All these years later, I remember sitting on a rock on Mount Kilimanjaro’s southern face, staring down at the twinkling lights of the nearest town, Moshi, almost 3,000 metres below.
The stars were hanging low in an inky black sky; the silence was absolute. The 950-metre Barranco Wall, a sheer rocky outcrop of dizzying proportions, loomed to one side, while Kilimanjaro’s snow-covered peak glistened overhead.
I felt completely disconnected from the rest of civilisation — and I loved it. That feeling, of being disengaged from the world, was a recurring highlight of my seven-day journey to the top of Africa’s highest mountain.
Days were spent immersed in quiet introspection, broken up by joyful exchanges as complete strangers bonded over this incredible shared experience. I was ever-mindful of my environment, which shifted between rainforest, bushland, Alpine desert and finally, right at the top, stark, majestic glaciers.
I shared laughter, tears, doubts and a sense of jubilation with the group of friends I was trekking with, adding a new, unshakeable dimension to our relationships. There was no phone service, no Wi-Fi, no WhatsApp messages and no social media to distract us from the mission at hand. Our guides were able to contact the outside world in case of an emergency, but we were not.
I summited the “roof of Africa” seven years ago, and I have yet to replicate the sense of peace and purpose I felt over the course of that experience. I have probably never been more focused or “in the moment”.
So news that high-speed internet services have been installed on the mountain this week have left me feeling a little sad. Broadband was introduced on the mountain by the Tanzania Telecommunications Corporation on Tuesday, allowing climbers to stay connected almost all the way up the to the top. Most importantly, it means social media-savvy Gen-Zers can now chronicle their ascent on social media in real time.
I recognise I am a throwback from a different time, but I also know my trip up the mountain would have been greatly diminished if I had spent all day stumbling across wannabe influencers posing for selfies and avidly uploading them to their Instagram Stories.
There are so few places left on the planet that allow for an actual digital detox and I can’t help feeling that the world’s tallest mountains should be among them. Planes used to be another one of my sanctuaries — a few precious hours where I could remain unreachable and unbothered by near-constant phone notifications. No longer.
There are fewer and fewer opportunities to fully escape the temptations of our hyper-connected world. But the whole point of climbing a mountain is to immerse yourself in nature and test your own personal boundaries. It’s about getting to know yourself, understanding your limits and then forcing yourself to try to defy them. It should be a transformative experience that’s yours to savour — not just another thing to boast about to your army of followers.
So I fear people summiting Mount Kilimanjaro from here onwards may end up missing out on the most magical elements of my journey up the mountain.