If you’ve ever met someone who’s climbed Africa’s highest peak, they’ve probably told you two things: That it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. And that it’s really, really cold at the summit.
A year ago, Canadian charity WaterCan approached me to lead an expedition of 21 volunteers from across the country to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in celebration of their 25th anniversary. And yes, I can now say that I too have conquered 19,341 feet of adventure, exhaustion, plunging temperatures, and ultimately — pride.
Aside from a newly grown (though, temporary!) mountain man beard and a newfound tolerance for extreme winter weather, here are the 10 things I’ve taken away from my journey up Mount Kilimanjaro:
10. A great experience is always better when shared with great company! Going into this challenge, we were 22 strangers moved enough by the work WaterCan has done over the years to take action. Today, we can say we’ve seen each other through the craziest of journeys — and we did it with a big smile…even through chattering teeth.
9. Don’t forget your fleece underpants. Now, I’m not saying I did — but don’t. You receive some odd advice when travelling, and sometimes, it’s better not to ask questions. Here, I’ll let you in on another one: You don’t need as many pairs of underwear as you think you’ll need! And yes…I forgot my fleece underpants.
8. If you’re a man, leave your razor at home. This is the only time in your life when you can go Grizzly Adams on the world and no one’s going to care.
7. It’s OK to ask for directions. There, I said it. And with that, I have to thank the amazing expedition leaders at Thomson Safaris for helping us reach the top — and get back down safely.
6. Never forget to appreciate how good we’ve got it. When we landed in Tanzania, we got to see firsthand the impact of WaterCan’s remarkable work. Seven hundred and eighty million people lack clean drinking water. It’s such a simple, crucial part of life that most of us Canadians have never had to go without. Seeing the way WaterCan’s clean water initiatives and sanitation education has bettered the lives of so many people has shown me that we should never take our good fortune for granted.
5. On that note, wash your hands. On Global Hand Washing Day, we got to hang out with an incredible group of children at Engusero Primary School in rural Tanzania where we learned that proper hand washing not only eliminates hordes of germs and bacteria — but also goes a long way towards preventing the deaths of 1.5 million children under the age of five each year.
4. It’s going to be cold! It bears repeating! Don’t ever let a cold day keep you from getting outside. It’s possible to have the adventure of your life, even when the climate is harsh.
3. Slow down. They have a saying in Tanzania, “pole pole,” which means “slowly, slowly”. The only way to make it to the top is slowly. Living in a city like Toronto, I spend my days rushing from one place to another and climbing Kilimanjaro has definitely taught me to slow it down, take a break and breathe.
2. Tell your friends and family you love them every chance you get. Not being able to hug my wife and kids every day was definitely one of my biggest challenges.
And, finally, the number one thing I learned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is…
1. One small step can make a huge difference. And I’m not just talking about climbing the mountain! I’m talking about all the amazing Canadians who donated to WaterCan’s Kilimanjaro Climb for Life campaign over the past year. We not only reached our $250,000 goal — we surpassed it! And thanks to this amazing generosity, WaterCan can continue to bring its life-changing mission to those in need.