18 women and the 4 life lessons they attained from their gruelling challenge.
In August 2012, an unusual group of climbers gathered at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain. Eighteen women – working mothers, single women, housewives and professionals – were attempting to climb the treacherous mountain as a daring fundraising initiative for Jewish Women's Empowerment in Johannesburg.
They embarked on an intense training period, as they prepared to take on almost 6000 meters of mountainous terrain and passing through five different climates. These 18 women spent several months preparing to face extreme altitude, freezing temperatures and unparalleled physical exhaustion.
“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
What they didn’t realize was how much they would learn along the way and the impact the climb would have on their lives. The mountain showed them what is possible when bravery, courage and faith lead the way.
I spoke to some of these incredible women about their experiences and insights on how each of us can achieve great heights.
1. To succeed, you need to pack just the essentials
Packing for the climb requires deliberation and care. Every single item in the bag served a specific purpose. There was nothing in excess; each item was needed to help them reach the top. Superfluous baggage weighs you down and makes the climb more difficult, especially as you reach the summit.
In life, it’s so easy to get caught up in acquiring physical possessions and forget that material possessions are here only to help you reach a spiritual goal. Focus on the essentials and leave behind the negativity, pessimism, resentment. Pack a lot of faith, gratitude, resilience and courage to make your climb easier and more joyous.
2. When all is stripped away, all that remains is the truth
While climbing Kilimanjaro, your focus is on the necessities you need to survive. There are no vanities and distractions that normally consume the daily consciousness. There is nothing but the vast and towering mountain and you. In this space, you comprehend what is true and valuable in this world. In this space of complete vulnerability, you understand that all that exists is the Creator and His will.
Tali Frankel described the following scene: “On Friday, the second day of the climb, it rained non-stop. We hiked through rain forest and as the first view of the summit Uhuru Peak appeared, cloud cover came down. We lit our shabbat candles, and the rain stopped for the first time that day. The din of the other campsites was present, but as we began singing the Shabbat prayers, I was aware of descending silence. My constant mental chatter stopped, and as we turned around at the end of Lecha dodi, there was a communal intake of breath. The cloud had lifted and the mountain peak appeared. It was nothing less than a moment of encounter with God. I felt a profound sense of peace, and realized that when you are vulnerable and stripped of externalities, all you have is truth, and that truth is God.”
3. There are no shortcuts to overcoming the mountain
Preparing for the climb required 100% commitment. Gruelling training sessions in the pre-dawn winter fog, regular hikes carrying heavy backpacks, and climbing up and down steep stairs were part of the regimen. You cannot do it overnight. It takes time, practice and dedication to build up the strength and stamina to succeed.
Similarly, achieving spiritual fortitude takes constant mettle, daily dedication and commitment. It cannot be achieved overnight, and only preparation and working on one’s self constantly will enable the strength to overcome your personal mountain when all seems impossible.
4. We are only restricted by our self-limitations
None of the women were seasoned mountaineers. But they discovered an unknown part of themselves.
“Everything about the climb was way beyond my comfort zone,” Robyn Smookler told me. “I am very far from being sporty or even physically active. I love nature, but I don’t love sleeping with rocks as my mattress, or ‘showering’ with wet wipes. I now have a new sphere of possibilities, anything is possible”.
In life, we often limit our growth and possibilities by our narrow self-definition. Society, our upbringing and our own internal script dictate what we can and cannot achieve. Yet by re-examining these limitations and being open to exploring new parts of our being, we can achieve greatness and conquer mountains which once seemed impossible. Our souls have infinite light and greatness to bring to the world, if only we free ourselves of our fears and pre-conceived ideas of what the world should be like.
While talking to these women, I am overwhelmed by a sense of awe and inspiration. I am reminded the words of Edmund Hillary, the first Mount Everest climber, who said, “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”