Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Feeling on top of the world

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Kerre McIvor on her ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro for World Vision.
Kerre McIvor on her ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro for World Vision.

It's done. For the past couple of months, I've been putting myself through torture at the gym; cashing in favours to spend time in the Warriors' hyperbaric chamber; and waking in the dead of night, rigid with fear at the prospect of what lay ahead.

I had Googled, read, researched and picked the brains of those who had gone before - but ultimately I had no idea whether I'd be able to summit Mt Kilimanjaro.

Some people said that climbing the highest mountain in Africa was a breeze - a literal walk in the National Park, albeit up a bloody steep incline. Others said it was the worst experience of their lives - one that had ended in failure and crushing despair.

But surely, given that I was one of a team attempting to climb the mountain for a worthy cause (World Vision's micro-finance programme in Tanzania), fortune would smile on me? Fortune had already given me a cheeky wink with the selection of my fellow climbers.

Boh Runga had the dubious pleasure of sharing a tent with me and, given that I don't even share a room with my husband, I was wondering how I'd go co-habiting under canvas with a virtual stranger.

But a better roomy a girl has never had. We shared laughs, grizzles, soap and toilet paper and I hope I have a friend for life.

I had expected Olympic medallists Mahe Drysdale and Juliette Haigh to bring single-minded determination and focus to the challenge - what I hadn't expected was their kindness and team spirit.

When people in the group succumbed to tiredness and altitude sickness, Mahe and Juliette were the first ones to offer practical support and encouragement.

Mahe is also as full of information as Google and within days of the team getting together he had been nicknamed The Oracle - the go-to guy for any factoid.

And Rhys Darby, stricken with a terrible head cold and chest infection, soldiered on without a word of complaint and that meant that really, no one else could whine or grizzle unless they were in greater misery than him.

The only downsides were the toilets and the lack of water. The squat toilets got progressively worse the higher we climbed. Decomposition doesn't occur at high altitude and by the time we got to Mawenzi Tarn, at 4300m, you could cut the air with a knife.

Not even the streaked blond locks and the bare chest of Percy Montgomery, the former Springbok, who was indulging in a very public washdown in the middle of the crowded camp, could lift my spirits.

By the time we got to Mawenzi, some of the team were beginning to suffer from altitude sickness and we had had the sobering experience of watching people being carried down the mountain. The whole enterprise was starting to get very serious.

Surprisingly, I felt fine. A little grumpy (I put that down to the squat toilets) but absolutely fine. No headaches, no nausea and no sore muscles. Surely any day now, things would start turning to custard?

But no, the night of the final walk came and all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other, for eight hours, and I would be at Uhuru. And that's exactly what happened.

Throughout the dark night, our team trudged slowly and inexorably towards the summit, cheered along by Joffrey, our lead guide, who sang rousing hymns to pep us up. Six hours after we'd set off, our entire team reached Gilman's Point, the top of Mt Kilimanjaro. Rhys made it - despite the fact he'd been coughing up his lungs for the entire climb. Laura from World Vision made it, despite the fact she'd thrown up five times along the way.

And it was their efforts that inspired me, Mahe and four others of our wider team to push on to Uhuru.

There's an old saying in Swahili about Kilimanjaro that goes something along the lines of, "if you've eaten the elephant, why would you leave the tail?"

Meaning, if you've come as far as Gilman's, why not go the whole way? The answer is that it's tough.

There's no oxygen, every step is torture and it takes about an hour and a half to climb that extra 200m.

As experiences go, the Kili Challenge could have been an absolute disaster.

Put a group of strangers together, force them to go without creature comforts, have them undertake a physically taxing exercise and have a camera in their face at all times.

But we came through it. And hopefully, the climb was more than a personal achievement.

If our efforts have helped raise money for, and awareness of, the brilliant work World Vision does working with the wonderful people of Tanzania, then it was all worth it.

- Herald on Sunday

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