I really went balls-to-the-wall with my second hiking experience. While in the small West African island chain of Cape Verde this past summer (where my father’s side of the family tree comes from), I climbed the highest point of the entire country, Mount Fogo. The volcano last went off in 1995, making it active status. While a 15+ year hiatus in activity makes it sound less scary and badass, I’ll assure you that getting banged up against rocks as you inch towards the top, then wading through miles of sharp, crystalized ash is no walk in the park (did I mention I’m afraid of heights?).
My first ever climb took place in Cape Town, South Africa, when I scaled Lion’s Head Mountain. For those who’ve never been able to travel to the motherland, hiking in Africa means no safety gear, harnesses or fancy waivers to sign. It’s just you versus gravity, sweltering heat, and the elements as you make your way up. This second experience felt much more significant than the first, and when I reached the summit of Mount Fogo, I realized I got a lot more out of the climb than just the view and some exercise. Read on to see the life lessons I learned from atop an active volcano.
9 Life Lessons From Climbing Mount Fogo
There will always be an excuse not to start… I had some stomach troubles the night before, and only had about five hours of sleep.1 I could’ve easily backed out and said I didn’t feel well enough for a climb that began before sunrise, but I never would have had this story to tell or the cool photos to show for it.
There will be pain involved… On the way up, I got a few deep scratches from slipping and scraping myself against rocks—making it extremely painful when ash and soot entered my wounds.2 I also got sunburned (for the second time ever) from the experience. The tops of my shoulders most likely got burnt because I wore a tanktop, and went well above the clouds and the cover they provide.
Pace yourSELF… The places where I took some of the best pictures were at self-appointed rest stops, sitting on top of rocks. As mentioned earlier, this was only my second time climbing, and I’m afraid of heights, so I had to take plenty of water breaks and coach myself throughout (more on that later). There’s no shame in understanding your limits, and you’ll burn out if you don’t respect them, leaving you too drained to complete your goal. Besides rest, I’m happy I stopped to “smell the roses” and enjoy the view when I sat.
Don’t worry about watching others… Even though I was the first to begin the climb, two groups of French families who were clearly more experienced than I, passed me by. When I say families, I mean including a 10-year-old kid, so I found it a tad embarrassing, but didn’t let it distract me too much. I was more concerned with how my style of climbing would bring me to the top. In life, accepting who you are and your own circumstances is key. That type of introspection is an essential part of growth. The two families were nice and congratulated me in both French and English when I reached the top.3
Mindset is important… When I got scared, instead of standing straight up, I would crouch and walk hunched over—sort of like an orangutan—using my arms to pull myself up from rock-to-rock. After realizing this actually slowed me down and made me even more tired, I had to have some internal dialogue to convince myself to stand up. It was tough, but by the end I coached myself out of doing it. When you’re not in the right state of mind, you can be your own worst enemy.
It’s always hardest right before you get close… You can wait so long for something, that exhaustion will cloud your mind, and make you lose the inspiration that you started with. Case-and-point: You’re 3/4 up the mountain and can see the top, for a second you consider not going up, and that the view from where you’re at is enough. Eff that. You ain’t climb all this way for a 3/4 view. Get yours, and finish that goal you set. Same goes for life.
You’ll meet interesting people along the way… Besides the aforementioned French tourists who were cool, when I got to the top I got a chance to chat with a local tour guide. I was pleased to find he spoke very good English, so we used that rather than Cape Verdean Creole (which I struggle with). We had a great conversation about travel, economies, and life in general. He told me he was proud I was making the climb, because he usually only takes European travelers, and that few native Cape Verdeans ever hike Mount Fogo. We both share the urge to travel, and he told me he has been to a few European countries, plans to head to Brazil, and will hopefully see the States one day.4
Hearing his successes despite the struggles of a significantly weaker economy and less-privileged passport inspired me, and reminded me to be thankful. We wished one another good luck in our travels, then began our descent.
Enjoy the ride… When are you going to get to experience something like this again? The best part was on the way down, it was like sliding down the side of a building à la Jackie Chan in Who Am I?. I was basically surfing down a mountain, rapidly wading through volcanic ash, enough to fill my shoes with ten pounds of sharp black stones.
Don’t let fear limit you… I was scared out of my mind on multiple occasions—if I would’ve let my fears hold me back—I never would’ve experienced the beauty and sense of triumph that climbing Mount Fogo gave me. You can see the towering volcano from almost anywhere on the island of Fogo’s countryside. As I rode around the land of my ancestors, nothing gave me more pride than telling family members, in broken Creole, that I had climbed Mount Fogo. I have to learn some more words, before I can fully explain all of the lessons I learned along the way.
Look at this—the kid is all types of sweaty-and-tired from making the climb, but still looks ready to sell you a car or something. TACV, holla at me, I can make your travel packages tighter.
- I’m sure watching two episodes of Cowboy Bebop off my hard drive rather than counting sheep, didn’t help either [↩]
- I hiked in a pair of PF Flyers Center His which I doubt were engineered for hiking. [↩]
- I swear the French are the ultimate adventurous travelers. I’ve seen French tourists nearly everywhere I’ve gone, and they’re always down to do whatever when they travel. I don’t know if it’s a cultural and/or strong currency thing, but they’re always game to take risks and that’s trill. [↩]
- He also said a lot of Cape Verdeans who visit the States are unhappy with their stay, because their American family will be too busy working to take them anywhere outside of Brockton, Mass. (where there’s a huge CV population). It’s sad, but probably true. I told him if he visits he definitely has to take the Bolt Bus from Boston to see NYC. [↩]