Here’s a little information about Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is the world’s tallest free-standing (not connected to a mountain range) mountain at 19,341 feet. It has three volcanic cones: Shibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. The latter two cones are extinct, but the first is dormant, with possibility of eruption. The hike up usually takes 7-10 days with the hike up taking up a larger portion of the trip because your body needs time to acclimate to the altitude change. My trip was four days up and three days down, but many of the other hikers in my group still struggled with the change in altitude on the way up.
I’ll be honest; I did not think I was going to struggle going up the mountain. I thought since I worked out and was relatively fit that it would not be very difficult. I have been physically active since a young age. I spent three summers on the swim team at the YMCA. When I stopped doing that (around fifth grade), I was not allowed to spend my summers lazing around the house. Weekday mornings around 7 or 8 a.m., my dad had my five siblings and I out on the track either running laps or doing sprints. For my 10-year-old self, it was not a fun time. I ran track in junior high and high school, and I brought that active lifestyle with me to college. I still go for a run or to the gym whenever I can between classes, interning, and working. Being healthy and active has always been a part of my life.
The only thing I was worried about was the weather conditions. Boy, was I wrong. On the first day, I began to feel a gradual pain in my lower back that became more and more intense as the day went on. Mostly everyone else was doing fine except for me. By the time dusk came, I could barely walk a couple hundred yards without having to stop to bend over or squat to rest my back. I soon figured out part of what was causing the pain in my back. However, all I will say is that if you are ever climbing a mountain, do not hold anything in. Drink as much water as you need (even if you don’t think you are thirsty) and take as many bathroom breaks as you need.
The next day went well until around lunch time when the pain came back with a vengeance. Letting a porter (mountain guide) carry my small backpack helped a little, but not much. I took some paid medicine at lunch and felt much better within the hour. With a steady dose of aspirin at breakfast and dinner, I was able to finish out most of the rest of the hike up with minimal pain.
The higher we climbed, the colder it became. Night time was, of course, the worst. Each night I was more exhausted than the last but was unable to get a good night’s sleep because of the freezing temperatures. When I wasn’t waking up intermittently, I was tossing, turning, and/or shivering. On a more positive note, it did not rain during our hike week; I am forever grateful for that.
If you can’t manage a trip to Africa to climb the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, there is a nice alternative in your own Alabama backyard: Mount Cheaha.
Some hikers only made it to the second highest peak, Stella Point. The urge to stop at Stella Point was intense. And it still would have been something to be proud of. But my pride won and I kept going for about another hour to reach Uhuru Peak. I’m so glad I did. The view of the glaciers and the crater was unlike anything I had ever seen and completely worth it. I had conflicting desires of wanting to take pictures to document this great accomplishment and wanting to totally collapse. The porters urged us not to close our eyes and helped us snap a couple of quick group and individual photos with the elevation marker stating where we were.
If you can’t manage a trip to Africa to climb the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, there is a nice alternative in your own Alabama backyard. Mount Cheaha is the tallest point in Alabama at 2,413 feet and is a part of the Appalachian Mountains. It is located in Cheaha State Park, which is a part of the Talladega National Forest. Cheaha Resort State Park is located on top of Mount Cheaha and overlooks the forest. There are several trails adventurers can choose to explore including the Pinhoti Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Odum Scout Trail. If hiking doesn’t interest you or other friends and family that you want to bring along, there are plenty of other activities. There is swimming, rock climbing, fishing, biking, sightseeing, and more to enjoy.
As for the history of Cheaha Mountain, it was once home to Native Americans that were a part of the Creek Nation. The name Cheaha is purportedly derived from the word “Chaha,” a Muskogee term meaning “high place.” Historians have reason to believe that Fernando de Soto and his army made their way through the forest as well as soldiers of the Spanish explorer and conquistador Tristan de Luna. Much later as a part of President Roosevelt’s plan help create jobs, the Cheaha State Park was developed in 1933. Establishing trails and building cabins and the lodge that sits atop the mountain provided work for many Alabamians during the Depression era.
For more information about GIVE, click here: http://www.givevolunteers.org
For more information about Mount Cheaha, click here: http://www.alapark.com/cheaha-state-park
Danielle Castille is a senior majoring in public relations from Birmingham, Alabama. She plans on pursuing a job in editing or publishing when she graduates in May 2017.