The story begins with Facebook – as many stories seem to these days….
You have a new event invite! Climb Kilimanjaro in 2012! Accept, Decline or Maybe? Such a simple choice… such a life changing experience!
The countdown starts and with 12 months to go and a number of challenges under my belt I was feeling pretty confident. We had done various charity fun runs, climbed the UK’s hardest mountain (Ben Nevis) and generally kept pretty fit. The team started forming which was an arrangement of night out acquaintances, gym buddies and school friends.. The first group night we did was a night out in our local town – the team bonded and it was set, “Team Kili” were going to conquer the mountain. We decided this was still pretty stupid so we guessed that people would sponsor us… The whole team were eager to do it for danceaid and one of our team happened to also be a member of the danceaid team too! 6 months later and lots of nights out we still felt pretty confident, at this point we started researching the climb and nerves started creeping in. We organised a multitude of events including the 3 peaks challenge which was probably the most testing experience I had ever been through. I really had no idea what was round the corner. Training continued but the more I read the more I realised I could not prepare myself for the altitude.
On the flight over everyone was in high spirits. Not even the chaotic flight changes and strange looks from onlookers at our team which now included a member on crutches (don’t ask!!!) could ruin our mood! We arrived in Tanzania and met the team which would escort us to the summit and bonded with them very quickly and we got an early night to prepare for the morning. We set off in blazing heat in vests and shorts with flasks of water, water proofs, thermal clothes and smiles on our faces. The drive to the mountain took us through various areas which opened my eyes to a new way of life. I forget the rat race and climbing the corporate ladder, as I observed the locals sat on the road side watching the day fly by without a care in the world.
We arrived at the mountain and started climbing for the summit. It looked so close. We met various inhabitants of the mountain on the first day who had made use of the natural resources around them and set up their homes among the mountain’s many forests. The kids had followed suit and their natural resource was the would be adventurers who they would wave to as we ascended. Our proximity to the local children hit us hard – holes in their shoes, barely clothed and we were kitted up head to toe – and reinforced our vigour to complete the climb for danceaid and all the people who so kindly sponsored us. One of our team had thoughtfully brought something that would bring a smile to the kids’ faces and a tear to our eyes…. Jessica put her bag down on the grown and revealed a collection of toy cars, sweets and skipping ropes with which the kids then proceeded to demonstrate their hidden skills. Night drew close and we all huddled in a tent for dinner and stories. It got cold, very cold and we were scared when we were informed it was about +5c at this point and a low of -30c was a possibility…
The next few days consisted of amazing scenery, some really strange conversation (gigidy), me twisting my ankle, and some really bad altitude sickness. This ranged from nausea, headaches, loss of appetite, and fatigue to insanity (not sure if this was the altitude or the company but we all experienced it). Despite this these days were some of the best of my life. The world was going on around me and all I was aware of was our team’s mission. But boy did the mountain do it’s best to stop us dead in our tracks. Over and over again. On top of the distance, the incline, and the altitude, we were hit by what I’d describe as a tropical rain storm. The weather was more up and down then a roller-coaster. Even the food was a challenge! I will never forget the egg surprise we received the night before summit; omelette with peanut butter inside!
Night before summit our spirits were low – with several people collapsing and a member of the team showing it is possible to continue being sick even if you don’t eat (12 times in one day) our intrepid leader Joshua handed out the last few works of advice… For me this was not what sealed the deal, the people around me had tried so hard and struggled with so much I knew they could turn around at any point. If we didn’t summit to the top as a team then it just wouldn’t be right…
It was also echoing in my head that we were doing this for danceaid – there were children depending on us…
We started our ascent and during the previous days we had done what we knew as acclimatisation walks… they weren’t… they were not even comparable… The air got thinner… it got colder…. And we left camp at midnight to summit at sunrise… the race was on. My ankle was getting worse, the team were tired, cold, irritable and when I saw Krish throw Rob to the floor and proceed to wrestle with him I knew this team would get to the top! (I did mention madness had set in).
What can I say about the top? You will have to do the climb to find out what’s up there but I can tell you anything less would have made the 6 days of climbing 5895 meters the most horrific experience ever… But it wasn’t. There are not words to describe that feeling standing on the top of the world’s largest free standing mountain looking over a challenge that goes beyond the eye can see – and all in the company of my new adopted family!
Would I do it again? NO! Am I glad I did it? YES!
As we walked back down, 7 days after the climb first started, I realised the work we put into these 7 days would leave a legacy for the next generation and beyond ….. I was proud I’d done it for danceaid … And I’m even prouder danceaid will continue on its mission to transform the lives of vulnerable children now I am back to the rat race. Whilst I feel somewhat sad it is all over, I know I will definitely be doing it for danceaid again!