I’m sitting on the plane from Mount Kilimanjaro to Uganda trying to put together my thoughts with tears streaming down my face... It’s a mixed feeling of elation, exhaustion, relief, sadness to leave and heartfelt contentment. It’s hard to put into words the experience we’ve just had… The true grit, determination, but above all comradery and kindness I saw this week was unforgettable. I have never seen such deep human connection, such an even playing field between people of different ages and backgrounds, and such incredible kindness from our Tanzanian friends who laid everything on the line to get us up the mountain.
Half of us got off to a bumpy start with missed connections from Abu Dhabi to Kilimanjaro pushing the start day one later than we had originally planned. I was concerned about the group not having time to acclimatize and the need to hit the ground running. I was determined to ensure that morale stayed high. Though, from the moment I met the group of 16, I knew we had a competent, strong and mentally fit team. We were going to do just fine.
We met our Tanzanian Head Guide Genes (affectionately renamed ‘Big G’) and his team of Assistant Guides, had a quick briefing, dinner and an early night, preparing ourselves for game time. I could feel the nerves and anticipation around the table.
We kicked off on Tuesday morning with a 2-hour bus drive to the gate, lunch and a short hike to the first camp. The team were surprised to learn that we would have 60 Tanzanian guides, porters, cooks, a doctor, camp masters and ‘toilet carriers’ (yes we had toilet tents!) to ensure we were safe and supported during the week. Spirits were high, there was loads of laughter and we gelled immediately.
We woke early each morning and watched the sunrise, a perfect start to the day and it felt really good to be completely disconnected from technology and to have real and honest conversations with so many people from different backgrounds, and to hear what this trip meant to them. Some people were there to have a bonding father/son experience, others to challenge themselves and get outside their comfort zones, but underneath everyone shared a united commitment to School for Life. I was inspired by everyone’s stories and their genuine interest in one another and our work in Uganda.
Wednesday through to Friday were big trekking days with beautiful changing landscapes and scenery. We stayed at different campsites each evening, slowly getting higher and acclimatising to the altitude. As we trekked we got to know the amazing Tanzanian team who were leading us. Each of the guides had their own stories of overcoming obstacles and challenges and the passion they have for their jobs, their livelihoods, is overwhelming. It was breathtaking at some campsites when the team would come together to sing and dance for us, despite having just carried over 20kgs of gear on their heads for more than 15km in altitude. Their rhythm was awesome and their energy infectious, pulling us all in to dance and putting us to shame with their natural talent.
On Friday we crossed the saddle, an exposed barren expanse of landscape and headed directly to the base camp of Kili. It started getting colder and windier and we were all getting a bit more nervous about taking on the summit as the giant mountain lay directly in front of us. We reached base camp, had dinner and an early night. I don’t think many of us got a full night’s sleep!
On Saturday morning we got up at 2:45am. It was absolutely freezing, our heads were throbbing but we were ready to take on the summit. The first couple of hours were dark and we trekked slowly and surely with our head torches on until the sun rose, around 6am. It was a spectacular sight, being above the clouds and on top of the world.
After a gruelling 8 hours of trekking, seemingly never-ending zig zags up the slope, we made it to Gilman’s Point at 5685m - the top of the mountain. Everyone was ecstatic to have made it there. We knew that we had a further 2 hours to get to the summit (and 200 m incline) but after a short rest we were ready to power on.
After trekking it last year, I saw a massive difference up there – a fresh dump of snow made for a completely different experience. The glaciers were spectacular. It truly felt like we were on top of the world.
We made it to summit at 2:25pm on Saturday, having walked for 11 hours. It was exhilarating and emotional, with everyone hugging and full of pride and relief.
Thank you to all those who donated towards this extraordinary endeavour. I can promise you that every member of our team did you proud and pushed through mental and physical limits, beyond what they ever knew they were capable of. Together, the team fundraised over $116,000 for School for Life. We could not be more grateful for such incredible commitment to the work School for Life is doing in Uganda.
To Team Kili, thanks for the memories, the laughter, the strength, courage and resilience, and for believing in one another and yourselves to make this one of the most special trips of my lifetime.