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Lauren Sanchez Climbed Kilimanjaro

By New You Editorial
Posted On Jan 10, 2019

By Lauren Sánchez Whitesell

Half a world away from LA and 20,000 feet above sea level, a group of climbers attempt a profound feat: scaling to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. TV personality and Tinseltown beauty Lauren Sánchez Whitesell reveals the day-to-day challenges of her climb to the top of the world.

It’s human nature to see life through the lens of one’s “own backyard.” We become comfortable. We get busy and tired. We “get into a zone.” Before we know it, days, weeks, and months blend together, leaving us uninspired by life. This is a rut—one of the most insidious offenders in our fight to stay young at heart—and its antidote is to shake things up. Sometime, if we’re really stuck, we may have to do something drastic, like go climb a mountain.

A wife and mother of three in the thick of Hollywood, Lauren Sánchez Whitesell has long been a big fish in a glamorous pond. She had become accustomed to certain comforts over the years—the sights, sounds, and cultural opportunities of LA; great food and clean water; constant demonstrations of love from her family. An admitted “girlie girl” with an on-screen resume that includes Extra, Fox Sports, So You Think You Can Dance, and Good Day LA, “roughing it” was really not Whitesell’s way. She’s compulsively clad in high heels, admits to a twenty-pound makeup bag, and has never, ever slept in a tent. That is, until very recently.

“When I first learned of the chance to join a group of climbers in Tanzania, taking a week to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I wasn’t aware of what the experience would do to my world-view,” says Whitesell, who signed on for the challenge in the spirit of her new reality show, Now or Never. “By the end of day one, I was completely out of my element—reconnecting with feelings I hadn’t felt in years.”

This journey is an annual event called Summit on the Summit—hip-hop artist Kenna’s initiative that raises awareness about the global clean water crisis. One billion of the world’s men, women, and children have no access to clean drinking water, and far too many suffer or die from waterborne illnesses.

Kenna brings a group of educators and influencers (previous participants include Jessica Biel, Emile Hirsch, Elizabeth Gore, and Lupe Fiasco) up Kilimanjaro’s summit once a year. Though she loved the physical challenge—and considered Kenna’s charity among the worthiest she’d encountered— Whitesell underestimated the biggest benefit of Summit on the Summit. “What I consider ‘comfortable’ has completely changed,” reflects Whitesell, wife of LA super-agent Patrick Whitesell. “It’s amazing how the body and mind adjust to new circumstances. One day, you’re complaining that it’s too chilly in your hotel room. The next day—on the side of a mountain—you can be freezing on the floor of a tent and be in love with life, feeling incredibly alive and content. That’s an invaluable shift.”

Now that she’s back in LA, with her kids and husband by her side, she’s noticed all sorts of changes—mental, physical, and spiritual. “People choose to be in a rut,” she declares. “I’m really proud that I did something that made me uncomfortable. We all have these mountains to climb— some are inside us, and some are literal.

I encourage everyone to do something they never thought they could do. And while they’re at it, make it something big.” Lauren Sánchez Whitesell’s Kilimanjaro diary

Day 1 Into Africa

I arrive in my standard 16-hour flight uniform: black leggings, black boots, Moncler fur jacket. The guides stare at me with that “We need to watch her” look. Waiting at the hotel are the other climbers, including Kenna, Mark Foster from Foster the People, and Justin Chatwin from Shameless. Justin has done things like this before. He’s in his bandana and cool hiking clothes. Foster is out of place, like me. We can only bring three pairs of socks, rain gear, and essential Eddie Bauer hiking gear.

Our bag can only weigh 30 pounds, and backpacks can only be 15 pounds. This is the first time I won’t be packing heels—ever. I pack these five items for makeup and hair: Chanel Vitalumiere moisture tint with sunscreen, Smiths rosebud salve, L’Oreal waterproof mascara, Tarte’s Pure Maracuja Oil, three hair ties, and a small Mason Pearson brush. So, why do 40,000 people climb the world’s highest freestanding mountain each year—the one known as “Everyman’s Everest?” We’re going to find out tomorrow.

Day 2 Up and Away

The day starts off with the last hot shower I will be able to take for seven days. There’s great energy in the bus as we drive to the base of the mountain. Kilimanjaro seems so high—20,000 feet, to be exact. The climb starts through a magical rain forest—quite muddy, but captivating and inspiring. We climb for a total of nine hours and it’s already harder than I thought.

Day 3 Roughing It

Today starts at 4:30 am. Some climbers had a bad reaction to the altitude sickness drug Dioxide—meaning lack of sleep and irritated stomach. Two hours in, the rainforest becomes a different eco-system and it looks like we’re in Scotland. This ascent takes us to about 10,000 feet, where we eat lunch. The sun abruptly hides behind some mean clouds and rain pours down.

Dave, our guide, keeps me as calm as possible, but my heart’s racing. I fall in the mud twice. Out of nowhere, the sun reappears and we’re once again in the midst of hot African summer. We arrive at base camp, excited that we conquered another day. My body feels great, and I can see the top— just four days away. I do, however, miss my kids’ smiles and hope to get some communication with them soon.

Day 4 The Pits

I wake up at 2:30 am. My lips are so chapped that no amount of balm can save them. At 5:30, everyone is awake and we start the hike to 15,000 feet. We hike for six hours until lunch, and then, my body stops working. Suddenly I receive a text. My son Nikko writes, “Mom, I really want you to come home. I miss you. Oh, are you going to make it to the top?” It’s heartbreaking, not being able to talk to my family. I didn’t know it would be this bad.

So now I’m tired, have altitude sickness, and am homesick. I’m the last one in the group, and we’re losing light. They send a guide to stay with me because everyone is pretty worried. After much misery, I somehow make it back to camp in the dark. My emotions are pouring out. My husband sends me a reassuring text: “We’re proud of you if you make it to the top or not, and we will love you just the same.” I just hope that by doing this I can teach my kids to stay committed to their dreams.

Day 5 Looking Up

The natural splendor outside my tent is a great consolation for the lack of hot running water. I can see the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and it’s too beautiful for words. I plow through a short, five-hour hiking day. My hiking companions now feel like family, and we are all so proud of one another for making it this far.

Day 6 Almost There

I woke up early again, and I am freezing. I should be drinking water, but the thought makes me cold. By 6 am, we have breakfast and start a six-hour hike to 16,000 feet. Once we get to base camp this afternoon, we’ll go to sleep around 7 then proceed to the summit at midnight.

Day 7 The Last Push

Having slept some, ate a tiny bit, and drank a little water, I’m ready to go. But soon, altitude sickness hits a few of us very hard. I can barely put one foot in front of the other. They put me and three other hikers in front of the pack, so we don’t fall behind. I make myself think about my son, Nikko. That really helps me to keep on climbing. Suddenly I realize why I’m doing all of this: I need to push myself as hard as I can, to break myself down and live the notion that life is about the journey, not just getting to the top. I look up and we’re there. I made it to the top. The magnificent ice glaciers are something you only see in pictures. I can’t believe I did it. We take it all in and savor the accomplishment before starting the long, slow descent.

Day 8 The Descent . . . and Beyond

I wake up this morning with an absolute spring in my step. I sprint past some of the guides, knowing that a hot shower awaits. I get back to the hotel and take one of the best showers of my life. Warm water and soap! No time to rest, I head home to the Golden Globes. The reunion with my family is brief but glorious, and I feel like a changed woman. Even though I’m in the midst of all the glitz and glamour of A-list Hollywood, my head remains on the other side of the world. At the afterparty for the Globes, Hugh Jackman—who just won the Golden Globe for Best Actor—asks me about the hike, and tells me he’d love to do the same. “Wait,” I say. “Didn’t you just win a Golden Globe?” “Yes,” he says, “but you just climbed one of the Seven Summits of the World.” And he was right. While it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, I feel so incredibly proud. “Well Hugh,” I say. “It’s now or never.”