Monday, November 24, 2014

Using Music to Overcome Exhaustion - an Anecdote from Mount Kilimanjaro

One Climber's Story from Mount Kilimanjaro



by Kathleen Lisson

‘This is supposed to be the defining event of my life, my giant ‘f*ck you’ to a mid-life crisis, and I’m failing,’ I thought desperately. The past few days on the mountain had slowly taken away my self-identity. Without the pungent pleasure of oxygen I was less secure and outgoing. We were at over 16,000 feet, in the ‘glacial zone,’ and I was almost too exhausted to even take a drink of water and struggle with a food wrapper.

Just a few minutes after we stopped for food and water, it was time to start hiking again into the night, footprints keeping a slow, steady pace through loose soil, the path illuminated only by the dim light of our headlamps. We had started near midnight, and, after hiking for hours, I had cautiously asked how much longer until dawn. The answer was heartbreaking. Four more hours until the sun, and six until the summit.

Mountain climbing just isn’t your skill. You’ll never hike again, and I’m not sure you’ll even make it up this mountain, the voice inside my head promised. How can you keep this pace up? Your water is frozen, your guts are liquid and your stomach stopped digesting hours ago. Screw your goals, just stop now and rest. I focused on breathing slow and steady.  One foot in front of the other. Keep up with Kapange.

A half hour down the trail later, the group took another break. While the 20-somethings chatted and enjoyed energy bars around me, I lied on my back with my eyes closed and tried to slow my breathing. When Kapange told the group in a quiet voice to start hiking again, I knew it was time to pull out the iPod. My last weapon against the night, the exhausted voice inside my head and the steady thumping of my heartbeat in my ears.

Moments later, the music blared into my brain. These were the songs that I loved, that I had sang out loud in my car on my way to work, barrelling down the highway a continent away. I relaxed into the pace and let the lyrics replace my doubting inner voice. The endless night was still there, but I was powerful, I was smiling, I was once again the wise-ass redhead that cracked jokes and believed she could run half marathons and climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

When the dawn broke, I saw the most beautiful sunrise in my life over Kenya. It was still hours to Uhuru Peak, but I knew I would be present at the top.

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