I sat down with an old high school friend and former US Marine, Kim. She spent some time talking to me on this Kilimanjaro podcast about all things Kilimanjaro. Kim successfully completed the climb in 2010 and had a lot to say about her experience. In this episode, hear about:
- What it takes to summit this epic mountain
- What it was like spending eight years in the US Marines
- Why travel is so important
- …and more!
This Kilimanjaro podcast is part of the travel series on Mount Kilimanjaro. In 2017, I will make my way to Tanzania in Africa to climb the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
Check out this Kilimanjaro Podcast
Countdown to Kilimanjaro
Read All About My Kilimanjaro Adventure Here:
An Embolden Adventure up Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro, an old volcano, is the fourth most prominent peak in the world. Known as “Africa’s Rooftop”, and located on the equator, Kilimanjaro is the tallest point in all of the continent, standing at 19,341 feet.
This mountain climb is not like that of Mount Everest, only reserved for advanced mountaineers with appropriate climbing equipment. Basically, it is a long, gradual walk up a very tall mountain.
However, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is still a difficult feat. High elevation can cause altitude sickness for even the best of hikers. Also, the occasional high winds and the cold temperatures can make the hike uncomfortable. While fatalities are rare – just a 0.01% chance – it is worth noting the dangers of falling rocks, slipping, and advanced altitude sickness.
Climbing to the top is both mentally and physically challenging. Hikers can expect to walk between 3 and 8 hours a day for up to 9 days in total. On the day of summiting, hikers can walk a total of 16 hours, starting in the middle of the night in temperatures as cold as -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius).
As I prepare myself for this epic adventure, I spoke to Kim for guidance and some cheerleading in reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro!
Meet Kim and hear what she had to say about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, her Marine career, working at the Pentagon, and traveling the world.
From High School Friend to Marine
Kim and I shared the same locker area for four years in high school. Little did we know, nearly 20 years later we would be speaking to each other via this new thing called the internet from different parts of the world: Kim now living in Germany and me in New York City. Suffice to say, we had a lot of catching up to do.
Kim is a decorative military veteran who served three tours of duty with the US Marines, including two tours in Iraq. When we parted our ways in high school, Kim took an unconventional route. She enlisted in Marine boot camp with the end goal of working in the intelligence field.
Going into this field straight out of college is tough to do. So she figured, “Go big or go home” and joined the Marines. Then I gasped at the thought:“How was boot camp…Marine boot camp…and as a chick?”
Actually, Kim did not find boot camp to be difficult. “Mentally, just be prepared to know that they are going to knock you down and make you feel worthless. And then they build you up in character.” And that experience shaped her future. “I wouldn’t be the person today or have the experiences I had if I didn’t go through boot camp.”
Upon completing boot camp, the Marines sent her to Okinawa Japan for 6 months. Then she was deployed on a Marine expeditionary unit combat tour, first stationed off the coast of Somalia in Africa. Along the way, she visited exotic places such as the Seychelles, Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and South Korea.
After 9-11 in 2001, Kim was deployed to Kuwait and then Iraq during the war. Going into battle was an entirely new experience for her. “I hadn’t done anything like this before. It was the fear of the unknown,” she shared.
Kim spent a total of 8 years in the in the service. She transitioned into the Pentagon in Washington DC to become an iris and fingerprint expert. This accomplishment was her ultimate objective.
She would never trade those 8 years in the Marines for anything. “I achieved every career goal and then some…I don’t think I’ve had the success I’ve had professionally if not for those 8 years in the Marine Corps.”
The Beauty of Travel
On this podcast, Kim and I share what it was like to work, and succeed, in a cutthroat, male-dominated work environment, as females, for nearly a decade; She in the military and the Pentagon and I on Wall Street as an investment banker. Together we agree that travel has its magic way of adding vibrancy to life.
“Travel is important because it makes you feel alive. It keeps your imagination going,” she says. Kim wants to keep exploring all of the time. Seeing the world and learning about new cultures is not a bucket list for her. Rather she says traveling is her “to-do” list. “If it’s added to the list, then it has to happen,” she says. Nothing should hold anyone back when it comes to travel, Kim believes. “Do it now, don’t wait until the last moment.”
And by end of 2017 when she travels to Norway to see the fjords, Kim will have visited 50 countries.
The travel bug first bit her during the time she was in the Marines. Before enlisting she had traveled only to the Caribbean and Mexico with her family. The military open her eyes to the world beyond her home.
Of the places she has visited, the country of Jordan is one of her favorites. At the time she needed a vacation. Her decision was a last minute one, and she chose Jordan by accident actually. Usually she backwards plans her trips, driven by the cost of airfare and the distance she is willing to travel. Typing in the wrong airport code, she found herself booking a ticket to Amman, the capital of Jordan.
She remembers seeing a photo in her 4th grade geography class of a man reading a newspaper while floating in the Dead Sea in Jordan. And so she was quite excited to see what else the country had to offer. Riding a camel in the Rose City of Petra was one of her favorite moments.
Petra is best known from the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie. It is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ancient Nabataeans built the city and ruled the area from around 170BC until 100AD and during the Jesus era. It was a wealthy city in the desert mountains that benefited from the Frankincense and spice trade routes.
Last year, Kim and I traded stories about Jordan when I was traveling there for a wedding. Hear the podcast and read all about this adventure in Jordan here. And soon enough she and I will be trading stories about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was not something Kim proactively wanted to do. One of her best friends, Allison actually approached her with the idea when Kim returned home from her second tour of duty in Iraq. She considered going so she could see the glaciers on the summit before they disappear. Plus she would be hiking on her 30th birthday. Kim thought climbing Kilimanjaro would be a great way to celebrate this milestone.
For Kim, this climb was the first time she felt was doing something for herself. “I left home for the military at 18. At that point, everything I’ve done has been for someone else: My troops, my fellow Marines, my country.” And when she and Allison reached the summit after having climbed 6 grueling days, they were on the biggest mental high. “After that point, we felt like we could conquer anything,” she recalled.
But they started off on the wrong foot. Allison arrived at the Kilimanjaro Airport to discover that the airline lost her luggage. Kim picked her up at the airport and found her crying. They had to figure out what to do and ended up divvying up Kim’s clothing. “We now look back at this and laugh. We were on the other side of world. All we have each other 8 pairs of clean underwear,” Kim remembers.
And on the way to Africa, Kim realized that Allison picked the hardest of all the routes to climb – the Machame Route.
The trek up to the summit at 19,341 high is more about mental toughness, pushing through the exhaustion in the freezing cold weather.
To add to the exhaustion, the lack of oxygen at the higher altitudes makes breathing difficult. For 6 hours in the middle of the night you ascend 3,000 feet to the summit. Because of the thin air, taking the littlest of steps requires a tremendous amount of effort.
“Be prepared to be tired,” Kim tells me. “Your ass muscles are going to hurt,” she continued. And there is no real way to train for this hike. While I am doing squats, P90X, and long walks around New York City, Kim said the best way to prepare is to just be physically fit. She did no particular training other than going to the gym on a regular basis. Also, she worked on strengthening her back muscles since at the time she was recovering from major back surgery.
And with 8 days of climbing, “you are really going to have to dig deep to make it to the top.” Kim admitted that at one point she wanted to quit and even broke down in tears because she was so cold. However, she kept thinking about the views. The thought of seeing the sunrise over the glaciers was her main motivation to persevere.
After reaching the summit and celebrating this “amazing achievement”, another reward follows: The ”sand run” down the mountain. Tiny, loose volcanic gravel called “scree” cover the trail. Taking large, almost jump-like steps, it feels as if you are running back to basecamp.
However, most importantly, the porters and the guides are the unsung heroes of this adventure. Basically they are superheroes. They carry the heavy gear and the hikers’ luggage. They set up the tents, they cook the meals, and they are the vocal cheerleaders when you need it most.
So as you read this post, I would have already begun my own Kilimanjaro journey. Lets see what happens. Follow along on the adventure here. Read what made me, this New York City gal, want to climb the tallest free standing mountain in all the world. Wish me luck!