16 Life-Changing Lessons Learned Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

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credit: Torleif Svensson/Corbis/Getty Images

No one goes through a life-changing experience like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro without coming home with stories to tell. When 18 women started out on their journey, they had no idea how their climb would impact them -- physically, mentally and emotionally. Now that the team is back, they've had time to reflect on their time climbing Kilimanjaro. Here, in their own words, is what it meant to a few of the climbers and what they learned.


Just Show Up -- Even If You're Nervous

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“It's the willingness to show up with no guarantees. It's doing something that you feel uncomfortable doing. Doing something you feel excited about doing but also a little nervous about doing. It's like showing up with your whole heart, not half a heart. I think that's empowerment for anybody.” –Heather Thomson, TV personality, "Real Housewives of New York," and entrepreneur

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Focus Your Mind to Free Your Senses

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“During the climb on Kilimanjaro, I had one thing on my mind: hiking. That's a rarity I hadn’t experienced probably since I was a kid. I loved the single-minded action hiking requires. And the mind wanders while the senses have time to explore the ever-changing scenery: Colobus monkeys, white-necked ravens, little sparrows at 16,000 feet, ferns and junipers and wildly weird Dr. Seuss trees. How lucky, to have one thing to do. How wonderful to spend every day outdoors!” –Ellie Weihenmayer, of Golden, CO, second-time Kilimanjaro climber

Read more: These Badass Women Share What It's Really Like to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro


There Is Strength in Vulnerability

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“Climbing Kilimanjaro taught me that I am a whole lot stronger than I ever knew. I also learned that there is pure power and grace in surrendering to vulnerability. In the past, I’ve had a tough time asking for help. On the climb, I had to rely on the love and support of my team. It was empowering to allow myself the freedom to ask for support and even more powerful to allow myself to receive it.” –Angie Shireman, owner of Good Vibe Tribe Jewelry


Being Present Helps You Face Your Fears

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“You must stay in the here and now. You have to completely focus on where you are, being in the present moment all the time. I had to really think about slow, deep breathing, a slow, slow pace and just putting one foot in front of the other. It was a great lesson in mindfulness. I thought about how important it is to face your fears head on. I adopted a 'let's do this!' attitude. When my thoughts did wander, I thought about my husband's homemade pizza!” –Remembrance “Memmy” Staber, certified personal trainer and ambassador for the non-profit organization No Barriers

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Use a Failure to Motivate You to Try Again

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“I married my husband (blind climber, Erik Weihenmayer) 19 years ago on Kilimanjaro. We had our special ceremony on the Shira Plateau, about one third up the mountain. The climb was ill-planned and our summit day occurred before anyone had time to acclimate. The crater rim took 15 hours to reach. From there, you’d hike two hours up Uhuru peak, and then down-climb another six hours. At the crater, I didn't feel the need to hike up the last hump to the summit sign. I was just done with the mountain. Well, for 19 years, I have had that little itch that I couldn’t quite scratch. How awesome to have a second chance!” –Ellie Weihenmayer


Lean Into the Joy of Your Accomplishments

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“Before, I was always striving. I always felt like I hadn't really truly succeeded yet. What I recognized on the climb is to lean hard into your moments of joy. Don't dress rehearse for it. It's scary to do, because if you're not totally joyful, then you won't be let down as hard, right? You won't be as afraid. But you know what? Not being joyful won't protect you from pain.” –Heather Thomson

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Let Nature Help You Heal

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“In nature you are vulnerable, and you have to trust yourself and most importantly, the team. Being in nature also helps you heal. You can get rid of a lot out there! We shared a lot of tears, but more importantly, lots of laughs.” –Remembrance “Memmy” Staber


A Challenge Allows You to Let Go of Baggage

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“On day 3, my emotions were all over the place! With the support of my friends, I allowed myself to shed layers of emotional baggage and move toward the light that comes with open-hearted freedom. Climbing Kilimanjaro was a personal and spiritual journey for me. With each passing step, I shed the weight of limiting beliefs and fear. I promised myself that going forward, I was going to be more tender with my heart. The day ended with a dance party as our guides and porters sang to us. It was the perfect ending to a tough day.” –Angie Shireman

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You Are Stronger Than You Realize

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“I joined this team of fearless climbers with the intention of raising awareness to the many avenues women can take to help themselves heal from the aftermath of military sexual trauma. One such organization is No Barriers Warriors based out of Fort Collins, CO, that welcomes both men and women veterans and uses the backdrop of the outdoors to instill wellness and healing. It's their belief that 'What is within you is stronger than what's in your way.' That's what I kept telling myself when I felt things were proving difficult. That positive self-talk helped me to keep stepping forward.” –Stevi Gelinas, massage therapist and outdoor enthusiast


Ditch Your Devices to Give Your Brain Downtime

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“It was a nice time for me to actually be off the grid. I had all these big plans to Periscope on the side of the mountain and send pictures and live feed of our experience, and the satellites were not there. It was just me and the dirt. It gave me a lot of time to think, which I don't get often. I recognize how scarce it is. I learned to calm down a little bit. I was reminded how to relax. I was reminded how to walk along and whistle.” –Heather Thomson

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Find a Mantra to Help You Confront a Fear

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“On the night we were getting ready to summit I was very nervous and anxious. I laid in my tent, did some meditation and my mom's voice kept coming into my head saying, 'Don't be scared of the darkness; just step towards the light.' (You start for the summit at 1 a.m. with five hours of hiking in pure darkness.) And that night I used that message with every step I took, and when the sun came up, I cried tears of pure joy! And I stepped all the way to 19,341 feet.” –Memmy Staber


Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“When I look at women now, I know that we are capable of so much more. Some of the gals on this trip hadn’t really been camping. Some hadn’t rock climbed. So when they encountered the Barranco Wall, they literally faced their fears of falling off a mountain. And yet, they powered through that section with determination, steady footwork and a mindset that said this can’t stop me... I’m proud to have been connected with a group of women that were already reaching the very moment they had said yes. I hope I’ll continue in this same mindset.” –Ellie Weihenmayer

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Success Gives You Confidence to Accomplish More

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“There were many lessons I learned along the trail. The one that stands out the loudest for me is that I can do anything! In the past, I have struggled with self-doubt, feelings of worthlessness and depression. I have often doubted my abilities to tackle big experiences, both personal and professional. The successful completion of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro has brought about a more confident, can-do attitude towards any goal. Gone are the days of 'I think I can.' I will look toward new ventures knowing that if I prepare correctly, I can do it. That is the magic gem.” –Stevi Gelinas


Revel in the Beauty of Life

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“On the side of the mountain, I really broke down all the societal, parental, family and business demands. I just sang and whistled and skipped and jumped, and I reveled in the beauty and in the moment watching the other women. Watching them laugh together. Watching them cry together. Watching the sun set and watching it rise.” –Heather Thomson

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Gratitude Can Help You Through the Hard Times

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“Most of my thoughts were based in pure awe of my surroundings and my incredible team. I felt so much love and support. I was mindful of my steps and made mental notes of the gratitude I was feeling for this life-changing journey. During difficult times along the way, it was so helpful to have a team of strong, empowering women to remind me that I was strong enough to make it to the top! I thought of my friends from No Barriers, who continue to be my heroes. Thinking of them empowered me and proved to be fuel for my body and soul.” –Angie Shireman


Rely on Your Rope Team

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

“While we're all individually strong to the rope, we're collectively a part of the team. That unit has to work together. When it comes to the rawness on the side of a mountain, you can't hide anything. If you have altitude sickness, you're sick. If you have fear of heights, you're shaking. There's no way you can hide it. When you're on a side of the mountain, you are completely vulnerable to show who you really are. Some are going to lose it and some are going to not. Some are going to be effective and some are not going to. That may change hour by hour, day by day.” –Heather Thomson

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What Do YOU Think?

credit: Photo Credit: Marion Kaufer

What's the biggest thing you've tackled in life? Both literally and figuratively. Have you ever climbed a mountain? What training went into it? Or maybe your mountains are more figurative. What did you learn from the experience? How did you grow and change as a person? Which of these lessons resonated the most with you? Which ones have you experienced in your own life? Share your thoughts, stories and experiences in the comments section below!

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Winter Camping Food Ideas

credit: Torleif Svensson/Corbis/Getty Images

No one goes through a life-changing experience like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro without coming home with stories to tell. When 18 women started out on their journey, they had no idea how their climb would impact them -- physically, mentally and emotionally. Now that the team is back, they've had time to reflect on their time climbing Kilimanjaro. Here, in their own words, is what it meant to a few of the climbers and what they learned.


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