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Climbing Every Mountain

Doctoral Student’s Travels Shape Her Unique Worldview

Aubrey Reider last winter, at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro

At 26, Aubrey Reider has already accumulated a lifetime of experiences traveling the globe. She’s toured northern Europe on a motorcycle. She’s camped out in the highlands of Scotland. She’s done a good bit of wandering here in the States, and yet she still has a long list of places she plans to visit.

But one trip last winter provided an experience that Reider, a doctoral student in IUP’s Clinical Psychology program, said she’ll remember a very long time.

“The way I describe it is this,” she said of the trip. “If every part of me is like a marble in a jar, it’s like I dumped them out and scooped them up again. I still have the same parts, but I have changed in some ways.”

During the break between semesters last fall and spring, Reider visited parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, with an end goal of climbing Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Finding some corporate sponsors, she made her trip a fundraiser for Climb for Memory, an Alzheimer’s awareness organization, and collected roughly $4,000 for the cause.

At more than 19,000 feet high, Kilimanjaro offered many challenges—only some of which Reider could anticipate. But like many good trips, the journey was as memorable as the destination. And that’s saying something, considering when she reached the summit, she could actually look down on the clouds that surrounded the mountain.

While crossing rocky terrain on the Machame Route, regarded as the toughest of the six paths to the summit, Reider’s porter, a local man from the Masai tribe who was carrying all of his bags plus most of hers, fell and injured his leg. He was unable to continue.

With many miles still to go, Reider did what made sense to her: She helped.

She and some other climbers placed a tourniquet on the man’s leg. Then, she picked up all the bags he had been carrying, put them on her back, and started toward the summit. She didn’t set the bags down until the sun set and the team retired for the night.

looking out the opening of her tent at the vibrant sunset Reider climbing between two walls of a cliff

Photos courtesy Aubrey Reider

“I made friends with the porters,” she said. “They’re such good people, and they don’t have much. Most of their gear comes from what tourists leave behind. You’ll see a man carrying a 60-pound bag, and the shoes he’s wearing have holes in them.”

A couple days later, Reider made it to the summit, but not before a final climb in the middle of the night. During an almost completely vertical ascent using a headlamp to light her way, Reider noticed the only way to tell the difference between her fellow climbers and the stars above was by the movement of the climbers’ headlamps.

“How do you describe that in words? It’s a feeling of pure awe,” she said. “The whole thing was, basically, like shifting fundamentally apart from yourself.”

After reaching the summit as the sun came up, Reider lingered more than most climbers. Instead of the typical 15-minute stop at the top, she explored, took pictures, and talked to other climbers for more than two hours. The lack of oxygen at nearly four miles above sea level had little effect on her.

“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” she said of the climb. “I love fitness, but I’m always in danger, because I’m the kind of person who needs to find a limit. I found the limit up there. But it was more gratifying than anything.”

When Reider and her companions returned to the bottom, her porter and other members of his village were waiting. To thank her for the help she gave the porter on the mountain, they gave her traditional Masai robes—along with the nickname Imara Kamasimba (“strong like a lion” in Swahili).

“It was a very unexpected moment,” she said. “I guess they really respect that someone did that. They were the friendliest people. We shared food, and they taught me a lot.”

Dr. Victor Garcia, Director of MARTI (Photo: Keith Boyer)

At the foot of the mountain, villagers gave Reider traditional robes to thank her for helping her porter, left, who was injured during the climb. (Photo courtesy Aubrey Reider)

That experience has only inspired Reider to plan more trips and see more of the world. This summer, she rode a horse through the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. She also had journeys to Israel and Cuba planned before returning to IUP in the fall.

“I solidify my worldview by experiencing more of the world,” said Reider, who hopes to have a career in neuropsychology after she earns her doctor of psychology degree. “When you’re in a therapist’s chair, it can be grounding to be able to zoom out and think of experiences like the ones I’ve had. I think most people believe, when you widen your worldview, it makes you smaller in it. There is some truth to that, but traveling also highlights what makes me unique. I can be more comfortable bringing that to the table in a lot of interactions, because I see who I really am.”

This life she has fashioned for herself—a life on the move—works for Reider, but how about for others who are more hesitant to pick up and go?

“Just do it,” she said. “Everybody faces that little mountain in their head. There will always be an excuse. But at the end of the day, you’re just holding yourself back. Buy the plane ticket, then plan the trip in a moment of spontaneity. Buy it, then figure it out.”