Written by: Greg Ellifritz
Fifteen years ago today I made a trek to the summit of the highest mountain in Africa. While getting to the top of Kilimanjaro didn’t require any technical climbing skills, it did require more fortitude than any endeavor I had previously undertaken.
For those who don’t know, Kili is more than a mile higher up than those big 14,000 foot tall peaks in Colorado. It’s no joke. The summit was about 15 degrees (F) with 40 mile an hour winds. It was a five day hike to the top and back down.
I had horrible altitude sickness and high altitude cerebral edema on summit day. I actually passed out at the summit shortly after the photo above was taken. I’ve never puked so much in my entire life. For the last six hours of the ascent, I would throw up about every five steps I took. All this was happening at 3:00 am so that we could be on the top for the sunrise.
It was rough, but I made it to the top and then made it back down to base camp without assistance. And now, whenever I have to work through a difficult situation, I tell myself:
“This isn’t shit. You climbed Kilimanjaro while you were mostly dead. Suck it up and do the work.”
It’s good to have motivating successes that can help you through the tough challenges of life.
In 2021, I was all alone after 10 days of fighting Covid in a tiny Ecuadorian beach town without a doctor or hospital. My ER doctor friend from home convinced me that I had to get myself back to the USA for treatment before my organs started shutting down. My pulse ox hadn’t broken 80% for several days. I couldn’t stand without feeling faint. I was gasping for air as I laid in bed. Police in Ecuador were arresting people who tested positive for Covid and jailing them in quarantine hospitals that had a 33% fatality rate.
I had to do some James Bond kind of stuff to doctor my test results, dodge the police, and make my way home while being unable to walk 50 yards without stopping to catch my breath. You can read more about that adventure in Escape from Ecuador. I passed out twice navigating my three airport connections and 13 hours of flying time. I still kept going.
What gave me the strength to get home when I was dying was my memories of climbing Kilimanjaro.
I just kept mentally telling myself: “You climbed the highest mountain in Africa when you were so sick you couldn’t breathe. You’ve felt like this before and you still kept going. This is an airport, not Kilimanjaro. Suck it up. Keep moving. You’ll be fine.”
I was able to draw upon the strength I had mustered summiting Kili while gravely ill. I remembered suffering through all my previous brutal football, wrestling, Judo, and boxing practices. They were miserable at times, but I still prevailed. Having a past history of making it through difficult situations made my severe Covid symptoms seem a little less intense.
If I hadn’t successfully prevailed in those previous “gut checks,” I don’t know if I would have made it home from Ecuador.
There is a lesson to learn here.
Go do epic shit. You never know when your suffering will help you pull through an even more trying time in the future.
And for those of you who like seeing cool things, check out the photos below from my trip. You may also like the story about how I was almost killed by a corrupt Tanzanian cop before I even started my hike.