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02/02/2017 03:21:41 PM


by Renate Forssmann-Falck

It started in spring of 2014 with an advertisement of the Massey Cancer Center. It showed a man hiking in a desolate landscape. The voice said something like “He finished his cancer treatment and is now on the way to a better place–Kilimanjaro.” It touched me deeply. I knew I had to go up there. I love mountains, hiking and nature. It is also a connection with my mother who trekked the Alps with my grandfather. When life was rough, she would say “Look up to the mountain, there will be help.” I too, when life poses struggles, find solace in the solitude of nature. Eventually, I figured out that my mother cited Psalm 121.


Last July I was ready physically and mentally to go on this journey. I knew I would make it provided altitude illness would not force me to abandon the trek. This would have been okay. It was the journey, not the thrill or the achievement! I was fortunate to have my nice Anja as my companion. When we arrived in Tanzania, we had a day of rest before starting the ascent. It was a caravan: 6 guides, 56 porters, cooks etc. and 13 trekkers. The group was just terrific. I had a little interaction with the head guide because he insisted I use trekking poles. However, I convinced him that I will be true to my younger year’s nickname “mountain goat” and that I knew when to use them for safety reasons.


Slowly, step by step, we went up crossing the five climate zones: rain forest, heath, moorland, alpine dessert and finally the artic summit. Every climate zone had its special beauty. I was most intrigued by the Alpine dessert and the artic zone. Its desolateness was captivating. It is indeed a dessert of lava and sand without anything alive.

We had chosen a long route, the Western Approach, making sure that we were properly acclimatized. On the seventh day we arrived at the last camp before summiting. After dinner, we got instruction of what to expect the next day: a 10 to 12 hours climb with an elevation gain of 4,010’. The Uhuru Peak, the summit, is the highest point of the crater rim with 19,341’. That night I could not sleep; I was overcome by missing Hans so much. I remembered what I said to my women chavurah friends: When the mountain seems to wear me out, Hans’ voice of admiration and love when he used to say “Ach, meine Liebste” would bring me up the mountain. It sure did.

Am I proud of the accomplishment? Of course! However, it was a spiritual journey into the past. The dark clouds have vanished and gates for a rewarding future have opened. Now, I can focus on what I wrote in an essay while teaching in the Women’s Study Program at VCU. The essence of the essay was that I would like to earn the inscription on my gravestone “Here rests a wise woman”. Indeed, Kilimanjaro was a journey to a better place.

Sun, June 26 2022 27 Sivan 5782