The Sisterhood

Charity and sisterhood

Everest and Kilimanjaro 2011

SA Sister Lucia Brain summits Kilimanjaro

Here is Lucia’s report of her adventure… I love the fact that this beauty fails to mention her luggage was lost on the way there and she did this challenge wearing random borrowed clothes and old trainers… not even a mention!  A true Sister with spirit!

When I signed up to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with my older brother about 8 months ago, I had no idea what I was in for. We left Cape Town on 5thof September and joined up with friends a few days later for what was to be one of the toughest and most satisfying adventures that I had embarked on. Now I’m not pretending that this climb has a patch on a mountain like Everest, but it was the first time that I experienced what it is like to really push your body.

We chose to summit Kili on the route named Machame which took 6 days – 4 days of uphill into the higher reaches of the mountain, 1 night for the summit to the top of Africa, and 2 days of descent back down into much-needed oxygen-rich air. Our group of 16 were accompanied by about 60-odd porters carrying everything from our bags, tents, food, cooking utensils, table and chairs and toilets! These guys are amazing, and without them a summit would be near-impossible for a humble city-dweller like me.

Our first day was fairly breezy, through lush rainforest and warm vapour-rich air. From the green of the forest we emerged on Day 2 into the drier brush landscape that is found above the cloud line, and it was on this day that I suddenly realized that I was not super-human after all. At 3500 metres above sea-level, my body started to rebel, I felt intense nausea and disorientation with a constant dull headache to boot. Other team members came down with migraines, diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy and a lack of appetite. If you are unlucky enough to be affected by altitude sickness (most people feel it in some way or another), it makes the challenge of hiking 6 – 7 hours uphill per day through the cold dry terrain of Kili that much harder.

But after a stern talking to by our guide (“no talking, rhythmic steps, heavy breathing, expand your lungs!”) we began to control the symptoms, and push on forward.  By Day 3 we were into the dry and cold upper reaches of the mountain, the lunar landscape made for a very surreal scene as we trudged up the mountainside and over steep rock faces. That night we went to sleep below the infamous Barranco Wall which we were to summit the following day, and behind it the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro washed in moonlight with the comforting hum of the campsite around us. We knew that with the summit planned for the next day, this was the last opportunity to sleep and eat properly so to be we headed!

And then our 36 hour ordeal began – we woke early the following morning and began the slow ascent up Barranco Wall, taking 7 hours to make it to base camp at 4550m. At base camp we rested for a few hours (it is very difficult to sleep and eat at this altitude) and at 11pm that evening, began our ascent to the summit. We had planned for summit night to fall on full moon, affording us the ability to hike without head torches and a beautiful view of the moon-washed mountains and sea of clouds below us. The hike was grueling – from base camp we took 8 hours to ascend 1345 vertical meters. For those who live in Cape Town that equates to 8 hours to reach just a little higher than Table Mountain! Our pace was slow and deliberate, but it had to be, any faster than that and we would not have made it to the top, or worse. After about 6 hours, the moon had set and the sun had begun to rise, casting light across the lower summit of Stella Point just a few hundred meters above us. At this stage of the hike I had to dig deep to find the strength to keep my feet stepping one in front of the other, and to focus on expanding my lungs in order to take in as much oxygen as possible. My body felt incredibly heavy, and the cold and lack of oxygen were beginning to wear me down. When we finally reached Stella Point we were washed in bright sunlight and overcome with emotion – we had broken the back of the ascent! From then on it was a slow 150 vertical metres to the peak, but a long walk that took us about 1 hour to complete.

The feeling at the summit of Kilimanjaro at 5985 metres above sea-level, the roof of Africa, was more overwhelming than I could have imagined. I felt alive, and so proud to have completed the climb with my older brother, Marcus. After a quick photo at the summit sign (essential!) we started our descent to a much lower camp at 3100m, another 8 hour climb to an altitude where we could breath easily once again. The next day was a short hike off the mountain and directly to a very long shower and very cold beer, in that order!

For the adventurous souls out there, I recommend this as one of the most special missions that you could hope for. Bucket list – tick!