, and (honestly) ugly, but a 7 day hike up one of the World’s 7 summits seemed like a good time to invest. It wasn't until I got to Kenya that I had the foresight to try these new boots on with multiple pairs of socks, a necessity on summit day when the temperatures can dip to twenty below zero. 

 

Lucky me, I was spending my days on the Ubuntu land, right next to our incredible Maker Mum studio where they make, among other things, shoes! I asked a favor of one of the staff to see if they could stretch my boots out a bit in the toe so that I didn't lose circulation on summit day and voila! One day later and those bulky wool socks weren't a concern anymore! Forcefully worn in hiking boots, a pile of borrowed gear, a to-go keychain of sriracha (you know, for emergencies), and a plethora of chocolate and I was ready.

Water is like, the best

I'm not particularly good at staying hydrated if you don't count the water in my coffee. My guide Stephen constantly looked back with concern and said 'are you drinking Dada?' - to which I of course lied with a yes, and then promptly chugged as much water as my stomach (and breath) would allow. 

 

Years ago the medical volunteers that spearheaded Ubuntu's pediatric health program invested in securing a clean source of water for the future pediatric medical clinic which we hope to break ground on this fall, with the understanding that water is truly the basis of health. Never before have I felt this truth until the second day of my hike. I expected to wake up tired, weak, and sore. But instead I felt energized and motivated, and my body acclimated to the battle I was putting it through pretty quickly which was an incredible relief. 

Being Grateful

I expected to cry at the top - a culmination of relief from overexertion and emotional buildup to that point. But I didn't. (thankfully, since every other drop of water up there freezes almost immediately) Aside from just being cold and highly uncomfortable, all I felt was an overwhelming, palpable sense of gratitude. For the ones who encouraged me to get there, the ones who made it possible, and countless other appreciations for what allowed me to get where I stood, both in life and on the mountain. 

 

Not only did I get to start my Kilimanjaro journey on Nelson Mandela Day, a fitting tribute to the inspiration that led me to Africa to begin with, I got to summit the mountain on my father's birthday, the person who cast aside any doubt and led me to take the plunge and book the trip.

If you have access to clean water, food, education and a bed to sleep on, you have much more than the rest of the world, especially people in this region. I am grateful to have that perspective regularly though my work with Ubuntu, but it is definitely something that comes more into focus on a trip like this. I continue to be grateful for the experience, and to be able to write this.