Aberystwyth students climb Kilimanjaro for charity

THIS summer, a group of fifteen students from Aberystwyth participated in a challenge event for a charity called Childreach International. This challenge required each student to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in an attempt to raise £2,450. By the end of the academic year the team had raised over £36,000 before even embarking on the climb.

This is Holly’s account of their amazing achievement: 

“As it was the first time I had ever been a team leader, I was incredibly proud of how much my team had achieved. However I was also quite nervous; we had yet to embark on the actual challenge, to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had never been to a developing country such as Africa before and I was apprehensive at the thought of things such as yellow fever, malaria, mosquitos, big insects and lions roaming around. All  naïve thoughts that  belonged to someone who had clearly never experienced Africa before, and looking back I can see how silly I was. 

“I decided to take on the climb due to the fact I had finished my Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award before attending university, and I was on the search for the next big challenge . As soon as I heard about the project I jumped at the chance to go and the fact it was for such a great charity made it all the more worthwhile. However, once we finally flew in to Tanzania, it suddenly dawned on me how big Mt. Kilimanjaro actually was – we could see the snowy-covered peak from above the highest clouds! That was when we realised the extent of the challenge we had taken on and for a moment I wondered if my crazy idea to sign-up had been worth it.

I can now safely say it was the best decision of my life. Being a passionate hiker, this expedition was unlike anything else I have ever experienced. Mt. Kilimanjaro consists of several climate zones, and the diversity of each zone was absolutely stunning. We commenced our trek in African rainforest. As we gained altitude this gradually faded away to moorland and heath, until we had climbed so high, we were above the clouds and the landscape transformed into alpine desert terrain.

“At this point we were in altitude sickness territory, but luckily aside from a few headaches, my body seemed to cope quite well. Others were not so lucky, experiencing altitude sickness symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and dizziness. In the final zone we were confronted with arctic conditions; snow, ice and extremely low temperatures. The summit stands at 5,895m above sea level and there was 50% less oxygen than at sea level. It was unnerving seeing other hikers looking exhausted after their decent from the summit.

“We commenced our summit attempt at midnight. All you could see was the snow lit up by the moonlight and the head torches of the rest of the team; everything else was in darkness. We wore as many as ten varying layers of clothes, hiking at the speed of a death march -the fastest pace we could physically go at such high altitude. Breaks were minimal, as sitting still for five minutes would leave you shivering. We trekked on like this for seven hours up the scree. It was grueling and I had never been so desperate to see the sun rise more in my life. But when it finally rose, as cliche as it sounds, it was an incredibly magical moment. It reminded me of the start of The Lion King, when the golden-orange hues spread out over the Savannah but this was over a horizon made up of clouds and every hiker on the trail stopped in awe at the view.

“We’d made it through the seven torturous hours of trekking in the darkness. That sun-rise gave us the boost of encouragement we needed to complete the last stretch.

“When we finally touched the “Uhuru Peak” sign at the summit, I was so relieved to know that I hadn’t let down the many people who had sponsored and donated to my challenge over the year and the people back home who had helped me get to that point, and who were awaiting the news of whether I’d made it. I suddenly felt the pressure lifting of my shoulders. I had succeeded; I was looking over Kilimanjaro’s beautiful glaciers, on top of the roof of Africa and at that moment, despite exhaustion, it genuinely felt like I was on top of the world.”