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Disconnecting to reconnect: I climbed Kilimanjaro and, thankfully, the wifi didn’t work

By Jim Hawker, Co Founder

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November 2, 2022 | 5 min read

Threepipe Reply’s Jim Hawker recently climbed Africa’s highest mountain. Amid an under-reported mental health pandemic and an industry nervous about the economy, he was happy to find that recently-announced wifi on the mountain isn’t yet working.

A view of Kilimanjaro from Kenya

Agency leader Jim Hawker on his experiences climbing Kilimanjaro / Sergey Pesterev via Unsplash

The last thing I want this article to be is one of those ‘what leadership lessons I learned from climbing Kilimanjaro.’ You know those sorts of articles and posts that you constantly see on LinkedIn, as people try to find some amazing nugget of insight that they can pass on from having trained to run a marathon.

The reality is that I didn’t particularly enjoy climbing Africa’s highest mountain. It wasn’t on my bucket list of things to do. It was dark, dusty and cold. Would I recommend it? Not unless you really want to do it. There are plenty of more beautiful walks you can do, from Machu Picchu to the Camino de Santiago, where you are truly rewarded with aesthetically pleasing views.

So why did I do it? Well, primarily to support a good friend who lost his mum to Alzheimer’s and to have something outside of family and work to focus on – something for me. I need to thank my wife for giving me the time to train and climb Kilimanjaro. Having two young kids as well as working agency-side means that personal time is in short supply.

One of the first things I had to do when getting back from Kilimanjaro was attend a funeral for a friend who died by suicide because of mental health issues. Covid has left our society with an awful lot of problems to tackle, most notably mental health. Stress and anxiety are only likely to worsen, and making time for yourself and for the people that you love is a crucial part of helping to deal with mental health issues.

Doing the climb meant spending a couple of weeks with lots of people I had never met before. That was probably one of the most refreshing experiences I have had for a while, and what I was looking forward to most about the trip. We all mostly spend time with people we know, whether that’s family, colleagues or old friends. As you get older, making new friends is quite a novel experience and an enjoyable one.

For someone who spends a lot of time networking for new business with the same sort of people, getting out of the marketing bubble and meeting people from different backgrounds and having the time to chat for hours on end was refreshing. I came away with a new set of very supportive friends.

Just before I left for Tanzania, it was announced that the local authorities had installed wifi up the mountain – essentially to help drive tourism by enabling people to better share their Instagram moments. I’m glad to say that this wasn’t the case. Hardly any mobile coverage existed, let alone wifi. Being off-grid for long periods of time was at first frustrating, but later became a comfort. It forced you to chat, play cards, share jokes and ask questions.

I think those responsible for marketing Kilimanjaro should cancel their plans to install wifi. It is in fact a benefit to not be connected for the time you are on the mountain – something that should attract people to visiting, given that there aren’t that many places in the world where you can disconnect for a while.

To anyone thinking of climbing Kilimanjaro, don’t let me put you off. I’m glad I went, but not for the reasons I anticipated.

Work & Wellbeing Business Leadership Mental Health

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