When is a mountain more than just a mountain?

2014-12-18 07:26

When it’s an adventure! Old Mutual Wealth CEO Andrew Bradley and a group of colleagues found out how much is enough courage, endurance and camaraderie to take on Africa's highest peak, Mt Kilimanjaro. This mountaineering challenge was undertaken as part of a drive by the company to encourage its employees to "Do great things".

Many of the participants saw the experience as a metaphor for facing daily challenges together as a company and as colleagues.

“The Kilimanjaro experience is about the triumph of the human spirit. For me it is 20% physical and 80% mental. When your body cannot handle it anymore, you need a great sense of willpower within yourself not to retreat nor surrender. And you need an amazing team around you filled with the spirit of UBUNTU to help you to stand on top of Africa’s highest point, Uhuru!”

"You need a team to go up with you, but you also need guides who have been there before you. A wise guide once said: 'Just because you are breathing does not mean that you are alive.' The mountain gives you an opportunity to set your mind free, to revitalise the soul and clarify the purpose of life.

"It's not just about the business goals, it's about the journey we're on. We are trying to create a legacy, leaving something behind for our children..."

Being together as colleagues on this journey gave them a unique opportunity to get to know each other - and themselves.

- Andrew Bradley (pictured above)

Relish the journey

Andrew recalls how as a teenager his running coach told him that climbing Kilimanjaro would be his ultimate personal challenge. “Only years later I realised what he meant,” he says. “For me this was all about the climb, not necessarily about the summit. I've always been a destination, not a journey person. But I am trying to learn to be more of a journey person. So for me, this was about the journey and I wanted to make sure that I learned as much as I could about myself on this mountain.

"I did this in a number of ways. As preparation I studied the routes and what others had experienced. I then took along my GPS and heart-rate monitor watch and constantly monitored the information so I could learn as much about myself and the experience as possible – and I did in every way. Endurance is what I thrive on, I have run Comrades and other ultra marathons, done the paddling Iron Man, and numerous endurance cycling events over many days, but for a single day’s physical and mental test, the day we summited was the most challenging day I have ever faced! We had to push ourselves to the absolute limit. And I enjoyed every single moment of the journey."

Know your mountain

Kili is a magnificent mountain, formed by an ancient volcano and towering 5895m above the Tanzanian plains, with its peak protruding above the clouds. It is not only the highest mountain in Africa but also the highest single-standing mountain in the world. Climbers pass through four different eco-zones: tropical rainforest, moorland, alpine desert and finally the alpine peak. 

Kili is more accessible than you think

For such a high mountain, the climb is very accessible, and can be attempted by anyone who is reasonably active and committed to doing it. It does not require any technical climbing ability. “During our climb we came across people of all ages: from 14-year-old kids to 62-year-olds,” says Andrew.

Climbing Kili is not to be underestimated, however, and its summit success rate is only 60%. The most common reason for failure is altitude sickness, which can affect even experienced climbers and leads to headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, depriving climbers of the energy they need to complete the climb.

The Old Mutual team achieved a 96% success rate. “We did all the basics right. There is a simple, yet flawless method to a successful journey up the mountain: ‘pole pole’. It means ‘slowly slowly’ in Swahili. But what really gave us the boost we needed was teamwork and a clear common dream.”


When the body struggles, mind and heart take over

It takes a team to live the dream! Form a strong unit for your journey, and remember that although you cannot plan for every possible situation, you can prepare your team for adversity.

"Sometimes when you have a long-standing goal and achieve it, you can feel afterwards that it was no big deal,” says Andrew. “But achieving my ultimate personal challenge to climb Kilimanjaro after more than 35 years of dreaming about it has provided me with a great sense of accomplishment and fulfilment. Whatever our abilities and whatever our previous accomplishments, we all had the opportunity to learn about ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. And we did!"

The Kilimanjaro Porters Foundation

The incredible strength and hard work of the porters and guides was an eye-opening experience for the Old Mutual team. For them the mountain is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s their place of work - and the enormous challenges and risks that climbers face are part of their everyday reality. Physically helping others to achieve their lifetime dreams is how they eke out a living. Humbled by this, the team agreed to start a Trust Fund to help uplift and improve the lives of the porters of Mt Kilimanjaro.

Doing great things for more than yourself

There is something extra special about climbing Kilimanjaro and raising money for a worthy cause at the same time.

The Old Mutual team was inspired by the story of a little girl who recently lost her life at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. (Read Lika's story here.) Through a collective team effort, a large amount of money was raised to support the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

The team also carried the Reach for Recovery flag in support of Breast Cancer Awareness.

“The knowledge that you’re helping others while achieving a lifelong ambition is just fantastic,” says Andrew.

Have a big, challenging mountain of a travel dream?

Visit OldMutual.co.za/howmuchisenough.com to find out how you can make it happen.

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