The only thing we saw for three hours of flight was desert beneath us as we flew from Amsterdam to Arusha. How could a mountain as tall and large as Kilimanjaro protrude from this landscape? We knew we were in for an adventure all along; how many people get to climb one of the world’s highest mountains with a group of eight blind people? But once we arrived and saw Kilimanjaro for the first time, the scale and size of the mountain signaled a more obvious aspect to the adventure; the physical challenge that was soon to come.
The whole team united on the first day, and it was clear from the start that Erik Weihenmayer had pulled together a fabulous team of people from various corners of his life. We immediately bonded with a sense of purpose; knowing that we were all there to climb higher than we had ever climbed before – together as a group.
The first day of our climb took us through several distinct ecological zones. Christian noted in his journal: “A lot has happened during the first few days; we’ve gone from a moderately warm tropical rainforest to a wooded zone, through heather fields, into a semi-arid zone, and are now waiting for lunch in a barren landscape marked by giant boulders, filled with dry air, and dotted with dead shrubs.” The first day also served as a learning seminar for how to communicate between the sighted and the blind. Distinct methods emerged as people chose their style of choice; whether guiding by walking stick, bells, or through clear verbal instructions.
Our journey began and ended before our team’s remarkable accomplishment had even started to sink in. Our summit day had comprised of 18 hours of hiking, 13,200 feet of elevation gain and loss (net) from base camp to the top, then down to our final campsite before hiking out. It was challenging for all – in various different ways – but almost the entire team made it to the top, making for the largest group of blind people to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro, ever. “We’re tough after Kilimanjaro” Christian wrote a few days later while reflecting on the trip. It was true then and continues to be true now for all who joined the journey.