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Death and Rebirth

Nicholas C. Ige ’25 being awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Military Valor medals.
Nicholas C. Ige ’25 being awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Military Valor medals. By Nicholas C. Ige
By Charles W. McCormick, Crimson Staff Writer

“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe. Keep breathing.” —Hugh Glass, “The Revenant”

When you try to breathe in the air at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, you fill your lungs with roughly half as much oxygen as you would at sea level. This can lead to altitude sickness, which is a friendly way of saying that your brain and all other vital organs begin to malfunction, simulating — and sometimes actually precipitating — suffocation.

“I didn’t feel like I was in my body,” Nicholas C. Ige ’25 recalled from the summit push.

What was once an introspective and meditative walk became something far more intense, where not breathing meant his vision failed and not moving meant falling over from dizziness. But Nick is an atypical human being, forged in the crucible of war alongside countless others for whom giving up was not an option.

Nick adopted a reverent tone at this point in the interview, leaning forward in his war room seat to regale me with the miraculous tale of Oliver Campbell — a fellow Army Ranger who was successfully resuscitated after succumbing to injuries sustained in combat. Willing himself to safety while severely wounded, Ollie later recounted simply focusing on his breath — a tactic that kicked in with Nick’s instincts on Kilimanjaro.

“I did not get shot four times in the chest. I was just walking up a fucking big hill with snow on it, but I felt like I was going to die,” Nick said. “And I just remember thinking about that — if you can breathe, you can fight; if you can fight, you can live. I just kept cycling that through my head. I was just trying to give myself any kind of parable to keep walking, because it felt like my whole body was shutting down on me.”

Nick has shared an abundance of stories about his courageous peers with me. It isn’t hard to imagine, however, that many of them have shared their own stories about Nick.

The veteran fails to mention in this interview that he himself is a recipient of a Bronze Star with Valor, as well a Purple Heart — medals awarded for heroic service in combat and being wounded while serving, respectively. Nick has also received the Soldier’s Medal — the most valorous award for efforts in a non-combat environment — for his heroism while off duty. To say that climbing Kilimanjaro was the only obstacle Nick has overcome with poise is a gross understatement.

Also present in the war room for our conversation was Nick’s friend Bianca Braun ’23, who couldn’t help but smile when Nick cited his Ranger ego for willing him to finish the climb or die trying.

“You will never die,” Bianca laughed. “I don’t think you will.”

* * *

Nick at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Nick at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. By Nicholas C. Ige

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

On his seventh day away from Cambridge, Nick Ige sat — because he could not stand without passing out — atop the tallest summit in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world, more than 19,000 feet in the sky.

“1/7 peaks done,” the Instagram caption read.

Summiting Kilimanjaro is a monumental milestone. But there is more to the journey than the destination, of course. Each picture in Nick’s camera roll from along the way brought to mind a new lesson learned and a new source of motivation.

Nick frequently praised his team of porters, whose steadfastness never faltered. Eli, the lead guide, climbs the mountain several times a month in minimal gear to support his son going to school. Others on the team are part-time poachers, making do with the volatile returns of ecotourism. In the context of their life circumstances, Nick’s training regimen and self-imposed pressure was “a privilege.”

“‘Oh no, I’m tired.’ Why am I tired?” Nick asked. “I’m tired because I get to learn,” he said. “This portion of the whole trip just put so much into perspective about how grateful I am, or I should be, for the opportunities that are presented to me.”

Hiking enabled Nick to ruminate on these realities and their pertinence to vocation. Previously interested in pursuing a career in research at NASA, which synthesizes his technical training and current education in STEM (and, yes, also paves his way to becoming an astronaut), Nick wondered if a more humanitarian future awaited him.

* * *

Nick posing with Eli and his son.
Nick posing with Eli and his son. By Nicholas C. Ige

“One’s is to defend the dead. / One’s to suffer until ego is shed. / One’s is to dribble the nectar of evil. / One’s but to roll a stone up a hill.” —Tracy K. Smith, “Soulwork”

Nick has grappled with the ramifications of his project countless times: What does it mean to serve once more? Whose lives can he actually improve? “Help” and “impact” are nebulous buzzwords, seldom realized in concrete ways outside the purview of a military career. But somewhere along the harsh, rocky slopes of Kilimanjaro, an idea to expand the Seven Summits project into something greater took shape.

“Study, Adventure, Train,” as it’s tentatively called, is a lifestyle brand in development. Alongside attending Neuroscience classes this semester, Nick has been workshopping this future business endeavor by centering his social media presence around its core goal: Partnering active and outdoor living with scholarship. For the first time since planning to climb, Nick considered the philanthropic potential of owning a company.

“You have attention. The spotlight is now yours. What do you do with that spotlight?” Nick demanded of himself. “The reason I wanted to do this project is really to help other people, and help people on a larger scale.”

Perhaps Nick’s ardent desire to leave the world a better place than he found it has an outlet beyond climbing mountains.

* * *

Nick on the ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Nick on the ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro. By Nicholas C. Ige

“‘That is well said,’ replied Candide, ‘but we must cultivate our garden.’” —Voltaire, “Candide”

Thinking about the future can be exhilarating, but also distracting.

Nick is cautious of letting unrealized plans seduce his attention away from climbing, where ideas like “Study, Adventure, Train” are born. After conquering Kilimanjaro, there were only six peaks left to summit, afterall, and Nick only had a few days to celebrate and recharge with Eli before meeting me in Australia, where the next mountain remained unaware of his past accomplishments.

“The mountain gives no fucks who I am,” Nick said. “The mountain is going to keep on doing mountain shit.”

On more than one occasion during our interview, Nick simply stopped talking, letting his pictures of the Tanzanian landscape — the lonesome boulders and all-seeing sun — come to life and fill the room with their own voices. Nick sat still, savoring Kilimanjaro’s apathetic majesty.

Training, studying, and preparation for the next life chapter will always be waiting for him, but some time must be set aside to admire the other giants in this tale.

“The mountain’s not doing that for me. It’s not doing that for anyone. It just is. It’s very indifferent to what it is, and it doesn’t care who’s walking up it or who’s walking down it,” he said. “I think there’s something very beautiful in that.”

—Staff writer Charles W. McCormick ’24 can be reached at His column “Dagger and Book” explores the artistic experience of Nick’s mountain climbing adventure.

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Nick at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.Nick posing with Eli and his son.Nick on the ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro.