Jeremy Keckler, a Junior at UConn, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with one of our first trekking groups and he's here today as one of our guest bloggers to recount his experience on the mountain.
Stepping into JFK with packs full of new gear, the full implications of trying to climb the world’s tallest freestanding mountain hadn’t hit me yet. We met Simon at the airport in New York to get a final briefing on our travel plans and to meet Tom, our travel leader. We met the teams from Boston University and Penn State as we were waiting in the terminal. While we didn’t know each other quite yet, we all shared the same sense of excitement.
We found Tom on the tarmac in Tanzania. He helped us through customs and onto the buses to take us to our hotel in Moshi. It was late when we arrived, but after traveling across eight time zones it felt like mid-afternoon. At the hotel, there was a common room with WiFi to let our parents know we made it there safely, an enjoyable tropical climate, and a well-kept courtyard. Instead of sleeping, we hung out under the umbrellaed tables until sunrise.
We spent the next day exploring the City of Moshi with a local guide from the hotel. We walked into the market through a maze of narrow twists and turns between vendors. They had stands stacked with unrefrigerated meats, foreign vegetables, livestock, odd trinkets, and signs for Coca-Cola everywhere. It was a chaotic mess that only locals seemed to understand. Clearly, we were tourists.
My first tip for any first time trekkers is to master your camera skills so that your phone or camera doesn’t get in your way your experience. If you get a chance to walk around the markets in Moshi, try holding your phone flat against your chest and take photos of what is in front of you using the volume button. That way you can get an unobstructed experience and some great memories like this:
The next day we left for the mountain. The magnitude of what we were doing was real and so were our nerves. When you first look at the mountain, it ascends into the clouds. If you keep looking up, the mountain reappears above the clouds and you feel impossibly small.
At the gate of Machame trail, we met up with expedition leader, Yesse, and his motivated team of mountain guides who would end up pushing us and even carrying some of us at some points along the way. They have the hardest job on the mountain carrying extra packs, cooking, and keeping us safe. Even with the extra burdens, they were undeniably positive, and instilled a belief in everyone on the trip with a simple chant:
“Strong Heart, Strong Mind. Just dream it, don’t think it.”
Each day got a little bit harder, and then it got incredibly hard all at once. The first challenge was getting to know each other well, and fast. Over the course of a day of hiking, we shared music, told stories, and learned about the lives of the mountain guides. I shared a tent with a freshman from Penn State who I met on the way down. He and I were carrying a lot of GoPro equipment and we were both trying to figure out how to take ‘epic’ time lapses. Not too long after, our relationship will hit the next level as mother nature called and we had to share a roll of toilet paper...
In a situation like this, sharing a tent, you begin to see each other’s strengths and weaknesses as the demands of the trek begin to break you down. No matter what, don’t be a complainer! You always should do what is in the best interest of both of you; You’re basically a couple now! [ Pro tip: It is going to smell in that tent. Be extra respectful of each other’s stench. You smell just bad. The best way to show respect is to maintain your personal hygiene and take your boots off outside.]
When you arrive at base camp, you reach the point where the trek becomes a challenge of mental fortitude. Base camp is where it gets incredibly hard all at once. You try to eating, but it is a struggle. Then you “go to bed” at 7:30 PM before you depart for the summit around 11 PM the same night. It’s freezing, it’s dark, and you are almost there. Your body can’t recover and the lack of oxygen is telling your body to go back down every step of the way up. The music has stopped playing and there were no more stories being told.
Your only view is of your feet, outlined by a spotlight from your headlamp. Polé, Polé (slowly, slowly) the guides would repeat. The involuntary task of breathing became your only thought. Our single file train of trekkers was moving at a crawling pace for nine hours straight. You will begin to question yourself. A few hours into the summit one of our trekkers, Noelle, started going in and out of consciousness. Two guides took her pack from her and helped her back down to base camp. You realize that not everyone is able to make it to the summit. Am I going to be one of them? It wasn’t until the sun came up the next morning that my confidence was restored. The constant battle of telling myself not to breakdown had subsided because the top was in sight.
Everyone goes through this part in their own way both physically and mentally. The last challenge you face is how you will get through it. I advise you draw your motivation from the people around you. Share the moment. It is going to be a hurdle only you will know how to overcome when you get there. But I promise it is worth it.
Jeremy Keckler UCONN
Jeremy is currently a Junior at the University of Connecticut studying marketing. He is originally from Brandford, CT and plays on his university's club soccer team as well. In May 2018, He will be leading a group of 20+ trekkers with Choose a Challenge on a new challenge to the ruins of Machu Picchu. check out his team's page here.