Kilimanjaro #1MTClimb4Peace UPDATE

Greetings friends! I wanted to give you a detailed update on the end results of our fundraising climb up Kilimanjaro. Thank you all for following this journey, for supporting our team and me personally! I can’t thank you enough.

We climbed 6 months ago… I still feel like I am reeling from it all. Still processing it all. But I received a wonderful email this week with updated reports on the funds we raised, and the programs those funds are supporting. Most importantly, real women are receiving support, healing and hope through these programs. In a world full of bad news (all day every day it seems), this is GOOD news.

(Note: If you want to read more about our climb, I am going to be filling out the #1MTClimb4Peace page with reports, blogs, articles, etc. Just click the #1MTClimb4Peace tab in the top menu for more!)

Here is a little story to wet your appetite…. from a Congolese woman named Deborah, a survivor of sexual violence:

My name is Deborah Ngorore, I am 26 years old and I have one child born out of rape. I am from Ntamugenga village in Rutshuru territory and I grow cassava and maize to support myself and my child. In February 2015, when I was in the farming place in the process of cultivating, two armed men met me and told me that if I try to shout they will kill me. They both abused me. 

When I got home, I told everything to my husband thinking he would help me, but instead he kicked me out of the house. A few months later, I realized I was pregnant. It really ached to keep a fetus without knowing who the father was. 

During the delivery process I had complications of childbirth. They ended up transferring me to a qualified hospital but it was too late. I unfortunately developed a VVF. During that time, I stayed there as I didn’t have any means to go for medical treatment.

I would later learn through volunteers who were sensitizing the local community that I was in that there was an NGO helping people like me. I did not hesitate to come and see them. May God bless you as you think of the most vulnerable women, as from now on I have recovered my smile. 

Deborah - Photo courtesy of World Relief.
Deborah – Photo courtesy of World Relief.

I have blogged about it in detail on my other website, Please click on the following image to be taken to the site.



Living a new and improved story… thanks MPC!

I am feeling incredibly nostalgic, emotional, proud, excited, emotional, incredulous today.

A year ago, this month, I got off the couch. I thought it was just so I could climb munros in Scotland like Sam Heughan did. I thought I was probably going to fail (again) at the C25K program I was starting. I didn’t have a lot of hope or confidence in myself.

But apparently there was enough of something (desire? desperation? hope?) to ignite a flame that has yet to burn out. (Sure, it flickers and looks like it is going out sometimes… usually when I am lounging on the couch again, with pizza and chips scattered around me. But it still doesn’t go out.) One small success after another of not failing, of not falling back into my “old ways” led me across the world and to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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(click on the image to go to the recorded episode)

Last night, I was interviewed by a life and business coach, Mark Schall, in New York on a radio show called “Mark My Words.” The first half of the show focused on my personal couch-to-kilimanjaro journey (basically the content of this whole blog), and the second half was about my time in the Congo meeting Esperance and the broader cause of trying to end violence against women in warzones. I was a nervous wreck going into it, but quickly began to enjoy being able to talk about the things that I was most passionate about and was actually surprised when we ran out of time and didn’t even talk about actually climbing Kilimanjaro. 🙂 I said UM and UH and YOU NOW about 1346 times, but other than that (and some bumbling that I am trying not to kick myself over) felt really good about the interview.

And talking through my story again just made me all the more grateful for this time in my life, and for the “players” that have contributed so profoundly to the changes that took place over the last year.

Outlander. Sam Heughan. My Peak Challenge. Peak Warriors. Hiking. Mountains. #C25K. One Million Thumbprints. Esperance.  CrossFit. Kilimanjaro. ALL GAME CHANGERS IN MY BOOK.

Here are some topics from the interview that I feel need a bit of expounding… 

On becoming a fangirl** at 36 – I would have never in a million years thought I would become a fangirl. Of anything. I have always been a movie buff since a child, but never really got into the YA series of books and shows that had a significant fan following. So imagine my surprise in January of 2015 when I fell into my first fandom, Outlander, at age 36. Today, though, I wear that label with pride because of how much this experience has enriched and changed my life. I don’t think other fandoms are quite as full-service as ours (though I wouldn’t know otherwise). Sam Heughan has definitely outdone himself in using his relatively overnight stardom and platform for good. And I am the direct beneficiary of making a whole new group of friends (a support group, really) with a common love for all things Outlander, Sam, and fitness/health.

**And by fangirl I do NOT mean hyperventilating-frothing-out-the-mouth-plowing-over-children-animals-and-grandmas-to-get-to-see-or-touch-sam-or-any-other-human-being kind of fangirl (of whom there are many of this variety apparently). I mean mature, fun-loving, whisky-drinking women of all ages and stages who happen to be great fans of Diana Gabaldon’s books, the Starz Outlander show and/or the actors (Sam, Tobias, Cait et al).


And just for kicks and giggles, here are my (shameless) top 3 fangirl moments and memories: 

  1. Sam commented on a couple of my posts in the private MPC Prep program Facebook group. This is serious fangirling fodder. He and John Valbonesi are considered our “coaches” and we (all 3000 + members) get giddy with excitement when either of them comment or like what we share. When I wrote about the tattoo I wanted to get (quite an emo post), he commented with a “Just perfect.x” and that made my day. We all have such deep and profound respect and appreciation for those guys creating the MPC program and taking the time to encourage and challenge us to new heights and goals… and to living a much better life story.
  2. After summiting Kilimanjaro with the 2014 MPC flag (lent to me by the BAM Strength girls), Sam commented with a congratulations in the Facebook group and then tweeted my summit photo and congratulations.*drops dead* I remember being in the Tanzanian hotel post climb in the one area of the hotel that had spotty wifi at best and saw that he had liked my tweet about summiting which made me “squee” (fangirl internal screaming). And then the wifi went out. And when it came back on, my phone was blowing up with all these retweet and like notifications on Twitter (I have like 300 followers so this was not normal). My friend, fellow climber and fellow fangirl, Joy Beth, silently screamed across the room from me when she saw his tweet. It was an amazing moment. 🙂 FullSizeRender 13 FullSizeRender 14 IMG_6408 IMG_9290
  3. Earlier this month, many of my fellow fangirl (see above description of fangirl) friends were planning to spend a long weekend in NYC for the Tartan week, Outlander Season 2 premiere and the Tartan Parade. I knew that after such a long trip to Africa, my family probably wasn’t too keen on me checking out again for a few days, but I did manage to talk them into letting me take a long day trip up to the city for the parade. Sam was going to be the Grand Marshal of the parade and I knew so many friends going. It was going to be so much fun. A friend and I hopped on a bus at the crack of dawn and landed in rainy, cold NYC in time to walk around and take in all the Outlander promotions… costumes in the Saks Fifth Avenue windows (absolutely mind blowing work by Terry Dresbach) and the Outlander S train between Grand Central and Times Square. Whoever came up with the marketing idea to outfit an entire train out with Outlander promotional images and decor should get the biggest freaking promotion of their life. Just brilliant.  12973309_10153541013306765_1930227453776901946_oIMG_7199Before the parade started, I got a text from one of my friends asking if we wanted to march with her in the parade with Laphroig (arguably Scotland’s best whisky and also a sponsor of the parade). YES. I knew we would miss out on seeing Sam march by, but I thought, “When will I ever have the opportunity to march down 6th Avenue in NYC with thousands of Scots?!?” (answer: probably never) Laphroig was an absolute joy to march with. They outfitted us with t-shirts, hats, flags and shots of whisky to toast before we marched. It was seriously one of the most fun experiences I have ever had. The energy and camaraderie of this community of Scots and Outlander fans was pure perfection. We DID get to see Sam up on the promo bus at the end of the parade route. We cheered him on and he cheered us on. And then a group of us dashed off to a local pub to get warm and dry. After our meal, my friend and I walked back to the bus stop, and slept all the way back to Maryland. Fantastic day! IMG_7218  12473958_10153541024976765_6735910866565210822_o 13002514_10153541025106765_3029383857711589827_o 13007169_10153541026396765_6135287682164066417_n IMG_7262

On the powerful nature of a support group when trying to change your life – I have been so grateful for the MPC support groups I have become a part of in this process (namely the Peak Warriors). I have never been a part of a support group of any sort before now. But as I reflect back on why I was able to meet goals and overcome obstacles this time around, I realize that it was probably largely because of these groups. Both groups have been the safest and most uplifting and challenging (in the best way) of groups I had ever encountered online.  When you have a group of 500, 800, or over 3000 that are mostly women, you just wonder how “great” it can really be, because most of us have seen how nasty adult women (and men) can be online. Well, these two groups (the MPC Prep and Peak Warriors) have been quite abnormal. Women truly celebrating other women and cheering them on in their goals, successes, milestones and achievements… empathizing with and supporting one another in their failures and struggles and even challenging each other towards greater goals and successes. You simply don’t find this online anymore. It is a gold mine and I have been the beneficiary of so much love and support I can hardly stand it at times. Fortunately for me, I live in an area where there is a large local representation of Peak Warriors and other Outlander fans so we have had many happy hours, hikes, parties, dinners, events together in real life. While I was climbing Kili, a group of Peak Warriors were climbing a mountain in Maryland in solidarity. Truly amazes me.



On the power of storytelling in the work of advocacy and activism – I was able to share Esperance’s story in the interview. And then the story about meeting Esperance and watching and photographing her and Belinda (founder of One Million Thumbprints) reunite. I could have talked about the issue of violence against women in conflict zones in terms of numbers and statistics. UN reports. But who is going to resonate with that? Next to no one. Its just noise at this point, online and offline. Big, huge global issues that don’t directly affect me will remain big, huge and DISTANT global issues unless I can relate or connect with the issue in some way. And that is where the power of storytelling is going to literally change the fabric of humanitarian work, advocacy, activism. When I tell you about violence against women in warzones in the context of a woman’s personal narrative, her story, you will most likely connect with the issue. She is human. You are human. She is a mother. I am a mother. You have a mother. When we see each other through the lens of a shared humanity, we start to listen, to see and to respond from a level of empathy and understanding that numbers and statistics will never be able to create. Esperance shared her story with us, with me. She gifted me with her story so that I would “tell the world.” All I can do is keep sharing her story in hopes that the mothers and grandmothers and daughters and sisters of the world will see themselves in her pain and her courage and will lean into these big issues for the sake of our shared humanity.

IMG_0235 IMG_0253 IMG_0317 IMG_0329 IMG_0307 (all photos of the legendary Esperance, whose courage and story has launched an entire movement of peacemakers and advocates working to end violence against women in warzones)

I know that my story isn’t anything truly extraordinary. I could tell 10 stories right now about people on my Kilimanjaro team as well as people in the MPC program whose experiences and transformations would truly blow your mind. Extreme weight loss, beating cancer and other debilitating illnesses, overcoming severe demons of the past and emerging with more strength and fortitude than ever… and on and on. But the point isn’t whose story is the most extreme or jaw-dropping, is it? The point is that we are all LIVING A STORY. The point is that we get to share and celebrate our stories. We get to help and support one another to live the best stories we can. And when there are those among us whose stories are not being told (but desperately need to be), we get to step up and use whatever platform, whatever opportunity and privilege we have to amplify those voices and stories.

So what kind of story are you living?

What stories are you sharing?

Whose voice can you amplify with your privilege and platform? 




10 Things No One Tells You About Climbing Kilimanjaro

This is part of a series of posts about the #1MTclimb4peace charity climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro on March 8, 2016 (International Women’s Day) with One Million Thumbprints. Please click the category #1MTclimb4peace to see all of the posts in the series. 

You remember that MOU? How I make no promises to share anything coherently, linearly, or chronologically from here on out? Ok, just making sure. Let us continue.

**Disclaimer: Below, you will find that I am brutally honest about climbing Kilimanjaro. You may scratch your head and think, “Why would anyone in their right mind want to climb that mountain?” Why, indeed!?! Ha! Although I have no immediate inclination to ever do it again, I wonder if it is like childbirth…. the farther you get from the experience, the less brutal you remember it being?! Who knows. Having said all of this, I am SO glad I was a part of this particular trip and team. We climbed for a myriad of reasons… many of which we had just met face to face in the DRC. We climbed for personal reasons (and walked away changed human beings). We climbed to amplify the voices and the stories of our suffering sisters living in war zones around the world. And getting to the top of that mountain, together, was worth every single, brutal step. Personally, the climb would not have been worth it, without the camaraderie, support and shared purpose and vision of the One Million Thumbprints Climb for Peace team. With them, this experience was truly life changing and actually enjoyable (clearly…. since I just got a tattoo to prove it!). And I have absolutely no regrets. But I still would have appreciated knowing the following 10 (+1) things ahead of time.**



1. #kililips – I woke up on the morning of Day 4 with a lower lip about 5 sizes too big. WHAT THE….? No one told me this would or could happen. I was not mentally prepared. Over the next 3 days, nearly half the team got their own #kililips. We assume it has to do with altitude issues and/or sun exposure??!! No one has yet to adequately explain it to us. But it was a thing. A really uncomfortable and somewhat self conscious thing. (although as soon as you looked around and saw 3 others with lower lips larger than life itself, you didn’t feel quite as self conscious). 12841174_10153390840926497_3601925566592157440_o(a teammate’s actual lip one morning)

2. Diamox  –  the altitude sickness prevention medication, makes you drowsy. So, when the guides suggest taking a double dose of it (relax, its well within the normal dosage of the medication) right before you start the midnight 8+ hour trek up Kilimanjaro, just know that its like taking a Benadryl or two and then putting on all the clothing you have and going out into the pitch darkness and walking at the slowest snail’s pace you can possible go while still moving forward… straight up a mountain. Diamox is good, and I am thankful I took it. Falling asleep, repeatedly, while walking up a cliff in the pitch darkness, was not so good and just a little, teeny, tiny bit terrifying.

3. Toilets – Whatever company you go with… pay the extra money for a toilet tent. It is still primitive. But holy toilets… for those with any gastro issues, after a long day’s trek or on the backside of summit day (i.e. when every muscle and bone in your entire body is screaming in pain), it is pure  luxury  necessity to be able to sit on a toilet rather than squat over a hole.

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4. #kiliskin – Ok, so you pack and pack and pack everything you can think of that you could possibly need for 6+ days on the mountain. Everything but sunscreen, that is. *smile* Luckily you have 13 other friends who did not make this mistake. So you diligently lather up each morning with the 30-50SPF creams. And you still get fried to a crisp. F R I E D. As in your ears get so burnt they split open. And your lips split and your skin has raging sun blisters. All of which mean that about 5-6 days later, you are a walking reptile, shedding flakes of skin (in all sizes and shapes) everywhere you go, and especially on all of your clothing. For those of us whose go-to mountain uniform was all black, this was more of a problematic issue. And if you happen to be of Asian descent (as two of my friends on the team are), this will be a potentially traumatic experience as your first and only sunburn/blistering/peeling experience. (i will refrain from posting a photo of this phenomenon – you are welcome.)

5. Distance – So, technically you know how long your trek is. You read all the day-by-day distance and climate zones you will be going through. It sounds exciting and adventurous. At first. But, as in most things, reality doesn’t really translate accurately from projection. No one tells you that you end up walking nearly a half marathon AFTER you summit. Yes, the euphoria of summiting is amazing and fills you will energy and excitement to spare. But the minute you start down the mountain and the pain in your knees, feet, toes, back and lungs kicks in, the euphoria makes a quick exit. All you can think about is getting back to basecamp and either diving in your tent to get horizontal, or collapsing in a chair to get off your feet. So you push it, through the pain (and in my case, through a hail storm!) down the mountain to base camp. Along with a hot cup of tea you are greeted with “Good job! Now repack your backpack and walk down to the next camp… just a few more hours.” And all you want to do is cry.




6. Summit Day – It is horrible. Really, I am just being as honest as I can. I found precious few who would honestly describe the day, so I am going to go there. As stated before, you start the midnight trek exhausted, and then add a dose medication that makes you literally fall asleep on your feet. You have read all about “Pole, pole!” the Swahili phrase, “Slowly, slowly.” But you don’t really understand HOW slowly until summit day. I mean, you have gone pretty freaking pole on the previous days (some of which you are thankful for, some of which you think is crazy). But summit pole is a whole different animal. I don’t think I can adequately describe how pole you go… just imagine the slowest you can possibly move and then know that it is slower than that. I don’t say this to knock the system or the guides. Our guides got all 15 of us up that mountain, so I have faith in their methods. I just wasn’t mentally prepared. Because of how slow you are moving, how dark it is and drowsy you are, you actually fall asleep walking. Over and over and over. It was terrifying once we got to the steep switchbacks. Terrifying. And mentally very hard to deal with. I just kept thinking, “This is the most miserable I have ever felt…” When you summit, all becomes well again in your soul. Euphoria. Adrenaline. Tears. All good things. And then you start down. And the pain kicks in. I didn’t have knee problems until coming down the mountain. My feet and toes and knees and quads and back and shoulders were screaming in pain. UTTER MISERY. And those last “few hours” walking to the next camp down the mountain were the hardest few hours of the whole trip (in my experience). I wish someone could have recorded me walking into our camp on summit day night (not base camp, the next one down)… I was close to crawling because my legs and feet hurt so badly. I literally could barely move. I collapsed into my tent, skipped dinner, grumbled and complained to my tent mate for some time and nearly cried myself to sleep. We started climbing that day at midnight. I did not collapse into my tent until almost 8pm that night. There were about 3 stops during the day for anything more than 5 minutes. Brutal. Utterly, completely miserable and brutal. (but worth it, remember?) Oh and guess what? You have to walk 12 more miles the next day…. This news will make you cry. Or scream. Or hit someone.IMG_6350

7. Sleep – So, guess what? You can’t take sleep aids on the mountain. No benadryl, ambien, xanax, or anything. This was a real issue for many of us on the trek. You know how much energy you will need day to day, and you know you need precious sleep and rest. But sleeping on the hard ground in a tent isn’t something your bad self is used to…. thus, there will be a lot of sleeplessness. I can’t speak for the whole team, but I felt that in the end, people got what they needed, even if it didn’t seem like it. There was much angst in the beginning over the lack of sleep, but towards the end of the journey your body just takes over. When I literally collapsed into my tent on summit day night, I started to cry thinking about having to get up at 6 am and walk another 12 miles to get to our vehicle that would take us back to our hotel (and a bathtub). I thought it would be literally impossible, physically, considering how much pain I was in. But sleep, although fleeting on the mountain, is incredibly healing. I can’t tell you the amount of times someone was sick, spent, in bad shape and a nap or a night of sleep seemed to restore health to their muscles, hearts and minds. I know it did for me. I woke up on Day 6 and although sore, wasn’t in screaming pain. It also helped that the walk was a beautiful trek through the Tanzanian countryside. Trust the process. Sleep will come when you need it…. and it will heal you in ways you never expected.

8. #kilitoes – So, many of us have come home with toe…. issues. Some are classic “marathon toes”, but some of us have some mystery issues with our toes. Mostly the right toes. I have yet to figure this out, but the fact that several on the team are experiencing this makes me think you need to know about it. Personally, it’s the toe next to my right big toe. It doesn’t hurt, there is no pain. There is also no feeling. But I can feel it when I touch it. Weird? Crazy? Yes. One teammate described it as feeling “detached from my body.” Yes. That. Just felt like you should know you might have weird toe feelings (or lack of feelings) after the climb. Knowledge is power. IMG_1869(my toes on day 1 of the climb. again, because i want you to come back and read this blog, i will refrain from posting post-climb toes. you are welcome.)

9. Climate – I researched as much as I possibly could about the weather on Kili. And the overwhelming response was “It is unpredictable. Be prepared.” I am here to testify to this fact. We came prepared for it to be so cold we couldn’t see straight. It was not. We had mostly clear blue skies and sun for most of the trek (which also contributed to #4 above). Some clouds and a few drops of rain came in and out a few times, but nothing sustainable or more than just a few minutes. Until summit day. We all summited Gilman’s Point in perfect clear blue skies and relative warmth. I summited with nothing but one Under Armor cold gear base layer shirt on. But 2 hours later, just as we were approaching the Uhuru Peak summit, the clouds has rolled in. And with them hail, snow and rain… for hours. I walked down the mountain in a whiteout… fog, hail, snow. It was crazy. By the time we started walking to the next camp, though, it was clear blue skies again. And the day after we got back to our hotel (day after the trek ended), it rained for 2 solid days. We looked up at Kilimanjaro as we left Tanzania and it was covered with a distinct layer of white. It is truly, truly unpredictable. Good luck with that. IMG_2349 IMG_2376 IMG_2434 IMG_2600 IMG_2590 (these 5 images were from day 3 on the trek) IMG_9308 IMG_9369(first summit and 3rd summit 2 hours apart) IMG_9259 IMG_6414 (standing on top of the world and then coming down the mountain in a white out – 2.5 hours apart. also, it looks like a level, straight road ahead. not so. it is nearly straight down, just doesn’t show up in the image.)

10. Landscape – Ok, there are endless images of Kilimanjaro and the treks and various routes. You see all of this. But do you really SEE that you are actually walking across MARS? Because that is exactly what it feels like from Day 4 on. There is nothing. No vegetation. Just dirt and scree. You see all of this, but it does not compute in your brain until you are walking, for hours and hours, across no-man’s land and you feel like you are on an alien planet. I tell you this because in my past experience, hiking treks were always full of beauty…. you know, like hiking in the Rockies in Colorado, or the Pacific Northwest or the Alps. There is beauty everywhere… at every turn, vista and lookout. NOT SO ON KILI. I think that is one of the reasons summit day is so hard… you are summiting a mountain on Mars. The only beauty you see is when that precious sun emerges and warms you up (soul and body) and you see the clouds below. But other than that, its lots of dirt and rocks. Just be prepared. The first and last days of the trek are breathtaking in the rainforest and low alpine zones, which is a very redeeming fact on the tail end of a Kilimanjaro trek. IMG_9245 IMG_2857

11. Guides – No one tells you how amazing they really are. No one. Sure you can read the reviews and such, but if you luck out and get the kind of guides we had, you will be blown away at the quality of care and the work they put in on your behalf (meaning you personally, as well as your team as a whole). They get to know you by name, early on. They watch and learn about your health and how you are adjusting to the climb. They are like walking therapists when you find you think you can’t do something they have come to believe you can do. They whisper strength and encouragement into your ear (and soul) when you need it the most. When they tell you they will get you up and down the mountain safely, they will. And they do.  Pick a good company. Do your research. And trust your guides. Pay them well. Talk about them afterwards. We could not be more thrilled with our experience with The Africa Walking Company (search tripadvisor or google for reviews. We booked them through Africa Travel Resource). IMG_2603 IMG_9400 IMG_9486 IMG_1842 (From the top: Abraham – lead guide, AWC group, Asha – amazing cook, Lucy – assistant guide)



What did I miss? What threw you for a loop? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments. 

Coming soon…. “Packing List for WOMEN climbing Kili”, and “Top 10 things/gear/gadgets that got me up and down the mountain successfully.” And eventually…. the actual day by day climb. 🙂