‘Rise above the Rest’ say the Royal Air Force. Well that’s what the team aspired to do.
Before starting the 6 day ascent up the mountain, the team needed to get used to the local heat and so three days were spent exploring the local culture. A day on Safari in Arusha National Park revealed some of Africa’s most amazing wildlife, and the need for lots of sunscreen. Another day spent walking in and around the local villages was truly humbling, meeting families that make the most of everything and greet everyone with ‘Jambo’ and a smile! As for the other acclimatisation day – well the lodge resort had a very nice swimming pool!
So, we’re off to climb the 5,895m high mountain. Each day was the same but harder than the last, walking in the morning between 4-5 hours to get to the next campsite. We had lunch upon our arrival at camp, followed by an altitude acclimatisation walk in the afternoon. Dinner was followed by a civilised game of cards, and then bed. An early rise for breakfast, kit check, then off we went again.
During the six days of ascent, the team walked through every type of eco-system on Earth; from lush rainforest, earthy desert to an arctic peak. The final ascent started at midnight on Thursday 16th February, getting ready in frozen tents, putting on all the required layers to keep out the cold during the 8 hour trek to the summit. Then off we go “Pol-e Pol-e”, which is Swahili for “Slowly Slowly” – that helps to minimise the risks of Acute Altitude Sickness. Unfortunately, just short of Gilman’s Point one of the team showed warning signs of the sickness, so was lead down with a guide for safety. Shortly after, the rest of the team reached Gilman’s Point 5,685m, at which point tears of joy and exhaustion were shed by many. Still 2 hours away from the summit, Uhuru Peak, the low oxygen was having its effect, sometimes taking 6 breaths just to walk another few feet up. Three more members of the team were affected by altitude sickness and were helped back down the mountain.
Then at 8:40 am, the last remaining 9 members of the team reached the Summit, 5,895m – the highest point in Africa – HURRAH! Just enough time for the essential photos to be taken before the next challenge begins – the descent. With the achievement barely sinking in, the team are heading back down. Just 3 hours later, back in base camp, we had a quick nap and it was then back up for a 5 hour walk down to the next camp. Here we had a great night’s sleep before an 8 hour walk to get off the mountain. At this point the exhaustion really hit home and it took every bit of motivation to keep going. Just wanting to get below the cloud level was the first main aim, but with every metre of descent the air becomes thicker, so luckily everyone received a new lease of life! Soon we were at the bottom, the same level where we started just 8 days prior. Then back to the hotel, and sleep! Following a day of rest and recovery at the hotel, was the 9 hours of flying home, safe and well.
Then it’s back to life, back to school or work, and of course back on Parade with Cadets.
Without the sponsorship, help and advice of the Ulysses Trust and the RAF Charitable Trust, this expedition would not have taken place. The cadets and staff thank you, it has changed our outlook on life and hopefully we will remember for the rest of our lives.