Climbing Kilimanjaro is a Bucket List trek for many hikers.
Kilimanjaro is Africa's tallest peak at 19,341′ (5895m) and Ulhuru Peak is the world's tallest free standing mountain.. While climbing Kilimanjaro is not a technical hike, it is difficult due to it's altitude To mazimixe your chances of summiting, you need to train. Since this dormant volcano begins on the plains, the trek involves climbing through five ecosystems!
Our guest today, Cindy Vranken, is an inspiration! Overweight, out of shape and missing her mojo, this non-hiker – make that this non-excerciser– decided to join some friends to climb Kilimanjaro. This group each chose a charity to raise money for, which was brilliant not just because they raised money, but when the chips were down or the motivation lacking, having a bigger purpose propelled them through the training sessions as well as during the difficult climb.
Cindy's group was comprised of business owners. As an incentive and motivator, each chose a favorite charity to climb for and raise money for. Her group included:
Cindy Vranken (my interviewee)
Esther Groenewegen (main photographer)
Hugo Bakker (Cindy's ‘Instigator')
Mariska Van Gennep
I found Cindy's interview to be not just interesting in regards to learning about climbing Kilimanjaro, but also inspirational for anyone who has a big dream. Even if you have no interest in this trek, it's worth hearing her story. You'll learn how she came up with a workable plan to take her from basically a couch potato to a successful summiter of Mount Kilimanjaro in about seven months!
I was so interested in this part of the story, that I am breaking up the interview into two parts. Episode 23, for which this page corresponds and the podcast player above will play, recounts her first getting the idea up until she starts the trek. In Part II, Episode 24 (to be released July 12, 2018) we will cover her summit and learn how come she didn't make it down on her own two feet. It's an amazing story!
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It is important that you choose a reputable trekking company to guide you on this trip: altitude sickness is a real concern and danger (see below)! Be sure that they are well trained in wilderness safety and rescue. It is also important that the company you choose allows enough acclimitization time to minimize risks of altitude sickness. I recommend Wildland Trekking. They also offer a cool add-on Wildlife Safari and Cultural Tour that is AMAZING (and will be covered in Part II of this show to be released on July 12, 2018).
Wildland Trekking's hiking adventure begins off the beaten path and uses the Rongai Route to avoid crowds and to offer a more unique experience of the “Roof of Africa”. Beginning like this offers different views of the mountain before joining up with the popular Marangu Route on this well designed and paced 11 day itinerary. It allows for plenty of acclimtization time to maximize your changes of a successful summit.
The guides and porters are amazing! While we bring all this gear, they manage to do just fine. But remember: they are used to it and it gets COLD! Be sure to bring everything your tour company recommends.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is not without risks. Virtually everyone will experience some degree of altitude sickness while at the upper reaches: headache, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or loss of appetite. Some may get Acute Altitude Sickness which can be deadly. So it is important to (1) choose a reputable tour guide company with guides trained in diagnosing and treating altitude sickness and (2) if you should develop Acute Altitude Sickness, be prepared to turn around. Symptoms generally go away as soon as you descend to a level with more oxygen. See below for more information.
You might thick, it's Africa, so it's going to be hot: WRONG! When you reach the higher elevations, it is going to be COLD and usually quite windy. Cindy was surpised by how old it got, so make sure you bring good quality thermal gear.
Route Description Days Length
 Newest route on Kilimanjaro. Very low traffic due to very long time on the mountain, traverses nearly the entire mountain including the north side. Long route with great views. 9 90 kilometres (56 mi)
Long access drive, remote, less frequented, beautiful forests, scenic traverse to Barafu, camping. Excellent for acclimatization. 8 (-1) 56 kilometres (35 mi)
Second most popular route. Beautiful forest, very good for acclimatization, scenic traverse to Barafu. 7 (-1) 49 kilometres (30 mi)
Very popular (crowded). Gentle gradients and long sections up to 4700m (2.9 mi). Not a very scenic route as compared to Machame and Lemosho, comfortable but basic huts. The 6 day variant provides good time for acclimatization due to a rest day at Horombo Hut. 6 (-1) 64 kilometres (40 mi)
Long access drive, remote, less frequented, some fine, wild, least scenic, camping. Good for acclimatization. 5-6 65 kilometres (40 mi)
Shortest and steepest route, very physically taxing and requires serious endurance. Beautiful forest, spectacular ridge, bad for acclimatization, scenic traverse to Barafu, camping. Dangerous route. 6 (-1) 37 kilometres (23 mi)
Dealing with Altitude Sickness
Virtually EVERYONE who attempts to summit Kilimanjaro will have to deal with some symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. Once you get above 8000′, many people become suceptible to the illness. Kilimanjaro is OVER 19,000′ so as you near the top, you are likely to experience some of these signs:
Fatigue and loss of energy
Shortness of breath
Problems with sleep
Hike at a SLOW steady pace to maximize your body's ability to adapt to the increasing shortage of ozygen. To minimize sypmtoms, drink PLENTY OF WATER, even if you don't think you are thirsty. Likewise, make yourself eat something even though you won't feel like it. Your body will need the energy for the climb.
Consider taking a Tylenol(TM) before you even get a headache. Consider also taking the prescription Acetazolamide ahead of time to help minimize symptoms.
It is critical that you choose a respected tour guide company that provides you with HIGHLY TRAINED ALTITUDE GUIDES and SUMMIT GUIDES. I cannot emphasize this enough! They will be able to test your oxygen levels so as to advise you whether your symptoms are safe or serious. They should also be trained to treat altitude sickness.
If you persist and the symptoms get worse, you could progress to High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), in which you now have fluid in the brain. This is life threatening and you need to seek immediate medical attention. You may start vomiting.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is the most severe form of altitude sickness and happens when there’s fluid in the brain. It’s life threatening and you need to seek medical attention right away.
Only about two thirds of the folks who attempt to climb Kilimanjaro make it to the top. Mild altitude sickness is to be expected, but if you develop SEVERE sypmtoms, you need to call it a hike and descend immediately. No summit is worth your life, even if you are SO CLOSE to the summit. People have died because they just had to get there when their body said it needed to turn around ( A former CIA agent died 20 yards from the summit).
Choose a tour guide company that allows plenty of time for you to acclimitize to the altitude.
Choose easier routes (see the chart below).
SLOW AND STEADY! While it's wonderful if you are able to summit, the joy is in the journey. Be safe and be smart!
Might look easy getting back down, but there's more to the story: Cindy doesn't get down on her own two feet! In Active Travel Adventures Episode 24, we will learn what happened. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss this fascinating story!
Sure you get a Certificate that you summitted, but look how you also get a killer smile after achieving such a feat!
About our guest, Cindy Vranken:
Selling from the H.A.R.T method
Time Stamped Show Notes:
(See below for complete transcript)
00:00 An inspiring tale of an overweight, non-exerciser to Kilimanjaro summiter in seven months
01:55 How I met Cindy
02:30 Kilimanjaro details
03:13 Interesting Kilimanjaro summiter stats
04:31 Biggest challenges of climbing Kilimanjaro
06:11 Kilimanjaro ecosystems, different trails and Jim’s story
08:12 Not everyone summits Kilimanjaro
09:17 Introduction of Cindy
09:58 Has Cindy every done anything like this? [NO!]
10:56 What motivated Cindy and her big cause
13:48 Cindy’s preparation and training for climbing Kilimanjaro
17:46 Did Cindy have any idea how hard this was going to be? [NO!]
19:48 Cindy gets injured while training and how she dealt with this setback
21:06 Cindy hatred of training turns to loving it
23:26 Cindy describes the trek
24:39 Any camping experience? [NO!]
25:32 The weather [September]
27:55 Kilimanjaro porters and guides: why so many?
30:42 Kilimanjaro food while camping and trekking
32:17 Acclimitization and altitude sickness
40:57 What did Cindy think about while on the trail?
43:22 Insights we can get from Cindy’s inspirational story
47:58 Please share via email and social media plus a shout out to Stan
Complete Time-Stamped Transcript
[Use the Google Translate button at the bottom to change languages]
Kit: 00:00 What on earth would possess a woman who doesn't even exercise to decide, “I'm going to climb Kilimanjaro.” Today, we're going to meet Cindy from Belgium and hear her amazing story. Whether or not you have any interesting climbing Kilimanjaro, this is an important interview because it shows us how we can motivate ourselves to get bigger than ourselves. So stay tuned for one of my favorite interviews I've done on the Active Travel Adventures podcast.
Kit: 00:31 Welcome to the Active Travel Adventures podcast. I'm your host Kit Parks and today I'm excited to bring to you an interview about an adventure that this woman took climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in the continent of Africa, and because of that it's on the Bucket List for many avid hikers. And unlike the other peaks in the other continents, this one is actually doable for a fit hiker that does a lot of training. And you'll find today that Cindy has got an amazing story that it doesn't make a difference what she's climbing or what she's doing, she's going to inspire you to get out there and work on whatever goal it is that you have in mind. It's a remarkable interview. In fact, I was so fascinated by her story. I kept asking questions and next thing I know we were going really, really long, but I wanted to include all that in the show. So what I'm going to do is break it into two parts. Today, we're going to go over what possessed her to do this. Somebody who had never hiked before and to choose one of the most challenging hikes that you can do and how did she prepare? What was her motivation, motivations, what kept her going, and it's just a wonderful story. So regardless, like I said, if you don't even care about climbing Kilimanjaro, you're still going to love the story, so please stay tuned for that and then we will come back in two weeks with the conclusion of the Kilimanjaro episode in which you will find out how Sydney got off that mountain and it wasn't by her own two feet.
Kit: 01:55 That whole story is an amazing story and I think you're going to love it. It's also interesting how I met Cindy. I was at a conference and one of the after hours events, I was just chatting with this other woman and she asked me what I did for a living and I told her about the Active Travel Adventures podcast. She says, “Oh, I ‘ve got to introduce you to Cindy, so she drags me by the hand and we go wandering all through this massive restaurant club place until we finally find Cindy. And she and I hit it off and it was too noisy to talk to too much that night. So we got on the phone and just had a marvelous, marvelous chat and I just can't wait to share it with you.
Kit: 02:30 But before we get started, I want to talk to you a little bit about what is Kilimanjaro for those of you that are not familiar with it? Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in the continent of Africa. It's located in the country of Tanzania, which is a really cool country, so even if you don't want to climb Kilimanjaro, it's still a great country to go to. Just to go on a wildlife safari, and I'll talk a little bit about that in a future episode as well, and Kilimanjaro itself is a dormant volcano that sits around 19,000 feet high or 4,900 meters. It's made up of three cones, Kibo, Mowense and Shire. One is dormant and two are extinct and it's located in the Kilimanjaro National Park.
Kit: 03:13 There's some interesting stats about the people that have summited Kilimanjaro. The fastest male to ascend and descend the mountain was a Swiss Ecuadorian mountain guide who in 1981 ran to the top and back in less than seven hours. The fastest woman was pretty quick herself at about eight and a half hours.
Kit: 03:34 Generally speaking, you have to be at least 10 years old in order to attempt Kilimanjaro, but occasionally they'll make an exception. And in March of this year, 2018, a seven year old ascended and descended Kilimanjaro successfully. People with disabilities have even climbed Kilimanjaro. A man in a wheelchair did it in six days, which is a very short trek, and in 2012, a man who had no forearms or lower legs manage unassisted to climb up and down. Amazing! So if they can do it, and after listening to Cindy, you hear her story, she can do it, if you want to do this trek, you can do it, but you need to prepare and you need to allow yourself enough time to acclimate in the way up to give yourself the best odds of a successful summit. There are several routes to take and depending on which route you take will determine the distance, but figure roughly about 40 miles or 60 kilometers.
Kit: 04:31 The big thing with this track is going to be the altitude. Even though it's a gradual uphill, it goes really high and I promise this is going to be the highest mountain, or in this case a volcano, that we will do on the Active Travel Adventures podcast. But because this is such a important trek for so many trekkers, I did want to include it on the show. Other considerations are going to be the cold because you are up high and the wind, so you're going to need to be prepared clothes-wise and your tour company will give you a good gear list and all that, but if you want more information about dealing with the altitude, I'd also recommend you check out our Costa Rica, Episode 015 and the Bhutan Episode 20. I'll have links to both of those in the show notes,
Kit: 05:12 But just about everybody that attempts this climb is going to have some at least minor symptoms of altitude sickness, which will be at least headache, a little bit of nausea. You might have a little diarrhea and it's just going to be part of the game. If this is something that you want to do, that's just going to be part and parcel of this whole hike. There's a pill that you can take that will also help you with altitude sickness, and I did take those as a preventative measure in Bhutan. I'll put that on the website. Only about two thirds of the people that attempt to climb Kilimanjaro actually make it to the summit. So if you want to be one of those two thirds that do make it, you want to do all the preparations that we'll be learning about from Cindy in just a minute as well as going with the tour company that gives you plenty of time to acclimate. This is not a place to go cheap. I'll have my recommendations in the travel planner have regardless of who you go with, make sure they are responsible, reliable, and they have trained altitude guides with you.
Kit: 06:11 One of the cool things about Kilimanjaro is when I was there on Safari, I could see it in the background because it juts out of a plain, so it pretty much is flat, flat, flat, then all of a sudden there's the volcano and you start going straight up.
Kit: 06:26 One cool thing because you are starting in the plains and going up so high, you actually go through five different ecological zones. So that's kinda cool. There are seven official treks to get up to the top of Kilimanjaro and I'll outline those on the website so you'll see what the pros and the cons are of the different tracks. Some are easier than others, but the easiest ones may not necessarily be the most scenic ones and some are brutal. In fact, one of my favorite stories I've ever heard about Kilimanjaro is a hiking buddy of mine. He's that crazy guy I've mentioned a few times that does all these endurance things like marathons across the deserts and all that kind of thing, so of course he picks the hardest trek to go up and when he was near the top he just couldn't do it anymore and he just collapsed and he told the guide, “Go on ahead without me. I just can't go any further,” and the guide looks at him down on the ground and he says, “I can't leave you here. You'll die.” And he's like, “Go on. I'm good with that.” That's how tired he was. We're not talking about that kind of trek. We're going to go over on the easier side, but in fact I think Jim told me that they even closed down that trail it was so difficult. But I know you're not going to go up the crazy trails you're going to take either the easy or the moderate one and that the key thing you're battling is going to be the altitude, the cold, and the wind. And another consideration, and this is one of the reasons people have problems when they do this trek, is they try to do it too quickly. You want allow yourself enough time to acclimate so you minimize any chances of altitude sickness. The problem is is the daily national park fees are expensive, so a lot of people think, “Oh, I'll save money. I'll try to do it in in lesser time.” I recommend if you're gonna, do it, just cough up the money for the park fees and take your time and and take a longer trip up there and that gives you the best chance of success of summiting.
Kit: 08:12 And you need to be mentally prepared that you may not be able to summit. If you do have signs of severe altitude sickness, you need to be prepared to turn around. Jim was just tired. That was different. He did not have altitude sickness. The guy would never force them to go forward if he had severe altitude sickness. I know it would be mentally painful if you spent all this time and all this money to get there to do this, to turn around, but if your body is telling you, you cannot physically do it because of altitude sickness, you got to turn around. You're all but guaranteed to have some symptoms it's the acute or the extreme symptoms that we're worried about and here's where it's important to hire a good company with well trained altitude guides. Now that we've learned a little bit of background of Kilimanjaro, let's meet our guest, Cindy and I cannot wait for you to hear her amazing story. I'll see you on the other side. Welcome. Cindy, could you start by introducing yourself?
Cindy: 09:17 Yes. So my name is Cindy Vrenken. I live in Belgium. Actually, I just turned 44 and I'm a entrepreneur. Online, I'm teach business owners how to sell from the heart. And I have one daughter, so she's my biggest inspiration actually. She's mentally and physically disabled, but she is everything in my life and I'm beside that I live close to Brussels, in a village and I love the countryside. I love nature and I have two cute chiwawas., Renta and Mr. Laugh.
Kit: 09:58 Sweet. Great. Thanks. Now I know today we're going to be talking about your trip to Kilimanjaro, but had you ever done any adventure hiking or anything like this in the past?
Cindy: 10:09 No, I didn't. So it was a completely out of my comfort zone.
Kit: 10:19 Is that because it's something you would that would never have occurred to you or is this something that's so far out of your normal day to day life?
Cindy: 10:27 Yeah, a quite. I mean, I did some sports before and actually I love, Kit, I love challenges and so it was another entrepreneur that challenged me and if somebody challenges me then yeah, I, I'm like, okay, I can do this.
Kit: 10:52 So what did this entrepreneur say to you? Can you tell us a little bit about how this all came about?
Cindy: 10:56 Yes, yes, I can actually, it was a, it was really like a coincidence for me because I've been running my company for two years and I must say that I put on some weight. So my intention, it was December 2016… so my intention was to, for 2017 to become more healthy or to pay attention to what I eat and to lose weight and to… I just wanted to feel more energetic. So I was really hoping like, oh, what could I do because I hate sports. Honestly. I had so many fitness a subscriptions but I never went. So, then all of a sudden, so I asked like what could I do that really gives me joy and that helps me to lose weight and to feel more fitter and energetic. And then all of a sudden I got a phone call from, from Hugo. Hugo, who is also an online entrepreneur in Holland.
Cindy: 12:02 And then his business partner. And actually he challenged me. So he said like “You know what? I'm going to climb the Kilimanjaro and a what if, what if you, you come with me and not only you, but uh, like, uh, six, seven other entrepreneurs and we don't do it for ourselves, but we do it for a good cause?” And uh, so we raise money, we raise awareness because yeah, being an entrepreneur is so it's also important to take on challenges to go out of your comfort zone and also too, because it's not about the money, it's about the money as a tool to achieve your dream. And so yeah, he just challenged me like if we do that then we can make other entrepreneurs aware that they perhaps will also share their money or give money to a good cause. And uh, so actually I, when I started my company in 2015 from the start, I said like a part of my benefits will go to a home for disabled children in India.
Cindy: 13:10 And so that is my cause. So when Hugo challenged me actually I felt like a strange feeling in my belly. Like, oh my God. And, and then I said, listen, I have to think about it, but I felt excited, I already felt myself, like I was on top of the mountain and then I took about, I think three or four weeks time to decide, but honestly, from the first moment he called me and he asked me, I could already feel like I'm going to do it. It was bigger than myself.
Kit: 13:48 So how much time from the time you first decided to do this until you actually went on the climb and tell us a little bit about your preparations?
Cindy: 13:57 That was very interesting actually. So, I took the decision… so he called me around a beginning, December 2016, and so, like three weeks later, end of December, I said yes. And then I realized, okay, now I need to do something because when I take upon a challenge I'm quite ambitious. And also I have a lot of followers. So I said like, okay, I need to have a plan because I hate sports. So how in the world am I going to do it? Because I didn't do any training or sports for five years. I honestly, I put on it was quite, I put on a lot of weight, so I think, I don't know in pounds, but in, in kilos it was like almost 80 kilos, which is quite heavy for me. So I first thought I'm gonna go to a fitness, but yeah, I immediately felt this is not what I find out in January I start, I wanted to start with the fitness with the program and went to a local fitness center.
Cindy: 15:07 But yeah, I felt a lot of resistance. I said, okay, this will not work for me. So then I started looking for a personal trainer and I wanted a personal trainer. Why? Because I knew there was going to be a lot of resistance from my part, and also I run a successful company, so I don't have much time. So I really, I knew I needed help from a professional and I needed a plan. So that's when I found, it was like the end of January ,I found Bart and he has a company, a sports company as a personal trainer, any gives bootcamps. And so he was really excited. There was a fit between us and so we made a plan together like from January, starting at the end of January to September, so it was the ninth of September. So we made a plan that by step, like every month I needed to achieve a certain goal.
Cindy: 16:13 And so yeah, it's where like beginning baby goals, baby steps, but then of course it became bigger and bigger because he said if you have a goal like climbing the Kilimanjaro level, it is really not easy. If you see like, okay, here I am, I don't have any sports experience, I have a lot of weight, how in the hell am I going to do that? So I said we have to make a plan where you believe you can do it. And so we're gonna do that in baby steps. So every month we are going to have a small goal and so, you know, okay, I can achieve this goal, I believe I can do it, and then we, we go to the next goal and then we go to the next goal. And so that's the way we did it actually. So for example, the first month I had to walk, for example, I don't know, a two or three kilometers.
Cindy: 17:10 And then the second month there is a mountain here about half an hour from my home. And so then we had to climb that mountain and, and so every time when I had the next goal and I achieved it, I became more confident. Like I'm going yeah, it's gonna be possible, I'm going to do it. And so that was the way I really started believing it's going to work. I'm gonna reach the top. So it was really step by step.
Kit: 17:46 Did you have any idea how hard this is going to be?
Cindy: 17:49 No, actually, Hugo challenged me, he knew and I think he just told me like, Oh, if you train for us in the you will be fine. It's just a walk. It's not really climbing with materials and everything. So he just said if you prepare and, it will be fine. So honestly I didn't look any videos on the Internet to see how it was because I knew if I was going to watch videos or read a lot of things about people climbing the Kilimanjaro, I knew I was not going to do it.
Cindy: 18:38 So I, I had honestly, if I had known it it's going to be this hard I think, I'm not sure if I would have done it honestly, but no, so he didn't tell me. He didn't tell everything,
Kit: 18:38 But sometimes for the best, right?
Cindy: 18:55 Yeah, of course for the best, I think it wasn't exactly for the best because also so we were like a women's team. There were two men and five women and also the other women said, “Oh my God, if I would have known it was that hard, we wouldn't have done it.” But anyway, no, I, I'm so happy I did it. Honestly. Climbing the Kilimanjaro, it's similar to running a company because you also put goals, you put ambitious goals, you have to go out of your comfort zone, and so you make a plan, you take action and you have sometimes resistance. Sometimes things go well.
Cindy: 19:48 But, also when I was preparing for the Kilimanjaro, Whoa, all of a sudden I got an infection on my calves and a healing space. I don't know the word in English. But anyway, I mean I got, I got injured and so we had to change the plan. We had to stay off running. I had to start bicycling, for example. So, and that's also when you have a business, you also have challenges. So you have to be flexible, you have to look for solutions, you cannot give up, you have to go on and be very creative and find solutions. So, so that's for me a big insight or when I was climbing and preparing for the Kilimanjaro level, like, “Hey, it's the same as running your own business”.
Kit: 20:42 That is so true. When you can't get to the door, you go to the window.
Cindy: 20:46 Exactly. It was like, “Oh my God, I cannot walk anymore.” Okay, then you do other exercises by your mountain bike. Start mountain biking. So we worked our way around that. I still found ways to train my muscles even though I was injured.
Kit: 21:06 You said earlier that you hated sports and exercising. Did you find since you had such an audacious goal that at least made the training interesting for you?
Cindy: 21:14 Yeah, I must say in the beginning, there was no fun at all. So it was like, “Oh Lord he's here again.” So I have to. And then of course I had a program, meaning that once a week Bart was here, but the other days I also had to exercise. And in the beginning we had a lot of arguments because he said I have the watch so he could control any move that I made. He said, “Why are you not training?” And so in the beginning there was a lot of resistance. I didn't like it, but then I realized after a while, every time when I had my training, I felt so much better, Kit, I really felt so much more energy and I felt really alive. I started losing weight. And so after a while I got addicted to it. So I was in the morning I get up, okay, oh, I haven't done my exercises. So it's, it's really strange. Like I said before, I didn't really like sports and while preparing was preparing for the Kilimanjaro, I really started to like it.
Kit: 22:28 So that ends up being life changing in and of itself.
Cindy: 22:30 Yes, exactly. Yes. Because, and that's also an insight if you move. So as an entrepreneur I sit in my office a lot, many hours. And so if you exercise every day and you move and so you have more energy and that also has an impact on your business. So really, your business starts moving as well. You get more energy in your business with your clients. So that was, it was really an insight like, Oh, if I exercise as I move and then, I felt like my business was also in like a flow.
Kit: 23:11 I love hearing about all the insights of the training and they psychology and the planning of doing this trek. But let's now move to Tanzania and can you tell us a little bit about the beginning of your truck also, do you remember the name of the route you took?
Cindy: 23:26 So I was on the Macame route and so we arrive on the Saturday. We arrived in Tanzania and we stayed on the Sunday. We got a briefing. So we were in total with seven entrepreneurs, five female, two men. And we had four guides for guides who were trained for altitude disease. And so who were very professional. And in total we had a team of 40 people, so on the Sunday we go to briefing, they checked a lot of things to make sure we were healthy and, and so, then they explained to us how it was going to be. So on the Monday before noon we would start and then Friday the goal was to reach the top and so it was starting on the Monday until Friday. So that was the plan.
Kit: 24:30 There are several routes to the top of Kilimanjaro and the one that you took, you had the option of either tenting or using the huts, and that's the only trail with huts. Which did you do?
Cindy: 24:39 So we had to camp.
Kit: 24:41 So had you ever camped before?
Cindy: 24:48 No. Oh my God. Yeah. So I never camped before. So like I said, camping for me was really, really out of my comfort zone, to be honest. I, I prepared at home. So I did some camping in my garden.
Kit: 25:06 That's exactly how I taught myself. And as you know, it's not the same.
Cindy: 25:12 So, so for me it was really a big challenge because I never did camping. I really like my privacy. I don't like, I hate to do cold actually. And so I'm quite… I love luxury. So yeah, it was a challenge.
Kit: 25:38 You're too much, Cindy! You take on this challenge when (A) It's not that you don't even like to hike, you don't even like to exercise, you've never camped and you hate the cold. Unbelievable. So let's talk about the weather a little bit. What was it like?
Cindy: 25:52 So actually we had some [good weather]. So I was really pleased with that. We had some… the last day on the top, we even had a sun. Indeed when, when going to the summit, so we never had rain. So I was very pleased with that. We didn't have snow. Because I believe when you have rain or snow, it's of course a harder.
Kit: 25:52 It's cold though, right?
Cindy: 26:29 Yeah. Yeah. So actually that was one of the things I completely underestimated because I prepared myself. I think I was one of the people that was the best prepared. So I did a lot of training, exercising. I took a lot of vitamins before I even, I even trained in an altitude lab at the university and live in, they have a special altitude room. So I trained there for four weeks. I slept for four weeks in altitude tent in my home. But one thing that I completely underestimated was the cold. They just told me like, you take some special underwear, like on of the fourth day and like ski pants. The first three days or four days, it's not that cold, but for me as of the first night I was completely frozen in the tent and then I couldn't sleep in the cold and the worst kinds of winds.
Cindy: 27:32 And so that was for me the hardest challenge because I didn't prepare for the cold and I, I didn't put enough clothes on in the night. I felt really, like I couldn't sleep because of the cold. So it was cool for me to cold was killing me, so I didn't sleep for two or three nights, I couldn't sleep. So that was killing.
Kit: 27:55 So tell us about your porters and your guides.
Cindy: 27:57 So we had a whole team, I believe in total we had about 40 people, including the guides.
Kit: 28:06 That's 14 one four, not 40, right?
Cindy: 28:09 No, I'm sorry. 40: Four zero. We had a, I think in total we had 35 porters and everybody has special duties and, and, and then we had the guides included. So a one, two, three, four. So I think in total we were right at 38 or 39 people.
Cindy: 28:31 Yeah. That's an amazing support team for just seven hikers. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But, but actually everybody has his duty. So you have summit porters, so they are really experienced for bringing you to the summit. You have people that are responsible for the kitchen, for the camp if you need anything, then you have like somebody that is the toilet officer for example. So you have all different duties. So yeah, it was amazing. So the crew was amazing. I could not believe the detail. I didn't. The funny thing was that you arrive in the camp, you are exhausted, you don't see anything around you and you just want to eat and sleep and that's it. But when we on the Saturday, so we went down to leave and then there was a big party and then I realized how many people that were helping us and guiding us. And I was shocked. Honestly, I didn't see them. I did see some people but not that many people that supported us and, and they, they really helped us to get through. So it was amazing. Yeah. Amazing.
Kit: 29:55 So many of your support people were up ahead of you, is that when you got to camp, everything was all set up and ready for you?
Cindy: 30:00 Exactly. So everything was done, Kit. So that's why I think they have a lot of people. So when we arrived, so even in the morning they takeaway today they take all the kitchen stuff, they go to the next camp, then they prepare already some food. They, they put up the tent, they put the toilets up, make sure everything is fine, mattresses installed… everything. So, so we didn't have to worry about that part. That was done.
Kit: 30:34 When I went on a camping safari in Tanzania, I was shocked at how good the food was. We actually had a French trained chef. Tell us about your food.
Cindy: 30:42 Oh Wow. It was good. It was really good because in the day don't have a lot of stuff. Just some fire. But honestly what I ate during the climb was really good. So different kinds of things. Spaghetti, pasta but also potatoes, meat. And I knew I had to eat that because if you don't eat you don't have enough energy. But honestly there was always soup before and then there was really like a good meal. So even with the desert, so it was really, really, really good. Yeah. The chef, the chef… so there was assistant chef in the kitchen and there was even another person working in the kitchen. So the food was amazing.
Kit: 31:31 And when you see a kitchen, you're talking about a makeshift tent of some kind, not a fixed building. Correct?
Cindy: 31:36 Exactly. So it's just a tent and then they put a table in it and, and they put, they put some fire in it, then they start cooking and so we had like one tent or when we arrive in the evening when we arrive in base camp and everyday you need to reach a certain a place and then you change in your tent and then you go to the main tent. Then there was a table with the food, with drinks and water running and you can fill your water bag and everything. And then there was a separate tent where they did all the cooking.
Kit: 32:17 Climbing Kilimanjaro, it's not a technical hike, but it's really tall. So you have major issues with altitude. Talk to us about the acclimatization.
Cindy: 32:24 So that was indeed a challenge. So I did, like I said, I did prepare already in Belgium, so I slept for four weeks in an altitude to tent. So I had quite an advantage on the others, however. So you start, let me say the first day you start at 1800 meters and then you go immediately to 3200. And then, so the Tuesday, the next day, I think you go to up to 4000 and then you go a 4,600 and then you go, you go back to let's say a 4000 meter. And I must say for me, so already when I started, when I started on Monday, when we started to walk at climbing, I was like, oh my God. So when we were climbing from 8,900 meters to 3000 meters to base camp, I already felt like my breath was very difficult.
Cindy: 33:29 So I said like, oh my God, I underestimated this part. So then I, I think that the third day was acclimatization day. That means you go. So, uh, if I remember correctly, you go from 3000 to 4,600 and then you go immediately back to a 3000 back then let me think, 3900 or something like that in the evening. So that was acclimatization day and that day actually I almost collapsed. So I was actually, we were around 3700-3800 meters and then all of a sudden I got a headache, but in two minutes it felt like my head was exploding so I collapsed and then actually actually my oxygen was quite low so they gave me extra oxygen. Then the good thing is that you only stayed there on the 4600 on immediate. You only stayed or like between 30, 40 minutes and then you go immediately down.
Cindy: 34:43 But yeah, that was quite, for me it was quite shocking to feel that because breathing, we think it's just something normal, you know, when we talk, when we breed it's normal. But when you experience that, that it's difficult to breathe. Yeah, it's, it's amazing. It's amazing. So afterwards when I came back to Belgium, I was grateful for breathing for having a 98 percent of oxygen. So, actually when, when the oxygen goes down gets to about, I think less than 74 percent, it's going to be very difficult. So I got extra medication for the headaches. So I had a lot of problems with the headaches and we took extra medication for a special altitude pills.
Kit: 35:42 And how did the others in your group fair with the altitude?
Cindy: 35:45 I must say one person quit after at the end of the second day because she was, it was also very emotional because you're a, you are fighting against the cold, against the fact that you cannot breathe. And so she was really like so emotional. And also physically she said, “I don't think I can handle it.” So she, she stopped but the rest of the team continued. But there were actually one person had some problems with, because you can have like problems with the lungs that the lungs cannot take the air in. So it's a lung disease and so it's very dangerous. So there was one person who, who started developing that disease, so it was on the 4th or 5th days. So they checked everything to see if it's safe to continue or not. So she did. She did reach the top, but everybody actually took the pills except for one person. So there were, I think especially the last day when we went to the summit. So the last day you go from 4,600 meter, you go to 5989 meters, so almost 6,000 meter. And that day everybody started having problems with the altitude. So, I mean, but every, everybody made it out from the, except for the woman that stopped on the second day.
Kit: 37:17 I assume that your guides were well trained for the altitude, particularly at the heights that you were going at. The altitude sickness is a significant problem. I have a friend who has three times attempted to climb, a place I think is called Acoconqua. And each time, just the altitude got to him and he had to turn around so it. But if people persist and they had the severe symptoms, you're going to have some symptoms, but they have severe symptoms. You need a guide that knows when it's time, you got to turn around now you don't want to go any further. So they were regularly checking everybody, correct?
Cindy: 37:48 Exactly. So they were checking us like you have to realize it's not just go up, you walk la la like that. It's not at all. Because every step that you take, it feels like almost mission impossible. It feels like every, you're, you're walking towards your climbing. But it feels like a, Oh my God, I'm not moving. I'm just doing like really baby baby steps. But every step that you takes takes so much energy because our group, to be honest, we were not really experienced people. So we were not athletes. So we just did another, of course some preparation for the two to climate, but we were not professionals. So. So we had like every 10 minutes we had a quick stop. And they had extra oxygen bottles with them, especially the last day because they had like two oxygen bottles because they knew some of the people we're gonna be in trouble and of course you can also notice it because when you faint or you get dizzy, so that was what a lot of people had- me included.
Cindy: 39:04 So at a certain moment I was really like very dizzy. So it happened a few times. So that's very dangerous. Of course you need to have a… I had the summit porter who was keeping his hands around my hand. And so the other part is of course the headache. So that was for me, I was the one with the most headache and so every two hours I need to take, or I think every four hours, I'm not sure how to take the pill, but they, they really checked, on a regular basis how the oxygen percentage is. Because like I said, if it goes below, I am not quite sure, but I think below 74, 73, 72, it's becomes very critical. So because your brain doesn't get enough oxygen. So, then they give oxygen and then you immediately go back to 90 or 90.
Cindy: 39:59 That feels so amazing that you can breathe again. But yeah, they are very trained so they don't take any risks. They check everything. And also in the evening they check if you went to the toilet because of course that's something I didn't like it at all, but there are no toilets so. But you have to go to the toilet every day of course. And they check if you do everything and they check the oxygen, they check everything to make sure that you are fine and if you have pain or problems or whatsoever they give you a medication. So they are not doctors, but they are really very trained professionals in high altitude disease and everything you see. And I think that is extremely important. If you want to climb the Kilimanjaro, make sure you have really a lot of assistance and people that are trained to help you
Kit: 40:57 in that thin air. It's going to be really hard to talk to your fellow hikers. So what are you thinking?
Cindy: 41:05 Oh my God, what was I thinking? Yeah, you cannot talk because that's not possible. You don't have a, the air to talk, you need every energy you need for yourself to move your legs to put one leg before the other. Oh, what was I thinking sometimes I was thinking like, I, I cannot take it any longer. I was thinking like, C'mon i, because my, I'm somebody who's very determined, focused and very ambitious. So, I was like, I'm gonna reach the summit whether they have to drag me or whatever… if I have to crawl. I'm gonna go there. But I must say I had some very difficult moments and then I felt like I was thinking like, okay, I cannot take it any longer. I felt like I'm exhausted. I don't know if you ever experienced a moment that you think like, okay, I'm tired. I cannot take it any longer. I want to quit. Like, really you don't have it's finished. And sometimes I had that towards these thoughts and then I said, no. I said, come on, I have to do it still five minutes more, come on, you can do it. So I was like motivating myself, like I can do this, I can do this. And another thing, what was on my mind and that was of course one of my biggest lessons. Like I wanted to know how long it takes until we reach there, but they didn't want to say anything because it depends on the group and as we had some people with problems so they couldn't tell like if it's takes one hour, two hours, three hours, four hours. So I was thinking about the time, like how, how long it will take, will we reach the Base Camp before it's dark and, and so on. So all these thoughts like why did I do it? For example, what the hell am I doing here? How is my family sometimes. I was thinking about my daughter, the cold… I did a lot of thinking on the mountain.
Kit: 43:22 Okay. So I'm going to stop the interview here and we're going to pick this interview back up in two weeks, but I think you'll agree that Cindy gave us some great inspiration. Here's a woman who was 80 kilograms overweight. That's a significant weight issue that she was challenging. She did not hike, she did not exercise, and here she managed to take herself within about seven months from a non exerciser to the summit of Kilimanjaro and what she do? Number one, she set a goal. If you don't know where you're going to get to, how are you ever gonna find your way there? For people that are trying to do what Cindy's doing, sometimes they'll set a goal of achieving a marathon. So rather than saying, oh, I want to lose 80 kilograms, she found a purpose, something to do, and then she topped that off by making it bigger than herself by doing this goal for a charity that she felt a deep connection with that made it something that was bigger than herself.
Kit: 44:28 Then she took this goal and broke it into smaller parts, in what I often hear referred to as ‘elephant eating'. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Eventually the elephant is gone, but if you say, oh my gosh, how am I ever going to eat an elephant? It just is overwhelming. But if you say, oh, one bite, I can do one bite. So that's what she did. She realized that she wasn't cut out for the gym scene. So she's looked at what her, where are the trouble spots for her? So she decided, alright, I've got something that is not just going to the gym. And then she hired a personal trainer that would hold her accountable and once they figured out, okay, this is what we've got to do, then they broke it down into bite size chunks.
Kit: 45:09 It reminds me of when I was about to turn 50, I wanted to do some that say hey, I'm not dead yet. And at the time I didn't bike, run or swim, but I signed up for this sprint triathlon which does like a half a mile open water swim, a 17 mile bike ride and a 5k race. But I didn't know how to do any of those things, but I went online and I found a ‘couch potato to triathlete in 12 weeks' [program], and so I just did every single thing that the thing told me to do and I was able to achieve my goal and finish the triathlon with a respectable time. I mean I'm still no great shape swimmer or runner or a biker, but I was proud of myself. And Cindy did the same thing with a much, much bigger challenge. And what they did is they broke it down into the where they can get the easy wins. The first week, her goal was just a hike of two to three kilometers. That's like a mile, two miles total for the week when the whole goal in the end is be hiking about 40 miles. So by getting those easy wins that helps build your confidence and gives you the courage to keep going forward. Then they came up with plans when they had the setback, she got injured and could have said forget it, I can't do it now that I've hurt myself. But no, she couldn't do the hike it anymore, but she found that she could bike. So when you run into the setbacks in your training, you figure out another way, you've got to make it happen.
Kit: 46:36 So if you want to get into adventure travel, you want to find something that really gets you excited. If you're not sure where to start, just go to the directory page on the www.ActiveTravelAdventures.com website and just glance through the different episodes that we've already covered. Or you can use the little magnifying glass search bar and put in the activity level, the difficulty level, the budget levels for the different adventures that we've covered. The key is to pick something that really gets you motivated and excited, so pick something that you want to do and then figure out, “What do I have to do to get myself in the condition that I can achieve this goal?” Break it down, and then you have a motivation when you don't feel like it that day to do it. Say, oh no, I'm going to. I'm going to do that. I'm going to make it all the way to Fort William in Scotland or I'm going to climb Kilimanjaro.
Kit: 47:27 Anyhow, I hope that you've enjoyed this interview with Cindy and I'd love to hear your feedback on it. If you would please, I'd like to ask you to please share this on whatever your social channels, whether it's email, facebook, twitter, instagram, share it, use the Hashtag #adventuretravel, and Hashtag #Kilimanjaro and let's get the word out. I'd love to see more people find the Active Travel Adventures podcast and it's going to come from help from you guys, so I really appreciate and I hope that you like what we're doing here. I love getting feedback.
Kit: 47:58 I want to give a shout out to Stan who wrote back, “How have I never heard of this podcast and website before? This is going to keep me busy for weeks!” Thanks for the email, Stan. So for Stan and all of you who are listening, if you like the program, please spread the word because that's how people will find out about it.
Kit: 48:15 I'd appreciate if you share it with your email, your facebook, twitter, instagram, however you spread the word with your adventurous friends. I'd be most grateful. Thanks! In the meantime, I will be working on polishing up the back half of this interview in which I'll also be talking about the African Safari, so if you go to Tanzania, you're also doing the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro crater and so I did that myself and I also interviewed a company that does the a really cool adventure and cultural exchange over there, so I'm going to tack that onto the back half of Cindy's interview, Part II. Thanks for listening. I'll be back on Thursday in two weeks to finish up this episode. And until then, this is Kit Parks, Adventure On!
Climbing Kilimanjaro by Kit Parks Adventure Travel Specialist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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