Text size:  A  A  A

Assistant professor summits Mount Kilimanjaro

Sarah Rand reaches the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro after a five-day climb to the top, in January.
Sarah Rand reaches the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro after a five-day climb to the top, in January.
Photo submitted.

When professors talk about managing risks, they aren’t usually referring to screeching monkeys, mountainous drop-offs or cerebral edema. But for Sarah Rand, these topics aren’t entirely out of the question.

An assistant professor at St. Kate’s, Rand decided to attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, a 19,336-foot-tall mountain in Tanzania, during the month of January.

Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro

Rand embarked on the seven-day journey to summit Mount Kilimanjaro on January 12, with a couple from Ontario, Canada, and an American guide. She was also joined by an African guide and African porters, who carried the tents and the larger gear.

Each day, the group hiked for about seven to eight hours, and at night, they pitched tents in camps alongside the mountain.

“It was a great experience,” said Rand. “I was camping in my own tent by myself up on the mountain. It was really wonderful to just have my journal and some books to read.”

The hike began gradually, though the eco-systems changed drastically along the way. Rand recalled one occasion where a monkey ran screeching through camp in the middle of the night. At about 13,000 feet, trees resembling palm trees covered the mountainside. 

In addition to wildlife, Rand's risks included wet rocky terrain at times, with freezing temperatures atop the mountain and altitude sickness if she couldn’t acclimatize.

“That’s why taking the six days to get up is really important, and we planned that well, so we were all feeling pretty good,” said Rand. “On the fifth night of the climb, you don’t really sleep. You rest from about 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and then you get up and gear up.”

Rand’s group began their summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at midnight before the sixth day. They climbed until 7:15 a.m. and finally made it to the peak of the mountain.

“It was amazing,” said Rand. “We had the most beautiful sunrise! I was so focused on getting to the top, I really didn’t anticipate the beauty of it, and just to see the sun rising over the glacier, it was incredible!”

At the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Rand held up a sign that said “GO KATIES!”

Because spending any amount of time at that altitude can be dangerous, Rand took a few photos with her group and then headed back down the mountain. The four had climbed about 4,300 feet up the mountain since they left their camp at midnight, and they climbed down 7,000 feet in the same hike.

“You’ve been up all night, but you’ve been climbing from midnight to 3 p.m. the next day,” said Rand. “Then you stay at that camp for the evening, and then the next morning, you get up early and you’re out of the park at like 1 p.m.”

The adventure came to a close on January 19, when the team of four successfully descended to the base of the mountain.

A far cry from Africa

Rand has been scaling mountains for years. She scaled five “14-ers,” or mountains of about 14,000 feet, in Colorado, and in 2003, she attempted a much more challenging climb. Before traveling to Africa, Rand attempted to summit Mount Rainier in the Cascade Range.

Partially because of the cooler climate, the mountain necessitates a much more technical climb. Climbers are outfitted with helmets, pickets, ice axes and crampons — spiked plates that fix to their hiking boots — before they make their ascent.   

“It’s very dangerous,” said Rand. “Depending on the weather, it can be a challenging hike, with clear sky, and you can kind of know what you’re doing. Or you can get caught in a full-out blizzard, and I was fortunate enough to be caught in a full-out blizzard, where I had icicles hanging from my nose and eyes.”

In the management courses offered at St. Kate’s, Rand gives her students instruction on managing risks in the business setting. But on Mount Rainier, the greatest risk was falling from the mountain.

“To manage that risk, you’re roped in, and if you were to fall, you yell “I’m falling,” and everybody basically braces themselves against the mountain with their ice pick to make sure that you don’t go down and they don’t go down,” said Rand.

In the middle of her climb, a blizzard blew in with high winds and whipping snow, causing whiteout conditions. The wind was so loud, Rand said she couldn’t hear her teammates or her guide.

By the time the group managed to move closer together on the side of the mountain, the guide called for the climb to end. Out of five teams that attempted to summit the mountain that day, only one made it to the top, an altitude of 14, 410 feet.

“That was interesting because for both of these climbs, you set out at midnight,” said Rand. “So you’re climbing in the dark. You just have a headlamp. On Rainier, going down once it was daylight, it was terrifying to see actually where I was, because of the drop-offs. You can’t see it in the dark.”

Between the blizzard and the drop-offs, Rand reached a state of bewilderment at the risks that existed on this particular mountain. She decided she would not attempt this type of technical climb again.

“It was beautiful, because of the glacier and the crevices,” said Rand. “I like adventure and challenge, but not death.”

Stepping outside of her comfort zone

Even while she was in the throes of her latest climb, to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in January, Rand was thinking about her connection to St. Kate’s and the School of Business and Leadership, where she teaches.

Rand believes students need to venture outside of their comfort zone, in order to achieve a full understanding of the world around them. In that way, her trip to Africa ties in to the mission of the School of Business and Leadership.

“It’s a global mindset — how important it is for all of us to get outside of our comfort zone, and see how other people experience the world and interact with them in a way where it may be uncomfortable at times,” said Rand. “That discomfort is how we learn and grow.”

Rand knew she would shout out her Katie pride at the top of the mountain, and debated using phrases like "Katies follow their dreams!" or "Katies can do anything!"

“I wanted this to be connected to the fact that we value taking risks and challenging ourselves and putting ourselves in positions where we’re not comfortable,” said Rand. “It’s wonderful, too, when you can go someplace outside of your comfort zone, and realize that you’re right where you should be or want to be — that you can feel at home in a place that’s so different and far away.”

With the friendliness and welcoming spirit of the native people in Tanzania and the African porters, Rand experienced this very same sensation.  

“I felt that way the entire time I was there,” she said. "It was really exciting and at the same time peaceful."

Feb. 29, 2012 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Business, Faculty, Leadership