SUMMIT DAY

The day we have all been building up to has finally arrived and we were packed into our tents at 6pm to get the vital rest needed for going to the summit that was scheduled to start around midnight. All the teams have their own individual starting times to try and co-ordinate us all arriving at the summit at the same time. The team Kilimanjaro guides have been studying the groups over the last few days with this in mind.

Whilst we all tried to sleep a mixture of nervousness and excitement meant that most people only grabbed a couple of hours if they were lucky. Summit night is everything and all the previous work has been done to give us the best chance of summiting. We all knew we were in for a long day as we ascended from 4717m to 5895m to then descend to the last camp site at 3800m whilst covering a distance of 22kms.Unfortunately one of the group was taken ill coming into the last camp and was taken off the mountain. Whilst the scene was very distressing for the group we were safe in the knowledge that they were in expert hands and that the easiest way to alleviate altitude sickness is to descend to a lower height. The Team Kilimanjaro guides are extremely experienced in spotting and dealing with any illness and we know that the climber received the best possible care.Midnight came and we all set off in nearly every piece of clothing that we had brought with us as the temperature was a cold -15 as we walked through the night. Soon after leaving camp you could see the procession of head torches heading up the mountain.As we headed out of camp we almost instantly came across scree that was to be the theme of the night. The steepness of the slope meant that we progressed a series of zig zags across the scree whilst fighting for breath as the air became thinner at the higher altitude. We all knew we were looking at between 6-8 hours of climbing through the night, only able to see the feet in front of you that were illuminated by your head torch. All groups dealt with it in different ways but for ours the soldiers had us organised by each person counting 100 steps then passing on to the next person. This therefore gave us smaller goals to reach, next 1000 or 500 steps before we stopped. This allowed the trek to be manageable and you actually wanted your counting turn to come round so you could focus your mind.Most of the groups hit Gillmans point on the crater rim at around 6am as the sun was rising. From there it was a 1 1/2 trek to Uhuru point, the highest point on the mountain. The timing of the groups worked and most of the AWC were on the top at the same time. Due to the height and the effects on the body many of the group had to get their photo and descend immediately whilst others could stay a while longer. It was an extremely emotional time on that summit as the relief of making it to the top came out. A few tears were shed and it showed how close the AWC have become. The previous 6 days of rotating the groups had meant that everyone had a bond with every other party member. It was these bonds that had pulled people through the night.

I think the guides had been suitably disgusted by our signing over the previous days so before we had a chance to sing they entertained us with Swahili songs most of the way up to keep us entertained. Whenever they felt the group was in a low patch the signing and even dancing would start.

We learnt that only 3 climbers were not well enough to make the summit which meant that 38 of the 41 members of the AWC had made it. Whilst each individual has to be praised for their determination and spirit the guides and organisers of team Kilimanjaro deserve a lot of credit.

Whilst everyone put in an amazing effort to walk through the night at high altitude there are a couple who deserve special mention.

Andy Blyth not only climbed to the top, for the majority of the time he set our groups pace. He took a few falls as his legs buckled on the steep ground but he just carried on. On the approach to the summit he still had enough in him to power to the front of the group. Not one person in the AWC has not been in awe of Andy and what he has achieved. It is a true inspiration to all of us but Andy, being Andy wants no fuss and has actually been praising other members of the team.

There is also a lady in the group who has unfortunately suffered with altitude sickness from the second day. Every day we have expected her to leave the AWC. She was vomiting and not eating most days, however she amazed us every day by appearing in the camp.

At 12:15am she felt that she had nothing left and returned to camp unable to climb the mountain. At 1:15 she called out in the night and persuaded her guide that she had to give it another go. Setting off on her own with her guide she climbed through the night and appeared at the crater rim as we were coming down. She literally crawled over the top then insisting she walked the last few kilometres to the top. She made it all the way. The mental toughness that was required to achieve such a feat is unbelievable.

After summitting there was a long walk down. Many people had focused so much on making the top that the trek down was long and hard. The day started at midnight but it was not till 5-6pm that the final members arrived in the low camp. There are some absolutely exhausted members of AWC here but hopefully we have a good night’s sleep at the relatively low altitude of 3800m then back to the hotel for the first wash in 7 days.
It’s fair to say we definitely do stink.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the Axa Wealth Climb and its three associated charities: The RPA Benevolent Fund, Help for Heroes and the RFU Injured Players’ Foundation.

10 June 2011, 10:25 am
By Melissa Platt