The other day I was on a plane in my usual “thinking mood”, the one you get whenever you look at things from a high perspective. I had this awful feeling of fear about the startup I am building. The difficulties I am encountering are incomparable to any project I have ever undertaken. “The stakes are very high and it is worth competing, but maybe this is something too big for me.” These were the things that rumbled in my mind before takeoff. Once we emerged from the clouds though, all I could think of was the peak of Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa, which I climbed a couple of months ago.
I recalled seeing the mountain for the first time in Arusha, so grand and distant, with its 5,895 meters going well past the clouds… It seemed unconquerable, and I hadn’t even started. But at the beginning, courage never fails; it is the moment in which one is most reckless and carefree you still have nothing at risk and walking six hours a day and a bit of altitude are not so scary. In the same way I plunged headlong into my start-up. The first steps are amazing, you think you have the world at your feet, and you already see yourself holding the trophy of victory in your hands, your picture next to the 5-8-9-5-m sign. Untill you encounter the first difficulties; some of your teammates begin to feel sick due to food or altitude and first spasms of pessimism about our success emerge: “The journey is more important than the destination…” and so on. But inside us, our blood boiled.
Then the hardest day arrives: the last eight hours to get to the feet of the mountain and start the real climb. I tried to keep everything under control so as to arrive in the best possible state… But when I thought I had everything in place, the unexpected happens. Something that made me vulnerable in a way I had never felt before. An obstacle that would have made my ascent impossible!
…Devastated, I managed to arrive at the last base camp of Kilimanjaro. Almost all of the other team members were on the verge of exhaustion too. And we still had the actual climb ahead of us. Up until now we had just crossed Kilimanjaro’s entire national park until its base, about 4,600 m of altitude. We still had to face the 1,500 crucial meters (and of course ALL the way back!). The climb would have started at midnight with -15 degrees and a dreadful darkness. The hours during which we had to rest before setting off were the scariest of my life! I felt fragile, and I had a feeling of anxiety that crept upon me and that I did not comprehend. I had not even spoken to my family or boyfriend in seven days because there was no signal. My eyes were wide open and I had tears in them. Only upon my return did I decipher that tension: the great fear of failing. I had realized that I would have never made it to the top and the taste of defeat was devastating me. All this road, all these expectations, and not reach the peak; no one would have understood how much I had already struggled and how much effort I had already put into this journey… all that would have mattered would be “did you reach the top?”.
Well. At midnight the bell rang and I left my fears in the tent. I got dressed and secured my torch on my head and I started the ascent. Not even an hour later, I was exhausted. At 5,000 m the first breakdown, a member of the team started descending… while the rest of us carried on. But I began to slow down too much and hence not able to keep up. I was left behind with a guide; a kind, African boy who wore socks in place of gloves. I threw myself to the ground, I closed my eyes, I was cold, I could barely see the first of the three peaks I had to reach. But the boy encouraged me: “I can see it in your eyes, you can do it”. But all my body wanted, was to go down, to hell with glory! But then dawn braked above a sea of clouds and came to warm me up. The most beautiful dawn I have ever seen. I only focused on my steps and once in a while I looked at the peak.
In between nutrition bars (around 10 in a few hours!), after double the amount of time I was supposed to take, and not even an ounce of energy left, I reached the first point, approximately 5,600 m. I only had 200 m and 2 hours and a half of an easier trail left to go. By now with hallucinations and with my eyes shut, clinging to my guide, I decided to go on, I believed I could reach the top if I wanted to. The sun was strong in my eyes and I was starting to sweat. The best moment was encountering the rest of the team who had made it and was coming down, they were my heroes and they were incredulous in seeing that I too had made it up there. They hugged me and encouraged me to make the last effort and lent me a pair of sunglasses and sun block, which were essential.
I reached the peak: 5,985 m. Mountains of ice surfaced above the clouds together with stretches of white that merged clouds and snow. The blue sky and the bright sun were blinding me. Was it heaven or my victory?
At the foot of that mountain I was the youngest and the only woman of the team, with no competence in alpinism, trained but never enough to endure what I went through. I was vulnerable, scared, fragile, and assailed by the unbearable fear of failure. The only thing you need to have success in anything, is believing you can do it. You fail to reach the top only when you stop believing in it. This is the lesson I have learnt climbing Kilimanjaro to the top and this will stay with me forever; any time I will be afraid of succeeding in the path I decide to take. BELIEVE IN IT. The rest can be learned. The rest is peanuts!
Our KILITECHTRECK expedition Summit Stories also included a crowdfunding campaign for the Amani Kids; as a team we raised more than 20,000$. Special thanks to my team: Marco Marinucci for helping me like a father would have done, and especially for lending me his ghette which kept me warm during the climb. Franz Rovetta for his constant positivity and reassurance. Badda for his generosity, korean food, and for lending me his sun glasses on top of Kili. Simone Brunozzi for his philosophical point of view on the journey. Brett Garling for being tireless and filming every bit of our treck for our documentary, and last but not least Lippe Oosterhof for adding a tip of insanity to our adventure.