WellPath Founder and CEO, Colin Darretta, spent the first few days of the new year fulfilling a dream of his to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. He went on the challenging expedition with a group of his close friends. Upon his return, we eagerly asked Colin questions about the experience and we want to share the details with you.
What inspired you to embark on this journey?
Ever since I first read Hemingway’s seminal short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, as a teenager, I’ve had an almost unnatural fascination with the White Mountain, (as the Swahili and KiChagga translation loosely translates it into meaning). I spent hours trawling across the nascent internet to absorb all the information I could find about the massive volcano that dominated the horizon of a land that was, at the time, incredibly alien to me. In many ways, the idea of Kilimanjaro became a surrogate for everything represented by “the great unknown” as well as my own youthful yearnings for adventure and exploration.
After many years of distant fascination, I finally made my long awaited excursion to Tanzania and climbed the mountain. While climbing Kilimanjaro doesn’t require any technical experience, it is still a strenuous undertaking that does necessitate one to be in at least moderately good shape as well as exhibit a degree of mental toughness. Any endurance athlete will know this sort of toughness well – for the rest of us who haven’t run a marathon or some other comparable challenge – this is a sort of toughness that we may never have called upon in the past. That being said, it is ultimately attainable by nearly anyone who is willing to put a moderate amount of time in training and has made peace with the idea that one will spend much of his/her vacation in fairly Spartan settings. A beach side holiday this is not.
There are many different routes to take while climbing mount kilimanjaro, each with their different pros and cons. Which did you take and How would describe it?
We took the Machame route. It’s likely the second most popular route so you certainly see a number of other groups on the way up so it doesn’t feel remote. For someone seeking isolation, this probably isn’t the best route for them. That being said, it is a popular route for a reason as it’s challenging without being too difficult for anyone who is in reasonably good shape. You climb at a relatively slow pace as you need to acclimate gradually to the increasing altitude and avoid the awful headaches and nausea that are the telltale symptoms of altitude sickness.
Describe what a day on the trail was like.
We woke up around six in the morning when the sun was cresting the horizon, and we would drink host Kilimanjaro tea (which is fantastic, might I add). We quickly threw on our clothes for the day. On most days, it was pretty simple, just hiking pants and a long sleeve wool shirt. Then, we’d have breakfast, which consisted of oatmeal and toast. After that, we loaded up on water, brushed our teeth, and set off for the day.
Most days, we were on the trail by 7:00 or 7:30 AM. From there it would vary, but generally there were about six hours of hiking (with rests in between) to get to the next camp. While this may not seem like much, the point was to get to the next camp early in the day and then spend the remainder of the day hanging out and acclimatizing. This also meant there was a lot of time for reading, journaling and playing cards. Bedtime was early; typically fell asleep by 8:30 or 9:00 PM.
What was your favorite part of the expedition?
It’s hard to pinpoint only one as there were many memorable parts. Of special note was certainly the summit day. Your party departs camp around midnight in a bid to make it to the summit by sunrise. It is cold, steep and many people are suffering from mild altitude sickness at this point. Even if you’re not feeling ill, someone in your group likely is. But reaching Uhuru Peak and looking out over a perfectly clear Africa and seeing the actual rounding of the Earth’s surface is the single greatest view I’ve had in my life. The feeling of this high, juxtaposed against the discomfort (if not outright exhaustion) you’d been feeling only minutes earlier, makes it all the more significant.
What was the hardest part of the journey?
For me it was without question, coming down. The group was eager for a hot shower after nearly a week on the mountain, and therefore, we decided to make the descent down to the nearest entry gate the same day as the summit. That wound up being about eight or so hours of walking down a fairly steep downhill at a pretty brisk pace and my knees were not cooperative. From my years of playing sports like rugby and tennis, I’ve had some lingering knee injuries that for the most part have remained dormant but this sort of stress was enough to wake them back up.
Would you ever climb Mt. Kilimanjaro again?
Sure – if I went with some people who had never gone. It’s really a fantastic experience. That being said, I’m eager to explore new parts of the world and climb some more advanced mountains.
How has this experience changed you as a person? Since you climbed the mountain during the first week of the new year, do you think the experience might shape the rest of your year or change your outlook on life?
It hasn’t changed me as a person in some profound way though I do think there are some powerful lessons that life on the mountain (be it Kilimanjaro or any other) teaches you. Chief amongst them being to focus narrowly on the important things and the task at hand and put everything else out of mind. In our day-to-day lives we inevitably have a lot of unnecessary clutter that takes up our attention and thus time. Much of it is extraneous and can be discarded if we only make a point of doing so.
Beyond the climb itself, I enjoyed the downtime and being disconnected – while it was at first a source of some anxiety to not have a phone for the first time in well over a decade, it provided me the rare opportunity to think and reflect in a truly uninterrupted way.
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