If building a successful marriage is like climbing a mountain, Zara and Larry have already conquered “happily ever after.”
A friend suggested I chat with the newly married couple who planned their wedding date and honeymoon trip around the best time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Thankfully, they said yes – again – and agreed to share their experience.
Naturally, I asked why Kilimanjaro?
Larry and Zara are avid fans of adventure travel and climbed the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru when they first started dating. They loved it.
For Zara, “spending time in Zanzibar at the UNESCO World Heritage Site and relaxing on beautiful white sandy beaches” were just a few of the things to enjoy in addition to crossing Kilimanjaro off their shared bucket list. I love this great shot of Larry and Zara at the Summit.
While I couldn’t imagine starting marital life hiking upwards of 19,000 feet in risky and unglamorous conditions that included altitude sickness, headaches and lose bowels, I admire their sense of adventure. I wondered looking at the photo how one trains for this kind of trip and prepares for the uncertain challenges? And, what experiences were most memorable?
Here are a few excerpts that I am grateful to share as I head to Himalayans with nervous excitement. I pray this also inspires some readers to also consider making the journey one day.
Larry and Zara worked hard to ready themselves for the climb. Larry told me he kept to a strict gym schedule and focused on building endurance over strength. Despite doing a lot of cardio and high intensity training, he was surprised by the altitude sickness he experienced on the fourth day. It cleared the next day, in part because the guides followed a longer route that helps climbers ward off headaches and sickness.
Zara’s preparations were similar to Larry’s except she invested in a personal trainer to make the climb more enjoyable.
She was also prepared with medication for altitude sickness and she researched the climb as much as possible. Zara points out, however, that nothing quite prepares you for “the many variables from the weather to how your body adjusts to the altitude.”
Both Larry and Zara said the summit climb on the final night was the toughest part of the journey. Before starting the midnight climb, they enjoyed the beauty of the clear African sky. It was filled with stars and the milky way, and invited them into an unforgettable communion with nature.
Of extra special significance too were the amazing guides and porters who helped make the trek special. Zara says they “did everything they could to ensure we all made it to summit safely. They also taught us about local culture and bits of Swahili.” Larry praised their amazing work – “singing and cheering us on the whole way.”
One example of Zara’s mental preparedness that was critical during “the more challenging parts of the trek, was her counting out steps in Swahili.” It allowed her to focus on taking one step at a time rather than the distance ahead. “It felt great to reach the top”
Curious about the weather and equipment essential to making the climb a success, Zara shared a poignant story about how exhausted the group was after completing summit night. The story below also shows how dramatically the conditions can change despite being well-prepared.
As everyone readied for dinner, the light rain falling turned into a torrential downpour and forced everyone to rush to the dinner tent. Minutes later, water gushed past the sides of the tent, flooding the surrounding camp area. The tent was no longer safe and the group was forced to a nearby park ranger’s hut where everyone huddled with dozens of other climbers. As the sun rose the next morning, the guides and porters were already preparing breakfast having spent the night salvaging the washed-out equipment and ensuring everyone’s safety at the expense of their own flooded and soaked belongings.
Larry echoed the trials of the rain and also stressed the heroic efforts of guides who worked round the clock to ensure their happiness.
Extra things that helped him were having great hiking boots and quality wool socks to prevent blisters. They were a must-have for Larry, verses Zara who stressed researching and anticipating changing conditions.
After conquering the summit, Zara and Larry traveled beyond Kilimanjaro and reminisced about “a week in Zanzibar exploring historic Stone Town and relaxing on the beach. It was a well-earned break and nice change of pace.” Extra time spent in the town of Arusha before the climb was also special, including a fun dinner at Andrew’s restaurant replete with a goat leg feast.
As I head out of my own great Kilimanjaro adventure, I thank Larry and Zara for sharing their adventure and willingness to embrace whatever happens. I don’t know what surprises await, but I can only hope they will be filled with the same energy, wonder and connection to the land and the people of Tanzania.
Sincere thanks, Zara and Larry for sharing your journey with our WomanScape community. Watch the video below as I say my goodbyes as I head to Africa.