The mountain has consumed me. For the last 6 months we have talked about nothing else, we have been preparing, training, purchasing equipment, asking “what if” questions and considering every eventuality. Before we left we were ready. We were fit and had all possibilities covered.
Then came the day and we left with excitement in our hearts and just a little trepidation in our minds. What would we find when we get there?
Well… it was nothing like our expectations. We had enjoyed the training and were expecting to enjoy the walk up the mountain but after the first day it was less enjoyment and more just hard work. Each day we pushed ourselves harder than we ever thought possible, reaching and surpassing personal boundaries. We experienced every possible weather condition from hot sun through rain, biting cold, sleet, high winds and deep snow.
Altitude sickness affected us all and despite the Diamox tablets that we debated prior to trip, in the end it was the altitude that stopped me from getting right to the top. I lived with the nausea for 4 days, coming in waves especially at meal times, but it was my inability to get enough oxygen into my lungs that was the most disabling. Sheila got an infection that slowed her down considerably. Pam (our hitchhiker) got fed up with throwing up all the time but John, although he had some of the symptoms of altitude sickness, seemed to be less affected than the rest of us.
So Sheila and John summitted at Gilman’s Point (a fantastic achievement at 5681m) and my personal achievement was 5081m which got me to Indian Rock on the last morning, 600 meters lower before my body gave in to the altitude and I passed out.
So what have we learnt? My first reaction was that I have failed. I set out to climb a mountain and despite 6 months of training and preparation, I wasn’t able to do it. The next reaction was to think of all the reasons I was not able to make it. I needed to forgive myself for this failure (I am not used to failure and am not comfortable handling it) but everything I thought of just sounded like an excuse.
Now I see it differently. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that each of us succeeded. Climbing Kilimanjaro is not just about getting to the top. Once you have been there you know how arbitrarily the mountain chooses who should reach the top and who shouldn’t. If there is a prize at all it should go to the guides who climb the mountain 20 times a year with less equipment and far less effort than the tourists.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is all about breaking personal barriers. Each one of us walked harder and climbed higher than we ever have before. Each one of us pushed ourselves further than we thought possible. Each one of us faced the real possibility of dieing on the mountain (that may sound dramatic at sea level but up there it is in your mind). Each one of us came back with a greater understanding of ourselves. And, of course, each one of us helped to raise over R60,000 for Reach for a Dream. Sounds like a success to me.
Finally before I wind this whole thing up and get on with my life, I would like to place on record how much we all appreciated the contribution made by our Guide Juma and his assistant Rashedi. Juma in particular was an exceptional and caring guide who went well beyond the call of duty to help us reach our goals.