Monday, 2 September 2013

Kilimanjaro Challenge Day 7 29th August 2013.

I made my way to the mess tent for a hot drink. The adrenaline was already starting to pump. Here we go, it's almost time to go achieve the dream, the goal that has been driving me all year really. I was feeling pumped up but at the same time a little scared.
After a snack we lined up outside. Head torches switched on, trying not to blind eachother. As it was so cold, we did not hang around long. Time to go.
We started in single file up a steep rocky path. I know I was behind Cora, and Andy was behind me at the start. I occasionally looked up to see a long line of torchlight way above me zig zagging in formation up the mountain. We were not the only group attacking the summit tonight. The trail was full of people attempting to make their dreams come true. My group all wore reflecting bands on their arms so we could see who was in our group. Our guides and some porters were with us to help. Now and again a member of crew would walk by me asking how I was.
After an hour we stopped for a quick snack break and water. We did not stop for long as it was so cold. I soon warmed up again walking. The climb got steeper and I could feel I was breathing hard. I knew I was in the best shape of my life so fitness was not the problem, it was the altitude. We would be gaining 1200 meters tonight. Hard work.
We were taking a rest stop every hour. Initially the time between breaks flew, but further into the night it seemed 60 minutes was an eternity. At around 4am on a break we were served tea. I enjoyed that and really needed it. I was beginning to feel a little nauseous from the altitude. It wasn't go to stop me though.
The line was pretty quiet when we were walking. Everyone I'm sure concentrating, doing what they needed to do to get through this. I can remember before we set off that Dean said, if any of us appeared drunk we'd be pulled from the line and turned around. By drunk he meant the altitude was having a bad affect and making you feel drunk and a loss of coordination. I went through my alphabet in my head from time to time to just make sure that I was still on the ball and functioning properly.
By around 5am I went through what I think a marathon runner would call the wall. I had to really slow down my pace. I was suffering physically with the effort I was putting in. I was very troubled mentally aswell. I felt so rotten inside. I felt like I was right on the verge of giving up. Every step hurt. What had I been thinking? This was far too hard. Give up, go back to camp have a nice sleep. 'NO!!! If you turn back now you'll never forgive yourself. All the people back home, friends, family everyone who supported me, what would they think of me. 'It got hard, I gave up'. What about all the dogs that have a tough life? Can they give up? Course they can't. It took some time but I finally pulled my socks up and got back to business. One foot in front of the other. I'd weathered the storm.  I'd seen off the negative thoughts for now, and I'd do it again several more times over the next few hours.
The sun began to breach the horizon around 6.30 am. What a beautiful sight. I regret not taking a photo, but I was deep into my walking and concentrating hard by then. The sunlight lifted my spirits and I could turn my head torch off.
The rocky scree path continued upwards, and I kept going. Our group had got quite split up now. I could make out some of the group ahead, and behind me. I had to zig zag up a sheer mountain of scree. It was really hard work. Every step you took, your foot would slide back a little. Around 8am I was moving slowly but surely. I stopped to catch my breath. A porter who had been near me stopped. He said 'You're a really strong man, but I want to help you' He introduced himself as Adams and took my rucksack from me, leaving me free of the weight on my back and just me and my walking poles to finish the job off. Soon, my heart lifted. I saw something a little above me on a diagonal to my left. Something green. I knew straight away what that was! I'd seen it on the internet. It was the sign marking Stella Point. I nearly screamed at Adams 'Stella Point?' 'Yes' Adams smiled. Inside it was like fireworks going off. I was almost exhausted  but I was going to do this. Soon we got off the scree to level ground. I looked at the sign ahead of me. Guides came up to me shaking my hand. Godfrey was there and smiled 'No surrender Gareth, well done, I'm proud' Stella Point is a milestone. It is at the crater rim. I could remember a few days prior,Amanda saying if you make it to Stella Point and feel ok you will make it to the summit. I was feeling ok, tired, but ok. Was I about to pull this off? I had my photo taken by the Stella Point sign and then Adams and I took off for Uhuru peak. We left our bags at Stella Point, I just had my poles and camera. Slowly but surely we got closer and closer. Adams pointed out things I should photograph. The incredible glacier to our left, the volcano rim to my right. We stopped for a short rest, we then went again.
The path curved right then left and up a slope. As I approached the top of a slope, a man walking towards me smiled, pointed at my hat and said 'Always room for another West Ham fan at the top, almost there mate, go get it!' That made me smile, I wasn't the first Hammer at the top then, but that didn't bother me in the slightest.
Finally I could see the green sign ahead indicating Uhuru Peak. Coming towards me were many of my group who had been ahead of me. They were making their way back to Stella Point and their descent. It was very emotional. I was congratulating them on their success and they were congratulating me, and urging me on to walk the final few yards.
At around 0930 all my dreams came true. I stood proudly at the sign of Uhuru Peak 5896 meters or 19340 feet above sea level.I'd made it. After having my photo taken I remember dropping to my knees and just trying to soak in what was going on. What on earth had I just done? Was this really happening? It was hard to digest. I also had a photo taken with Jen at the top. We were both amazed earlier in the week to find out we were actually work colleagues. We must have passed eachother countless times without knowing at work. We kept giving each other a railway high five on the mountain, it was only right we should celebrate together at the summit.
Eventually Adams and I retraced our route to Stella Point, passing and congratulating other members of the group who were on their way to the summit. After a short break we descended. This was tough,I had used everything I had to get to the top, I was spent. The loose scree allowed gravity to take us down, running downhill part of the way, even that was too much. I needed to stop for several rests, eventually, wearily I made it to camp. So shattered was I, I couldn't eat anything. I slept a while.Once all of our group were back we made a slow walk to our final camp site. Millenium camp site. It was a 2 hour downhill walk. Everyone was tired but proud of our achievement. The last night was an early night, we'd earned it!

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