HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY!!! WE DID IT!!!!!
All of the women on our trip summited the highest point in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet after 51 hours of hiking, 42 miles, numerous emotional and physical struggles, blizzards and rain and epic scenery, 10 fashion photo shoots, 8 days in tents and no showers!! What an experience!! I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to Maurice Oketch with Simba Marara Expeditions whose team that supported us was more like an army of people!
We had an ALL FEMALE climbing guide team, wardrobe and photo equipment porters for our photos shoots, chefs preparing our meals, people setting up our tents and helping to practically carry us when we were sick from altitude or just too exhausted to take another step. They have become our family after 8 days on that mountain and I will never forget this experience!
Thank you SO much to LIFELABS.DESIGN for outfitting all of the women on our trip. I honestly would not have been able to take the arctic cold on our 7 hour final push through the middle of the freezing cold night to make it to the summit at sunrise without your super warm jacket and gloves!! That was the hardest and most important part of the climb where you are exhausted and feel the worst and I felt like I was in a warm puffy cloud!
We started the trip walking through the rainforest, then heather and moorland, then alpine desert, then volcanic rocky landscapes, to arctic and Mt. Kilimanjaro changes her weather like she has multiple personalities. One second you are hot and it's sunny, then the next it is an arctic blizzard, but we loved every side of her. It was like we were walking through all the kingdoms of Game of Thrones!
I wanted to honor the incredible women who were my sisters on this trip and their stories and I hope to continue to support my African sisters whom we have left behind on the mountain who continue to lead and inspire a new group of women someday! I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to test my physical and emotional limits and to have seen the glaciers and beauty at the roof of Africa!!!
On the final day we donated a lot of our clothing and all of the African fabric we had bought to these incrediublly beautiful & badass women porters that led us up Kilimanjaro.
These women, some of whom are single mothers, are absolutely amazing and such an inspiration! They treated us like their sisters and family and took care of us when
we felt sick and motivated us when we were feeling at our limit. They climb up the mountain several times a month, leading groups and carrying gear, battling through Mount Kilimanjaro’s changing climate, and smiling the whole way through!
On the trek we became like sisters , they were always positive, and singing, cheering and helping us up the mountain. They were the real heroes of this climb!
We definitely had the most fun of anyone on the mountain!! We wanted to support local artisans so we bought a bunch of African fabrics and beaded jewelry at the market in the Maasai Mara and wanted to pay homage to their fashion, art and culture through our photo shoots. Our female porters showed us how to do their traditional head wraps and helped us get dressed and we quickly realized that Women are Women no matter what language barrier or culture they are from. Every woman wants to be seen and feel beautiful no matter what culture you are, so attempting to do a portrait of every woman along the way at high altitude, in difficult weather conditions, and while at high altitude was definitely worth the challenge for me to do these shoots...
I love doing "goddess shoots" where we do dramatic portraits in hard-to-get-to locations using fabric. It has been a signature of mine all over the world. I learn SO much from a person when I photograph them, and you can't hide from your emotions or what you are going through internally when you are on a mountain. That is what the mountain teaches you...to strip everything away and actually DEAL with what is inside of you and what is right in front of you. Every major breakthrough I have had in my life happened while climbing a difficult mountain, and Kilimanjaro was no different. I learned that I needed to surrender, listen to my body, listen to others, and know that the idea of "HOME" is where you are surrounded by people who love you.
Here is my portrait shoot (with porters constantly walking through the scene which was completely apropos) as we were just about to leave the rainforest section of our climb!"
"I am not a climber and it never crossed my mind to try and climb Kilimanjaro, but when I was offered to join this amazing group of women- I immediately said yes.
I said yes to the challenge, to the adventure, and to the chance to grow beyond my limits.
I also had a personal journey. My father’s family is from Algeria. They left before my father was born and I only got to hear small anecdotes throughout the years. I hoped that being in Africa would somehow bring me closer to my grandparents so I could celebrate their memory.
I carried them in my heart every step of the way.
I feel so lucky that I was able to conquer and get to the roof of Africa. I feel blessed to have done that with the support of the women in this remarkable group, but most of all, I am thankful to our women guides, porters and everyone that helped us along the way. They taught me dedication, humility and love.
"My intention to climb Kilimanjaro was to reach the summit while testing my mindset. To prove to myself that I can do hard things ‘on my own’. The biggest breakthrough I learned was to “surrender”. You weren’t meant to do it alone. You must surrender to the unpredictable, the challenges, to being vulnerable, to accept the encouragement and help from others. The lessons, growth and happiness occurs while you’re climbing, not when you reach the top. The mountain changed me and I’m forever grateful.
“It’s not the mountain you conquer, it’s yourself”.
"Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is an ultimate invitation to test one’s character – physical strength, mental endurance and spiritual depth. The opportunity to climb was an immediate YES to Laura Grier and other fierce women (Jeri, Cindy, Sam, Cam, Gigi, Moran) Not to mention female guides Rehema, Jackie and Faith.
My goal is always to “stretch the imagination of feminine influence.” We have ONE DREAM ONE TEAM. It takes courage, bravery, discipline, community, perseverance, grit, humility, trust and faith. We entrusted Maurice Oketch, Simba Mara Expeditions to build a remarkable team of over 40+ porters, cooks, runners, staff to ensure our success.
It was a perfect and poetic way to start 2022! No doubt this promises to be the best year of my life. As a recent cancer survivor and woman going through a life transition, I wanted to take my self literally to new heights and remind myself what it means to be alive at this moment. Sleeping outside in extreme conditions, traveling to new places with sounds, smells and culture. It was the gift of a lifetime.
I am reminded that not everyone is so fortunate. My dear friend Joanna Barlia battled ocular melanoma. After thriving the past 8 years it aggressively spread to her liver, and she passed away a year ago on Valentine’s Day. She left behind an amazing husband and four beautiful kids. A gentle reminder that we are mortal, and we can never take a day or embrace for granted.
I wanted to recognize the fragility of life for ALL of us and take Joanne’s spirit with me along this moment to raise money and visibility for Georgetown’s Cancer Lombardi Center. After enlisting the help from family, friends and strangers I have raised over $100,000 to support the CLIMB FOR CAUSE.
I feel proud to convert pain into purpose. I know I can do anything I put may mind to and feel a new vitality to LIVE MY BEST LIFE IN THIS LIFETIME. Not to mention getting into costumes in nature with women. It was liberating, empowering and playful. A perfect environment to be unapologetic and unafraid. The highlights were coming together as a group each evening and share deep inquiries about our life around questions fears, dreams, desires, intentions and challenges.
I will forever have deep gratitude for Laura Grier who has more energy and creativity to document us in the most gorgeous landscapes from the base to the summit and all the way down."
"Cliche or not, when you arrive at the top of the mountain, you are only halfway to completing your task.
When you travel far from your geographic home to lands unknown, the home you have built within yourself, your mind, body, and spirit, becomes the new hearth fire and beacon. This concept was spectacularly present while pushing the limits of my physical body to see the world from another perspective.
The perspective gained here is the key for me, all things are relative and the small things we go through everyday that used to push our buttons or seem insurmountable now wither in comparison to the physically adverse conditions.
A goal I try to live by is ‘life in the slow lane,’ appreciative, slow and purposeful action in all facets of life. This is how a warrior or wolf protect and lead their own, with both thought and memory as their guides. In Tanzania they say this also, ‘pole pole,’ the mindful unhurried steps through life so you enjoy everything… every single step or misstep.
Right now, writing as the armchair philosopher about a journey past, I am epically grateful for leaping at yes, for the inspiring group of strong women in life and for all the metaphoric mountains I have climbed to be where I am in life to gain such perspective.
I am living my next adventure right now, perspective is everywhere you just have to live slow enough to see it."
"For over 14 years, I have had a dream of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. The opportunity recently presented itself to me and I was an immediate “YES” even though I had no idea how I was going to make it happen.
I was looking to use this experience as an energetic slingshot to propel me into my new career as an artist. I figured that if I could climb to the top of Africa, then I could do anything I set my mind to. The preparation of this adventure inspired me to have my first solo art show called Art With Purpose. The proceeds of the show went to sponsor my climb as well as raising $8,000 for an organization called Plant With Purpose. Another goal of this journey was to leave Tanzania better than I found it. Plant With Purpose educates the community in Tanzania about sustainable agriculture to help the locals out of poverty as well as working on tree planting and reforestation to help the planet heal from climate change.
This was no ordinary all women’s climb to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. We were going to be doing two photoshoots a day to feature each female climber in one of the five different microclimates of their choice. Since I have such a deep connection to trees, it only made sense for me to have my shoot in the rainforest. As I was enveloped in the beautiful green trees and vines, I was evoking the themes of strength and freedom."
"We are what we can carry. That's what the mountain taught me. For eight days we carried only what we could bear. A lesson to lay down what is no longer needed, and pick up only what serves. Our culture teaches that loss is something you process, then release. Expunge. Get rid of. But life is made of layers, not lines. And loss is part of that story. The mountain taught me its ok to carry loss and joy on the same journey. There's room for dichotomy in our duffles."
JERI BETH WARD
"I went to Africa in search of adventure and seeking answers to questions about my career, my future and personal self-worth. I came away with a newfound sense of confidence, calm and achievement, as well as friendships, and a recommitment to invest in myself, my relationships and my well-being. I also came to the realization that I had been far too focused on the end goal and outcome of my plan dujour rather than living in the moment, embracing and enjoying the journey and appreciating the twists, turns and excitement of discovery. I walked away from Kilimanjaro realizing that in life, the journey is the destination and I will forever look at my world through this new lens.
More importantly, I was moved literally and emotionally by the Tanzanian people that made our ascent possible — especially our women guides. The people I met were kind, strong, giving, calm, reassuring, smart and dedicated. I want to find ways to support them in their own journeys. In many cases they do not have the resources, tools, gear, or infrastructure to sustain their work, or to care for their loved ones and themselves. My initial focus will be on providing outdoor equipment and apparel for those who work the mountain. We started this by donating gear from our bags before departing. Back home, I will continue to collect donations and send them to the Tanzanian team. Second, I will partner with others on our trip to tell the story of the women guides, create awareness for their strength and potential, provide mentoring and support so they can envision a new future and work toward achieving new goals. Third, I will partner with NGOs and philanthropic organizations to increase financial resources, women’s empowerment and education in Tanzania.
Everyone we met was grateful for our visit and asked that we serve as ambassadors for Tanzania. I plan to do that and more to give back to the people that gave so much of themselves so I could realize a personal dream and start a new journey of my own."