Can personal transformation be achieved through adventure travel experiences? This is part 2 of a two-part article by Louis Amoroso on his recent journey to the top of Africa — Mount Kilimanjaro. Part 1 explored the majority of the trip as it unfolded externally. Part 2 below examines the midnight summit ascent as well as internal journey of personal transformation along the way.
The Summit Night
“Go to bed after dinner at 5pm. We will wake you up for tea and biscuits at 11pm. We leave at midnight.” Fortunately, I fell asleep at 6:15 pm. However, fortune proved short-lived, and I woke up as if from a nap at 8:15 pm. Thus it was, that on two hours’ sleep I would push for the summit. Switching on our headlamps at midnight, we hiked single file out of camp and into the darkness.
Many of my layers and accessories for the final push to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro had been safely ensconced in my bag until summit night. Psychologically, it felt reassuring to have an ace or two up my sleeve (pun intended). I wore medium hiking pants, a wicking t-shirt, an REI long sleeve performance shirt, a Mountain Hard Wear hat, and two fleeces. In addition to these standard layers, my “secret weapon” cold-stopping gear included snowboarding pants for my legs, a balaclava for my head, a Helly Hansen shell, winter gloves with liners, and hand warmers.
About an hour into the hike, our group hit a snag when one of our hikers became catatonic. The eldest hiker, at 71, was overcome by a fit of nausea and could not adequately respond to the questions from the lead guide. He was slowly escorted by another guide back to Base Camp. We trudged onward and upward, a bit demoralized at having lost one of our cheerful Australians.
I was underprepared for the mental challenge of the 6 to 7-hour ascent. Every time I looked up the mountain face I saw headlamps, and the silhouette of the mountaintop never seemed to get closer. Our aim was Stella Point, not the true top, but the apex of the most significant uphill. Hours went by, and a glance upward gave no clue to how much longer we would be hiking. It was crowded on the mountain. Groups as large as 40 hikers and guides clogged the narrow path. The times we were stuck at a snail’s pace behind a large group insured that my toes would begin to freeze and cease to wiggle. We took breaks every hour, which meant a slow but steady pace.
Mental challenge and personal transformation
About five and a half hours in, I was ready to curl up on the side of the trail and call it quits; and that’s when our group began to sing Camptown Races. It wouldn’t have made a great recording, but those sounds were voices of resolve and determination. Our lead guide told us afterwards that he had never had a group start singing so far into the ascent. Our spirits were buoyed and we were going to make it!
Reaching Stella Point, tears of relief and ecstasy poured out as I hugged my friends and traded high fives. The night hike had been one of the most mentally exhausting and exhilarating climbs of my life. Stella Point wasn’t the top, but the trail to the summit was now an almost leisurely 45 minutes up a much more gradual slope. The worst was behind us. We walked past 120-foot glaciers rising high into the dawn. Different shades of sunrise glinted off the peak in morning hues of purple, yellow, orange, and red, like an impressionist painting. At the summit, we hiked the final 100 feet our arms locked together. We had done it! Each of us had conquered Kilimanjaro, and maybe conquered a Kilimanjaro that exists inside each of us.
Personal Transformation and self-discovery
Travel can be an escape or a way to decompress, and there in no judgment in that choice. For me, however, travel offers a path to accelerated self-learning, personal discovery, and transformation. Travel is a metaphor for transformation, whereby we leave the comfort of our quotidian to grow and challenge ourselves. These experiences can reveal how to live with greater meaning and purpose back home when I am open to it. On journeys near and far, I am always asking what lesson is available to me on a deeper, spiritual level. Kilimanjaro helped me to value the journey, not just the destination.
On Kilimanjaro, my patience was initially stretched thin as the guides continuously implored us to go “pole, pole” (poh-lay, poh-lay). As an able-bodied and experienced hiker, I know my capabilities and my limits. I felt impatient with the guides and limited by the other hikers. I wanted to speed to the next campsite to read some historical fiction and drink hot chocolate. “Pole, pole” forced me to abandon haste, relax, and focus on people and things all around me. For example, the landscape was strikingly exotic, both lush and barren depending on the altitude. I indulged in the fascinating personal stories of my fellow hikers like Martin, who introduces new technologies to sheep and cattle herders in Southern Australia. The group swapped stories about memorable hikes to Everest Base Camp, the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, and beyond. When the conversation turned to American politics, the Aussies had good-natured fun at the expense of our reality television show presidential candidate.
And guess what? Slowing down turned my impatience to patience, allowing me to luxuriate in the journey itself. It also brought forward gratitude for the present moment. For example, I discovered that I slowed down in the mess tent as well, thankful for each spoonful of pumpkin soup and forkful of chicken stew. I befriended the porter carrying my non-daypack belongings, and our friendly fist bumps became a morning ritual. I soaked in the camaraderie and conversation of the assembled team. My goal is to apply these invaluable lessons of patience and gratitude to the hustle and bustle of life back in Chicago.
Could your life be more “pole, pole?” How could you appreciate even more fully the present moment that is so precious?
Louis Amoroso is a professional coach who uses travel as a medium to accelerate personal transformation, helping successful people transition to higher levels of success in their professional and personal lives. He can be reached at www.TravelLight.world or email@example.com. Louis has an MBA from Duke University and a Masters in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica. He splits time between Santa Monica and Chicago.