I want to write about love and heartbreak. My second love was my job in the army.
I loved everything about it. I loved how I felt as a young soldier, being accepted into a quirky group of individuals who gave me support and confidence. And afterwards when I came back as an officer and commanded over these soldiers – I loved the responsibility, the sense of purpose and the constant learning. I loved the desert view surrounding us and the blankets of poppies that would carpet the earth in late winter. I loved that place so much I would go and kiss every cobblestone right now if I could.
I had given my life and soul to the Branch – for a year I almost didn’t go back home, didn’t sleep, didn’t eat. I loved my work and my soldiers – true, absolute, extreme love. In the two months leading up to my change of command I felt as though I was being pried away forcefully from this burning passion. Not only that, I wanted to punish myself for not being better. For letting myself down. I felt that the only way to overcome this heartsickness and self-hate was to travel across the world. And climb a mountain.
Mountains have forever been a source of intrigue. Jews 2,000 years ago would climb up to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Until today, the term “moving to Israel” in Hebrew can be literally translated as “moving up”. Hermits hide in mountainside caves. Mountain ranges have defined landscapes and histories. And of course, the magnetic pull of the Everest. So I was drawn to make my own voyage up a humble mountain, to achieve some calm and tranquility by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The climb to the base camp from which we would launch the final ascent lasted four days. The definition of a mountain is a land form on which different levels of habitats exist. The first day we walked through sweltering jungle. The second day we climbed up jagged rocks with low bushes and mountain streams. The third day took us through gray plateaus streaked with snow stains and thinning air. The fourth day we hobbled under blows of hail and finally, finally reached the base camp. Only a few hours later the cry came from outside my tent to get up, pack up and begin the midnight climb to Uhuru Peak. The view outside was magical. Nothing could be seen in the complete darkness except a trail of headlights slowly winding upward, golden dots leading towards the heavens.
After seven hours of slow, freezing trudging I too got my obligatory picture with the sign stating that I had made it to the highest point of Africa and almost immediately began the way down. My other comrades to the group had gotten altitude sickness so I was alone with my guide, Essiah. We slided down to the base camp and after a quick meal decided to carry on to the next camp, about halfway down the mountainside.
The first four hours of racing and stumbling my way down the steep ridge were alright. When we arrived at the mid-way camp Essiah suggested that instead of staying the night we would continue and finish the climb, returning to the hotel that same afternoon. Though I was exhausted, the temptation of a warm shower was more than I could bear so I agreed to carry on. The next few hours were some of the most difficult of my life. Every step I took it felt as though thousands of small pins were piercing my knee caps. Every time I put my foot down I could feel the blood oozing and wetting my socks. I tried to support myself with the walking sticks but my body was broken.
Finally, finally! I saw the trail turn into a wide asphalt road. I started to get excited, hoping that we were close to the finish line. I gathered up my courage and dared to ask Essiah how much longer. “One hour” came the answer. I was devastated. I collapsed on the ground. I felt as though there was no possible way I would manage to make it. But I did. I don’t know where the strength came from, or if it just became obvious to me that sleeping outside in the jungle was not an option – but I made it.
When we finally got to the lodge that evening there was no hot water. But the satisfaction of knowing I had achieved my goal was much more rewarding.