20 Jan Kilimanjaro
It was 10p.m. when one of the porters on our climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, tapped on our zipped tent to make sure we were awake. Little did he know that we had been awake for quite some time and not really had any sleep because of the gale-force freezing winds that were pounding the exterior of the tent. The wind, coupled with fears and excitement about what lay ahead for us all, allowed for about maybe two or three hours of sleep for some of us.
We had been briefed at our 5 o’clock dinner that night that we were leaving for our summit attempt at 10:30 p.m. sharp. This was for two reasons. First, as we ascend the mountain, the rocky skree that litters the steep trail to the peak will be frozen and less likely to give way under our boots.
Second, leaving at that time would allow us to reach the summit as the sun was peeking up over the glacial ridge. Looking back however, I believe that there was a third reason, one the guide intentionally never discussed. Psychologically, if we were able to see the sheer steepness and distance of the trek, it would have been defeating.
Our departure time came, and we were dressed in our best cold weather gear. At the time we took our first steps from base camp, the temperature was in the single digits and the wind was sharp. We had our headlamps on and could see far above us the dim light of a group of other climbers, evidence that we were not the first ones in what could be a long queue up the mountainside.
I put my earphones in and turned on my iPod to distract me from the elements. I had made a special summit mix for the trip and turned it up as loud as it would go! Rod Stewart, I am sailing and Coffey Anderson, the Christian singer and guitar player who inspired me and kept me going through the difficult moments of when i really felt like giving up! but then iPod froze even though I had it in one of my pockets, well insulated. Now, it was just me and the mountain.
Five hours into the climb, aside from having extremely cold hands and feet, we were all feeling pretty good. My only concern was placing my feet in the same place as the guide in front of me. Slow and methodically we gained ground up the slope. Another hour passed and it seemed as if the climbing got more and more arduous. We had passed a half-dozen people who had to stop and turn back because of fatigue or altitude sickness. My head was pounding at the back of my neck, but there was no way i was stopping now.
I thought of my son James all the time on this journey, the times we had together just the two of us and with all the family, of him growing up from a baby into such a handsome kind young man, time is so precious and as we get older all we really have are our memories of the past, precious memories!
I thought about the money we were raising in James name for the charity i had set up in memory of him. Then I thought I needed to think of anything I could to distract me from the misery I was in. Finally, about seven hours into the climb at around 18,500 feet, I had to ask our guide to stop. I sat on a rock to the side of the trail feeling nauseated and lightheaded.
Our guide told us it was only a few hundred more feet to Stella Point, the landing point before the last 500 feet to Uhuru Peak, the mountain’s highest point.
That news was uplifting. I felt a second wind, and we pushed on slowly. Minutes later, we arrived at Stella. We were at 18,800 feet. There were climbers all around who had collapsed from fatigue or were experiencing severe symptoms of altitude sickness.
After another 550 feet of gentle climbing, we reached the summit just as the glow from the sun was trying to make its way over the eastern part of the mountain.
We had done it! We gave hugs and high-fives all around above the clouds at the highest point in Africa and we all cried! tears flowed as I held up the flag that I had had made with a photo of James on.
The view was unforgettably magnificent, as incredible as anything I have ever seen. But as I took time to contemplate, I realized that the reason the view was so rich was the overall experience of the trek.
We had walked approximately 40 miles and climbed 13,000 feet since the beginning of the journey, overcoming all kinds of adversities. All the while, we were building relationships with everyone from the porters to one another, sharing in our triumphs and helping one another in times of need.
We raised £8,912.22. A big thank you to everybody for all your support in helping us to raise so much money
In Memory of my son James Anthony Barney – Nothing is stronger than love…