Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I find peace in nature.

Even when I’m at work in urban Los Angeles, I opt for taking meetings outside when possible—something about the never-ending stretch of blue sky seems to instill in us all a clear perspective.

Gretchen in Arctic gear and headlamp on a mountain


In 2012, I decided to really test my love for nature, and challenge my own willpower: I would climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

The final ascent to the summit begins at 11:30 pm. You step out of your tent into darkness, 12-degree weather, and 50 mph winds freezing your snot on your face. Breathing deeply is an aspiration; the high altitude means the air is distressingly thin. The final stretch is 3,000 vertical feet to the peak, and you can’t stop moving or your body will freeze. With your headlamp illuminating only your next step, you climb through the night.

It’s said that only 50–75% of climbers make it to the summit.* Many yield to altitude sickness, others are thwarted by weather conditions, and some simply give up. Yet, here’s the kicker: Once you begin the final ascent, there is no going back. As much as your body is screaming that you can’t go on, turning back would only mean more of the same, but at a more dangerous, pitch-black descent.

I had trained for six months, hiking at least eight miles of difficult terrain every day. Even so, I wasn’t fully prepared for the mental strength it would take to keep going those last dark hours up to the summit. Only a fierce commitment to my goal, and a willingness to become extraordinarily uncomfortable in pursuit of it, kept me going.

We made it to the summit at dawn.

Give me a goal, and I’ll see it through.

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
— Lupe Fiasco, Summit on the Summit