Today was a remarkable day. 27 set off at midnight. 27 reached the crater rim by 8 am. A remarkable achievement.
We started to prepare for the climb at 11pm on Monday night. We had breakfast in the mess tent, which was a subdued affair. We were all dressed in as many layers as we could manage without cutting off circulation, sitting eating porridge with our head torches on. Except Gavin, who lost his. We hunted high and low eventually discovering it on Karen’s head along with hers. The mood lightened.
We gathered at midnight and Gavin did his team talk as he does everyday before we set off. On this occasion he asked me to say a few words as well. I spoke about the single biggest thing I have learned on this journey with Parkinson’s – determination.
We set off in a line at 12.15 and started to trudge upwards towards the summit, silhouetted against the night sky. I walked with Christine and Karen. There was no chat as we zig zagged up the mountain, the guides walking up and down the line asking us how we were. At 5000m, Williams Point, Chrissy and I, stopped for a photo. From then on the path got step and harder, winding upwards through fields of volcanic ash. I just chanted “plod on” or “this too will pass” to myself repeatedly.
Things started to freeze like water tubes which added complication. Trying to open bottles with heavy gloves on was no fun.
As we plodded higher altitude sickness kicked in. I had a headache and felt lightheaded as we approached the summit. I was using poles to help my balance but I had no energy to battle my Parkinson’s and make my right arm work correctly. This caused me to fall a couple of times, but I never thought about giving up. It was all about determination.
I cannot put into words how draining the climb was.
At 6am the sky lightened as the sun rose behind Mawenzi. A great lift.
By 6.30 we could see the sign at Gilmans Point. At 7 we were there, on top of the crater edge.
On top of Kilimanjaro. It was all tears and snot. Everyone hugging. No singing or shouting, just private emotion. I thought about my girls, Vicky, and my family. I was immensely proud of myself.
From Gilmans Point, some of us went onto Uhuru Point. Christine and Karen were in poor shape, Chrissy exhausted and Karen was cold. I set off with Bob. When we got to the first rest point Karen materialised. I was delighted, she has been on so many adventures it would have been a shame not finish this one together.
The 150m climb to Uhuru took 90 mins. I was shattered. It wasn’t as emotional but I was touching the roof of Africa and I clung onto the sign which told me so.
Ian arrived and we embraced, I owe the guy so much. News came through that all 27 of us had made it. I phoned Gareth, Dad and Vicky but could barely speak.
I was feeling rough and it was time to go. Davis, one of the guides, stepped in. He took my bag and manhandled me back to Gilmans. He let me pause briefly and, literally, ran me down mountain. Running straight down the volcanic ash and scree fields. It was great fun.
Unfortunately my boots filled with stones making every step a painful one. Davis marched me into Kibo camp and I collapsed. I shudder to think what would have happened if he hadn’t intervened at the top.
The day wasn’t over. After lunch we had a 6 mile walk to our next camp down at 2700m. I walked with Chrissy and Karen, and the Brinsley, Chris and Gavin. My feet hurt, my bag weighed at tonne, my pride glowed.
Dinner was a quiet affair. By 8.30 the camp was asleep. An amazing day.