I hope you are all managing to get organised for Christmas, and not succumbing to too much stress. I've taken a few of days off work recently to give myself shorter weeks, and have so far managed to avoid what seems to be an annual chest infection, which is usually complicated by my having asthma.
Not waking to an alarm in the darkness quite so often has been a pleasure! And it's given me a chance to think a little about Christmas.
I'm cooking for 14 on the day, so need to write a few lists to make sure I don't forget anything. And although my children are not really children any more, I still want to spoil them as far as I can afford to. But gone are the days when I could buy silly stocking filler that would raise a laugh on the day but would then be forgotten. This year, every penny must be carefully and meaningfully spent.
For most of us, family is what Christmas is all about. But actually, I think that's what life is about, really. At any time of year. So I hope you'll forgive me for boasting about my daughter Bex, and the adventure she had in the summer. Several of you have asked me to tell you more about her Mount Kilimanjaro climb – you may have heard me mention on air that she had reached the summit, and how proud I was of her. Rather than tell you myself, I thought you'd like to hear it in her own words.
This is what she wrote to all her friends and family who had kindly sponsored her to attempt the climb, to help children in developing countries through the charity Childreach. I've also included a few photos.
While Bex was out in Tanzania, Ali K and I decided we'd like to attempt the same challenge, to raise money for Breast Cancer. After listening to Bex's account of the climb when she returned home , we decided to set our sights significantly lower. You'll understand why, I think, when you read this!!
So, all of our group are back home now and I am so proud to say that we all reached the top!! Climbing Kilimanjaro is easily the hardest thing I have ever done, and I'm sure that all of the group will agree when I say that it took a lot of perseverance to reach the summit.
The first three days were tiring but fun, ranging from 6 hours to 8 hours walking, with lots of talking and getting to know the University of East Anglia members of the group whom we had not met before the flight over. We took the Machame trail, which our guide Nelson said is the best trail to take as it acclimatises you better than any other route, reducing the risk of altitude sickness.
On the fourth day, we woke up early to start a climb up the almost sheer Baranco wall, and climb up to the final camp at 4600m above sea level. At 6pm, we went to bed, and at 11pm we woke up ready for the final push to the summit. In order to reach the Uhuru peak, which is the highest peak on Kilimanjaro, you need to go up while the gravel-like slopes are frozen, before sunrise. This also means that people tend to reach the summit for sunrise, which makes for some spectacular pictures!
For the first few hours of the summit walk, spirits were high and we were all singing hymns in excitement. However we soon reached a point where the -15 degrees C temperature and lack of oxygen meant it was difficult to talk, let alone sing! It was a very long night, and many of the group showed signs of the altitude – headaches, vomiting and hallucinations.
I kept on thinking that mice were running over my feet! We were very lucky to have a team of porters come up to the summit with us, who were absolutely brilliant and I am sure that I wouldn’t have made it up to the top without Steve, who went all the way up without even a pair of gloves. Steve and I had sat down for a breather and were just about to get up when we spotted a slither of light on the horizon. The sun, rising, meaning warmth was on its way! This gave us a sudden rush of strength, and pushed all of us on to Stellar point at 5685m, just an hour’s walk from Uhuru at 5895m.
The view as we walked around the edge of the crater was breathtaking (no pun intended), there were huge glaciers on our left, as if we were at the north pole. But miles below us were plains and plains of corn plants and red sand, which seemed to go on forever beneath the hazy clouds. We caught sight of the wooden planks marking the highest point in Africa, and were suddenly there.
It was hard to know what to do – dance? Sing? Some of the boys cracked open their pints of the local Kilimanjaro beer! A photo sufficed as it was high on my list of priorities to get back down to some air as soon as possible. I think the over-riding feeling was of each side of my lungs sticking together, unable to draw in enough oxygen. It was whilst walking back down to Stellar point that reality struck – I had reached the highest point in Africa, and lived, and raised over £2500 for Childreach!
So, I would like to say one last huge thank you for your support. The school that we visited the day before starting the climb was a government school that Childreach has built. Some of the buildings are still to be renovated, but the classrooms have been finished and are full of books, colours and very enthusiastic children. The happiness of the children is evident, they were able to play ‘duck, duck, goose’ for an hour and a half straight! Seeing what a difference Childreach has made to their education and therefore their lives was something that really helped me put one foot in front of the other on the summit night.
So, again, thank you so much for your donations.