The Ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro: A Reflection

“Life takes effort and we should always put our best foot forward whenever we are doing something.”

A father-daughter duo from the Dubai community reflect on their ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Standing at 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa.

Known for its iconic snow-capped summit and diverse ecosystems, including rainforests, moorlands, and alpine deserts, “Kili” – or the Roof of Africa, as it is fondly known – is one of Tanzania’s most famous landmarks, and a popular destination for trekkers and climbers from around the world.

But scaling its heights requires significant physical and mental preparation, not least to overcome the high altitudes.

We spoke to two climbers who recently returned from a successful ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro – Dr Murtaza Pithawala and his daughter Fatema, members of our Dubai community – to find out what drove them to complete this epic task and what they learned about themselves and each other along the way.

Dr Murtaza, a General Surgeon, is a keen sportsman and avid trekker who completed the 160-mile Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal. His daughter Fatema is a 16-year-old high school student who likes to hike and swim in her free time.

When did  you decide to embark on the journey to climb Mount Kilimanjaro together?

Fatema: When my father told me about his plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I decided that I would like to join him.  And then his repeated warnings about the difficulty and mental stress of the climb encouraged me to prove to them and myself that I could handle it.

What kind of preparation did you go through physically and mentally before embarking on the expedition?

Dr Murtaza: We spent three months in a local gym preparing for the climb, undertaking 60-minute heavy physical training sessions every other day.  We also participated in many group meetings with our coach to prepare us mentally for the task ahead.

Fatema: As well as spending many mornings in the gym, I hiked several mountains in Dubai, such as the Shawka Dam, to build my fitness levels.  I pushed myself to my limit so that I would be ready for the extreme challenges of the Kili climb.

What challenges or obstacles did you face during the climb, and how did you overcome them?

Dr Murtaza: We started ascending from the base camp at 12 midnight, facing temperatures of -15ᵒC and gusty winds.  But we stayed together as a group and pushed each other beyond our limits.

Fatema: After walking for seven hours and 3.8 km towards the summit, I was exhausted, but still had two hours of climbing to go.  Frankly, I considered giving up multiple times, but the thought of my mother and sisters and all my other friends and family cheering me on kept me on the route to the top.

What were the most memorable moments or experiences of  the climb?

Dr Murtaza: Staying together in tents all six nights in freezing temperatures was unique!  Fatema, who normally loves cold weather, found it very difficult in the beginning.  But she adjusted well by the 3rd night, when we started to sleep with four layers top and three on the bottom.  Life is all about adjustments and this trek taught us a lot.

How did the absence of phones and the internet impact your journey and connection with each other?

Dr Murtaza: That was definitely a blessing.  We had a good detox for six days.  We also had five teenagers in the group who were strangers at the beginning of the trip but became fast friends by the end of it, showing that removing phones definitely helps teenagers socialize a lot better.

Fatema: The breathtaking views of the mountain and clouds beyond the horizon and the golden sunsets every evening are something I really miss but that will stay in my memory forever.  Additionally, those meals when the whole team would get together to eat around the table and discuss our thoughts and feelings are also something I will truly miss.

How did this journey strengthen your bond as a father and daughter?

Dr Murtaza: Staying together for six days without a mother or phones definitely helped our bonding.

Fatema: We spent every minute of our week with each other.  In our day to day lives, we are too busy to spend much time together, so this trip really showed me a new side of my father.

Were there moments that tested your relationship?

Fatema: There were times that we had little disputes, like fathers and daughters do, but we overcame them easily because we knew that fighting wouldn’t help either of us and would just ruin the overall vibe of the trip.

In what ways do you feel this experience has personally transformed both of you?

Dr Murtaza: It has made us believe in our strengths more.  We didn’t know we were capable of climbing a mountain.  For Fatema, I was surprised she wanted to do it.  She is now more inclined to take part in outdoor adventures and that’s a very good way to keep physically fit.  She can use this experience to tackle the tough challenges that life will throw at her and to be strong in face of adversity.  I am sure now she knows the meaning of the phrase “as tough as climbing a mountain”!

Fatema: I think this trip has made me a stronger and more mature individual.  Climbing to the top really tested my mental and physical limits.  And it tested how long I can last without giving up which, believe me, is not an easy test.  This trip also taught me the importance of hard work and that nothing in life simply falls into our laps.  Life takes effort and we should always put our best foot forward whenever we are doing something.  It also taught me to not take other people’s hard work lightly and to always be thankful to the people around us who make life easier for us.

Do you have any plans for future outdoor adventures together or individually?

Dr Murtaza: Yes most definitely. I have two more younger daughters aged 14 and six.  The next step is to get the whole family involved in these adventures.  Next year, we plan to go river-rafting and skydiving.  And we are planning to climb Mount Mera in Nepal, which stands at 6400 metres.  The ultimate goal would be to climb all the seven highest mountains on each continent.

How would you sum up your experience on Mount Kilimanjaro?

Dr Murtaza: On the mountains, the guides used to tell us “Don’t leave anything on the mountains except your footprints and don’t take anything from the mountains except your pictures.”   This holds in life too: we leave only footprints behind for our children to follow and we make memories on the way that stays with us forever.

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