Special Guest Blog by Marlen Bugarin

Our very own Marlen Bugarin went on an exciting trip to Tanzania.   Upon her return, she was kind enough to share her story with us.  Read up guys, it’s so awesome! 😀 and thanks Marlen for being part of our Merge community and sharing your experience with us.  We are so glad you’re back!

Marlen at Summit

Our summit attempt to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro finally arrived. It’s was a little before 2 a.m. and one of the porters, Yusuph, kindly came by to wake me up as he had every day since we started. I’d been awake for hours though from a combination of the altitude and excitement. Altitude has some strange effects on sleep and there had been very little sleep for me in the previous five days. And little would I know just how many surprises my journey to the “roof of Africa” would hold for me. When asked about my trek, I struggle to answer because it is a hard climb. Sure, I had challenges  on the mountain, due to the lack of sleep, steep climbs at high altitudes and the long exhausting summit day, but somehow that’s not what I remember. I remember the people, the incredible Team Kilimanjaro crew – all 13 of them- from lead guide (Joshua), assistant guide (Julius) down to the last porter (Godlove). They are the ones that got us to the top. Our entire team worked incredibly hard and it was humbling to witness.

We had been at basecamp, Barafu, less than 12 hours and the altitude here and lack of sleep was by far the biggest challenge for me on the trek. At 15,200 feet, I was breathing 50 percent of the oxygen I would have at sea level. The slightest movement left me winded and every movement took significant effort, even putting my hiking boots on. I got up cautiously. For a moment, I began second-guessing the idea of our summit attempt a day early, but focused on staying positive. To save time and energy, I had prepared everything a few hours earlier and went to sleep with my summit gear on so I would be ready to go.

Mount Kilimanjaro

After drinking the coffee Yusuph brought me, I stepped out of my tent into the cold early morning to join the rest of the group to begin our ascent. Julius, our assistant guide, would always begin our hikes with the Swahili phrase “Imara Kama Simba, Strong like a lion!” This is how he would pump us up before our hikes and it would always make us laugh. We were in good spirits and excited about the ascent. Joshua, our lead guide, had briefed us on our summit plan a day early, breaking down the five different sections of the summit (A, B, C, D and E). To me, it was similar to doing five different WODs all in one day and at night. Or at least that’s what I thought about as we began the ascent.

It was 3 a.m. when we set out in the cold. Joshua was in the front setting the pace, and Julius was at the back with Yusuph. It was dark, and all had our headlamps in place, patiently placing one foot after the other, taking in deep breaths. As we climbed higher in altitude, closer to the arctic zone, it got colder and more uncomfortable and we had to make quick stops to add layers and avoid freezing.  Halfway through my water line froze. Joshua, Julius and Yusuph were at the ready to help us with these adjustments, carrying double the weight with extra equipment in case it was necessary. The ascent was not nearly as bad as I had imagined – we were chipping away and before we knew it, the hardest part (section D) was over.

Marlen_Summit and Glacier

We reached Stella Point and I could finally see my final destination. It was within sight. I was anxious to keep going but I had to pace myself. After the break at Stella Point, I started to feel some altitude sickness – slight throbbing head and upset stomach. We continued at a steady pace. The “short” one hour to the top felt like the longest hour to me. I had a clear view of the beautiful glaciers and finally, I had reached the top and was standing at 19, 341 feet. It took us eight hours to cover approximately 2.5 miles in distance just to get to the top and another three hours to descend to basecamp.

I first caught a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro a couple of years ago while camping in Kenya near Tanzania. I decided then I would return to climb it. A year later, I began preparing for the seven-day trek on the Machame route, one of the more common routes but also a bit more physically challenging.

After all, that is what I wanted, a little something outside of my comfort zone.


My training included Crossfit Merge, running (I logged more than 300 miles in training including my fourth LA Marathon) and countless hikes up to Mt. Baldy on the Old School trail, one of the steepest hills locally. But I knew that that alone was not going to be enough. I had read countless blogs on people that had climbed it and they described it as “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” Others compared it to the pain of childbirth, of which I had no clue about; and athletes, such as legendary tennis player Martina Navratilova, described their failures due to altitude. So it was hard to manage my expectations. In my mind, I was preparing for one of the biggest physical and mental challenges in my life.


All Levels/Intermediate Skill:



*touch and go

All Levels/Intermediate Workout of the Day (WOD):

For time, complete 15-12-9 reps of:

Power cleans (155/103) or 70% of skill

Ring Dips

Toes to Bar

Beginner Skill:

Front Squat


Beginner Workout of the Day (WOD):

15 minute AMRAP of:

10 Dumbbell hang cleans

12 Push Ups

15 V-ups

Olympic Lifting:

7 clean and jerks at 90% of 1 rm 


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