Integrating Kilimanjaro Training into Daily Life

by Olatunde Gbolahan
You ever have that feeling like there is just not enough time in a day? If I’m ever sitting around not doing anything, I feel like I should be doing something else. Walking the dog, attending a meeting, dropping off the kids, picking up the kids, swimming at the pool, heading to the gym… and the list goes on and on and on.
When did I get this busy? August 2017 to be exact. For the past year, I’ve been training to summit the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, at 19,341 ft. From the beginning, my biggest concern was the altitude. I live in Austin and the highest elevation we have is a whopping 489 ft.

To help prepare, I researched and learned that swimming helps prevent altitude sickness through breathing and breath control. I added swimming to my list of training activities. When I started swimming, I could not swim for more than five minutes at one time, but I set a goal of being able to swim continuously for one hour, three time a week. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I do not struggle with achieving goals I set for myself. My struggle is often achieving goals at the detriment of all else. I am proud to share that for the past two months, I have been consistently swimming my hour laps, 2-3 times a week. I’ve been dealing with sickness and anemia, but still I make it to the pool consistently. To ensure that I did not achieve this at the detriment of all else, I have been following three pillar practices.

My first pillar practice is that I have to schedule the important things, like dedicated one-on-one family time.
My father/daughter and wife/husband date nights are non-negotiable. I wouldn’t be able to do this expedition without the support of my daughter and wife, so these repeating events in my calendar and are not overwritten. There have been times that we had to resolve to a simple meal out and conversation instead of the more active trampoline park due to fatigue, but these have been some of the best outings in my opinion. I have gained greater insight into the minds of my family.

My second pillar practice is using daily life events as training opportunities. For example:
When I walk the dog, I do it with a weighted, 35lb pack.
When the tractor has a flat, I change the tire myself and use the opportunity to get my squats and core workout in. Farm work is a great workout. Nothing gets your core and large muscle groups worked like flipping tractor tires on 250lb rim.
When managing my apiary (bee farm), I’m cutting down trees, putting up fence posts, running barbed wire, lifting and pushing/attaching three point tractor implements, pushing a mower, and/or lifting and relocating hive bodies.
When I am doing my Outdoor Afro events, I use them to train. Thursdays after work we have been hiking the Violet Crown trail which is an out and back that goes from South Austin to Central Austin. If we are able to do the entire trail it would be about 11 miles. So far, we typically average about 6.5 miles with a group due to darkness. My record mid-week after work hiking distance from two weeks ago is 10.2 miles.

My third pillar practice is to use what I have.
I’m fortunate to work for a company that actually has an on-site gym that offers great equipment and group classes. When the weather is too bad to go out, I’ve been able to use the gym to do stairs with a weighted pack. I also participate in the bootcamp group class twice a week.
So, how do I manage to train while still taking care of the many responsibilities of life? Just like I plan to do the mountain. One step, one breath, one activity, one achievement at a time, while trying to make sure not to miss the important things. I don’t want to summit at the detriment of experiencing the climb.

Grasping Possibilities - A Mother’s Motivation for Climbing a Mountain

by Katina Grays
My three year old daughter, Seraphina and I have talked about me climbing this mountain in Tanzania called Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I’ve shown her pictures of the mountain and Seraphina has taken a curious interest in what I do at the gym to train. She has randomly said to people, “You know what? My mom is very strong.”  It is the cutest vote of confidence and at the same time, I feel a little unworthy of that endorsement. Honestly, I am still quite nervous about a lot of it (e.g., the altitude, no showers for 7 days, the cold, my fear of open heights...did I mention no showers?)

June is here and I actually can’t quite believe that in days, I will be up there…on a mountain…in Tanzania!?!  I lead a pretty regular life – I’m a 44 year old, working mom in New York City. Like many mamas, my week typically consists of commuting, work meetings, errands, and spending time with Seraphina.  Kilimanjaro feels like a world away from all of that.
There’s certainly a part of me that’s always loved a good adventure and a new experience.   While those new thrill reasons are there, my biggest motivator for this is Seraphina and my experience as a mother.
I believe that one of the best things that I can do as a mom is to live a full, holistic life that allows my daughter to see me as a whole person, with my own interests, dreams and goals – in addition, to being her mother.  Motherhood is often portrayed as pure loving sacrifice. And sometimes, it is that.  But having come to motherhood later in life, I knew that I still wanted to be the complete person I was before Seraphina.  I never wanted to diminish or martyr myself to meet society’s “sacrificial mother” standard.

I recognize that it’s much easier to say that than to do it.  Pursuing this Kilimanjaro dream means that I am choosing to focus on my own desires and needs.  It means that I am choosing to spend a considerable amount of time away from my daughter, probably with infrequent opportunities to communicate with her.  *Blinks away tears* I don’t take those choices lightly (and I recognize that it is a privilege to even have these choices in the first place.)

I am making these choices precisely because I want to push my own particular boundaries as a mother. I want Seraphina to hopefully remember the experience of her mother pursuing a personal goal and trying hard to see it through.  But more than that, I want to expand her awareness of everything that is possible for her.  As Alice Walker once wrote, “My mother has handed down respect for the possibilities – and the will to grasp them.”
But I also make this choice because I want other moms to know that they are seen and that their personal goals and dreams matter.  While those dreams may or may not involve anything like Kili, I’m hoping that my trek up the mountain offers a metaphor, or a moment of reflection for them to see themselves achieving anything they set out to do.

“I Don’t Think I’m Supposed to Be Here” — An Accidental Outdoors Story

To get lost is to learn the way - African Proverb

by Alora Jones
As a (somewhat) outdoorsy Black woman at a very white non-profit in a super white state, finding Outdoor Afro was like the answer to my prayers. I’m not entirely sure how it all happened, but I often tell people that I stumbled into this life — getting lost and finding my way.
I’ve always had an appreciation for the outdoors and my connection to nature, but even so classified the whole lifestyle of being “outdoorsy” as one of those things that just white people do. Despite my skepticism, I applied to join the 2016 Outdoor Afro Leadership Team after enough people encouraged me and convinced me I could do it. Upon arriving at the leadership summit in Yosemite National Park, my world was rocked and my life changed forever.

Since I’ve had the great privilege of joining this organization, finding my tribe, and learning to forge my own way, I’ve become addicted to seeking new heights to climb and new challenges to overcome. This is why when I was presented with the opportunity to join the 2018 Outdoor Afro Kilimanjaro Team, I made up my mind to make it happen long before I had any idea of what that might look like or how I would get there. Being told by a couple people in my life that these ambitions were unrealistic only fueled my thirst for adventure.
I was elated when I found out I had been accepted onto the team, and immediately began scheming ways to incorporate altitude training into my fitness regimen — a tough task in Minneapolis, at 830’ elevation. My best training trip to date was to Cortez, CO to climb with our Kilimanjaro leader and veteran mountaineer, Philip Henderson. Phil is one of those people who teaches you worlds about life and yourself, but still leaves you feeling like it was all your idea.

In addition to reaching my first summit, Centennial Peak at just over 13,000 ft, I was incredibly fortunate to better get to know Phil and my teammates, Katina and Ray, while learning valuable lessons on what it means to be a leader in the outdoors. The trip taught me humility, teamwork, compassion, and self-care. But most importantly, the time I spent out west with my tribe was an important reminder of why I wanted to be an Outdoor Afro leader in the first place — because I love my people and I deeply believe in the mission of this organization.
I feel so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to carry this love and this mission with me to the top of Africa — and to have a place on the Kilimanjaro team amongst a group of leaders that truly embodies Black Excellence, even if I sometimes feel that I’m not supposed to be here. I hope our journey inspires other people at home and beyond, who maybe think they’re not supposed to be where they are but forge ahead on their own path anyway.

Because as it turns out, “supposed to be” is actually just whatever you decide it is!

Favorite Snacks

  • Peppered beef jerky
  • Coconut almond chocolate Clif Bars
  • Nutella and pretzel rods

What’s On My Trail Mix

  • Road to Zion - Damian Marley
  • Tightrope - Janelle Monae
  • Raspberry Beret - Prince
  • Rise to the Sun - Alabama Shakes


Training to Climb the World’s Tallest Free-Standing Mountain

By Stephen Scott
I am climbing 19,341 feet to the top of a volcano. Yes! Mount Kilimanjaro is a volcano (dormant but not extinct), but why?  For me, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime to ascend one of the Seven Summits1 with individuals who look like me. So, why ascend to the highest point in Africa?

  • To reflect on the relationships with those closest to me.
  • To inspire my children, my family and my community.
  • To encourage the next generations to breathe thin air.
  • To immerse myself in the local culture of Tanzania. I love to learn about culture (food, language and music), history and geology.

I have come to really enjoy an adventure!  Whether it be the thrill of playing sports or simply exploring a nearby creek.  The byproduct of my parents’ divorce was travelling between the two of them on school breaks.  My mom and stepdad were big on the outdoors (car camping, backpacking, canoeing, snorkeling, etc.).  They would tell you that I was miserable during the adventures and are surprised that I am now the most active out of my brothers.
Spending the school months with my Dad, I was able to develop a love for fitness and training.  He was a middle school teacher and coach who loved working out (lifting weights and running).  Maybe it was an inspiration of bodybuilders and movie stars of the 80’s.
Needless to say during my adult years, I have continued to remain active in the outdoors through: flag football, pickup basketball, volleyball, snowboarding, Nordic skiing, rock climbing, camping, canoeing, snorkeling and more.

Our journey to the summit of Kilimanjaro and back will occur over 8 days.  I had previously researched training using Mark Twight’s Extreme Alpinism2.  Twight emphasizes climbing light and fast through building power via cardio and muscular excercise.  I completed one cycle of training (22 week cycle) after being notified of my selection for the Outdoor Afro Kilimanjaro team.

Single Leg Squats

During the first cycle of training, I was informed of another great mountaineering book by Steve House called New Alpinism3.  His book was very impressive with the amount of information provided around training plans, real world examples, science behind the training, prep for altitude and more.  For my second cycle of training, I decided to implement House’s New Alpinism methods.
My training has been broken down into 5 phases based on the New Alpinism book. The total length of this training cycle is 31 weeks with training occurring 5 to 7 days a week.  Each part builds upon the previous part to provide the optimal mental and physical needs for the climb.  Each of the first three phases ranges in timeframe from 8 to 11 weeks.

  • Transition: This is about getting your body ready (8 weeks)
  • Base – Strength: This is about building strength so your body will be able to handle what’s coming (8 weeks)
  • Base – Endurance: This is about switching the focus so your body can do longer activities (8 weeks)
  • Taper: Will allow my body time to recover while maintaining the foundation built during training (2 weeks)
  • Showtime: Put all the hard work to the test (8-day climb)

The biggest challenge for me in switching up methods was shifting from primarily using anaerobic system training to aerobic.  These methods totally flipped my training due to my history of training for explosive movements with football and track.  By switching to aerobic training, my training is slowly converting my body to use fat for energy versus carbohydrates.  This system will be extremely helpful for the 8 day journey at a pole pole4 pace. I am putting my trust in the training plan to prepare me not only physically but mentally.  Beyond the hiking and altitude challenges, one must be prepared for long days of hiking (up to 8 hours a day).

Weighted Pull Ups

Is all of my training relegated to indoors due to my location in Minnesota? Not at all! Throughout my training, I have been able to train outdoors as well. Upon learning of my selection to the OA Kili team (June 2017), I started training by taking 1-3 mile hikes through my neighborhood pushing my twins in their stroller. I use work travels to Las Vegas as an opportunity to get elevation training in the Mt Charleston area (Mary Jane Falls and Fletcher Peak).   Winters in Minnesota can be a buzzkill if you don't find ways to cope. I was able to go cross-country skiing and hike snow covered trails in my ski gear. Recently, I have been utilizing the twilight hours (4am) to get in 3-6 mile hikes without interruptions to my family time.

Photo Credit:


  • Aerobic Threshold (AT) Heart Rate Zone 1 Rolling Hill Climbs (build my aerobic system base)
  • AT Zone 3 (anaerobic system maintenance)
  • Step Ups with Weight (build leg strength and balance for the uphill climb of Kilimanjaro)
  • Scott’s Killer Core Routine5 (build core strength and stabilizer muscles)

The North Face Ambition Shirt - Perfect shirt for staying cool during my workouts
The North Face Kilowatt Thermoball Jacket -Great warm hoodie for days above freezing in Minnesota
KEEN Durand Mid Boots - Nice sturdy boot for hiking

Thank you to The North Face and KEEN Footwear for providing gear for our journey!

Rolling Hill Walk on a 40F Day in Minnesota


  1. Seven Summits - The Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven continents.
  2. Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, High, and Fast Paperback by Mark Twight
  3. Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House
  4. Pole Pole - pronounced Polay Polay – means slowly, slowly in Swahili
  5. Scott Johnson – world class Nordic skier who developed


Meet the Kilimanjaro Team - #OAClimbsKili

By Chaya Harris
What do you picture when you think of Mount Kilimanjaro? Majestic views and dynamic landscapes? Master mountaineers? Add accountants, teachers, and office managers who love Gummi Bears and PB&J to your thoughts!
In June, 11 Outdoor Afro Leaders from across the country will hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free-standing mountain at 19,341 feet. To be part of this expedition team, we had to apply; we wrote essays demonstrating why we would be a strong fit for the team (we’re serious, y’all). Rue Mapp, Outdoor Afro’s founder and CEO, and her executive team chose us to further our mission internationally because of our unique skills, ability to collaborate as a team and share our experience with as many people as we can.

Before, during and after our expedition - it’s a journey, more than a hike - you’ll often hear from me, Chaya, and our other co-leader, Katina. I’m a 33-year-old educator in the Boston Public Schools and it’s my second year as an Outdoor Afro Leader. Katina is also a second-year leader, living in New York City, with a fantastic three-year old daughter. She’s a “recovering” lawyer, who now works in the education nonprofit sector. Together, we’re helping build team skills and facilitating leadership lessons.

Chaya Harris, co-leader
Chaya Harris, co-leader

Katina Grays, co-leader
Katina Grays, co-leader

We will keep you updated on all things Kili via and #OAClimbsKili on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our team will share how we’re training, what inspires us, and hopefully, empower you through leadership in the outdoors. As we get to know more about our teammates, you will too!  

Alora: Thoughtful, 27-year-old Marketing and Communications Manager and single dog mom in Minnesota. Why is she climbing Kili? Because she’s our ancestors’ wildest dreams, and she wants to aim high and make them proud.
Brittany: 28-year-old Teacher, Outdoor Instructor and renaissance woman who loves climbing and Gummi Bears. If you have a question about the Appalachian Trail, she probably has the answer. She’s hiked about 200 miles on the AT!
Leandra: First-year leader blazing trails in Albuquerque, New Mexico while snacking on carrots and cucumbers. She’s 25, works as a Coalition Coordinator, enjoys yoga and has two dogs.
Olatunde (Ola): One of our leaders in Austin who works as a Manager of Internal Controls and Compliance. He’s married, has two daughters, and swimming is his favorite way to train for Kilimanjaro. He likes homemade turkey jerky and Cashew trail mix while exploring the outdoors.
Ray: Cool, 59-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran, Federal Analyst and father in D.C. who loves to snack on peanut butter and jelly while enjoying hiking, snowboarding, camping and lots of mountain biking to train for Kilimanjaro.
Stephen: 33-year-old Senior Product Development Food Scientist, husband and father of three in Minnesota. He’s researched a lot about training for Kili, yet basic squats are still his favorite exercise.  
Tarik: 34-year-old Accountant and father of three celebrating his 10-year wedding anniversary in June. In addition to outdoor activities, he enjoys watching the Eagles at home in Philadelphia. Let’s hope Tarik and Ola bring some homemade jerky to Kili!
Valerie: Hiking Kili is a 60th birthday present for Valerie! She’s been married for more than 30 years, has two sons and a daughter, and enjoys skating, bicycling, skiing, paddling, almost any -ing, outdoors.
Wandi: Celebrates her 55th birthday on our expedition in June! She is a program director in Atlanta, world traveler and swimming enthusiast who is single and ready to mingle.

Katina and I have also the fun stuff like selfies covered, while expert guides Phil Henderson and Rosemary Saal will be our technical leaders on the 8-day Machame Route. Phil is a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) veteran, works as a craftsman at Osprey, and has decades of trekking experience, including Denali and Everest. He’s like a present-day Matthew Henson!
Alora, Phil, Ray

You may have seen Rosemary in American Ascent, a film about the first African-American expedition to tackle Denali, which is North America’s tallest peak at more than 20,000 feet!  She grew up enjoying outdoor recreation and has led groups through varying terrain in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and Patagonia among other regions.

On our team, we have an REI outdoor school instructor, and others who have never backpacked! We have world travelers, and people whose trip to Tanzania will be their first international expedition. With twenty-somethings to sixty-somethings, we exemplify not only Black leadership in the outdoors, but also inclusion. We’re aiming to reach the summit, but our adventure is about so much more than the physical 40ish miles. Our expert guides, diverse all Black team, and focus on culture make this a unique adventure; we’ll learn more about Tanzanian traditions and history, like how it was the first country in Africa to establish independence from European rule. 

We’ll work together to practice Swahili, enjoy traditional foods, and stay safe on the expedition as we travel through five challenging biomes. Keeping with Outdoor Afro’s values, we’ll examine the wildlife, vegetation and climate, and learn about conservation with a global perspective - we’re taking better care of the planet!  
Our amazing national partners help make this trip possible. The North Face staff is outfitting us in all-weather apparel, including a Thermoball fleece jacket that has a down section, and a lightweight Gore-Tex rain jacket. KEEN is hooking us up with boots perfect for this climb. We’re choosing some trusted favorites from Columbia, and Clif Bar is providing financial support and nutritional products! We’ll need to eat around 3,000 calories per day for stamina and to help offset altitude sickness. We are grateful for these partners who help us be effective Outdoor Afro leaders.

We would love for you to support our expedition with words of encouragement or donations, both financially and in-kind. Be sure to follow #OAClimbsKili to watch the expedition team's journey!

Lifting as We Climb - #OAClimbsKili

By Tarik Moore
The time to our Mt. Kilimanjaro expedition in Tanzania is winding down pretty quickly. I am very excited about this expedition. It will be my first time traveling to the continent of Africa and my first multi-day climbing expedition as well. I am looking forward to the journey with people who look like me and share the same passion that I have with the outdoors.

I am going to Africa to inspire people who look like me to enjoy nature and to help show them that that we have the right, as much as anyone else ,to enjoy public spaces.I am so lucky to be part of Outdoor Afro, which helps provide the confidence and knowledge to not only get outdoors, but to enjoy it.
I am going to Tanzania to inspire people that grew up like me and experienced the same things as me. To try and focus on experiencing more that the world has to offer.
I am going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to  share my experiences with my Philly hometown family and friends and be a role model for them. It’s critical for the youth to see a non-celebrity come back and share your experiences with them honestly and open. There is more in life to aspire to other than an entertainer or sports star, which can be unattainable for most people.
I am going because I want my community to be in arms reach of someone who can provide a little bit of inspiration. By going on this expedition, I want to give a small glimpse into experiencing another culture and that, "Yes! African Americans do enjoy nature in many ways."

Growing up, it was very inspiring and exciting for me to participate in assemblies with guest speakers from the community. It really helped me get a small glimpse into the outside world. I can still remember specific times when High School football alumni visited practice to talk about life or when some business men and women visited us from local brokerage firms to talk about the world of finance. It inspired me to set goals for myself and to take advantage of experiencing life. We only have this one life to live. I want to be one of those role models.

I can also remember, while in college, participating in the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA). Their motto is “Lifting as we climb”. This motto couldn’t be more apropos to this current expedition. This expedition does not end after we come down the mountain. It’s going to continue on lifting up our communities, as Outdoor Afro leaders, by continuing to give back and inspire others.

If you are inspired by our mission, please make a tax-deductible contribution today.