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Mt Kilimanjaro – challenging the mind and connecting people

Posted by Cam Calkoen on 2019-11-25 16:41:03

Late last year I met with a friend of mine. I was expecting a good conversation but within it he’d say a few words that have led to an experience of a life-time: the words “would you like to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?” Do you reckon I could, was my response… then without to much more thinking my deposit was made for a climb beginning seven months later.

Driving home from the meeting I could have been overthinking what I’d just committed to. I mean I’d never done ANYTHING like this before; I’d never been at high-altitude before, and other than strolling Takapuna Beach, walking wasn’t really something that inspired me. But what does inspire me is challenging the mind and connecting people. Seeing the climb as a vehicle for achieving these is where my mind led. I got home and composed an invitation to 20 people who inspire me.

Very quickly this invitation gained momentum. This is what made things real; this is what motivated me and this is where the training began as building a team built accountability.

Places like Rangitoto, the East Coast Bays, Mt Victoria and North Head became much more than nice things to look at, they became the training ground and nice things to look from, they became part of my vision for climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. I just had to imagine them all at 19,000 feet high.

On Saturday June 9th I boarded a plane bound for Kilimanjaro and on June 11th the climb began. The first day was much like walking on Rangitoto: bush, cloud and sounds of birds but by the end of that day we were above the clouds looking at the pinnacle of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world knowing we still had five days till we would summit.

From that invitation to 20 people came a team of incredibly inspiring people from New Zealand, Australia, America and England. We had 45 porters who blew me away with what they could carry on their heads (including a toilet) and we had nine guides (most of whom had summitted Kilimanjaro 100+ times). As a team we scaled thousand foot walls (with no ropes), we experienced the lows of altitude sickness, we saw people being air rescued each day and others deciding that point was their point to stop.

At 10.30pm on June 14th our final ascent began. At a time when most would be going to sleep it felt pretty surreal to be wrapping up in four layers of winter clothing, 15,000 feet above Africa, closer to the stars and the moon than ever before and knowing for the same amount of time it would take to fly from Auckland to L.A, we’d be walking... walking... walking.

I thought this would take forever. As we were the first to leave base camp there were no torches to follow but knowing who was behind me significantly fueled my engine, not because I was in front but because on this same journey walked faces that inspired me, people who had become whanau. I looked at my watch and it was already 1am, then 3am and then my guide was saying 10 minutes to Stella point, this is at 18,884 feet and I’d been told that once one reached Stella point you could be certain of making it to the top. On that final leg... well... no words could describe the emotion, and at 6.44am I was standing on the highest point in Africa, awaiting and welcoming some pretty inspiring faces.

What I’ve had reinforced as a result of the climb is:

  • Say yes to what inspires you – there were so many reasons to say no; there always would be.
  • Create more reasons to be motivated – forming a team of 20 is what got me there.
  • Slow and steady wins the race – 100% of our team made it to the top. In the early parts of the climb people were passing us, they were some of the same people we hear that didn't make it to the top.

It’s often through the process of attempting the seemingly impossible that the most extraordinary outcomes are achieved. What’s waiting to be either ticked off or added to your bucket list?

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