Lessons From Kilimanjaro

22. March 2015



This article is written by Steffen Hedebrandt. Steffen is a Country Manager at Elance-oDesk in Scandinavia who joined our trip in 2014 to Kilimanjaro. He wrote an excellent piece about his experience on the trip for is blog on the website of Denmark’s biggest business media, Borsen. We have translated the piece and we’re really happy to bring it here on the Refuga blog. The piece was very well-written in danish, so we hope we get the feel of piece in english also. Don’t forget to check out Steffen’s personal blog (in english) right here.

Steffen will be joining our trip to Elbrus in July. We hope he will write an excellent post like this after that trip too. There is still time to sign up for Refuga Elbrus. Check it out here.

Lessons from Kilimanjaro

The concept was simple. Take a group of interesting people. Place them in amazing surroundings. Complete a big challenge with them. That was the description for Refuga Kilimanjaro.

The group consisted of creative Danish entrepreneurs. It all took place in Tanzania. The challenge was to climb the highest mountain of Africa, Kilimanjaro.

The result was 10 days with memories for life and a huge amount of inspiration for future work and projects.

With the backpack stuffed with everything from pills against Malaria and altitude sickness to a safari uniform, the 13 Danes flew from Copenhagen to Kilimanjaro Airport.

We experienced it all. From 30 degress celcius at the bottom of the mountain to -20 degrees at the top. From light rain to a snow storm.

Lesson from Kilimanjaro – What I learned from climbing Kilimanjaro with other entrepreneurs. CLICK TO TWEET 

Lessons From Kilimanjaro

Up Kilimanjaro

The trip up and down again of Kilimanjaro is undoubtedly unique. It’s a challenge and a personal journey for each participant. Our trip on the mountain was 7 days. Five and half days up and one and a half day down.

For every day that went by, we saw new sides of Kilimanjaro. The first day was jungle. Huge trees as far as we could see. A crazy humidity. On the second day the jungle ended. From here the vegetations were only around the height of us. We ended the day over the clouds, where just small bushes and grass grow. A scenery taken from a fairytale. From here we could see the top. Four kilometers down was the bottom of Kilimanjaro.

It was this night, where Brian had to be evacuated. During the night he had left his tent to visit the toilet. The next thing he remembers is regaining consciousness laying on the ground. His face against a rock. There was no doubt. He had been hit by the altitude and had fainted. He had to be evacuated. 10 African people from the crew and two of the participants helped him 1,5 hour down the mountain to an emergency road. Here he and one of the guides were picked up by an emergency car, driving them to the nearest hospital.

A bad accident, but the journey continued. That was also what Brian wanted.

On the third and fourth day the vegetation slowly disappeared. Our bodies, our minds and our group slowly got use to the thin air. The fifth and last day heading up to basecamp, placed just before the last, very steep part, offered us a windy desert-like landscape.

For every step here, you climb out. For every step the air gets thinner. You have to walk slowly. “Pole pole” as Yoda-look-a-like our guide-in-charge, Mr. Minja kept saying again and again. Mr. Minja is a legend on the mountain. All other guides and staff know and greet him on the mountain. You can understand why, when he said he had been to the top between 6-800 times. He didn’t speak much, but when he did, we listened.

You experience that some days you’re strong. Other days you need the help from your team mates. Some times you need energy. Other times more water. A pill against the altitude sickness. A raincover. A hand. A smile.

To the top – Through darkness, thunder and lightning

On the last day, the summit day, we we’re woken up at 11pm after just a few hours, if any, sleep. The basecamp had the day before been filled with sunshine and a light wind, but that had changed completely. Lightning and the following thunder was our new surroundings. And it was close. You could just count a few seconds between lightning and thunder. But that was not all. When we opened our tents, we could see a layer of snow covering everything. And more was coming. There was snow, wind, lightning and thunder coming down over the dark mountain.

The hopelessness of the situation was a mental challenge for us all. Optimism, chatting and smiles could still be found in the big tent where we met for one last briefing before departure at midnight. I’ll admit that I had a good amount of scepticism at that time. The nature surrounding us was in a crazy mood. It made me focused. Concentrated. Determinated. Others had energy to joke. I didn’t. We had gotten so far. We we’re so close.

Out we went

On one line. One guide in front. 12 Danish entrepreneurs in the middle. 3 guides in the back. Up, forward, up. Through endless darkness. Pole pole. Break. Snow. Thunder. Energybar. Frozen drinking bottles. Up. Darkness. forward. Pole pole. Endless darkness.

That’s how it went.

Up. No idea about where we had started. No idea about how long was left. A six hours long hike. In darkness. Towards Stella Point. The point where Kilimanjaro’s plateau is reached and the climb decreases.

At the exact moment, where the first sunshine of the day hit Africa, we reached Stella Point. It was the culmination. A liberating feeling. A moment of joy. It was overwhelming. Some were hit hard by the altitude. Others were extremely tired after the 6 hour marathon in darkness. The emotions were difficult to control. Tears in the eyes. We all admitted that. We saw the sun rise over Africa.

Not at the finish line yet

The absolute top, the top of the plateau is called Uhuru Peak and it’s 5.895 meters above sea level. There were still 45 minutes walk to that point. Everybody was hurting. But this stretch was easier. Over the plateau. With the clouds under us. Gletchers on both sides. And the sun rose higher on the sky. Now we could see where we were going. We could see Uhuru Peak.

We made it. We raised our arms. Cracked big smiles. Hugged each other. Took the mandatory pictures. Enjoyed the moment. Reached the finish line. Our goal. The top of Africa.

Lessons From Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro is a tough physical test. But it’s possible for everyone in a reasonable shape. Mentally, you also have to be strong. But you won’t make it without good team mates. We all had 12 of those.

The talks. The sharing of ideas. The sharing of emotions. The helpfulness of the others was big. The inspiration was enormous. Every day.

The learnings and value of a trip like this, as individuals and as a group, is impossible to describe in words.

We all reached some conclusions from the trips. Some lessons learned.

Bye bye comfort zone

If you want develop, it’s important to challenge and push yourself. For example by climbing a mountain. It can also be other things.

You have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Pushing your limits. Accomplish something that is at the edge of your capabilities. That is something that gives you energy. To be in a tough situation and to have completed it. Energy that can be used in busy day to day life.

Forgetting the trivialities of the everyday

The combination of being in nature for a week, moving from A to B every day, often during many hours, towards the same goal. That lays the foundation for incredible conversations.

Suddenly, all the noise of our normal lives is gone. No push notifications, no e-mails and no phone calling. If you have food and water the only other important thing, is the content of the conversation you are having.

These clean and undisturbed conversations removes the facade that can normally be found in everyday conversations. The facade that makes you answer “fine, thanks”, when asked how you’re doing. Even though you might be in a situation where you partner just left you, a family member is sick, your business is having a hard time or if you are lacking direction and meaning in your life.

These conversations are mental bootcamps. It’s like a cleaning. You sort things. You arrive back home with more balanced thoughts about yourself, your friends and your colleagues.

Now and here

Focus on the task right in front of you. That was a lesson repeated a lot of times on Kilimanjaro. Busy people, planning and execution-specialists, is what a lot of us are and we want to know what’s the step after the next step.

When asking our African guides, we always got the same answer. Focus on the next thing. Not what’s after it. Don’t overthink. It’s too much to comprehend. Let’s start with the task in front of us. Then we will tackle the next thing when it’s there.

Both in life, when doing projects and in entrepreneurship in general, being present is crucial to solving the situation in the best way possible.


One of the trips most overwhelming experiences was saying goodbye to our African helpers. We had over 50 of them. Cooks, carriers, guides. Every day they moved our camp from one place to another. With 20 kilos on their backs, they went before us. To set up the camp. To get water. To purify the water. To cook. Morning. Midday. Evening.

When we were about to say goodbye and thank them for their help, they all gathered. We thought that we were going to shake their hands. To say thanks. Instead they bursted out in singing. They sang and danced to a song about Kilimanjaro. How great it was, that we had taken the trip. Our payments for a weeks work, would last for 3 weeks of food.

We were all overwhelmed. Almost a bit embarrassed. They thank us. We should thank them. What a level of gratitude. Of working. Of being together. Of the moment.

Lesson from Kilimanjaro – What I learned from climbing Kilimanjaro with other entrepreneurs. CLICK TO TWEET 

Lessons From Kilimanjaro


This post was written by Steffen Hedebrand, a Country Manager at Elance. Steffen will also be joining our trip to Elbrus – The highest mountain of Europe in July 2015. You can join him. Check out Refuga Elbrus here.