Kirsten Alexis - How I Found Self-Love And Purpose On The Summit Of Kilimanjaro

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

Hello!! I’m Kirsten Alexis, and I’m a content creator, outdoor adventure enthusiast and collector of big dreams. Currently, I am located in Silicon Valley, California. I was born and raised here, and just recently moved back. I love this area, as it is so close to some of my favorite spots for adventure, such as Tahoe, which is where I can usually be found when I’m not home.

I consider myself so lucky that I was exposed to the outdoors, adventure and fitness early on. My family really emphasized playing sports and getting outside, and I think that just really inspired me to do more.

As a kid (and even now), I had a wild imagination. I loved to read magazines, look at maps  and watch documentaries of adventures. I saw myself as a scuba diver, climber, marine biologist, race car driver, world traveler… you name it, I wanted to be it.

I really started getting more into travel and outdoor adventure, however, when I was in a photography class at UCLA. I loved nothing more than exploring local and off-the-beaten-path spots and documenting my experiences through my camera. I felt something I hadn’t in years: passion.

I felt a spark light within my being, and it made me want to get out more, explore and document my adventures. It made me want to push my limits, and share my stories. I wanted to inspire people to live a beautiful life, just like others had inspired me. 

Over the years, my dreams became more and more extreme and grandiose. The more I traveled and hiked, the more challenging my goals became. I decided that life was too short to not at least try, and to just go for it. I found a way to incorporate business with my passions, and became a freelance content creator and designer for branding and social media for various adventure and travel companies.

The past few years I have been so fortunate to have been to six continents, where I have hiked some really epic spots. Some that stand out the most to me are the Inca Trail, Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp, various peaks in the Canadian Rockies, training in Colorado on the 14ers, and hiking in my home state of California. I never get tired of hiking in the mountains here. 

I love the outdoors. I found freedom, challenges, self-love, peace, creative inspiration and lifelong friends there. I have heard and created some of the most motivational and hilarious stories there, and everyone I have met has left a great impression.

Every moment and every memory I have made out there has made me who I am today.

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

One of the most powerful experiences of my life happened on the Roof of Africa. But reaching the summit was just a small fraction of this story; the journey itself completely transformed me.

I had wanted to climb Kilimanjaro ever since I heard my grandfather tell stories of his attempt many years ago. I was always intrigued by the mountain, and wanted to summit it in his honor.

At the time, it was quite a lofty goal. A few years before Kilimanjaro, I climbed the Inca Trail, and knew Kilimanjaro would be the next big goal afterwards. The highest altitude on the Inca Trail was around 14,000 feet, about 5,000 below Kilimanjaro. To train, I decided to go to the Sierras in California, Banff, and the Colorado Rockies, many of which were around 14,000.

Even with all of my training, I was still extremely nervous and doubts in my abilities. I didn’t want to let anyone, or myself, down.

I had a history of bad self esteem, and I think that contributed a lot to the mind tricks that were going on. I tried to calm my mind, and trust in myself and my training. I told myself that just signing up and showing up as enough. Just going there was enough. It was all about the journey. Or so I said. But I wanted that summit.

When I got there and truly saw  Kilimanjaro for the first time, I got even more anxiety. It was enormous. I met a lot of people who had completed it, and a few people who had to be carried down. My nerves were all over the place! 

I decided to just take it day-by-day. To really enjoy every step of the journey. And, I surprised myself at 7:30 am, when I stood on Uhuru Peak, taking my photo at the sign. I only thought I would make it in my dreams.

So many emotions played out that day. I realized then that I could do anything I set my mind to. That I was stronger and more capable than I even knew. That everything that had led up to this point made me who I am, and led me here. And, I learned forgiveness.

For some magical moment on that mountain, I just let my past go. I truly knew what it felt like to live in the now. And, I got to summit in my grandfather’s honor.

And now, I am attempting to reach all of The Seven Summits. Life is crazy, isn’t it? 

Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

I have learned so much from my time in the mountains. The mountains have taught me a lot of lessons, and I made a little list of them below:

  • We are so much more capable than we know. Just keep moving, and you will get to where you need to be. There are no limits to what we can do.
  • We are in charge of our life, and can create our own path to the top. Sometimes the path everyone takes isn’t right for you. There are always alternate routes. Choose wisely, and safely.
  • Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best. Pack what you need, leave what you don’t behind. 
  • Put your ego aside and never stop learning. Complacency and ego are deadly. We never know it all, and can learn a lot from those around us. 
  • Nobody cares about your ability. They admire that you just showed up, so be honest about where you are. Plus, there’s always people that are more advanced than you, so keep your mind open and stay inspired. Stay humble. 
  • Never lose your sense of wonder, and sense of humor. A lot of things can go wrong. It really helps to just laugh about it and move on.
  • The world is a big place. Make sure to meet new people and create new friendships. I have heard some amazing stories from the people I have met that have inspired me to do more and be a better person. I am so thankful for keeping an open mind and letting them into my life.
  • Leave no trace!

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

I never leave for a big trek without a few bags of candy. I love to snack on the trail, and that sugar rush is sometimes just what I need to keep my spirits high. Some of my go-to brands are Swedish Fish, Sour Patch Kids and M&Ms.

When I was packing for Kilimanjaro I was told to bring some of my favorite snacks from home. I got a few giant bags of candy to split up for the week I was there. I honestly think it helped me for summit night. It was so cold and dark, and there was a time when my water froze. Every few steps, I would have some candy to keep me distracted. And from going hungry!!

It made me want to push my limits, and share my stories. I wanted to inspire people to live a beautiful life, just like others had inspired me.

I also always have gifts for family and friends in my pack. Every trek, expedition or little trip I take I buy people gifts from the area. I love bringing a little piece of the region home to share the culture, people and experiences I had. It makes for a great introduction to some of the storytelling! And, who doesn’t like gifts?

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

I feel that a lot of people just starting out in hiking or trekking get really intimidated and sometimes give up. I want everyone to remember that everyone starts somewhere, and it takes a lot of time, patience, determination and hard work to reach your goals.

Just getting out there is enough, and the more you do it and commit, you will see progress. In fact, give it a year. You will be amazed at how far you came when you look back, and be inspired to go even further.

Stop comparing to others. You are your own person, and on your own path. Never stop being amazed by the world. 

Make goals. Then work towards them. Be realistic, but never stop dreaming. Start out on a small trail. Go to the gym. Every week do more and more.

Practice having a healthy mindset. Don’t let your mind play games with you; you got this!

Let’s say you start off walking a mile. Make it a goal in a month to run a mile. Then add more, and try to break your record in time. Lift weights. If you want to start climbing at altitude, train at altitude. Eat a healthy diet. Practice having a healthy mindset. Don’t let your mind play games with you; you got this!

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

Oh man, there are way too many people I am inspired by to mention just here! But I will list some that I love to follow on Instagram for hiking and mindset inspiration.

  • Emily Pennington (@brazenbackpacker) is one that definitely comes to mind. She is a fearless adventurer, hiker and blogger who is currently in the middle of crushing her goal of exploring and documenting our National Parks.
  • Caroline Gleich (@carolinegleich) because of her relentless activism. She is truly making the world a better place by creating rallies, creating awareness about the environment and diversity and inspiring people to follow their passions through adventure.
  • Amy Chmelecki, who inspired me to be a better skydiver. She is a record-breaking skydiver for RedBull, and inspired many women in the sport by holding skill camps. 

Where’s your next adventure?

My next big adventure is attempting to summit Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. If I meet my goal, it will be the second of the Seven Summits I have completed. I am really looking forward to this challenge, and have been consistently training for it since I moved back to California in the fall.

Over the years, my dreams became more and more extreme and grandiose. The more I traveled and hiked, the more challenging my goals became.

As for other adventures, I will be going to Rainier and possibly Shasta to train for Elbrus. I also hope to hike a bit in the Sierras, Tahoe, and the Canadian Rockies. 

One of my other goals this year is to climb Aconcagua, but I want to see how Elbrus goes first. Aconcagua is a much bigger objective, with more time on the mountain, crazy weather patterns and higher altitude than I have ever been (around 22,000 feet) so I really want to make sure I am mentally and physically prepared. 

Where can others learn more about you?

You can find me on Instagram at @kirstenalexisadventures

You can also catch me on the trail or in the sky! I look forward to meeting you and sharing some epic stories from our travels and adventures.

Want to share your Story From The Mountain?

Hey, I'm Greg Kamradt, the founder of Terra Mano.

We interview awesome hikers/mountaineers/climbers/photographers and share the stories behind their ambition. By sharing these stories, we want to help others become inspired to reach their goals.

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