6 Business lessons from hiking Mt Kilimanjaro​ – Part 2

In Part 1 I discussed the importance of setting audacious goals, doing your homework and hiring the right people. 

4. Be flexible and be ready to adjust plans

Our 3rd day was supposed to be an acclimatization day during which we would stay at the same camp for 2 nights to give our bodies time to adjust to the altitude. However, Kristy was eager to finish the hike a day earlier, so she can get to a volunteering assignment she had committed to. In the morning of our acclimatization day she told me that she wants to skip acclimatization and get to the next camp that day.  That threw a wrench in Richard’s well planned climb, and as for me – I was afraid that we are compromising our chances for success. I had already started to feel the effects of the high altitude: nausea and no appetite. And we had another 6000 feet of elevation gain to go.

We discussed the pros and cons with Richard, and what were the risks of not taking an acclimatization day. By then, he’s had a chance to assess our abilities and observe how well we were doing at altitude and told us that he’s quite confident that we’ll succeed even if we skipped acclimatization day. I decided to trust his judgement, and that having one more day in Moshi will give me the opportunity to explore more of Tanzania. We quickly replanned, Richard informed his team about the new plan and we continued up the mountain that day.

It turned out that we were quite lucky summiting a day earlier than planned. We enjoyed beautiful views of the glaciers at the top, while a day later there was thick fog at the top and no views. And with my extra day in Moshi, I got to swim in the beautiful lake Chala situated in the crater of an extinct volcano on the border of Tanzania and Kenya.

Being firm on your goals and objectives, but flexible on how you get there, not only increases your chances of success, but sometimes helps you get more done.

5. When it gets tough, go slow and steady – polepole (Swahili for ‘slowly’)

The last phase of the climb was the toughest. We started our summit hike at midnight on the 4th day, after only a few hours of sleep. The trail was very steep going up on the outside of the Kilimanjaro crater in what it seemed like an endless number of switchbacks. It was very cold, ground was covered in snow and it was pitch black. I was wearing all my skiing clothing to keep warm. Our bodies and brains were tellings us to turn back, our tummies felt nauseous from the altitude. We had barely eaten the past couple of days.

Our guides helped set the pace, going very slowly, putting one foot in front of the other. They kept reminding us to go ‘polepole’, which means ‘slowly’ in Swahili, and to drink fluids. One of our guides, even started singing. It felt surreal – the night sky studded with bright stars, the guide’s voice in the pitch black darkness, and the sound of our steps and heavy breathing as we slowly ascended towards the rim.

Conserving our energy, enjoying the majestic night sky and progressing towards our goal one step at a time, were the keys to making it to the rim that day. In business as in mountain climbing it’s all about the journey, not the destination. While there was a clear destination for our Kilimanjaro hike, in business there is always the next phase of building and scaling the business, and it’s even more important to keep at it slow and steady, with unwavering focus.

6. Don’t give up

As we were climbing up the steep volcano wall, it felt like there is no end to our climb. Kristy was getting exhausted and her brain started playing tricks on her due to the lack of oxygen. Her brain was blending reality with imaginary visions. She vomited a couple of times, which is quite typical at this altitude. We finally reached Gilman’s point, which is at the rim of the Kibo crater at dawn. The view was unbelievable in both directions. We were above the clouds and once the sun came up it got a lot warmer. We could see the glacier inside the Kibo crater – a beautiful view, rewarding us for the difficult climb.

At Gilman’s point, Kristy decided that she’ll turn back and not proceed to the top of Kilimanjaro – the Uhuru peak. She’s had enough and felt that reaching the rim of the Kibo crater was achievement enough. And it was a great achievement!

I decided to continue and reach the top. From Gilman’s point to the Uhuru peak, which is only another 610 vertical feet up, was a relatively easy flat walk on the rim that took another 1 and 1/2 hours. When we were approaching the top, another unbelievable view opened up before us – the Furtwangler glacier. It’s a much larger glacier that’s close to the trail, so we could see the crevices in the ice. The colors were beautiful greenish white. It was truly breathtaking. At 8:32, after more than 8 and 1/2 hours of climbing, I was finally at the top of Uhuru peak. I was ecstatic.

I’ve seen so many people give up, including my former business partner, when things get tough. Sometimes it seems that continuing is pointless, the exhaustion and incredible difficulties seem unsurmountable. At that point it feels like things will never change, but they always do. If you persevere, it does eventually get easier, all your efforts start to pay off, you get a break, and small successes start accumulating into bigger successes. The rewards of perseverance and reaching your goals are also so much bigger. You’ll be both humbled and more confident after a difficult success. All it takes is to not give up!