A big part of the inspiration behind all of this – my friend Margaret at the top of the Mount Soufriere, St Vincent.
A big part of the inspiration behind all of this – my friend Margaret at the top of the Mount Soufriere, St Vincent.

Now, part of the drive to do this – when I was working in the Caribbean and my friend Margaret had finished her chemo and radiation, she came to visit.  On a neighbouring island there was a volcano, with weed growing farmers all the way up.  She had heard me talk about this volcano and how I wanted to climb it.  When she came to visit, she said, she wanted to go up too.  My first thought was ya, right, No.  Yes, that is what she wanted to do…

A local friend said, if she wanted to get up there, we were all going, and she would summit – she needed to test her body, explore that it still worked, find a challenge and get it done.  We would go slowly, and would help, but if that is what she needed to do, it would happen.  Against my better judgment, we set off with our weed smoking guide billowing sickly sweet smoke behind him, and we all got to the top.  And, (luckily) down again.  Margaret was exhausted and had her own personal elephant to push up that hill, but with incredible stamina and stubbornness, she got there.  Afterwards, she said that she thinks that second hand smoke floated her up a lot of the way.

If she could climb 1,234m after all of that, I could pop up little Kili.  The other thing that suddenly pops to mind, is that we would often discuss a mutual acquaintance who always had incense burning, and many a late-night WhatsApp conversation began with – I can smell incense.  So, fast forward back to Kili…

Plodding up that hill, in the dark, strings of people in front and behind, look at the person in front moving their feet – right, left, right, left, get into an almost meditational type – aware but asleep, move your feet, plod, plod.  At one point, I stopped, just thought bugger it – no.  Got a waft of weed smoke billowing over.  My brain vaguely comprehended the smell, the recognition, and I remember thinking – odd, who has weed on the hill?  Almost instantly, it switched to incense, and I thought ah ok Margaret, I can’t give up.  If I had got sick and had been sent down the hill, that would have been one thing, but if I had given up, I would never have forgiven myself.  Now, call it thought, call it altitude sickness, call it sleep walking or call it real, but I firmly believe that that smell was more than a little help from a friend – and a kick up the backside.

Plod, plod….  At some point, someone said it was about 4am.  We knew it would take 6 hours ish.  Someone else replied great, we were three quarters of the way there.  I know I spent seconds, minutes, hours, days or weeks of that plod trying to work out how it wasn’t ¾, but, I thought 2/3 but maybe it was ¾ or else it was 2/3 but I couldn’t really work out how to work it out, or how I knew.  Plod, plod, plod, weed smoke and incense, Yes, Alright, I Know, plod, plod, elephant up the hill, plod, plod, ¾ or 2/3?  Plod.  At another point, Rama said it was about an hour and a half to summit.  Ben then came along, saying All OK?  Yes, plod.  He said come on folks, less than an hour to go….  Spent a lot more time trying to decide if Rama was making it seem longer to keep us going, or Ben was saying it was shorter to give us hope.  (I highly suspect the latter, Ben was getting a great rep for his African rubber time…)  It took too much brain power to decide, so I gave up thinking…  Plod, plod, plod, give up?  Smoke, yes OK Margaret, I got the elephant…  Or do you have the elephant?

At one point, I gave up.  Sat down on a rock, and said, I just need a little rest….  Rama came along, gave me a big hug, said don’t worry, it’ll be ok.  Checked my gloves, pulled up my jacket hood, unclipped my back pack and threw it over his shoulder….  No, you can’t carry my pack – just a little while he said, we go together….  And led me up the hill.  Someone had said to me – climbing a mountain is just a case of talking nicely to your 6 year old self – when your 6 year old self gives up, sits down and says I’m not playing anymore, bribe your 6 year old self with a Mars bar, and talk nicely to yourself, don’t fight, just give encouragement.  At that point, my 6 year old self threw in the towel, my neck and shoulders refused to carry the pack, and Rama took my 6 year old self by the arm and led her up the hill, all together.

Dawn lights.
Dawn lights.

At some point he must have let go.  Don’t know how or when?  As we approached summit, the porters were yelling (even more), their favourite chant – they yell MAXIMUM, all the hikers (6-year-old plodders) yell back RESPECT….  Now, just below summit –  Maximum…..  Come on guys….  MAXIMUM….  respect (whispered)?  Then a fair few of them starting howling, like wolves at the full moon.  People at the front start to summit, the sun starts to peep over the horizon, the sky starts to turn red, energy picks up….  And suddenly another awesome human being (another of our amazing guides) says welcome to Stella Point and pushes a mug of steaming tea into your frozen fingers.  As you breathe on it, the steam hits your face and wakes you up, and as you swallow it, you start to come back to life…  (On a side note – a lot of teams summited that morning, and who got tea?  Only our group…  How awesome were our porters?  To climb up there with us whinging, whining lot who needed our zips zipped, AND to carry us flasks of hot tea?)

Just too stunning
Just too stunning

Hugs all round, many tears, Ben tootles past saying right folks, a little walk on to Uhuru, around the volcanic crater, the actual summit with the famous sign.  *sigh* Forget the hot tea, start to plod.  At one point I stopped and thought bugger this – no further.  A different porter from another company was passing, with his one solo climber, and said come on, keep going, grabbed my arm and kept me moving – again, some random dude up a hill, but that little nudge and helping hand, get the feet plodding, OK, we got this…

Roof of Africa....
Roof of Africa….
Back towards Stella Point.
Back towards Stella Point.

I won’t say much about the top.  Stunning just doesn’t cut it.  The glaciers, the dawn, the light, the view, being above the clouds.  All just doesn’t describe it.  Magical time, wished I had my proper camera and not just a phone, but really, what can you say?  It was -15, and the instruction of keep your face covered as protection against the dry air floated away with the clouds, but what an epic time.

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