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Conquering Kilimanjaro: The mind-set, which overcame a mountain

Posted by | March 26, 2016 | Alieu Fofanah, Uncategorized | One Comment

Being a GoGetter is all about going after what you want, and keeping up your momentum, hunger and enthusiasm. Even when the going gets tough and you have failed more than once. At that point when it is no longer easy and you are unsure if you can continue. Somehow you maintain or even strengthen your resolve. Regardless of attaining your final goal, you can be sure that the journey changes you. You learnt so much about yourself and are proud to say that you went after your dreams – you are a GoGetter!

At the end of 2015, I set myself the challenge to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The highest freestanding mountain in the world, the highest peak in Africa. This, for an initiative in Sierra Leone called Bridging Bintumani, which aims to build a bridge to open access to the Bintumani mountain, the highest peak in West Africa, which would attract visitors, tourists and lovers of nature to Sierra Leone. Was I confident in reaching the top? Naively yes, especially considering the lack of training I done before hand. So on the 27th December 2015 I landed in Tanzania with my travel buddy Sahil.

Day 1 arrival at camp

Day 1 arrival at camp

End of day 1

Current Bintumani bridge

The journey up Mount Kilimanjaro officially started on the 30th December 2015, the first few days were difficult. Walking 5-6 hours every day. In the mornings Sahil and I would joke and remix the famous quote from the movie Troy “Do you know what’s waiting beyond that Mountain? Immortality! Take it! It’s yours!”. Quotes, jokes and songs, got us through the first few days. I remember the third day we celebrated New Years, popping champagne but only taking a few sips, as high altitudes and alcohol do not go well together. On the fourth day I was exhausted and Sahil was feeling even worse! He has a nut allergy, so he didn’t eat any of the food our porters prepared. Instead he was surviving on couscous, sardine and protein shakes. The evening of day five, we woke up at 11.30pm, to start the accent to the top. Four hours in and Sahil fainted twice, he started coughing up blood and he was sent back down to base camp.

End of day 3

End of day 3

End of day 3

I carried on but two hours later I wanted to give up, I no longer had the support to keep me going. Sahril and I were separated. The music that had been my main source of motivation, no longer had any effect on me. Normally, I would listen to the songs and the melodies, they would light up my heart. Making six hours seem like a few hours of fun and joy. This time even the expression of emotion captured in a song could not lift my spirit. It just felt like noise in my ears.

I had been walking at a “pole pole” pace, which means “slowly slowly” in Swahili for seven hours. I had an hour and a half to go before I reached the top of Kilimanjaro, 5,895m above sea level! The lack of sleep, the heaviness of my stomach and the burning sensation around my heart were all erupting into a vortex of pain and fatigue. I was finding it hard to breath and I could not take more than five steps before feeling faint. There were moments when I could no longer speak and I would suddenly stop to rest, hoping that my guide would turn around and notice I was no longer behind him. But even stopping for a long period of time was not an option. I would freeze standing still. This was the night of the summit and it seemed to go on forever. In those moments I started to feel myself break, like a hammer that shatters a rock, Kilimanjaro had broken through my layers of defence. Physically weak and mentally vulnerable, my thoughts drifted uncontrollably until a bright silence took a hold of me.

First rays

Sunrise day 6 (summit)

My heart skipped a beat, as I saw within my minds eye, someone in there 90s smiling like there was something to celebrate, something to be proud of… The face became clear and the person was the older version of myself. He spoke and said, “The steps to immortality are taken by those who have come alive with the purpose that God has given them. The door to immortality is only open to those who take the personal responsibility to explore the possibilities. The key to immortality is given to those who don’t wait for fortune to knock, they look for challenge, as they know it will change them, they take action and create their own opportunities. Achieving what immortality is to them.”

At that point he told me that he was proud of me: proud I obtained the B in maths for my GCSE bettering my expected E grade, proud that I left university with a first class degree, proud that I became a qualified accountant for the largest professional services firm in the world, proud that I am still challenging myself to push my limits and go beyond my current state of mind. He said that I will be even more proud in the days when I tell my grandkids the tales of granddad Alieu and his quest for immortality.

I broke into tears at that point, it came from nowhere and I couldn’t control it or speak. I felt the warm water drip down my cheeks and drop on the floor as the sun started to rise and the first rays of light burst through the clouds. The energy from this emotion surged through me like a flash flood. From my body, to my mind and through the depths of my spirit, I was reborn and reenergised. The pain in my legs, the burning of my heart and the emptiness of my stomach, all ceased to limit me. I picked up the pace and my guides were shocked, they had no idea what had taken a hold of me. Thirty minutes that first burst lasted for, for thirty minutes I lived in a state of energy. Completely created by my sense of purpose.


Day 6 – view from the top of Kilimanjaro

With another hour to go, the fatigue and all the pain that left me quickly returned like a cold hard slap to the face. I started digging up vivid images of my parents: my dad being mistreated by his older brother’s wife when growing up; him working in a gold mine trying to make a living; taking care of me when my mum first left Sierra Leone to come to the UK; and him working several dead end jobs to put food on the table. Then my mother: growing up with family friends who treated her like a house girl; running away several times only to be brought back; having me at 18 and not finishing her education; and then coming to the UK, to obtain a 2.1 degree and study for her Master’s. I broke into tears again and I used the energy to pace forward!

Thirty minutes passed by and I was empty. I had brought up several different positive visualisations of why I do what I do, what makes me proud and people that inspire me. I had no more good to look for. I focused all my energy on things that made me angry, disappointed and hurt. I used all of those things to force myself to cry again and it worked. It was not as powerful as the feeling of love and joy I felt thinking about my parents and others but it allowed me to overcome my physical pain through evoking strong emotions that tipped me over the edge.

That’s when I realised the power that comes from your thoughts and how that connects to your emotion, which leads you to take action. I recognised that we have a choice in what action to take, be it negative, limiting and self-defeating or positive, uplifting and progressive. By choosing the latter, my mind-set overcame a mountain and I was able to reach the top of Kilimanjaro.


Sunrise day 6 (summit)

Morning of day 5

Day 6 – Uhuru peak the highest point


When last did you push or challenge yourself? When last were you a GoGetter? Post on the comments your moments and use the hashtag #IAmAGoGetter. Let’s help each other to live a life worth telling your grandkids about!

I will be putting together an event outlining more of the lessons I learnt from Kilimanjaro and the GoGetters mindset. Early bird discount tickets will be released in the next week, please click ‘here’ if you want to be notified. The event is free for all those who donated to ‘my donation page’, donations are still open.

Day 7 end of the journey


Alieu Fofanah

About Alieu Fofanah

An Associate Chartered Accountant who in 2010 was invited to the House of Lords by Lord Adebowale, to feature as a Future Leader in the Magazine published by Powerful Media. Previously worked as a debt restructuring and business recovery specialist at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Alieu’s vision for GoGetters to act as a channel for entrepreneurs to build creative solutions, which transform the world.

  • Hi Alieu….amazingly powerful, honest, and inspiring is all I can say. What a wonderful personal achievement, experience, and story of growth that is going to last you for a lifetime. Thanks for sharing! Love it and more power to you. Now I somehow feel I need to climb Kilimanjaro too… :)

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