A Beautiful Failure

Beauty is how I remember it.
I don’t remember the failure part.

I met him and his family at the hostel while acclimating. We were to be bused to basecamp the next morning. We made time to talk about how one finds oneself the evening before stepping foot on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
They were simply traveling. He, his wife, and two teenage daughters. They hadn’t planned to climb.
From what I remember, it was simply a “Why not? We’re here anyway. Why not climb Mt. Kilimanjaro? Why not just go for it.”
Maybe they were on safari – I don’t remember – but I do remember the “Why not.”
Kili was a different climb for me. It wasn’t a mountain to be walked with others. It was a journey of “You and the Mountain,” my guide told me. However, in the evenings, at camp, if you had the energy, it was okay to briefly check in with fellow travelers if they were camping near you.
Maybe it was the second evening, I noticed one less. One less family member. Maybe it was a daughter. Then another less. And then another.
Every evening; one less. He was the only one left.
I was informed he would be traveling with us for the final push to summit. His guide was returning the last of his family safely to basecamp. He was without a guide, therefore he joined us.
It was a brief and beautiful walking encounter.
I looked at him – in blue jeans – in running shoes.
After 5 days…he made it this far – without warm equipment. No hydration pack.
In denim, with one bottle of water – walking toward the final push at midnight – an estimated six hours to go.
Talking about how proud he was of his wife and daughters for trying and for joining him. Talking about seeing Kili in his twenties – he was traveling in his twenties – saw Kili – had the opportunity and didn’t take it. Talked about how, back then there were no guides – you climbed at your own free will. “Too many people died,” he said as a means to understand the guides now.
We walked together.
He is aware that he is very unprepared. Doing it anyway. Why not.


And it was just too cold. Freezing. A literal freezing. In the negative like I’ve never known. My mind playing tricks on me that my toes, my fingers, will freeze to death. Trying to sip just enough water so my hydration pack doesn’t freeze. My mind forgetting I am wearing equipment to protect me, not from freezing, but from freezing to death. My mind forgetting so many things. It’s not time to think anymore. It’s time to push.
He makes it to the push – in his denim and running shoes.
And then he’s out.
In the most polite moment, we all stop to say goodbye. Less than a moment – because you can’t stand still during the push.
“I’ll be back,” he said, “and I will come prepared.”
I remember, even as I write this now, the sheer beauty that pierced my heart and still has residual in my mind – as to the beautiful and brave willingness to just go for it – unprepared – why not?