Can't Kill Me

Cody West | December 12th, 2023 (Volume 2)
Cody West recounts his harrowing journey to Mount Kilimanjaro, initially inspired by a mountaineering documentary and a conversation with his friend, Joe Lindley. The trip, intended to honor his late grandfather by spreading his ashes at the summit, took a life-threatening turn due to a medical emergency. Cody's story is intertwined with personal connections, from the memory of his grandfather to the last moments with his grandmother, showcasing a journey of resilience, friendship, and the power of fulfilling a loved one's dream.


So, one day I was talking to my friend Joe about a documentary that we had just watched called 14 Peaks. If you haven’t seen, it’s about a Nepalese mountaineer who summits 14 8,000 meter peaks in less than seven months, just shattering the prior record, which was around five years. And so, it’s this tale of this guy doing the unthinkable. And so Joe and I we started kicking around the idea of going to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. So, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa. It’s one of the Seven Summits, which are the seven highest mountains in each of the seven continents. And so after having this conversation with Joe, about a week later, I was on the phone with my dad and I was telling him what Joe and I were thinking about doing. And he told me that my grandpa had always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. And that if we decided to go that I should take my grandpa’s ashes to the summit and spread them.

You see, my grandpa, he passed away the year prior, and he had been battling Parkinson’s Disease for two decades. So, it prevented him from doing a lot of the things that he loved, like hunting, fishing, and climbing mountains. And so, it started as just like this trip that Joe and I thought would be cool ended up becoming this thing we knew we needed to do because of the important purpose, which was get grandpa’s ashes to the roof of Africa, aka Mount Kilimanjaro. So, our friends, Pat and Weston. So, Pat and Weston, Pat’s on the left here, Weston’s on the right, they joined us on our mission. And then six months later we touched down in Tanzania and started our trek. So, you climb Kilimanjaro over eight days, you’re hiking six to 10 hours a day, but that’s not what makes climbing high altitude mountains difficult. What makes it difficult is doing all of that climbing while you feel like you have the flu. And the flu symptoms come from altitude sickness, aka Acute Mountain Sickness.

And it’s something that everybody experiences when you get up to really high altitudes and it’s miserable. So for us, we really started experiencing this on day 14. So we hiked to this place called Lava Rock. It’s at over 15,000 feet of elevation. At that elevation, there’s 50% less oxygen in the room, or there’s 50% less oxygen than there is in the room right now. We get to the top, I feel absolutely miserable. My head is pounding, I have the chills feel feverish. Weston, he definitely felt the worst. So, we sit down to have lunch and I pull a hard-boiled egg out of my lunchbox, and when the smell hits Weston’s nose, I’m going to have to wait for it. All over. So, that night we all went to bed early, and we didn’t know this at the time, but that next day, one of us would be fighting for our life. And so, that next morning I woke up with another emoji, the runs, I woke up with the runs. It’s a symptom of altitude sickness, but it’s also something that could have been bacterial.

We are drinking really sketchy water on the mountain. And so, yeah it’s one of those things where if you go to the bathroom more than four times in eight hours, the guides recommend taking an antibiotic, and that’s to prevent dehydration when you are finishing the climb. And so, I was well over that threshold. So, I took an antibiotic. Within two minutes of taking this antibiotic, I felt the most intense itch I’ve ever felt in the bottom of my feet. So, I sit down, I rip my boots off, and I start just itching furiously. Then this itch spreads throughout my entire body, my hands, my chest, my neck. I start getting blurry vision and seeing stars and a thought it pass through my head and my having an allergic reaction.

So, I tell my friend I have two EpiPens in my backpack for bee stings. And then the next thing I know, I’m waking up and there’s an oxygen mask on my face, and I’m in this really delirious state, but I know something’s really wrong. And so, I’m kind of fading in and out but the only thing that is going through my mind at that moment is Erin my fiance and wife who was back at home or fiance at the time, now wife. So, I just remember telling myself, you are not dying today. You’re not doing that to Erin. Breathe. Just breathe. So, she was my purpose in that moment. It turns out I suffered severe anaphylactic shock from the antibiotics, and Joe had saved my life, two EpiPens in my leg. There was another climber who had a corticosteroid, and they had heard what had happened. They gave the corticosteroid to Joe. He shoved that down my throat, and then I slowly started improving over the course of the day.

So, the guides, they wanted to get me off the mountain. So, they call an emergency helicopter. The four of us, we talk and we’re like Pat and Weston, you guys need to finish the climb. You need to get grandpa’s ashes to the summit. Joe is going to come back on the helicopter with me. So, after that discussion, we said our emotional goodbyes, and then Pat and Weston, they went to go finish the climb. So Joe, me, our guide and a few porters waited all day for the helicopter, but it never showed. The weather was too bad. And so, because we didn’t have any of our camp, the guides said we needed to evacuate the mountain that night. So, we started walking down the mountain as it was getting dark, the most treacherous root in Kilimanjaro. It was the hardest night of my life. It was pouring rain. We were slipping and falling all over the place. Eight hours in, Joe is so tired from the events of the day that every time we stop, he falls asleep, sitting up, earning him the nickname Sleepy Joe.

And so, at some point the next morning we see the truck. It was like 12 hours later. We were so happy. Tears were in our eyes, we couldn’t believe we made it. A few days later, Pat and Weston found out, they also made it. They summited the mountain. They got my grandpa’s ashes to the top and they spread them. And then a few days after that, we were back in the United States. It felt like a different world, 48 hours of travel later. And so, that week I get a call from my dad and he tells me that I needed to book a ticket home immediately to see my grandma. She had just been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and that she didn’t have a lot of time. So, I booked my flight that weekend, Pat and Weston, they had filmed spreading my grandpa’s ashes on the top of the mountain.

And so, when I saw my grandma, I pull my phone out, I show her the video of her husband’s ashes being spread on top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I was crying. She was crying. It was a beautiful moment. And as I was leaving her house, I noticed something on the wall. It had never noticed this before, but it was a painting of Mount Kilimanjaro. It had been there for decades. So, I guess my grandpa really did want to climb that mountain, so much so that he had it hanging in his house. And so, yeah, I’m really grateful that Pat and Weston were able to get him there in the end. So, that beautiful moment with my grandma that turned out to be my last moment with her, she passed away a couple weeks later. And so, when I look back on this series of events where seemingly everything went wrong and right at the same time, I just feel like incredibly lucky.

Lucky that that was the last moment with my grandma. Lucky that I had EpiPens. Lucky that I have such capable friends. Lucky for the guides and porters we were with, and lucky to be alive ,so I can spend more of my life with the people that I love, like Erin. So, that’s my story. Two last things. All the black and white photos that you saw in this deck were taken by Pat. He’s an amazing travel photographer. His work’s at And then Joe, who is a filmmaker, films everything. He had no idea that this was going to happen, but now he’s turning this into a documentary called Ashes of The Mountain. And so, if you want to support him in his work, Thank you.

Cody West
Experienced hiker, surfer and founder of health & wellness startup Welpr.