• Alma Lopez-Tilghman

Why I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro?

Why on earth would anyone want to walk for 44 miles in 7 days, in every kind of possible climate, to the highest peak in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain on earth AKA Mt. Kilimanjaro, let alone a Latina who is not only, not in the best physical shape, but also battling with diabetes type 2?

For many reasons, but primarily because according to what is portrayed in society, I’m not supposed to. I say this because when I look at the pictures of folks doing things like hiking, especially exotic mountains, I normally have a picture of a very fit caucasian man with a beard, a plaid shirt, wearing shorts event though it’s cold AF, think Brawny paper towel man or a thin caucasian woman with blonde hair, and a shirt tied around her waist, like the character played by Reese Witherspoon in the movie “Wild”. They are fearless and free. All they need is a Swiss army knife to survive in the world! If he is a man, then he has the freedom to travel anywhere in the world without any concern for his safety and there is not a single doubt in the world that he will get to the top of that mountain. He is so confident that he makes me believe in him and I don’t even know him! He has the absolute freedom to do anything because he knows that anything is possible and I simply wanted to know what that felt like. What does it really feel to feel like anything is possible? May I please have a taste of that?

Inspired by my visit to Tanzania last December of 2018, where I stayed at a lodge straight across from Mt. Kilimanjaro, something told me I needed to learn more about it. I asked locals, did some research and soon found out that many referred to it as “every man’s mountain”. The reason for this label is because there are no technical skills required for hiking to the 19,341 FT summit. There is no need for ropes, climbing equipment, depending on the route you choose there is no scrambling (using your hands on steep terrain). Basically, if you can walk for long periods (average 6 hours a day) and you train, you can do it! Hiking, I learned, is basically a fancy word for vigorous walking. The world sure has a way of keeping us from doing things based on a few letters that someone else put together. With that said, this does not mean it’s an easy walk, preparation is important, followed by coping with altitude and as I had to learn, having the weather gods cooperate. When all 3 elements combine, it is indeed possible!

The more days I spent in Tanzania, the more I kept thinking that I had to try to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro. My husband thought I was crazy, but something in my heart kept tugging at it telling me that I had to come back to hike Kilimanjaro.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2019, I continued to be in total denial of my diabetes. I didn’t monitor it, I just told myself I would eat healthy and it would go away. But of course, this didn’t happen, my symptoms worsened. Allow me to TMI you, I began to get horrible yeast infections, that just would not go away. My vision got blurry a few times. My toes and hands started to feel a bit numb. Finally, the scariest incident was almost putting myself into a diabetic coma after one too many Sunday brunch cocktails that dropped my sugar to a level of below 40 (low sugar can actually be more dangerous than high). Excessive alcohol I learned makes my sugar drop dramatically. When I went to the doctor, he said my sugar levels were over 300 at a fasting state, a normal level is between 90-120. My AC1 was a 12.1, when a normal level should be under 6. An AC1 test is a blood test used to diagnose diabetes and to monitor how well you're managing it. It measures what percentage of your hemoglobin — a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen — is coated with sugar. In my case, all of my numbers were off the charts.

I knew I had to do something, so I started taking walks around my neighborhood parks, which soon turned into exploring the local Southern California mountains. On average I walked 3 times a week for about 60-90 minutes at my nearby park and on the weekends I usually took 1 long hike, anywhere from 3 to 6 hours in the local mountains. I’ve always loved the outdoors and blessed to live in LA with so many places to hike, there really is no excuse to not be active outdoors! During my next check-up, my AC1 had already gone down to a 9, not perfect, but improved. This kept me motivated to keep walking and I was convinced that I had to book that ticket to Tanzania and give Kilimanjaro a shot! So, I did!

I began to walk more, inviting my girlfriends to meet for hikes instead of happy hours. Although I must admit, I did miss those happy hours, I am so thankful for my tribe of girlfriends and my husband, who joined me on my journey, often waking up at crazy early morning times, and giving up hours of their personal time. As a result of my hiking I lost a few pounds, felt a lot stronger, and more importantly one week before my trip to Kilimanjaro I had another doctor check-up and was amazed to hear that I was literally only .1, less than 1 point away from being diabetes type 2 free and I am certain most of this was attributed to my hiking. With this news, I was ready to start my climb up to the world's tallest free-standing mountain.

Entrance to the Rongai Gate at Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park

#Mtkilimanjaro #tanzania #latinastravel #optoutside

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