In January 2005, I trekked my first mountain – almost 19,000 feet to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I trekked this mountain barely two years after being in very poor health with long-term back pain that prevented me from even walking to the end of my driveway.
Since then, I have trekked in Peru (Lares area, near Mt. Veronica – August 2007); Nepal (Anapurna Base Camp – March 2009); Ecuador (Mt. Cotopaxi – June 2010) and I am hiking around Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in the Alps) in 2014.
What got me into climbing mountains & why do I keep doing it?
I think back and I realize that it had been a long time coming. I flew for the first time when I was ten years old. It was a 40-minute flight that flew over Mt. Kilimanjaro from coastal Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Growing up, I had never seen snow or mountains – and never experienced the majesty of Kilimanjaro full of snow. Looking out at the mountain among the clouds during that flight, getting to the top seemed impossible in my ten-year-old mind.
When I was 16, I won a trip to France to help improve my French language skills, and spent three weeks hiking in the south of France, near the Alps. I was mesmerized at the beauty of the mountains.
Later, living in Canada in my twenties and thirties, I visited Calgary and British Columbia often, as my parents-in-law live in Calgary. Western Canada became a second home for our children during summer vacations, which enabled me and my spouse to spend time every holiday we could camping and traveling through the Rockies.
However, building a career and handling senior volunteer roles, combined with young children and an increasingly painful back, meant I spent less and less time in the mountains, which I had come to love because of their majesty, their beauty, and the peace I found in them – and the (perceived) impossibility of climbing them.
When my health reached its lowest point, I thought that in order to prove that I was well, I would go to one of the highest points I could imagine that did not require oxygen tanks or technical mountain climbing (i.e. ropes, pitons, axes, etc.) and thought of Kilimanjaro – the first mountain I had seen when I was ten years old.
What are the benefits I have enjoyed?
I have had to push myself way beyond what I thought I would ever be capable of, especially high mountain trekking. This has helped me develop grit, confidence, resilience and willpower, as well as highlighted the need for intense preparation. All valuable life lessons.
I have also improved my fitness level dramatically, especially my cardiovascular strength and my endurance.
The beauty and silence of mountains, particularly at high altitudes when there is no one around for miles, and the gorgeous vistas, especially when in the midst of peaks over 25,000 feet high in Nepal, is breathtaking. And the air – always fresh and clean.
The opportunity to bond closely with my daughter, who trekked with me up Kilimanjaro when she was 21 years old, a few years later in Peru, and soon, in the Alps, has been beyond incredible. We have never been so close, and our love of nature and mountains has strengthened our relationship.
Finally, I have been able to inspire others to take up trekking. Not just friends and family, but also high school students through a leadership challenge called Climb for Leaders that I helped co-develop. These students matured immeasurably from the training, fundraising, trekking and effort they put into these trips. They gained a heightened awareness of issues in the world beyond their own borders, changed career directions as a result, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last nine years at many schools in North America, benefitting children in Africa and Asia.
So every opportunity I get, I try to spend time either in and around mountains or trekking. It is a blessing for which I am deeply grateful.