Forever the photographer, I probably capture more images on holiday than at any other time. Hence I thought I would share a blog that is less connected to my day to day work and more about what I capture when I’m off on my travels. This amazing adventure is probably my greatest achievement so far and I hope this gives a little insight into the person behind the lens for a change.
Usually these kinds of achievements by people stem from a long standing ambition, or a check list of things to tick off before they reach a certain age. For me it was neither. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was something that was on my husband’s wish list. Damian and I had talked about it on and off and after an unexpected turn around of events, it was actually myself that gave the final push to book on the five day trek to climbing the highest summit in Africa.
Initially I was excited and joined a Bootcamp training group to get fit within the three months we had left before the trek. As the ‘holiday’ got closer however, a feeling of dread had decided to take up residence in my head and for once, I was feeling this was a leap of faith too far. The outside perception of friends and family was that I must be fit enough if I had been training so hard, climbing up Snowdon, walking in the Peak District and more. I got several comments along the lines of, “Well if Chris Moyles, a bunch of popstars and radio DJs can do it, you can”. Well all I can say is hats off to those guys, because this climb was something else. I purposely never watched the celebs trekking Kilimanjaro as I needed to experience something new for myself and not have a carefully edited hour of tv running through my head as I attempted it.
Our first meeting with all the people setting out the next day, on some of the 7 different routes you can take to the summit, did nothing to alleviate my fears. Talk of what dosage of altitude sickness pills to take would have been helpful – if we had any. (As it turns out, our guides didn’t recommend them anyway.)
Along with Damian, 3 fellow climbers and a team of 15 guides, chefs and porters, we took the Marangu Route. (Known as the Coca-Cola route – yeah right!) I have to say for a photographer, the first three days through rainforest, moorland and high-altitude desert were a beautiful and welcome distraction to the task being undertaken.
The daily evening meals with talk of what to expect the next day were actually the things that set the panic off in me. People chatting about how your heart rate was going to be erratic when you try to sleep at high altitude and showing me oxygen cans, helipads locations for emergencies and metal stretchers to get you back down quickly, were the things that took their toll on me more than the physical challenge.
By day 4, summit day, we lined up to have a photograph taken before we set off at 11:30pm to start the five hour climb through the night to the first part of the mountain that is Gillman’s Point. You can tell I don’t look the happiest bunny at this point. My heart and stomach were in my mouth and I can still feel the nerves when I write this. Approximately two hours in, my legs were like jelly, I felt exhausted and finally the mental barrier that I was battling, put up the brick wall that caused me to sit down on a rock and simply start crying. This wasn’t my challenge, it wasn’t on my list and unlike the four amazing people that were walking with me, I had no personal reason or motivation to do this. The others in the group had been battling blisters, headaches, a virus and were doing this for very emotional reasons and yet were determined to keep going. I felt like a fraud that was letting the group down and wanted to be left alone to trundle back down to Kibo camp.
Thanks however to our guide, Isa, who used his years of experience to settle me down and split Damian and I off from the group, he took the initiative to take it more slowly. Step by step and putting ‘one foot in front of the other’ as is often said, with lots of breaks, he took the time to convince me to try a little bit more and that I was stronger than I thought and that I could make it. In order for Damian to succeed in reaching the top, I steadily made it over frozen scree and rocks to Gillman’s point, so that Damian could then be taken by another guide to the final peak.
Gillman’s Point became the turning point for me. I’d done it. Reaching this 5685m landmark gave way to relief and finally belief that I could do it. The sunrise was starting to break through the darkness and I needed no arm twisting to take the next 1 and 1/2 hour journey up the next 200m to the 5895m height of Uhuru Peak. Not only did we make it, but we were only 5 minutes behind the rest of our group, so we got to have that most treasured photograph taken in front of the famous sign with all five of us there.
This challenge is one of the hardest things I’ve done and I’m always in shock that I achieved it. I will hold special memories of it that I wouldn’t trade for anything. My advice to those thinking of undertaking this, or a different challenge, is to do it. Be mentally prepared and you will get there. For me the achievement is simply in what my husband said to me afterwards … “I’m more pleased that you made it, than I am to have done it myself.” I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for my husband and it is through him and his belief in me that I have achieved something that I was not sure was possible.