Mary Harbin Gilbert ’18: Life’s a Climb


     Senior Mary Harbin Gilbert woke up, reached for her water bottle, and found it frozen solid. It was Summit Day; the day she would finally ascend to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

     Making the choice to spend her summer in Tanzania serving school kids for a 23-day service trip was only the preface to her journey to the top of the tallest peak in Africa.

     “The first week we worked at a school and we planted a garden for them,” Gilbert said. “The next week we started climbing Kilimanjaro, which was definitely the hardest thing in my whole entire life.”

     Despite the training advice she had received to hike regularly on uneven terrain, Gilbert decided just try out her boots around the house to prepare her from getting blisters while hiking for a week for eight hours a day.

     “The first day we hiked through this jungle, then after the second day you get above the tree line and all the clouds and you start climbing cliffs and rocks. It was so hard, we were all so sore,” she recalls. “Then on summit day, which is where you go to the very top of the mountain, it was freezing, I was in three pairs of pants, four shirts and a giant jacket. We woke up at 2:30am and started hiking at three.”

     It took eight hours to climb up the mountain and another six hours getting back down to their camp site. The altitude of over 12,000 feet made her team wobbly, throwing up and  suffering headaches. However, Gilbert still appreciated the opportunity to get out of her comfort zone.

     Gilbert’s trip inspiration came from a recommendation from one of her friends, “she said it was the best trip of her life, so I wanted to go and try it. To go out of my comfort zone, really.”

     “It’s a cool experience. Even though I am not a hiker, at all, it was so much fun and I wouldn’t not do it.”