Beauty Entrepreneur Toni Ko on Summiting Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro — With a Full Face of Makeup

“I’m proud to be a woman. I’m proud to be in the beauty industry,” Ko, who reached Kilimanjaro’s peak on September 12 after a grueling seven-day trek, said. Travel + leisure. “A person like me may seem very uncommon, doing the kind of things that I do, but it is a misconception that you can not be female and rough and roll at the same time.”

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Ko has not always been an outdoor adventure seeker. It wasn’t until recent years that he began to embrace the power of connecting with nature while pushing his mental and physical limits to the next level.

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“It just gets me excited. I get energized, and I get happy,” Ko explained about his new love of going all out while spending time in the great outdoors.

<p>Courtesy of Toni Ko</p>
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Choose Kilimanjaro

Ko, who describes himself as more of a “mental athlete” than a physical one, took on the challenge of climbing the world’s highest mountain as part of a bigger “yes” year.

“One of the reasons why I started planning Mount Kilimanjaro is because I turned 49 this year, and I decided that I will have a year of saying ‘yes’ to everything,” Ko explained.

After reading about the destination in books and hearing about it through conversations with friends, he knew it was time to take the first step. So he booked a trip with Scott Dunn’s luxury travel company, which also included a five-day safari before the trek.

“I believe the universe was just waiting for me to be at the right mental and physical stage to attack Kilimanjaro,” Ko said.

<p>Courtesy of Toni Ko</p>
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Ko followed an informal training plan leading up to the trip, which included hot yoga, pilates, meditation, and weekend hikes, plus monthly meetups with friends to tackle more challenging hikes up to 10,000 feet. Ko thought it would be good in Tanzania, especially remembering how easy it is to navigate high altitude in Peru – but it was nothing compared to Kilimanjaro, also known as “The Roof of Africa.”

“It was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Ko said. “I underestimated the power of altitude, high mountains, and the power of Kilimanjaro.”

<p>Courtesy of Toni Ko</p>
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Lemosho’s footpath

Each day, Ko and seven other women on the trip rose before dawn to eat breakfast prepared by the crew’s chef. Then they would begin their daily six-hour journey, accompanied by more than 60 porters and guides, who came as part of the Scott Dunn tour.

Although there is a shorter option to reach the top of Kilimanjaro, Ko and his group entered the eight-day Lemosho route. Not only is this trail less crowded, but the longer route also gives the body more time to adjust to the altitude, increasing hikers’ chances of climbing by about 90%. Ko credits much of his summit success to the group’s head guide, Charles Obed, from A-Team, a local Tanzanian operator.

“There is me before I go up the mountain and myself down from the mountain,” Ko said. “I will forever be a changed person, thanks to Charles.”

Reach the top

As Ko struggled to hike through the cold, early morning darkness on summit day, battling altitude sickness, the crew continued to sing and cheer him on until he reached the peak.

“So many times I felt like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t, it’s impossible for me to take another step,'” Ko explained. “I almost passed out, but every time I just keep reminding myself that I came to do this. I have two legs. Fortunately, I get to take another step. I can push forward. I can do it.”

Ko was the last of his group to reach the top, but the victory felt sweet. After a few photos at the summit, Ko walked down the mountain feeling transformed. Those changes and life lessons have stayed with him more than a month later, and Ko believes they’re not going anywhere.

<p>Courtesy of Toni Ko</p>
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“I have already applied these lessons [back home] because it was engraved in my soul and in my mind,” he said.

With plenty of time left before her 50th birthday in April 2023, Ko said she will continue to look for new ways to challenge herself and say “yes” to new adventures that help her live life to the fullest.

“We have only one life, and if you live only one version of life, this is so one-dimensional, right? I don’t want to go to my grave having lived only one dimension of life,” Ko said. “I want to experience many dimensions – the goodness, the juiciness of life, but I also want to experience the hardships and the hard parts.”

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