By Ian Stafford
At precisely 7.08am on Thursday, October 9, I took the last few, drunken steps towards the wooden signpost that tells you that, at 19,341 feet, you have just reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Iâ€™d like to say it was a euphoric moment as I stood on Africaâ€™s highest point, with the plains of Tanzania and Kenya below, and the fast diminishing glaciers glistening nearby. But the truth is, my state of exhaustion meant I felt nothing at all.
It had been a nervous night that had begun at midnight from the final camp at a height greater than Europeâ€™s Mont Blanc. Already three of our 28-strong group had given up, two from serious altitude sickness and the other through sheer exhaustion, and as the night went on, a further 11 would follow suit, vomiting, suffering from migraines, or just running out of gas.
In the pitch black, with just a head torch and guides to lead you up the mountain in temperatures plummeting to -20, most of the final ascent was up energy-sapping scree, loose shale and shingle akin to walking up a down escalator.
Four hard days of trekking had preceded this, with little sleep and extreme camping.
After four hours of the final ascent, and still only halfway to the top, I too felt as if I had nothing left, an experience shared by everyone else, whether they reached the summit or not. At times like this (it was the equivalent of hitting the wall in the marathon, which is something I have also experienced) you find other, mainly mental ways, to draw your strength.
Apart from my family and friends, and my own disturbing determination, I thought of Matt Hampson, the paralysed rugby player I was raising money for, and the kids I had visited at the Teenage Cancer Trust Ward. Telling them I had quit was not an option.
It would prove to be one of the toughest challenges of my life and I am so happy to have made it because, otherwise, Kilimanjaro would be eating away at me until I returned to try again.
Iâ€™d like to thank all those who supported me to raise nearly Â£12,000 for the two causes, and to add there is still time to make donations, either to my site, www.justgiving.com/ianstafford, by contacting me (07710 124780) or sending a cheque made payable to either The Matt Hampson Trust or The Teenage Cancer Trust to me at: 79, Southborough Road, Bickley, Bromley, Kent, BR1 2EP.
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