Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kilimanjaro: Mind over Body

A month is a long time... the sum of 30 days lived to the fullest.

From landing in the chaotic Kilimanjaro airport, my friend Judy and I started our trek on the stunningly beautiful Kilimanjaro mountain. I had no expectations, no agenda. Will I make it to the top? This was not even a question I asked myself, as I was striving for something else, something less tangible to take me away from a highly pressured, regulated life, a life that at times feels does not belong to me.

Why Kilimanjaro? I do love mountains and find an inner peace and a sense of belonging to something greater while in the mountains. Kilimanjaro is an extraordinary mountain where in the course of ascending to its summit, you experience every climate, from rain forests alive with birds, monkeys, flowers, scents, to heather landscapes, dry rocky ground, and finally glaciers and snow.

The experience of walking for hours on unfriendly terrain, trekking poles in hand or hugging the sheer face rocks while climbing a frighteningly huge cliff and the grueling last 11 hours that will take you, one step and one breath at the time to the top of this magical mountain.

The magic comes from within as the top itself is pretty grey and dreary. The magic is the experience, the incredible power of one's mind to push, control the body, refuse to despair, accepting what is handed to you at that moment... aches, fatigue, feeling sick and dizzy, the conflicting tears of both brutal pain and joy.

The magic of meeting the most generous and kind people who have nothing, not even the right shoes, no socks but will give you their unconditional support, help, smiles, will dance and sing with you.

This is pure magic! Alone with my thoughts at night, tucked in my sleeping bag, I felt an inner peace, a quiet I had never experienced. I thanked God for every day offered to me. I will never take any sunrise or sunset for granted, this is the incredible gift of life.

And yes, I did make it to the top...

Day 1: entering the forest via the Lemocho route. Lemocho is the longuest  and the most difficult routedue to challenging steeper terrain,but ideal for anyone confident on their ability to deal with steep long  5 to 8 hours hikes a day. It is considered scenically the most beautiful route due to the variations of the landscape and nature and also the most isolated route as hardly anyone approaches Kilimanjaro via this route. Judy and I felt the mountains was ours as, until the very lasts days, no other trekkers crossed our path. The ultimate way to take in this remarkable mountain.

Columbus monkey, noisy, curious, beautiful...

Day 2: Landscape changes dramatically from rainforest the giant heathers

Day 3: Up with the sunrise, on the magnificent Shira Plateau

Day 4: Our first partial view of the summit

Entering the magical land of the giant Lobelias

Day 5: The daunting Barranco wall face. Rock face climbing with no ropes!!

Famous words: Hug the rock. Great cure for anyone who, like me, may have terrible fear of heights

 Day 7: On summit day, hardly slept from stress, up before sunrise, could not eat, could not drink...but in awe of the beautiful sunrise above the clouds at 17,000 feet

Ready to go! average timing 11 hours, made it in 7 hours up, then 3 more hours on a grueling descent. was totally sick, dizzy from dehydration and altitude, felt my head was literally going to explode. 

Our guide had to help rescue one poor soul (about half my age..) that was just sitting on the path, unable to move. Needless to say, that gave me the last booster i needed, I was going to make it up and down on my own 2 legs...

Day 8: On our last descent day, we had a very emotional parting with our porters. saying goodbye was a teary  moment as we hugged and kissed everyone (keeping in mind no one had properly washed in 8 days...). Judy and I gave everything away, our clothes, rain gear, socks, shoes, gloves, medical supplies. We asked everyone for what they needed most and left with a very long list of shoe sizes, clothes sizes, backpacks needed. We left with a promise that we will make a tiny improvement in their life (other than the tips handed down during our goodbyes).

We ended our trek with a well deserved bottle of champagne, said goodbye to Joseph and Hussein, our guides and enjoyed the most blissful shower back at our lodge.
Could not wait for Luke to join me and embark on our Safari.

A bientot,


  1. Francise-
    This is such an inspirational post. My hat is off to you!
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful experience, and congratulations on reaching the top!
    These images are beautiful.

  2. Oh Francine,
    What an adventure and a fantastic feat accomplished. Such a challenge and you did it !! I think that I would have lasted about an hour !! You must have gone through so many emotions, but, how satisfying to have completed such an arduous task. You must have felt so elated when you stood at the top.
    ........and, what a generous gesture to donate all of your things and to go and get them some more although, I expect to you it seemed so little, but it must have made so much difference to them.
    I love all of your photographs .... such stunning blog now seems so shallow !!!!
    Hope that you are enjoying the safari and I hope that we get to see some of your photographs. XXXX

  3. What an amazing experience! It was so cool to get glimpses into it! Thanks for sharing. xo

  4. absolutely amazing....
    you are so fortunate to be able to do this!!!
    thank you so much for sharing!!


  5. Francine, this is amazing, you have inspired me beyond!! I cannot imagine the shape you must be in and the stamina you have.

    The scenery and the experience are a lifetimes dream.

    I have emailed you regarding the winner of your generous giveaway. It is Heather of Lost in Arles. She is thrilled.

    Art by Karena

  6. Hi Francine
    I am in awe of you and this amazing journey! I admire you for stepping out of the familiar, for risking, for daring, for being so loving and giving of yourself. You enrich the planet by your presence. I feel truly blessed to know you. I am glad that you are back safe and sound!

  7. Yes, Karena is right, I am thrilled beyond words but I am equally delighted to have found your blog, Francine. I have flown over Kili several times, I have camped at its base but can not claim to have the endurance to make such a climb. However, I imagine that it must have taken enormous courage and determination to leave the South of France to create your company in the States and those characteristics served you well on your climb! Your generosity with your guides says everything to me. I know how grateful they are as everyone in the African tourism industry has been so hit by the downturn in the economy. Namaste.

    I have sent my mailing address in an email to Again, thank you--I will give the lamp a good home. It is a great treat for me, this is not something that I could have ever afforded on my own.

    I can't wait to hear about your safari--it is my favorite thing to do in the world (I miss travelling--the Press has also been sorely hit by the economy) and hope that you were able to have a little luxury after such a difficult trek.

    Je vous souhaite une excellent WE,

  8. Felicitations Francine.....What an incredible is such a tough climb and I so admire you.....I would love to hear more ......xv

  9. I am always always amazed at your adventures, Francine. But this one is completely awesome, my friend. Climbing that rock face? I could never have done it. Congratulations of making the climb successfully!! Sending love...

  10. Hi Francine, Congratulations on your great accomplishment! Not only making it to the summit of Kilimanjaro but victory over all the obstacles and trial you face, and for grace to had to see the needs of other and help. Bravo on all!
    I am Yvonne @ StoneGable and part of Marsha's "For Invitation Only" group. So nice to meet you!

  11. b r a v o... my friend also in nyc does outward bound and i just marvel at what she accomplishes... and i now feel the same of you... truly amazing..

  12. Francine this is absolutely fascinating. First let me tell you that the photo on day 7 made me dizzzzzzzy! Thought I was looking up at those clouds then realized I was looking down on them! Good God woman, what on earth made you want to do such a trip? I really am very curious about that. Are your husband and your children the adventurous types?
    I am amazed at the adventurer in you. You should be very proud of such an accomplishment. Thank you so much for sharing and I'm so glad you didn't fall off of that high mountain! Whew....
    xo Lisa

  13. Wild monkeys. You amaze me. I am cheering for you Francine..
    Your the tops, your the Kilimanjaro!!!

  14. HI Francine, congratulation on an incredible trip and a lifetime of memories. Shots are great, what incredible subjects.. Enjoy Carla

  15. HI Francine
    What an incredible journey.. of body and spirit.. it's the sort of thing I;d love to do but KNOW i wouldn't make it... You must be so proud of your accomplishment..and humbled by your experience... what a mix of emotions...

    Those giant Lobelias are mind blowing.. like walking into some lost world.. I'm sure all these sights and experiences must influence your design... Can't wait to see how...

    I can understand how grateful you felt to your guides... They have so little yet share so much.... I think your ongoing contribution will make a big difference in their lives...

    Thanks for sharing these experiences with us... fantastic!! ciao xxx Julie

  16. Congratulations Francine - that is truly an incredible accomplishment that you will hold with you for the rest of your life. I am so very impressed.


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