Attitude: Key #2 to Summiting Kilimanjaro

Growing up, my Mom always said that her idea of roughing it was no hot water.

And, I’m basically in that same camp (no pun intended).

Up until Kilimanjaro, the sleeping bag I owned had a non-functional zipper and I hadn’t slept in a tent since probably middle school (aside my previous trip to Africa in 1998). And, I can guarantee I’ve never gone 9 days without a shower.

So, it was a pretty big shift to adjust to the conditions of the trip — 8 nights in a tent, questionable food, no shower, sleeping in freezing temps, hiking for miles on end for days on end, tons of dusty and windy conditions, and a strict limit as to how much stuff we could bring means we’re wearing the same clothes day in and day out.

All stuff I simply don’t do.

A Choice Between Two Outcomes

So, as I mentioned in my  Summiting Kilimanjaro: 10 Keys to Success post, I had two choices.

1) I could either whine about it, making myself and my campmates miserable

2) I could roll with it and laugh it off

Fortunately, my campmates and I chose the latter.

We Made It Fun

We made a game out of how many times we had to run back to the tent for warm clothes while waiting for dinner. In the mornings we told laughed while telling tales about sliding off the Thermarest at night – and whatever else might have gone wrong.

The clothes went from “being clean” to “being clean enough.”  The same with our hands. We had hot water for washing them before dinner, but after just a few days our hands were so dirty that the washing was mostly a matter of our hands having “clean dirt,” not actually having “clean hands.”

We made a game out of competing on our medical checkups.

Anything we could laugh about, we did.

The only time I swore on Kilimanjaro was on the way to the summit (so not apologizing for that). 5 hours of climbing up a scree (think gravel-like) hill with reduced oxygen would cause anyone to utter a few expletives. But, even then, I tried to make light of it — making up tag lines for summit t-shirts.

(Sadly I don’t remember any of the tag lines, because some were quite good — or at least that is what my oxygen-deprived brain thought at the time. Maybe it’s all for the best…)

But, our camp wasn’t like every group on the mountain…

On the trail I met a hiker from Michigan hiking with another tour company, I’ll call him Steve. Because the camps are in fixed locations, even though you would be with a different tour group all of the groups camp at the same (extremely large) campsite, so you would see the same people day after day.

On days one and two, Steve was a lovely person to chat with. He introduced me to someone else from Seattle, and I would look forward to chatting with him at our mutual rest points. However, by the third morning things had changed.

The second night it had snowed, and we awoke in the morning with frost on the ground and it was stupid cold. Tusker Trails had provided our group with four-season tents – so my tent wasn’t at all cold and I had slept extremely well. Apparently his tour group had problems with the cold (not a good omen when it’s the 3rd of 8 nights and you still have another 6,000 feet to climb), I’m guessing because they didn’t have 4-season tents.

From that point on every time I heard Steve he was complaining about something. The tents were bad, he couldn’t stand the food, he was tired of being dirty, there were no showers, he didn’t like the portable toilet, the group was moving to fast, the group was moving too slow, etc.

You Emulate Those You Surround Yourself With

Recently I’ve come to realize that I quickly emulate the behaviors, thought patterns, and actions of those around me (a concept we call mirror neurons). So, when surrounded by negative people I can quickly go negative.

But, I don’t like that Jen. It’s not who I want to be. So, I started avoiding him, but still, he was so vocal about his complaints that I could still hear him while inside our dining tent.

He was clearly not a happy camper (literally), and I remember commenting that I simply don’t have the energy to be that upset all of the time.

Attitude Impacts Performance

If you are happy and feeling optimistic, you are more likely to overlook the little stuff, forget about how much climbing down that ravine sucked, not dwell on a lightly twisted ankle, and not mind finding a rock to hide behind to go to the bathroom.

But, if you are negative and in a bad mood, your body is likely to hurt more, movement is not fun, and a spec of dust in your eye is likely to ruin your entire day. It’s really tough to get through nine days like that.

Me? I had FUN!!!


  1. says

    I used to play pool with this dude who taught me the secret to making shots is to have the attitude that you will succeed despite your situation. If you dont believe you'll make the shot, you never will and if you manage to, you probably wont be able to again. I think if you have something that is distorting your flow, you should figure out what it is, and release it, dont release it before you know what it is(you'll just forget about it), and dont hold on to it after you've figured it out(You'll just dwell on it). Laughter and expletives are excellent choices for release…too bad the air didnt make for good hackey sack. Nice post.

  2. Sylvia says

    I am leaving on the 10 of Feb, with some nervouse feeling BUT the excitement overwhelm that! I am doing this with my patner and the shift in his mental attitude is huge!

    Thank you for your possitive attitude

  3. says


    Have a wonderful time and enjoy the journey. I would consider it a life-changing experience, and am grateful beyond words that I did it. You’ll have an amazing time!

  4. says

    I love this post – it has been a very long time since I summitted Kilimanjaro (summer 1998) but I remember an experience much like the one you describe here. There were discomforts, absolutely, but what I recall is the laughter and then, more than anything, the wonder at the night sky yawning above us as we reached the top. xoxo

    • says

      It’s been a year and a half for me since I summited, but even now what I remember is the profound joy of the experience. It was definitively a life-changing experience.


  1. […] Attitude: Climbing Kilimanjaro is as much mental as anything else. I heard climbers from other tour groups complaining about everything from their tents to their guides to their food. It’s 9 days in a tent, you’re following someone else’s schedule, you are going to be both stupid hot and freezing cold, not to mention insane amounts of dust, dirt, and wind. You will be convinced you’ll never be clean again, and you start fantasizing about the shower at the end. I quickly realized I could either whine about it, and make myself and my campmates miserable, or I could roll with, laugh it off, and chalk it all up to part of the experience. I chose the latter. […]

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