You might think you’re a good hiker. Maybe you’ve climbed the Sugar Loaf, the Wicklow Mountains, Croagh Patrick, or even Carrauntoohil. Well, climbing Kilimanjaro is a whole other thing.
The African mountain, located not far from the cradle of human existence at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, is the continent’s highest at 5,895m. It is the fourth-highest of the Seven Summits, behind Everest, Aconcagua and Denali.
Appropriately enough considering Kilimanjaro’s location, it was a zest for life that drove Aisling – a talent sourcing specialist at PayPal’s EMEA operation – to make the climb.
“There will be a time in my life that I won’t be able to do things like this, so better to get them out of the system while I can,” said Aisling.
For her, it was an easy decision. “I love a good challenge, so that idea really appealed to me. About six hours later, I had the whole thing booked.”
Of course, an easy decision doesn’t necessarily mean an easy period of planning, and – to the ears of a relatively lazy couch potato – Aisling’s preparations sound far from it, although she talks about them as if they were nothing.
“I climbed Croagh Patrick and did a few long hikes in Glendalough,” she said. “I trained in the gym, building my cardio and leg strength, as well. I made sure I was clean eating, aiming to be the healthiest I could be for the climb.”
Going to the gym three times a week after work and twice a week during lunch-time, Aisling spent time on the treadmill and doing weights. PayPal’s in-house trainer even showed her what muscles to target and strengthen.
It all sounds like a lot, but she didn’t have to do it alone.
“I didn’t anticipate the amount of encouragement I was going to get from my team here in PayPal. All my colleagues were really interested, and a bit concerned for my wellbeing. Some of them even started coming to the gym with me during my lunch hour to support me. We also started a running club to get the fitness levels up.”
Physical preparation is one thing, but mental preparation is quite another. Here, too, Aisling’s job with PayPal was of great help.
“For such a physical and mental challenge, it’s important to have a positive and enthusiastic outlook. And the nature of my job helps me to be optimistic and confident even outside work.”
The online payments company’s contributions to the climb – and to Aisling’s mental wellbeing – didn’t stop there.
“I don’t think I could have done this climb if I wasn’t working in such a flexible environment. It would have been a much more taxing journey, trying to juggle everything while working to prepare myself.”
But all of that is incidental to the climb itself.
Booked through a local adventure experience company, Aisling made the trip with a group of eight other climbers, supported by local porters and chefs. In spite of that great support system, the climb was, of course, not without its challenges.
“The last night was hard. We climbed for eight hours during the night to get to the top. It was completely dark, so you could see anything but the person’s feet in front of you. It was mentally challenging to keep going, but the amazing views, the team, and my determination kept me pushing.”
And was it worth it? Absolutely. “The sun was just coming up when we got to the top. It was blissful. Emotions were high, and the views were striking. The feeling of achievement made it so memorable.”
So what’s next? Will Aisling be reaching for ever higher peaks?
“Not necessarily higher, but I do have plans for my next adventure – the Inca trail in Machu Picchu.”
Somehow, I think that will be no trouble to her at all.
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