If you had told me 18 months ago that I would be climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, I’d say that you were out of your mind!
I had dabbled in a bit of hiking, but I’ve been known to trip over flat ground so something like Mt Kilimanjaro had never been on my radar.
But after a chat with one of Benny’s mates, Annabelle Chauncy, (the kind of person that is so passionate about their life’s work, that when they speak you know you need to get involved), I found myself signing up to climb Africa’s highest freestanding mountain as part of a fundraising trip with School For Life Foundation.
The School for Life Foundation believe in quality education for all children, no matter where they were born. They give 100% of their profits to providing education to children in rural Uganda and therefore creating jobs to the local community. This was definitely an organisation I wanted to get behind.
We had a bumpy start to the trip with delayed flights, missed transfers and ATMs eating my credit card, all which meant we were going to begin our climb a day later. This was the first test of our resilience, our ability to adapt to situations, and how the team would connect. From that moment I knew I was around an epic bunch of 16 humans who were able to not only support and encourage in testy situations, but we could find humour and lightness as well.
After a highly anticipated, and slightly anxious bus ride, we arrived at the gates full of excitement. We met our guides and crew- totally blown away that we had a support crew of 60 men!! These guys would carry all of our gear, food, tents, tables and chairs (!!!) and camper toilets (I could not have been more grateful for this little bit of luxury!!), we also had doctors who checked our oxygen saturation and blood pressure twice daily and camp masters making sure we were comfortable, clean and feeling good. These guys were our absolute angels, filling us with song and dance whenever our spirits waned, they were the kindest and most generous men I have ever come across and would do everything they could to make sure that we arrived at summit safely and healthy.
Each morning we would wake for sunrise, and it was here that we really noticed our increase of elevation. I remember waking up and seeing the clouds below us then turning around and being high enough to see the top of the Mt Kilimanjaro. This was when things got real. The days were long but the heartfelt conversations and laughs helped make the time pass quickly.
The first few days felt really good; in the lead up I hiked a lot through the Blue Mountains or the National Parks and felt like I was well prepared. Our guides would set the pace pole, pole (slowly, slowly) and it was only if we raced ahead of this that I felt short of breath. In terms of altitude sickness, I only really got a slight headache and on day 4 or 5 this increased to what felt like my brain was getting too big for my skull. I kept hydrated and eventually this passed. I was really lucky this was the extent of it for me as there were some in the group that needed a few breaths of the oxygen mask.
For summit day we woke at 2:45am, to what felt like -20oC, then we layered up and prepared to begin. Once we were ready to go, the summit crew and guides (about 20 of the Tanzanians) and our team stood in a circle hand in hand. Our guide and mountain guru Genes, nicknamed Big G, lead the pre summit prayer to acknowledge the power and spirit of Mt Kilimanjaro, and to guide us safely to summit and return. We were unified, excited and ready…it was on!
The next 8 hours were physically and mentally demanding. We zig zagged and climbed at an incline I’d never experienced before. There were moments I questioned my life decisions and would have been totally ok to stop. It was in those moments I reminded myself why I was here- I had raised over $5k for School for Life with the help and love of so many people back home. The money raised would go towards education and improving the quality of life of so many kids in rural Uganda. It was bigger than me, and it was time to dig deep. My mantra for the climb was ‘One foot in front of the other, one breath and then the next” and there was no better time than now to live it. . I looked around me and with the support of my fellow climbers and crew I knew I had in me for the final few hours. At the moment we climbed over to Gilman’s Point (the top of the mountain and final stop before Summit) I felt a rush of emotion- happiness, relief, accomplishment. We were at an elevation of 5685m and were very much on top of the world. There was snow and glaciers for as far as the eye could see, I was in awe of how beautiful the landscape was and how much the terrain had changed the higher we climbed. This view and this feeling were worth every challenging step of the last 10 hours. After a short break and some water we were ready for the final push to climb the extra 200m incline get to Summit.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was the toughest, most incredible thing I have ever done.
It tested me physically and mentally and it brought into my life a bunch of inspiring, new friends. The biggest take away from climbing Kilimanjaro was the spirit of humanity. With the help of so many people in the lead up of the trek I was able to raise over $5600 for the kids in Uganda, and our group raised a total of over $116000 ! People were so generous with donating their time to help train me, leant me equipment and gear, and donated their skills, time and money for the different fundraising events. The porters were endless in their smiles and encouragement, reminding us of finding joy in the simpler things in life.
Though the experience is something that I never imagined I’d do, I am so glad I did it and recommend it to everyone.