Tag Archives: Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Trick or treat? Our Climbing Kili for a Cause campaign wraps up on Oct. 31st

Before Blake and I went to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro I was invited to appear on Global TV in Calgary to talk about our trip and the reason we were doing it. I re-appeared on Global last weekend as a follow-up to the first interview, to talk about the actual climb (the highlights, the hardest part) and how much money we have raised for Renfrew Educational Services.

Mt. Kilimanjaro looks very far away on Day 2. When the clouds cleared we snapped this picture, our first good view of Kili’s iconic domed summit.

When you appear on TV (totally nervous, especially the first time), you wonder if anyone will watch and, if they do, whether you’ll get your message across successfully (e.g. will every person in Calgary donate money to Renfrew Educational Services?). There’s really no way to know, which is why it’s always nice to get viewer feedback. This e-mail (edited and excerpted, below) arrived in my in-box shortly after my appearance and made me feel like it’s all been worthwhile:

“I just saw your Global TV story, and was promted to write to you to say congratulations to both you and your husband for your efforts to help Renfrew Educational Services.

My daughter attended the main campus of Renfrew in the N.E. for two years, she too was special needs.  She suffered from a very rare neurological condition, which left her wheelchair bound and although she struggled with fine motor and gross motor skills she LOVED going to school on the bus everyday.  I agree with all you said, about the teachers, the aides and the support teams there for speech and other therapies…simply incredible people who helped her in so many ways. I will never forget all they did for her and for our family.

Sadly, she passed when she was just four and a half, but not many days go by where I don’t see a school bus and think of her joy and excitement of going to school each day.  I commend you for your efforts and just wanted to let you know how grateful many will be for your efforts which will be helpful to so many other families.”

Of course I know our fundraising campaign has been worthwhile and successful — we’ve raised $7,470, passing our goal! — but this e-mail still made me cry. I know it can be hard for parents of “typical” kids to understand how great a school like Renfrew is for “special” kids like my Bennett. So to hear it from someone who has been there, literally, really hit home.

Renfrew recently asked me to write a story for their semi-annual magazine about our Kili climb and fundraising campaign. I wrote:

“I think the short-term challenge of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was small compared to the life-long mountain of challenges and obstacles that face parents raising children with special needs.

Making it to the top of Kili filled me with a feeling of, “I did it!” It was inspiring — it made me wonder what else I’m capable of doing. Raising Bennett? I now know, thanks in part to Renfrew, I can do this.”

My hope is that other families with children at Renfrew will feel like they can do it, that they’re not alone in a world that becomes harder to navigate when your child has special needs. And of course my other hope is that Renfrew will continue doing what it does best — helping kids soar — thanks to donations like those we received during our four-month-long campaign.

Our Climbing Kili for a Cause fundraising campaign officially wraps up on Oct. 31st, so if you’re feeling generous…

Thank you! Asante sana!

My new mantra: Pole-pole

Before we even set foot in Tanzania, the materials mailed to me and my husband by our trekking company, Climb Kili, warned: “Your guides will set the pace and you may find it almost intolerably slow — bear with them it’s for a good reason.” In Swahili they say, “Pole-pole”  (pronounced polie-polie) and it means “Slowly, slowly.” It’s one of the secrets to helping hikers acclimatize as they gain elevation on Mt. Kilimanjaro — going slowly prevents over-exertion, keeps the heart rate down and helps the body retain water instead of panting it away.

The pace out of the gate was “pole-pole,” which means “intolerably slow” in Swahili.

Indeed, we set off on Day 1 walking at a speed that can only be described as slooooow moooootion. We cracked jokes like, “Hey, let’s stop and take a picture. Wait, never mind! It’s like I’m standing still!” Poor Evance, our pace-setting guide (whose Swahili nickname is actually Pole-pole), had probably heard it all before. (In fact, we were ambling along at such leisure he spent most of Day 2 trying to teach me useful Swahili phrases, such as “Haraka haraka haina baraka,” which means, “There’s is no blessing for going fast.” Got it.)

By Day 3 pole-pole was the new normal. No… Need… To… Rush… The phrase took on a life of its own and became applicable to a lot more than just the pace. Free of my iPhone, camera (Blake took way more pictures with his fancy Pentax) and unrelenting schedule dictated by life with children, I slowed down in a way I hadn’t for years. I let my mind wander as my measured steps transported me up Kili. At the time it felt meditative, and it was. In between thoughts about the kids back in Calgary, writing, life and travel, I noticed rocks and flowers and trees and birds, and always the snowy, domed peak of Kilimanjaro, looming closer by the day.

The summit looks so far away from the Shira Plateau on Day 2. How will we ever get there going pole-pole?

Mostly though I was in the moment, agog over the spectacular scenery, and thinking about the people around me: the tireless porters, the guides who had climbed the mountain over 100 times between them, and our fellow trekkers who, like us, had chosen to spend a week of their life climbing to the highest point in Africa. I enjoyed and relished each day on Kilimanjaro, instead of looking ahead only to the night of our summit hike. As our lead guide Good Luck repeatedly coached us during our before-bed briefing about the next day, “Don’t think about the summit. Hakuna matata (no problem).”

Good Luck took this picture for me at sunrise right after we summited. I didn’t dare remove my gloves!

Well, it was always there, waiting, and we knew where the hike was leading (and that it might be a problem for some because of the altitude), but the pole-pole philosophy was huge in terms of helping us enjoy the journey. Below are some other key elements to our success and enjoyment.

1. Poles (the other pole-pole). I used to scoff at European hikers toting poles. But they really are knee-savers on the downhill, and I credit them with getting me down Kili — we descended some 12,000 feet in two days. Plus, I think they helped tone my triceps.

Our group strikes a pole pose.

2. Gaiters. Well, not really (they did keep my legs remarkably dust-free. And warm), but I did go on about them daily: “I really love my gaiters!” I just embraced my inner hiking dork to the max. That includes the sun hat.

Behold! Gaiter-clad hikers. I wore mine every day, religiously.

3. The porters. These guys were amazing. Even though we left camp before them every morning, they soon passed us on the trail carrying heavy loads (up to 60 lbs) that included our gear, sleeping tents, dining tent, food, table, chairs and the chemical toilet. They did not go pole-pole and when we arrived in camp in the afternoon our tents were set up with the duffles waiting inside.

Our porters ascend through the forest on Day 2 carrying heavy loads.

4. The guides. We had one lead guide and three assistant guides between six clients. Evance (a.k.a. Pole-pole) set the pace, while Good Luck, Francis and Godbless brought up the rear. They also observed us constantly, and asked us how we were doing: “Jambo Lisa?” After so many trips up Kili, the guides probably knew by Day 3 if we would make it. Did I mention they even carried our day packs during the summit push?

Good Luck, a.k.a. Mr. 100 Percent, rests on the trail.

5. The group. Blake and I met our fellow hikers on Day 1. You never know how the group dynamic will be — after all, you’ll be eating every meal with these people for eight days! Fortunately, we had a good group: four men from the U.S. who made great hiking company. As a bonus they thought our jokes were actually funny! We were all in it together from Day 1 and supported one another across the Shira Plateau, over the Barranco Wall, and through the cold night as we pole-polied to the summit.

Our group, minus Jeff and Alan (who were taking summit pictures and missed the group photo memo), poses by the summit sign.

Taken all together, we made it to the top. Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata!

We made it! (Kilimanjaro? Hakuna Matata!)

I write this from Arusha, Tanzania with the exciting news that Blake and I made it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania!

We made it! Woot!

No words can describe the craziness of hiking five hours uphill in the dark, with a small circle of headlamp illuminating the steep, rocky path, nor the excitement of reaching Stella Point and knowing that the summit awaited just a 45 minute walk farther. When we reached the top (6:15 a.m., Sept. 21st) I was  so happy and elated I almost cried (but I think my tears would have frozen from the wind chill!). It was beautiful! And such a hard slog, for a worthy cause (latest tally: $7,070 raised for Renfrew Educational Services!)

I credit our amazing guides from Climb Kili with helping us get acclimatized and make it to the top. Truly an amazing journey. Asante sana!

Jambo, jambo bwana

Habari gani

Nzuri sana

Wageni, mwakari bishwa

Kilimanjaro, hakuna matata!