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Lessons I Learned from the Mountains


Article by Robin Griffiths

Photography by Robin Griffiths

Several years ago, I was on the adventure of a lifetime. At the time, I didn’t realize how it would impact my outlook on life but, looking back, I see many lessons from that trip. I, along with eleven other people, was on the quest to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. This 19,341-foot mountain is in Tanzania, Africa. It is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. The terrain on Kilimanjaro falls into very clear categories. Lower altitudes are forest, the middle is heather, and moorland, and top is basically desert. The beginning of the trip at the base of the mountain is humid, warm tropical weather. As you work your way up the mountain, it becomes colder and then freezing when you reach the summit and the glacier. 

Our group was on a nine-day trek to reach the top and return to the base. Surprisingly, we had 40 porters, two assistant guides and one head guide to help the group on the trip. Climbing Kilimanjaro takes a village. You may not realize it, but for a trip of this magnitude, everything must be carried with you. Think about that for a minute. These porters carried all the tents, food, water, tables, chairs, cooking gear, sleeping bags, and many other items. These incredibly strong people carried an average of 40-50 pounds on their heads. Tanzania is a poorer country, and the porters are grateful to have their jobs. Unbelievably, many of the porters that work on the mountain treks will complete one trip, turn around, and start another.

Lessons I Learned

Okay, back to the lessons learned on the trip. First is the lesson of getting along for the common good. When you have that many people on the side of a mountain, you don’t always see things the same way. You have personality differences, but you learn to keep going forward and get along.

The second lesson is group support. Each day is a challenge for someone in the group. It may be a slight disability or a major fear, but the group encourages each other to continue. They laugh, cry and watch out for potential problems. They are patient with the slowest one in the group and happy for any rest breaks along the way. 

Third is gratitude. You welcome each day when the porters have broken camp that morning and pass you on the trail to set up at the next location. With thanks, you are greeted with a warm meal and drink from the people that are supporting you throughout the trip. Seeing a sunrise or sunset from a different level on the mountain each day opens your eyes to the beauty of our world. You appreciate the wonders our earth provides.

Fourth is finding trust and faith in yourself. You have faith you will continue and trust your boots will hold where you place your foot. You continue to think you will acclimate to the altitude and not be reduced to the sickness that has turn back many just before the summit. 

Fifth is having empathy for others. You find empathy for others when you see the pain of defeat in those who fail to reach the top of the mountain. In your heart, you know it could have been you.

The final lesson is survival and focus. Each day is a survival. The long daily hikes, not bathing, the difficulty breathing thin air, and enduring the cold teaches inner strength. The goal is to complete the trip - period. You find faith in yourself, as well as faith, trust, and the good in others. You understand what you are made of and how much you really can tolerate and still move forward.

What a great learning experience and adventure! These are lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Look for the lessons you can carry with you too.