Dear Why Team member,
I hope this week’s message finds you well and encouraged.
This week we consider:
A Height Beyond Sight
On Friday morning, September 21st, just over a week ago, I awoke at midnight in a tent on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.
We had spent the night at high camp, at an altitude of about 16,000 feet and were soon to begin our trek to the Summit. After a light breakfast, we suited up and headed for the trail in the black of the night wearing our headlamps. At 19 degrees, wind chill of 9 degrees, and thin air to breathe, we moved slowly up a steep zigzagging path. The headlamps of trekkers who had left earlier were like a row of stars in the night that reached straight up the steep slope beyond what the eyes could see. Those lights seemed to go on forever - to a height beyond sight. About three hours later, I couldn’t help but notice that the lights up into the night continued to reach beyond sight, but what I could now see, was that I was part of the unseeable for the lights below. I could see that I had come farther than I could see, but also that the path left for me to climb was yet beyond what I could see. I remember reflecting on the well known saying about climbing: “Don’t look down”; but now, the thought I had was: “Don’t Look Up”. Climbing from 16,000 feet to over 19,000 feet in 9 degrees wind-chill was challenging to say the least. I found that the best thing I could do was to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was also encouraging to know that the Sun would eventually rise and thaw out my numbing fingers and toes. When the Sun first broke the horizon, it looked both beautiful and encouraging. The dark, cold night was not to last forever. And just over six hours from when we began that morning and on our sixth day of climbing, we reached the Summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
From this trip, I now have a mountain of metaphors and analogies to share with you in the coming months; but why not start at the top? That early night of our Summit run was the culmination of months of planning, training and traveling over 7,000 miles from home - almost halfway around the world - over 60 hours of travel time just to get to Tanzania and back; plus over 40 hours of trekking on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
It took the work of a 42 person crew to get 8 climbers to the top: porters, cooks, guides and the leadership of Matt Walker. Matt took me up the Mt. Baker glacier last year. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for my fellow climbers and all those involved to make this the absolute trip of a lifetime. Matt often speaks of adventure learning: what can be learned only in the adventure. There is a saying that adversity doesn’t make us, it reveals us. My experience is that adventure helps reveal us to us - and through these new eyes to see and new ears to hear, we are transformed. To be worldly, we must see the world. To see little financial wealth abroad, but great relational and spiritual wealth, it begs the question, what is rich? To see the abundance in joy from those with such lack in resources… Porters and Laborers earn about $5.00 a Day in Tanzania often working 13 hour days. Mountain guides earn about $25.00 a day.
About 30,000 climbers a year make their way to Mt. Kilimanjaro - and the locals have helped those visitors to the top for nearly 100 years. Their care and concern - and the honor they experience for helping us to the top, was palpable. The singing on the long hikes and at the end of each day; there seemed no limit to their enthusiasm and joy. The constant refrain of Hakuna Matata - No worries - made famous by Disney’s Lion King, is truly their spirit on the mountain. Enjoy and have no worries! No doubt they have seen anxiety diminish the experience time and again. Our time on the mountain and the best way to live in the journey was truly Hakuna Matata, an outstanding metaphor for how to live our lives.
It was amazing how cold it was in the morning, only to warm up 20 degrees or more when the sun rose. You learned quickly that bundling up early could mean stripping to a t-shirt in as little as an hour or two. Remembering that cold turned to warmth quickly after sunrise helped us persevere on Summit morning. Yes, it was cold and miserable, and the headlamps did extend steeply up the mountain beyond what the eye could see, but my focus was not to get there quickly or to become impatient with the cold. Mine, was to put one foot in front of the other, knowing that in time, the sun would rise, the warmth would come, and the Summit would be reached.
Our guide Matt Walker said it’s not uncommon for those who can’t go the distance to just change their destination. The words he has heard in their night of discontent, giving up on the journey, were: “This is my Summit”; wherever that was on the mountain when they have quit.
One of my good friends with me on this climb confessed it was the hardest physical thing he had ever done. At one point in the climb, he said he had to direct his mind away from negative thoughts by focusing on positive thoughts; such as his love for his wife and children. Choosing any positive thoughts to push his negatives to the back of his mind helped him push through. He knew that to entertain those negative thoughts would likely not only make the going tougher, but it could also lead to the belief, “This is my Summit”.
What would you do?
Why would you do it?
Consider finding out.
Consider taking a climb of a lifetime.
Pick a date, a year, look forward to it.
With preparation, your odds are very good. But it’s so much more than the Summit itself - that’s the shared goal, as often said: One Team, One Dream, the people, the journey, the environment, and the experience. From the Jungle below, to the glaciers on top. From 80 degrees and humid to 9 degrees wind-chill. From laughter in the mess tent at night to tossing and turning in a sleeping bag for six consecutive nights. Oh, and the dirt and dust! But then, you look up from the ground to find you’re above the clouds and not looking out the window of an airplane. You couldn’t help but take picture after picture. Each day of the climb, on the largest free-standing mountain in the world, was a climb of a lifetime and we had seven of those climbs in a row. Challenging, yes, but as Matt Walker said, “What you can learn in adventure, you can’t learn any other way.”
I asked my good friend Bill at one point in our journey: What’s the farthest you have been from home? He said: “Right Here”. Then I asked: “What’s the highest altitude on land that you have ever been? To which he also responded: “Right Here”.
It was amazing to experience that each step we were taking was higher than we had ever been.
The welcome reception, at the end of our journey, from the locals that made the Summit possible, was so fitting and fun.
A day to go on Safari before flying home was just more icing on the cake. And, as we departed from Kilimanjaro for Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines, we were gifted with a final view of the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro from our plane.
It occurred to me last year, that if I am to inspire others to new heights, I must aspire to reach new heights myself.
It is my wish that this journey will inspire you to schedule your own.
Choose a date, check out http://mattwalkeradventure.com
Find someone who has gone before you and allow them to guide you on an adventure of a lifetime. Time is short, and there is so much to experience and to learn about ourselves and the world in which we are so fortunate to live.
Life itself is an adventure beyond sight. Seek to be more present with each new day and consider experiencing a new day in a new environment far away; broadening your perspectives and elevating your gratitude.
The heights may be beyond sight, but if you’re willing to keep taking that next step, who knows the Summits, you’ll reach.
Make it a great week!