by Taryn O’Brien
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro can expose the darkest places of the human heart, according to Amber Curry Gracia, Founder and Principal of Cinco Strategy Group. She grew up with an uncompromising sense of independence and learned to be quite ambitious. “I liked to climb everything,” she explained. “Grit, determination, and uncompromising independence—these are the values I hold dear.”
Gracia met her husband, Rene, who accepted Amber’s “own brand of crazy” and raised two children with her. After 15 years of marriage, they decided to hike Kilimanjaro—the famous 19,000 ft. peak. In February 2012, they arrived in Tanzania. “Day One, we trek through a muddy rainforest,” described Gracia. “Day Two, we go across the moorlands and sleep at twelve-and-a-half-thousand feet. And I am vibrating that my life has taken me to this place.”
Yet on Day Three, Garcia realized her husband is lagging behind. “I am about to learn altitude’s knack for showing you your weaknesses,” noted Gracia. As they woke up on Day Four, her husband was moaning because his chest was hurting and he was out of breath. They must make a decision to call the helicopter, but Garcia was torn because the mountain behind her is tormenting her. She wanted to climb it no matter the cost. “I wait in my self-obsession, determination, and pride. And that helicopter never comes,” said Garcia.
The guides convinced them to turn around, but Garcia was deeply disappointed. She walked down the trail in fierce independence, hardly regarding her husband’s distraught state. They trekked down the mountain for 8 hours, and they got back to the jungle trail at 2am. Her husband’s symptoms subsided. “I think, ‘Did we make the wrong choice?,’ “ lamented Garcia. “My reptilian brain.”
When they made it back home, they found out Rene had a pulmonary embolism. His clot formed before they left, but attempting to climb Kilimanjaro saved his life and exposed the clot. However, the “rabid ambition” of her climb and the danger of losing her husband still haunts Garcia to this day. “When he needed me most, I didn’t reach back my hand. I chose to stand alone, arms crossed, in my own uncompromising independence,” she said.
Garcia also learned something else about herself because of Mt. Kilimanjaro. “We are all beings of many contrasts, and that gives us courage in one moment can expose itself in the ugliest of ways,” she said. “Now, I live with my grit, I live with my determination, and I also reach my hand back in my uncompromising interdependence.”