ISU professor shares lessons he learned summiting Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro - East Idaho News

ISU professor shares lessons he learned summiting Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro

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POCATELLO — Geoffrey Thomas hiked his first mountain — Mount Borah in Custer County — 15 years ago and caught an itch.

The current Idaho State University professor and former Madison County School District superintendent set a goal of reaching 20,000 feet — just over 3-3/4 miles. He reached that peak three years ago on a trip to Chile. But the itch wasn’t sufficiently scratched.

He planned to return to Chile this year and attack its highest peak — Mount Aconcagua, with a summit about 22,800 feet above sea level. But he accepted a new challenge instead and began training for Africa’s highest peak — Mount Kilimanjaro.

As he trekked the 19,340 feet from its base to its summit last week, the lifelong educator learned many lessons he told he will be bringing to his classroom.

“There’s a million leadership lessons. I’ve already started the PowerPoint for my next class. All the things that make a person successful in hiking mountains is also applicable to any work, any profession,” he said. “There’s mountains, metaphorically, in everything we do in life.”

Mount Kilimanjaro, group
The group Geoff Thomas summited Mount Kilimanjaro with included people from South America to Eastern Europe. | Courtesy Geoff Thomas

Thomas was happy to share a lesson he learned early on in the journey up the Tanzanian mountain from one of his group’s guides. When starting any difficult journey, he said, take a look at the peak from the bottom and set your goal from there. Then along the journey, focus not on the peak but on the next step.

“If you just keep focused on the next step, then the next step, and the next step, pretty soon you’re at the top,” he said before joking, “but I did peak a few times. “Just keep going. In work, in life, show up and just keep going. Eventually, you’ll get there.”

Thomas began the journey with a group of strangers, eleven hikers and seven guides. The hikers, only nine of which completed the 11-day journey, came from far and wide — from South America to eastern Europe and in between.

He said making the climb with such a wide array of personalities “absolutely” added to the experience.

“It was so much fun to talk to people from different countries,” he said. “That cultural enrichment you just can’t duplicate. It was awesome.”

He also took the opportunity to soak up local culture. In fact, he ranked summiting the famous mountain second among his accomplishments on the trip.

“It was really neat to interact with people of a completely different culture on a completely different continent,” Thomas said. “The people were the best part.”

Once he was at the peak, though, Thomas took in the “liberating” and “edifying” accomplishment and the majesty it presented. But he couldn’t do it without “throwing in a promotion to ISU, baby.” So, he unfurled a “Go Bengals” flag he’d packed for the trip and waived it at the summit.

The trip up the mountain, though difficult, was blessed with optimal weather. The trip back down, Thomas said, was the opposite.

On its way down, Thomas’ group was greeted with a blizzard that brought snow and mud into the equation.

That was when he learned another valuable lesson.

One of his group’s guides, a Tanzanian man named Goodluck, took a firm hold on Thomas’ right arm and clung to him without letting go for two miles.

“I think that’s another metaphor,” he said. “We all need help. We all need assistance, no matter what,” says Thomas. “Could I have made it down on my own? Yeah. Would I have fallen a bunch? Yep.”

Mount Kilimanjaro, guides (Goodluck in orange jacket)
The guides Geoff Thomas credits with helping him make it to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. Goodluck (right) kept a hold on Thomas as the group descended after reaching the peak. | Courtesy Geoff Thomas

Having returned to Pocatello one week ago from a trip he called “exhilarating and exhausting,” Thomas joked that he is going to relax.

“I’m just going to stay local, hike all the awesome mountains we have around here and probably pick up guitar playing just as a hobby so I can have something I can sit down and do.”