Kilimanjaro challenge raises awareness of mental health issues
A group of young people climbed Kilimanjaro last month to fundraise for GibSams and spread awareness of mental health.
Known as Kilicrew, the team of six raised approximately £18,000.
Back on the Rock Tarah Wood and Samai Hurtado told the Chronicle about their expedition, its highs and its lows.
Kilamanjaro is a dormant volcano in Tanzania that is about 4,900 metres high, making it the highest mountain in Africa.
During the challenge the group was hit by tiredness, nose bleeds, loss of appetite and altitude sickness, but despite this they were all still determined to reach Uhuru peak, the summit of the mountain.
The temperature dropped to as low as minus 15 degrees Celsius, it rained, it was humid and sometimes they woke up with ice on the tent.
They commenced their hike on October 5, reaching the summit on the 11th following a gruelling 11 hour hike.
Setting off at midnight on summit day, the group reached Uhuru peak at 11am but could only spend 15 minutes there because oxygen levels were dangerously low.
It took the crew eight hours to descend and reach their camp, full of emotions and weak yet elated about what they had achieved.
Ms Wood recalled that her best moments were in the first few days of the climb.
“Compared to the difficulties you experienced for the remainder of the trip it was a lot more fun and adventurous, it was like a river and walk type of scene,” she said.
“Everyone was in good spirits because they weren’t feeling ill and we starting both with our group and our extended group, as we got to know some of the people who were joining us for the trip.”
Reaching the summit “will always and forever be my favourite bit”, said Ms Hurtado.
“Nothing will ever top summiting that mountain.”
“That feeling was basically an accumulation of the whole year and so much work that we put into fundraising.”
“Not just events that we held in the community but trying to raise awareness and remove the stigma as well as support people we personally know have suffered.”
“Also, it was a personal triumph, it was hard work and it was something I didn’t think I could do, so it was a great achievement for me personally.”
“The moment I summited that mountain and saw that sign I just broke down. It was very emotional.”
For Ms Wood the hours leading up to the summit were the hardest as altitude sickness took a toll on her body.
“I was really ill, vomiting and migraines, and for seven to eight hours during the trip I actually had to hold onto the rucksack that my porter was carrying just to lift myself up.”
“Those moments were by far the worst, every five paces felt like 50 and everything was such a strenuous effort.”
“I needed help taking off my jacket to put on more layers, there was so many little things I couldn’t do for myself because I was so ill,” she added.
Given how her body was coping with the altitude there would have been no stigma attached to Ms Wood abandoning the rest of the hike to the summit. However, she did not quit.
“We had already gone through five days of the event, we had been fundraising for a year, we each had our own personal reasons for wanting to summit this mountain,” she said.
“Mental illness is transcendent and it affects so many people and we all have close family ties to people who suffer and I just spent the entire time thinking ‘you know what, I am going through a really bad time but this is momentary’.”
“Some people experience these feelings like anxiety, depression and feelings of a low mood all the time, but this was temporary,” she added.
It took Ms Wood a day or so to recover from the altitude sickness. However, it took a week before she actually felt that she regained her strength again.
Ms Hurtado experienced things such as nose bleeds on the ascent and other team members also felt the effects of altitude sickness. However, none needed to be helicoptered down off the mountain. They did notice that approximately every 10 minutes another helicopter would go up to assist someone.
The descent from the summit, which took eight hours back to camp, was the worst part of the experience for Ms Hurtado.
“You’re so motivated and focused to get to the top that I forgot about the descent,” she said.
“After 15 minutes of euphoria at the summit you realise I have to go down now and going down is equally as long.”
“When I went down I felt really weak because I had lost my appetite and I felt like my body was going to give in.”
“At one point down the mountain they had to give me nuts. Some of our porters were assisting other people who needed to be taken quickly off the mountain, so I didn’t have a porter and was left without water.”
“I was really dehydrated, but obviously because you have people around you they will give you water,” she added.
On their descent they passed a base camp before they reached theirs. They all made the mistake of thinking it was their camp and it hit them emotionally when they were told they still had another three hours to go.
It took a further six hours the next day before they reached the bottom.
That evening in Moshi they all had a shower and spent the night in the same lodge before some of them made their way back to the Rock while others continued on their African adventure.
When they reached the bottom they gave all the clothes and equipment they no longer wanted or required to the porters, who were delighted at the kind gesture.
The team give a lot of credit to the porters.
“We could not have done this without them, they do not get paid much and they have a very hard job. They work hard for nothing [money].”
The donation page to the Kilicrew is now closed but people can still contribute via GibSams, mentioning it is in respect of the Kilicrew or if contacted directly they will provide bank account details.
Finally, they add that awareness is also important and that people should remember the GibSams number of 116123 is there to be used.