Written by Gavin Sklar, 2023 Let Go & Grow Summer Intern
Edited by The LG&G Team
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa late July 2022 was one of the most incredible, challenging, and insightful experiences of my life. It was emotional, fun, and filled with ups and downs. Otherwise known as “Kili” (as I will refer to the mountain throughout the article), Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the “seven summits”– one of the 7 highest peaks in each continent of the world. It is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world– meaning a mountain alone without a mountain range by its side– many times these are past volcanoes. It is located virtually on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, two countries in East Africa. As possibly seen from my past article, “Plunge into Life,” I like to do crazy s***. And Kilimanjaro was no different. Every night before going to bed, I journaled my thoughts from the day. Here, I would like to explore some of my thoughts, emotions, and reflections from the trek, and the lessons that tied them all together.
Before Kilimanjaro, I was on a two-week volunteer program called GIVE with other college-aged students on the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. Every day of those two weeks was so fulfilling and special. After the volunteering, I got the chance to climb Kili with 16 of the other volunteers– an opportunity of a lifetime. There was no chance I was going to pass that up. I love adventures and have learned to love difficult experiences, including the unknown component that comes with them. My response to the opportunity: “f**** yeah let’s go to the top.” We were so fortunate to go with an amazing tour guiding company called Green Paw Adventures.
Unfortunately, at the very end of those exciting two weeks, I heard tragic news. My best friend’s mom had passed away from breast cancer the day before the hike. This is a devastating nightmare, especially happening to any college-aged student- and my best friend was experiencing this. All I wanted to do was give my friend a hug, but he was halfway across the world. I was confused and sad, but also excited for the hike. The night before the hike, I decided to dedicate my trek to my best friend’s mom, him, and his family. I kept the screensaver of my phone as a picture of my friend and his mom, so every time I went to take a picture, I looked at them and they were the frame that held each and every picture.
I prayed every day. I didn’t sleep much. I laughed a lot. And I drank a LOT of water. Every day was different. There was practically a different terrain every day, as well as a different campsite. A tropical rainforest rested at the bottom of the mountain to welcome us warmly, while glaciers and 20℉ (-7℃) winds waited patiently to greet us on the very top.
Although it feels as if I can write a whole book with my insights, here are some of the main lessons I gathered from this experience. These lessons are from conversations along the hike, observations, as well as personal reflections.
The Mountain Speaks, Just Listen
1. “There is beauty in every corner.”
This lesson is from Hannah. A beautiful human, one of the guides on the volunteer portion of the trip, and one of the most fun-loving and good-energy people I’ve ever met.
Hannah noticed that many times throughout each day, behind rocks and stones and along their corners- and despite the cold climate, there were beautiful tiny colorful flowers. They were in dark, hidden places where one may not originally expect.
This is just like along the hike of life. We might be having a terrible day, but then that one person we walk by gives us a smile that lights up our mood. Also, many times people put up their own “stone walls” to hide behind; to hide their true personality and self. And maybe that stone wall is unintentional, being a “mask” such as one’s career, or position that they may have– being accidentally and mistakenly misidentified as themselves.
This lesson helped me realize that no matter the wall someone puts up, or even the wall/barrier they are facing, and no matter how big, there is always beauty on the other side… and always potential for beauty to grow.
2. “Tunatembea Pamoja” – We Walk Together (In the Swahili Language)
This was the slogan of the tour guiding company that took us up Kilimanjaro. We walk together.
It was also a line that was said throughout the hike, and that motivated us to keep going. It taught me that the only way we can climb Kilimanjaro, and the mountain of life, is with the help of others – By walking the journey with people who will lift us up, laugh through the hardship, and show us the way. Together, we will climb our mountains and enjoy the view, but more importantly the journey.
From left to right: Me, “Caterpillar,” and Godrich.
3. “Polé Polé” (pronounced po–leh po–leh) – Slowly Slowly (Also in Swahili)
Pole Pole is a very common phrase in Tanzania and was essential to keep in mind along this trek.
It was the morning of Day 3, and I was overthinking things. We were heading out of the campsite and I was thinking… Do I have everything? Do I have enough water? Did I miss breakfast (even though I just ate)?
Then one of my two hiking poles fell to the ground. I remembered the phrase “Polé Polé” because it is the same word as hiking “pole.” Funny.
I remembered to chill out and go “slowly slowly.” “Trust the journey,” I told myself. I also realized that, relating to the last lesson, we don’t hike with one pole, we use both. I remembered that we are all in it together, and to use both hiking poles– to use each other. We walk together.
Additionally, this day ended up being the hardest of the trip so far, including about 10 hours of hiking. At one of the rest stops, my head was pounding. I was tired and hungry. And also super stoked to be on Kilimanjaro.
One of my tour guides, Sagochi, reminded me: “Pole Pole” with a smile on his face and his fun-loving spirit.
I kept going. We kept going.
4. “To finish strong you need to say I want this. You need to have that passion.”
This lesson is from Makula, one of the tour guides/porters, and one of the most pure and warm-hearted people I have ever met (pictured on the left).
It was day 4 and the day before summiting. Every day got more and more difficult. We came to a rest stop and I sat off to the side by myself to drink some water and catch my breath. Makula came up to me with his smile and asked how I was doing. We started to talk about the mountain, summiting, and his stories– this time was around his 50th time going up. Here’s a snippet of our conversation:
Makula: “To finish strong, you need to say I want this. You need to have that passion.”
Me: “It has been pretty challenging so far.”
Makula: (Immediately after the above sentence) “Challenges are good; they are very important for us to grow”– in his Tanzanian and wise-sounding accent…
I took this lesson to heart. It was exactly what I needed to hear to finish strong. This lesson helped me internalize that challenges are vital. And when facing a big challenge, draw upon the strength of your passion within– the reason why you started.
Conclusion: Life Is Precious
On day 5, we summited and I cried when I saw the last checkpoint sign in the distance on the very top. It was an emotional journey, and I thought of my friend’s mom and their family as I walked with Boaz (another porter) to the summit. This was for them. This was for all of us.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro taught me many lessons… but the greatest one was that life is precious.
Our life or the lives of those around us can be taken at any time. We have a unique opportunity to climb our mountain of life every day. The summit is not the end, it is not the destination. The end of the hike is not the end. It’s all one continuous beautiful journey. There is a lot out of our control– let’s try our best to enjoy and seize every day to the fullest.
Here’s a poem I wrote on day 6 before bed, the day we came down from Kilimanjaro. Make sure to pause for a moment after each section of dashed lines:
Words can’t describe,
What I saw with my eyes.
What I felt with my thighs.
Team champion moving through the night,
We kept putting on a fight, fight, fight.
Oh how special and precious it is,
I wonder the reaction of my kids!
Jenna called it a wall,
Whatever it is, we got it all.
Everything is possible, now I know for sure.
My experiences make me feel secure.
Dancing is how I like to celebrate,
It is even better when there is Kili cake.
Oh the porters are superhuman,
I am apart of GIVE’s team human.
Some say this trip is life changing,
But I like to call it life making.
See you later I say,
We conquered Kili; let’s all say a big big HOORAY!
Shoutout to Give Volunteers and Green Paw Adventures that took us on these amazing adventures. For a tangible program to get to know yourself, LET GO of limiting beliefs, and GROW into a better version of you, check out our Mind Body Reset program.
How will you climb TODAY?
About. Green Paw Adventures. (n.d.). http://www.greenpawadventures.com/about.html
Home – give: Volunteer abroad: Growth international volunteer excursions. GIVE. (2023, June 22). https://www.givevolunteers.org/
Join the mind-body reset. Let Go & Grow. (2022, November 3). https://letgoandgrow.com/mind-body-reset/?wpam_id=13
Sklar, G. (2023e, June 24). Plunge into life: Growing through resistance: Articles, internship articles: Ice bath, perspective. Let Go & Grow. https://letgoandgrow.com/notebook/articles/plunge-into-life/
Gavin Sklar is someone who strives for excellence in everything he does and is. He is passionate about feeling his best within his own body and helping others do the same. Gavin grew up playing plenty of sports with his main sport being baseball where he competed at the Varsity level in High School and was the team captain for his senior year. Sports taught Gavin the values of commitment, discipline, and effort while doing something that he loves. Additionally, growing up as the oldest of 4 children and later on the captain of the high school baseball team, he needed to learn how to lead others in many different ways for both an optimal family and team dynamic. Now, Gavin holds the positions of Content Writer at Let Go & Grow International and President of the Holistic Living Organization at UCF where he aims to grow and impact others on a daily basis.