The Elgon Chronicles – Life Lessons

It is exactly one week since friends of mine and I embarked on climbing Mount Elgon, and this is the last of the pieces in the chronicles of our journey to the top and back. The mountain climb taught me some invaluable lessons that I want to share and I pray that you will be enriched by them.

Lesson #1: Preparation is key. There is just no way round this one at all. To climb a mountain, you need to be prepared physically, financially; mentally and you need the right clothes. My friends and I have been doing intense physical preparation since end of January and despite this, we were still challenged as we climbed. At the same time, we knew that all the hours we spent doing exercise paid off because we were able to walk long distances and not be in too much pain. I shared my story about being financially prepared, under the blog post “Climbing Costs”. To this day, I still save 20,000/- per day towards mountain climbing, and this has helped me build a consistent culture of saving. You need the right clothing, and for this you need to read up on the mountain you are going to climb, so that you are adequately attired. The last thing you want is to have the wrong clothes for the right mountain. There are no shops or boutiques where you can stop to buy the right clothes as you climb. And the right attitude is key. Keep telling yourself over and over that you can. Believe in yourself.

Lesson #2: To enjoy the mountain, do not rush the mountain. Respect the mountain. On the morning that we started the climb of Mount Elgon, we assumed we could easily do it in three days flat, four days tops. After all, we had been told that Elgon is an easy mountain to climb. When we had to take a break barely ten minutes into the climb, we understood the wisdom of the UWA official who told us that the only way to enjoy a mountain is to take it slow. I think in life there are many experiences that are only made richer if we do not rush through them. Let’s learn to savor life.

Lesson #3: The mountain is not always steep all the time. On the mountain there are some flat plains, some places for rest and respite – take them! Often after doing a steep climb, we would look forward to walking on slightly flatter ground because that meant we could ease the pressure on our legs, it meant we could steady our breathing once again. The flat places made the climb more pleasurable. And that’s what life is like – for many it seems like a steep climb. But we should learn to stop for rest and respite as and when the opportunity presents itself. Climbing is strenuous work, so enjoy the easy bits. Learn to rest.

Lesson #4: Discouragement will come. That is a given. It’s how you deal with it that matters. We faced a lot of discouragement on the mountain, especially when the going was tough, when the climb seemed endless, when it seemed like we were never going to get to the next camp, when the cold froze our hands and toes and ears. We had to find a way to keep going on, to keep moving forward, to not give up or give in. We encouraged each other. We rested when we needed to. We did all we could to complete the climb. So is life. I think discouragement is an inevitable part of life, but we have to find a way to keep pressing forward no matter what. Peak Picture

Lesson #5: When the going gets tough, the weak keep going. I know we have heard that statement said in another way – that it’s the tough that keep going, but that would mean that the journey is only for those that are tough. The weak are there also, and they too find a way to keep on keeping on. We all need to acknowledge our weak points, our weak moments and find ways to work with or around them. One of the climbers in our party had a problem with his knee, another had blisters on his feet and wounds on the thighs, another had pain in the tummy, but despite these weaknesses, they made it all the way. It takes a lot to acknowledge weakness and to go on despite it, so let’s not bump the weak off the path of life. We all need each other. It is in acknowledging one’s weakness but still going on, that strength is built.

Lesson #6: Sometimes you walk, not because you want to, but because you have to. Before we started the climb, we were excited and we anticipated that the adventure would be fun. And our enthusiasm lasted for about half an hour and quickly gave way to despair. We had not anticipated that the climb would be as tough as it was. Many times we had to walk in auto-pilot, not thinking, just doing, so that we could through the difficult parts. The climb had stopped being fun, but we had to get it done. In life, there are those things we know we do not because we want to, but because we have to, because they are absolutely essential.

Lesson #7: Find a pace and stick to it. We found out that one of the key ways to walk long distances on the mountain was to find a comfortable pace – not too fast, not too slow, just enough to keep us going, and we would stick to that pace. After all we were neither trying to impress anyone, nor were we in a competition, and so we paced ourselves. In the same way, in life we have to find our own pace that works for us. We often kill ourselves trying to keep up with others, trying to copy others, trying to outdo others. You are unique, so find your pace and stick to it. Free yourself from the need to impress.

Lesson #8: Travel light, it lightens the travel. One thing I need to learn very fast is the art of traveling light. I can never make up my mind about what to wear, so my bags are always full of things I hardly end up using. I will pack clothes for five days for a two day journey, and then complain all the way about heavy luggage. But I just need to learn to travel light, and then I would enjoy the journey more. Learning to travel light is learning about prioritizing, about what is essential. It’s learning to separate needs from wants. It’s learning to stick with needs. We all need to learn to travel light. We carry physical and sometimes emotional (and financial) loads that are breaking us! We need to learn to let go, to have a right estimation of ourselves, discard the savior mentality, and travel light. What are you carrying that you shouldn’t be? Off load it.

It’s been an absolute pleasure sharing our Elgon journey with you. I hope you are encouraged either to climb a mountain, or to carry on with something that feels like a mountain to you right now. It can be done. You have it in you!

Wishing you the very best! Always!

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