Conquering Kilimanjaro: A Sit Down with KMMD’s Jeff Mount
In case you haven’t heard, Krav Maga Maryland’s own Director of Operations, Jeff Mount, recently took on a challenge many people only dream of doing: He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. While obviously physically arduous, it was much more than that to Jeff. Here’s what he had to say about his journey, as it relates to Krav Maga, personal goals, and life in general.
So you recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Tell us about it!
It was great! I flew into Kilimanjaro Airport after a layover in Amsterdam. I was with 8 other trekkers – all Americans – and used Thomson Safaris as my guide. We hiked 7 days up and 2 days down, taking the “Western Approach,” which is the longest, most gradual route you can take. I did this to maximize the chances of summiting by allowing my body to get used to the altitude. So we woke up early, got packed up each day, hiked for anywhere from 4 to 8 hours, depending on how strenuous it was. On the 7th day we summited, stayed the night in the crater (Kili is an inactive volcano, so we slept on the inside of the volcano!), and then we came down.
What prompted you to tackle this challenge specifically? Why Kilimanjaro?
For the past 12 years, I’ve had a physical challenge every few months through Krav Maga Worldwide. It became part of the fabric of my professional and personal life. It fueled me to have a goal and a next certification course to work on. When I got my 3rd degree black belt in 2014 (the highest anyone has ever gotten outside of headquarters in LA), I no longer had anything to strive for. I thought about doing other martial arts competitions, or fitness competitions, but those seemed like they wouldn’t really fit.
Combine that with the fact that a few years ago, I started really enjoying camping and backpacking. Getting outside and away from people really restores me. I don’t mind “roughing it” as long as it’s quiet and beautiful. It’s a way I can physically challenge myself a bit without needing to teach or run a business at the same time. So Kili was the perfect combination of both of those things.
What’s the #1 question people have been asking you about your experience?
“Did you summit?”
Looking back, what surprised you the most about the trip?
I knew altitude sickness was a real thing. You can’t train for it, and it’s not really tied to your fitness level. So I figured I’d either adapt and do really well, or I’d get really sick and probably not summit. About 2 hours from the top, at a relatively high altitude, all of the sudden I got really sick. First fatigue and shortness of breath, then a splitting headache, then nausea. I was in rough shape. But the biggest surprise was that I got really sick and still summited. That made the experience even more meaningful – that it was harder than I thought, and in different ways.
The other thing that surprised me was how tied to the mountain the people of Tanzania are. I really fell in love with the people, the country, and the mountain. The guides, porters, and everyone involved in the trip really do see it as sharing their national and cultural identity, and that was not something I anticipated feeling so honored and excited about.
When did you most feel your “Krav” kick in? What mental and physical tools from your Krav Maga toolbox did you use or not use?
First of all, aggression – the quick, decisive taking of action – didn’t really help at all. You can’t fight a mountain…the mountain will win. Also, there is very little in common with the ballistic, explosive combative movements, and the slow, plodding steps with a pack on your back.
The ability to differentiate between pain that is annoying but will go away, and pain that indicates you need immediate attention helped me to sideline a lot of the discomfort. Most newer Krav folks can’t easily tell the difference. I was in pain but I knew it was safe to continue. The other big thing was positive self-talk. Olympic athletes, special forces military, and any other high-performing individuals all engage in an internal dialogue designed to bolster their mindset and performance. I had used that plenty of times while training in Krav, and it helped me a great deal on the mountain.
How are you different as a person after this experience?
One – I’m less of a perfectionist. So much was outside of my control that the answer was rarely just “work harder.” I had to let go of major chunks of the illusion of control, because weather, my reaction to altitude, injuries, equipment – all of them could fail at some point.
Two – I’m not resting on past achievements. I’m still proving to myself that I’m willing to confront challenges even if they’re new.
Three – it sounds trite, but the summit was not the most exciting point. I enjoyed the process far more than the goal.
So… what’s next for you?
I’m not really sure. I think a lot of people can get addicted to high-investment, high-reward physical activities. This had a deeper meaning for me, and I’m giving myself time to figure out what else will have that kind of purpose to it.