How to Conquer a Mountain: Kilimanjaro Lessons by John and Sue Irving


In April 2012, British couple John R. and Sue Irving began planning for a physical, spiritual and mental passage with a plan to keep simultaneous journals of their inward and outward journeys. By February 2013 they were on the plains of Tanzania outside Arusha, pushing toward their goal – Mt. Kilimanjaro. If they were going to reach the top of Africa’s highest peak, which they refer to as “Kili” in How to Conquer a Mountain: Kilimanjaro Lessons, Sue had reasoned they should be ready in all details; by exercise, by reading, by learning the lay of the land and by buying all the necessary clothing and supplies to prepare their ‘kit.’ In the beginning, John had thought Sue was not serious about Kili, but when she advised him, “I have been reading what climbers have said about training, so I have devised a training schedule to get fit,” John knows this is about to get real, and so he acquiesces. But the thing about Mt. Kilimanjaro, one of the highest mountains in the world, no matter how many details and supplies you plan out, you are either going to conquer that mountain or it will conquer you. Of this couple, we will journey with one member striving to get to the top and we will mourn with the other member when learning that the journey will not be finished. In How to Conquer a Mountain: Kilimanjaro Lessons, both John and Sue’s journal entries keep the reader on the edge of their seat, those reading along with the person who goes on the outward journey to the top and those reading along with the member who waits at a resort – a nice resort – but not where that member planned to be. Through the journals, readers endure the cold, the angst, the altitude sickness, the joy of the magnificent sun and stars over Kilimanjaro, and the sorrow of not finishing the journey. This little book lets readers see and feel Kilimanjaro, and for some it is as close to the mountain we will ever come.

I loved How to Conquer a Mountain: Kilimanjaro Lessons.

My husband and I have climbed some mountains in Canada, but none as tall or as rugged as those of Africa. I remember the endless trek and the far off points that seemed so close yet were so far away. I remember the scree that you had to respect to keep from sliding off the mountain, and I remember the just plain dogged hard work of making your way from one point to another. I remember learning one thing about mountains: To not take in the whole of the mountain as something you had to climb, but to choose a zigzag path to make your way up the ‘hill.’ In the book it is called “How to eat an elephant” (by taking small bites). The book brought back some memories and taught me that others fight the same challenges as I do – dealing with the What If’s instead of the What Is. As noted in the book, “Maybe surrendering is about accepting the not-knowing rather than fighting for an illusion of control.” This book is dedicated “to all who have already attempted to climb Kili, are still preparing for the climb or are facing a mountain not of their choosing.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *