Success doesn’t only depend on probability and how adventure-prepared you are. It is also about knowing you can choose to retreat before you lose control of a dangerous situation.
For my Kilimanjaro teammate who returned to base camp, “I literally just wanted to lie down and reaching the summit wasn’t as important as wanting to sleep. That was when I realised I needed to turn around.”
Indeed, pushing yourself to summit just for the sake of summiting defeats the point. At a market in Dar-es-Salaam, the Tanzanian capital we flew into before our Kilimanjaro expedition, we ran into self-exiled former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He showed us pictures of Uhuru Peak from a private plane tour, and asked with genuine curiosity, “Why trek up the mountain when you can see it like this?”
Kilimanjaro was not the end of such adventures for me, and I still dream of reaching the peaks of Aconcagua (6,961m) and Elbrus (5,642m).
But there’s no better lesson than growing older, so I’ll now triple down when scrutinising outfitter credentials and safety records, and pay for nice-to-have safety specs. I’ll know every method of managing altitude sickness and take preventative measures. I’ll get a medical green light before embarkation no matter how fit I think I am.
And the next time I’m hugging a rock somewhere up there, I’ll say, “I’ll take a summit check today.” Because I’ve already been a hero several times, and I’ve got enough glory stories to last the next decades of beers. Because I love my family and my life back on Earth too much.
And because, in my Kilimanjaro expedition planning email to the team, I signed off, “And there was never another time like that first time in Africa – Ernest Hemingway.”
Desiree Koh is a freelance writer who covers travel and hospitality.