Kili Summit Day – Counting steps (part 2 of 3)

Alone with my thoughts as I struggled up the scree, I reflected on Shirley Mae’s own struggle with COPD and her daily challenge to breathe. “Come on, girl, pull it together. This is a piece of cake compared what Shirley did each and every day.”


I played games with myself. If I could walk 10 steps, I could walk 20, then possibly even 25. Each time I carefully counted out each step to myself. Soon my 20 became 12, and my 10 became 6. Each time I stopped to catch my breath it was harder to get going again. But somehow I reached Stella Point, completely drained.

I was told later that my team gave me a standing ovation as they witnessed my slow progress through the scree while finishing their box lunches. I don’t remember that. As they set out for the summit, someone said “Just another hour to the summit.” An hour!!! Really? How was I going to do that? I’d already dug so deep…. so I sat down on a rock and contemplated the next steps and tried to pull together my resolve. A 60 minute steady upward climb but thankfully no more scree, then a descent back to Stella and just another hour to get to Crater Camp for the night. “Come on, girl, do it for Shirley.”


I picked at a box lunch that I’d been given. I had no interest in eating but knew I needed the fuel. Regardless, I gave away my hardboiled egg and coconut cookies to Pastori and the porter, and tried to eat a little grilled cucu (chicken). I chilled and knew I had to get moving soon. I needed help to get my pack ready, gloves on, walking sticks positioned, and jacket zipped. I remembered Jim talking about painfully dressing his daughters as young children before going out in an Ottawa winter and at that moment, I felt like a kid in a snowsuit, immobilized by too much weight and padding. Yet I was determined to get to the summit. No one could do that for me.

Visualizing “the sign”

The Uhuru sign is not visible enroute to the summit, but I knew it could not be too far off. The snow had melted and hardened under the blazing sun and strong winds. In Nunavut, I would have my strap-on grips to trudge through the ice and snow. Here, I relied on my walking poles, as my trusty hiking boots now provided little in the way of sure-footing.

I met my team descending from the summit, giddy with their accomplishment and wishing me well…. but once again, my progress was much slower than expected. I was now counting out 5 steps, resting, and another 5. Finally, I put my head down, willed myself to keep walking no matter WHAT until I ran headlong into the Uhuru sign. Even more fitting in this life experience challenge is, as I now have learned, Uhuru means “freedom” in Swahili and relates to Tanzania’s independence that took place the same year I was born.

At long last: the Summit

After the endless hours of the grinding, step-by-step ascent, there it was… that majestic sign I’ve seen in so many summit pictures… the one I dreamed of being under: Uhuru Peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro, 19,340 feet above my two homes of Iqaluit, NU and Gabriola Island, BC. summitsign

So after that demand on every fiber of my body, mind and soul – was there celebration, elation, and a short dance to the song “I’m sitting on the top of Kilimanjaro”? No, the wind was increasing and there was little time to celebrate apart from a couple quick photos to record “my” moment on the top of Africa. Yet, I told myself and my mother, Shirley, I did it, I made it! But, little did I realize that my biggest challenge still lay ahead in the descent back down to Base Camp.

(Stay tuned for Part 3 – The Descent)


Me and Pastori!


Proudly waving the Canada flag


And proud to wave the Nunavut flag at the summit!


The Sounder


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