By Rebekah McVey
When Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrel sang “Aint No Mountain High Enough”, I doubt they’d climbed Kilimanjaro. From personal experience, I can assure you the love of my life can climb over mountains to get to me now. I’m not putting on my hiking boots back on anytime soon.
The Childreach International fundraisers from Liverpool, Strathclyde and Stirling are now back to life under the clouds and dinner without Pasco’s cucumber soup. Now that the experience of a life time has come and gone, what we accomplished over the summer has finally sunk in.
With the school visit fresh in our minds, we were feeling optimistic about the climb ahead of us. Seeing first-hand how the money we raised enhanced people’s lives, we were going to make those children proud.
The first day involved trekking through two of the four ecological zones, and it certainly wasn’t off to an easy start. On the plus side, it did feel like we were in a David Attenborough documentary upon seeing colobus monkeys peer at us through the trees.
Making it to Machme Camp felt like an achievement as it meant we were already 3000m up the mountain. It was only about 2895m to Uhuru peak from there - piece of chocolate cake as the guides would say.
The journey to Shira Camp was one of the most enjoyable days of trekking. Compared to the first day, it didn’t feel as difficult. Had it been scorching hot, it would have probably been more challenging. Thankfully, sporadic slurries of rain throughout the day made it bearable.
After lunch in the rain clouds, we’d soon accept that nothing would be clean anymore (or at least not until we were off the mountain). Dirt was everywhere and wet wipes just weren’t up to the job.
That night before dinner, we witnessed the most beautiful sunset. Photos simply didn’t do it justice, but the peaceful fiery sky with Mount Meru in the distance is a sight I’ll never forget.
It wasn’t long before darkness swept over and the camp site became an astronomers’ paradise. The stars and milky way felt so close that you could almost touch it. It was so cold that the drain drops that settled on top of our tents had frozen and shimmered when it caught the light of our head torches.
Though I cannot speak for all my fellow fundraisers, this wasn’t a day I particularly want to remember. Despite the altitude slowly consuming our once joyful spirits and good health, we were still clinging on to our determination.
This was the day that we had lunch by the lava tower. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see it as it was hidden by the clouds. The scenery from the lava tower to Barranco camp was very much like a colder version of Tatooine from Star Wars – all that was to be seen was sand and rocks.
On this day, I’m not ashamed to admit there were times that I could’ve cried at just how considerate the guides were. You didn’t have to tell them that you were struggling, they just knew when to step in and help. If it weren’t for their acts of kindness and motivational words, there’s no way we could’ve made it to the top.
On the morning before scaling the Baranco wall, we woke up above the clouds. They started off pastel pinky-orange but the colour slowly drained from them as the sun appeared. It was an incredible feeling knowing there was an entire world below us that hadn’t woken up yet.
I don’t know what I pictured the Baranco wall to look like, but climbing it wasn’t as scary as you might think. One part of it involved hugging a large rock whilst carefully moving your feet along a smaller, narrower one to get to the other side.
That night after dinner, Rose Richmond, the Stirling leader, had surprised her team with letters from home. This is by far one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me, and little did I know at the time, it was just the motivation I needed to see me to the summit the next morning.
Having no sleep and only gloopy porridge to see us to Uhuru peak, it was a long day ahead of us. Whenever it felt like we’d made some progress, all we had to do was look up and see the lights of head torches still making their way up.
There were points when it felt we’d always be climbing in darkness. At one point, we could see Kenya come to life in the distance and sunlight still hadn’t appeared on Kilimanjaro.
Even with the numbers of layers we had been advised to put on, it felt like it wasn’t enough to protect us from the cold. Despite going as slow as possible to keep altitude sickness at bay, the trek was still tiring. Taking breaks weren’t pleasant either as it only made us feel more vulnerable to the harsh conditions.
Daylight eventually made an appearance before reaching Stella Point. Unlike most of the trek until then, the terrain was just sand. No matter how many steps you’d take, you’d always slide back down more. Knowing that we were so close to reaching the top made this even more frustrating.
Reaching Uhuru Peak is the proudest moment of my life so far. Having done nowhere near as much training as I should have done, it was satisfying knowing I’d proven those who doubted me wrong. It sounds incredibly cliched, but at the time it felt like it was just a dream. At the time when I’d signed up for this challenge, I couldn’t picture myself on top of the world’s highest freestanding mountain, but I’d finally done it.
We weren’t all pleased upon finding out we still had more walking to do after lunch, but at least the hardest part was already over. Every step was another one closer to a warm shower, a normal bed and a flushing toilet.
The final morning started in good spirits with everyone singing and dancing which made for a positive send off. After saying farewell to some of the people who helped us every step of the way, it was time to descend back to normality.
The rest of the trek from camp to the gates passed by relatively quickly. Though summoning the strength to stand on the steps of the congratulations sign at the bottom was more difficult than it should’ve been. My hips felt like they had screws on either side of them that tightened after taking a measly few steps for one last group photo.
I’m in no rush to climb another mountain (and I mean it this time), but it was a pleasure to have shared some of my highest and lowest moments with such a fun-loving group of people. Whenever I hear “On top of the World” by Imagine Dragons, I’ll think about how we experienced one of the greatest achievements of our lives together.
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