Just a small town girl on the roof of Africa!
From Sixmilebridge to Uhuru Peak, read about Babs’s journey to Kilimanjaro.
This is it, only another 40 mins to the top our local guide told me as we arrived at Stella Point. Come on you can do this, my mind encouraged me to keep going as I struggled to drag my legs to Uhuru Peak. I’m shattered! I still can’t feel my toes which froze an hour into the summit attempt. My mind tells me keep going, you’ve done ten hours what’s another one. Come on Babs, you’ve got this! At this stage I am sick of talking to myself, I feel crazy, I have been talking to myself for the last ten hours. Oh here we go again, why did I do this again? I can’t feel my toes but oh there’s the top. Speed up oh no can’t speed up bad idea! Come on let’s go, one last push harder! You’re stronger than this, I can’t feel my legs as I come to a halt, tears streaming down my face but I don’t care, I am finally on the roof of Africa!
The first time I found out I had to travel to Kilimanjaro as my first overseas Earth’s Edge junket I had to contain my excitement. The little girl in me who had always wanted to conquer the highest free standing mountain in the world was doing cartwheels but the professional in me thanked my boss for the opportunity and then the little girl in me skipped all the way home.
We met in Dublin Airport and although most of us had met at the Earth’s Edge training weekend in Glendalough two months earlier I felt quite nervous but as I arrived I could sense the feeling was mutual. As we listened to our Irish guide Aodhnait giving a detailed brief about our travel arrangements, I looked at my duffel bag, my team, and I knew physically I had done everything I could have done. However, all of these questions swirled around my head, did I have enough gear with me, maybe I should have brought those extra socks, oh I feel a bit dizzy, has the altitude kicked in already, surely not, I’m still at sea level! So many thoughts ran through my head. I had been working with Earth’s Edge for over a year and I know Kilimanjaro inside out but I was still as excited as I was the day I was told I would be climbing Kilimanjaro, I couldn’t contain the excitement! Little did we know that by the time we would return to Dublin Airport we would be a family.
Travelling to Kilimanjaro was one of my favourite parts of the trip, anyone who knows me well knows I often feel guilty when I spend too much time watching TV but on the journey over I had no choice but to watch four movies back to back. We arrived in Kilimanjaro Airport 14 hours later at 1:40am. As we transferred to our hotel in Moshi, I wished I had my phone to send pictures back home to my family but I was on a digital detox so they would have to wait twelve days to hear all about my experience. The hotel in Moshi was lovely and the food was pretty amazing! The next day was spent resting by the pool and preparing for the climb ahead.
The next day we travelled by minibus to Machame Gate, the starting point for our climb. From a distance the mountain looked incredible in the sunshine. It looked far bigger than in photographs and stood out way above the clouds. As the days went by everybody in the group adopted a role and relationships were getting stronger each day. I enjoyed being woken up by the sounds of Cian and Colin singing yet another random song or theme tune, the loud muttering of Swahili that we had all learnt along the way, Neil and Bryan debating like brothers on the treks, Dr Dave weaving in and out of groups checking everyone was okay, and the copious amounts of selfies we all took! Life was simple!
The climb was seven days in total. Although not technical it is physically demanding and every step was fought for. When I reached camp every evening I looked around my surroundings and the company I had and felt content. As we trekked through the trail arriving to places like Lava Tower and scaling the Barranco wall I felt nothing but exhilaration!
The summit attempt was exciting and nerve-racking; I was excited by the success I knew would come with reaching the top. As we began our summit attempt I turned towards the sky, the stars felt closer. As I struggled through the darkness singing or talking to myself to block out the numbness of my toes, I thought of my friend Angela once telling me impossible is nothing and if it feels impossible stick on an African beat. As if on cue would you believe our local guides and porters started singing. I laughed to myself as I thought of the last time that I had seen my two friends Sara and Louise three weeks earlier and we had got a rickshaw from Stephens Green to Harcourt Street because it was too far and too cold but here I was with no feeling in my toes at – 20 degrees but more than happy to carry on. I thought about my family and the mental struggle I had gone through just to get myself to this very point.
As we approached Stella Point and the sun began to rise I had tears in my eyes as it was the most beautiful sunrise I had ever witnessed, I could see what was ahead of me now and the large wooden sign welcoming me to Stella Point was within reach. I don’t remember much between Stella Point and the top (Uhuru Peak) except Aodhnait asking if I was ok. I didn’t realise we had reached the top and tears were once again streaming down my face! I made it, I told myself over and over again. I was there. I looked out at the sun rising over the ocean of clouds below me, and in that moment there was nothing in all of Africa higher than the top of our heads.
The adrenaline running through my body when we reached the top was enough to make me feel invincible. I stared around me whilst standing on the roof of Africa. To the left of me I had the massive Rebmann Glacier and Mt Meru towering over the clouds. It was incredible to stand up there with my expedition team and I realised in that moment we were bonded forever by our experience. We trekked for 5 days to spend less than 20 minutes at the top, those 20 minutes gave me something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
My journey to Kilimanjaro taught me that even though I was navigating my way through complete darkness on the summit attempt as I have often felt in my everyday life, I kept moving forward because I knew the top was up there somewhere. I remind myself that even hours after I reached the top and my legs were giving out I still had to hike down. This always reminds me that even when I do start to figure things out, it might take time but I will get through it.
For anyone considering climbing Kilimanjaro I would say do it now because sometimes later becomes never, and believe me your future self will thank you for it.
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