Thoughts on returning from Kilimanjaro

I’ve been back at home for a week, and it was down to earth with a huge bump. I’m still trying to adjust mentally to “normal life”, and it’s proving very hard. I often get a bit of culture shock combined with post-holiday blues after incredible trips to places with very different cultures, such as after I visited Cuba and Peru, but this time it’s hit me far harder than ever before. The enormity of the challenge and the expectations I put on myself, the sheer physical endurance of the trek, the disappointment of not quite achieving my goals, or maybe just the incredible experience of the whole thing — I’m not sure what the exact cause, but I miss the place and the people in a way that’s never really happened before. It’s probably not helped by the emotional journey of blogging about the trip and constantly reliving the memories, nor by making the (what I think are) quite moving videos of stunning scenery, nor by the lovely correspondence I’ve had with Abraham and Joseph since getting back. They were both very keen to reassure me that my lack of success in summiting was by no means my fault, and that you just have to accept defeat sometimes. The mountain is always going to be superior in the end. Even both of them have had to descend due to altitude problems on at least one occasion, despite having summited hundreds of times. But what really got to me was both the tone and the content of their emails, from which it was very clear that far from being a burden to them, or “just another job”, they also felt a great pride in having done what they could to help me, and the fact that my attitude made them look at things in a different way. Ben Fogle told me the same thing when I met him last year, that the impact that those with physical and mental challenges had on him during his various treks was what made it all worthwhile. Abraham and Joseph told me how much fun I’d made the trip for them, how much they appreciated me learning Swahili and practising it on them, especially with my home-made Swahili jokes, but more importantly, how I’d made them feel special when I’d relied on them for help. They were both keen for me to come back and have another go at the summit, and they clearly want to be the person who helps me finally achieve that goal. So I guess the feeling goes both ways — not only am I indebted to them, but I’d like to think I also gave something back to them too. Joseph was also incredibly proud of the present I gave him, claiming that he would now be the envy of everyone else for looking so smart and neat, and how they would all talk about his wonderful gaiters! I just wish I’d been able to give both him and Abraham something more personal. I did, however, make a little tribute to all the guides with this video (below).

In writing this blog, I haven’t been looking for sympathy, admiration or anything else. But I’ve been overwhelmed with responses about how much people have enjoyed reading about my adventures, not just from the interest point of view but also how much they’ve admired my spirit. Of course, I think it’s mostly a load of nonsense, and there are certainly people who’ve done much more challenging and adventurous things, but a little part of me is still proud of being able to inspire other people occasionally. I’ve posted about some of the gory details not to show particularly the tough things I went through, but as inspiration or advice for others with similar challenges, because that’s the kind of thing that inspires me.

Will I go back for another attempt at Kilimanjaro? Initially, I didn’t think I would. I talked a lot about it with Joseph and the other guides in the last 2 days of the trek, and I felt at the time that I’d still achieved enough, I’d had a fantastic trip, raised nearly £2000 for charity, and I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. Joseph clearly didn’t believe me at the time, and I think he was right. I’m fiercely competitive, and while I don’t have a need to prove anything to anyone else, I do have a need to prove it to myself. Some part of it needs to prove that I was just unlucky with the altitude, and that I could still reach the top. Some part of me wants to see the incredible views on the summit that I only saw later in other people’s photos. But perhaps most of all, some part of me just wants to go back and do it all again with Abraham and Joseph. Maybe a different route, maybe in combination with Mt Meru or Mt Kenya to aid acclimatisation, almost certainly with a daytime ascent though. Christmas 2013 is looking good…..

I leave you with more memories of wonderful scenery and good times.

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