Group sitting on hill at sunset

All the Feels

by Ally Coucke
The entrance gate to the trail is surrounded by tropical vegetation, a giant A-frame sign wishing you a great climb, and if I am being honest, I had not felt that scared in a long time. Somehow everything I needed to get to the top of Kilimanjaro was on my back or in my body. All the gear seemed right, but taking inventory of myself felt like I was falling a little short somehow. We spent the next two days walking through the rainforest, and eventually out of the treeline and into the moorland. Everything in my pack was weight and space, so I could only take one pair of pants. Starting in humid heat, I was the only person with ventilated pants in the group, and everyone kept commenting on how jealous they were. I sheepishly shrugged my shoulders, I needed all the extra help I could get.

Hiking all day with nothing in sight but the snow-capped summit miles away, my mind would wander because it felt effortless at the time and strangely the summit was far from my thoughts. I quickly learned that my dry sense of humor translated well in Swahili, as we all shared deep belly laughs with our guides. I saw my friends and I get more in tune with each other, because the closer we got to basecamp, the more emotions and symptoms started to show.
Woman looking up at tall mountain

When we reached base camp at just over 15,000 feet, the energy shifted. It was 6pm, we had a few hours to eat and sleep, with a wake-up time of midnight and on trail by 1am. As we waited for the bunks to open up from previous climbers, I jogged a few meters to carry something to a friend, and when I got there, I could barely catch my breath. In a matter of seconds, I was reminded how high I was; higher than I had ever been in my life. When I woke up at midnight, I put on every article of clothing in my bag, and stepped out into the darkness and roaring wind. Linked with my 3 closest friends, we closed our eyes and held each other, and I started to cry. 10 hours later, linked once more, but this time in front of the Uhuru Peak summit sign, we cried some more at 19,341’ feet. Those 10 hours were full of begging for the sun to rise for a little heat to warm my body, dry-heaving on all fours fighting altitude sickness, singing in Swahili from our guides, and telling each other that we could take another step through tears and half-hearted smiles.

Walking down was like walking out of a dream. I can’t really remember how I felt because all I remember were the smiles and laughing. Looking back at photos now, I can see, oh yeah that did happen, I was there. We joked about the pain and struggle just hours before, like it was months ago. It’s amazing how quickly your body recovers as you get more oxygen, and what was truly the hardest physical task of my life suddenly felt like an out of body experience. Right before we dipped back into the rainforest, I peeked over my shoulder to say ‘goodbye’ to the mountain, but if I am truly being honest, it was more of a ‘thank you’.

When I got home and started unpacking, everything felt a little different than when I tore the tags off the new gear, stuffing it into a new bag. It felt heavy with some newly earned memories. It was covered in volcanic ash and it was worn-in, just the right amount. Maybe it sounds a little silly, but when I see them now, I get the feels – those are the Keb pants I summited Kilimanjaro in. I know most of me came down off that mountain, but I think I left a little piece of my heart up there.
Photo looking up at Mt. Kilimanjaro


Ally Coucke is a full-time dog mom, writer, creator, and traveler. After selling her own business in the Pacific Northwest, Ally now calls Denver her home where she spends time adventuring with her partner Kelly and their dogs Bailey and Loki. Ally has explored North America, Asia, and Africa and enjoys writing and photographing every experience along the way.

Ally Coucke Instagram
Man and Woman walking away from camera towards lake
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