When Karen Molloy, from Thorpe Molloy Recruitment, approached cancer charity, Maggie’s, with her plan for a group of Aberdeen business people to climb Mount Kilimanjaro she had no idea what she was getting into. She shares the experience here…
AS our bus draws into the side of the road, we catch our first glimpse of Africa’s highest mountain. At first, we don’t see it because we weren’t looking up high enough! As we crane our necks higher, the snow-capped, incredibly high peaks of Kilimanjaro come into view. Our first sighting of the famous mountain is a shock. The reality of our challenge is sinking in.
Our group of 28 from Aberdeen’s business community are here to conquer a mountain which stands at 19,340ft, that’s thousands of feet higher than Everest base camp. We are raising money for the first Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre to open in Aberdeen.
Of the 20,000 or so who attempt the summit each year, a third don’t make – as super fit tennis star Martina Navratilova found out.
Altitude or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is usually to blame. It strikes randomly. Youth, fitness and previous experience are no safeguard.
We are following the isolated Rongai Route from its dusty paths through pine trees, past the funny Colobus monkeys, upwards to scraggy moorland and rocky slopes and then through the lunar landscape towards Kibo base camp.
Our mantra is slowly, slowly. We drink litres and litres of water to reduce the risk of AMS – toilet stops behind bushes are very, very frequent!
Sleep attire consists of various layers of thermals, a fleece top, two pairs of socks, a hat and it’s still freezing. The higher we go, the colder it gets. Every morning we are woken by our wonderful team of porters and ‘washy, washy’ in bowls of hot water are delivered to our tent.
As the days go on, more and more of us are getting nagging headaches, increasing nausea, dizziness and as the pace slows, we start to wheeze in the thinner air. Our trip doctor, Claire, is getting busier coping with the causalities!
We are pushing our boundaries to the limit but there is fantastic camaraderie in our group. Everyone is sharing equipment, sweets and helping each other out. It’s a challenge which is bringing out the best in each and every one of us.
Base camp is 15,420ft and we are all subdued. We are too nervous to rest and worried about our layers. At 11pm, we are woken by guides. This is it. Some of us are wearing three merino wool tops, borrowed down jackets, wool leggings, ski trousers, waterproofs and two pairs of socks. We are not at our most glamorous!
It’s a clear night. For hours and hours, we follow the zig-zagging, slippery shale slope. It feels like we are walking through the stars. Mars seems very close.
Our heads are down and the focus is on the feet of the person in front. Head torches are strung along the trail like fairy lights, bobbing in the breeze. Higher and steeper we trudge on. As dawn breaks, the first summit, Gilman’s Point, is visible. Do we have the energy and nerve to carry on?
We plough on. The headaches are getting worse, some have been hallucinating others are vomiting. There’s no talking now. Then we see it, the wooden board flagging Africa’s highest point at Uhuru Peak. Tears of joy. Hugs and celebration.
It’s been one of the most physically demanding challenges of our lives. Our collaborative efforts have raised over £130,000 for Maggie’s new Cancer Centre in Aberdeen, thanks to the amazing support of the local community. The money is still coming in.
We all have special memories from a wonderful journey to last a life time.
Notes to editor
Thorpe Molloy Recruitment is a specialist recruitment consultancy. A PSYBT business, established in Aberdeen since 1997, the company was awarded finalist status in Scotland’s Best Workplaces Awards 2013 for the third consecutive year.
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Contact: Anne Smith