It’s OK To Say founder Stacey Turner’s personal account of her climb up Mount Kilimanjaro
PUBLISHED: 18:00 10 July 2019
Mental health campaigner Stacey Turner offers a first person account of her climb up Mount Kilimanjaro.
My guide Jumanne turned to me and said, "Look Stacey the sign, you've made it!" I struggled to see in my exhaustion and with the white glare of the sun above the clouds, but I knew in that moment, I was changed forever…
I had heard of the amount of people that don't make the summit, but for me, Kilimanjaro had become my Holy Grail.
I had been running on nervous and emotional energy in the lead-up, overwhelmed at all the support swinging between pure motivation and crippling disbelief, but I was finally packed and ready to go.
On the way to the airport, I burst into tears and cried "What am I doing?"
The anticipation of saying goodbye to my girls for 10 days was getting to me with the reality of this huge mission I was on. What was I doing? I was chasing freedom!
Finally arriving at Kilimanjaro airport, walking in off the Tarmac, I was struck at how green the grounds were. An old minibus was waiting for us and as they passed our luggage through the window piling it up towards the back, I laughed nervously about health and safety!
As the bus made its way to Moshi, I was in awe at the locals, their dress, what they were carrying, the children and waved excitedly hoping for waves back. Then out of nowhere, in all its grandeur, we were driving along the bottom of Kilimanjaro.
Entering Kilimanjaro National Park through Machame Gate the next morning was emotional. I remember taking a big breath in and out nervously thinking this is it, 40km to Uhuru Peak, make each step count.
The trek began through beautiful rain forest, it was hot and I quickly learnt the words "poli-poli" meaning slowly, slowly along with "sippy sippy" to encourage you to drink as much as possible.
I thought I was doing well drinking my water, however, it came to light that I hadn't really drank that much from my bladder and I was already beginning to suffer with the altitude.
I had suffered from a little travel sickness partly due to an eight-hour layover in Nairobi, so I was making an extra effort to drink as much as I could manage.
I was immediately shocked at the weight the porters carried on their backs and heads, it felt unfair and unjust, yet they were so happy, smiling and always saying hello - "Jambo Jambo" - as they powered by. The next day was slow and steady through forest and climbing up over rocks. It was one of my favourite days, though tough, I could have clambered like that all day, but the terrain seemed to open as if the beginning was over in preparation for the rest of the week.
Arriving at camp early afternoon, I almost immediately snuggled down in my sleeping bag and fell fast asleep. The effects of the altitude were pressing in on me with a constant pressure in my head, nausea and dizziness with the sun and cloud already below us.
My reward was waking to the gorgeous sounds of the porters and guides chanting and singing just before dinner. I thought I had been dreaming and stumbled out of my tent to be greeted by this melodious harmony below a stunning sunset.
The following day, waking to an alluring sunrise, I sat freezing cold perched on a rock, a real pinch yourself moment. I had barely slept, was sore, and knowing the day was going to be a long one. The ground was gravelly and rocky, with Uhuru Peak in the distance in all its grandeur.
It was harsh, yet glorious as we came across waterfalls before reaching camp. Baranco camp was at 3,900m and sat just below the magnificence of Uhuru. It was like a platform, a huge ravine where we were surrounded by valley like views sweeping out over the clouds and the Great Baranco Wall.
I was quite nervous the following day as we were climbing up the Baranco Wall and after the last few days, my thighs were burning. My appetite wasn't great, I was desperately missing home and feeling the impact of the thin air.
The trek was misty, and extremely rocky with charred land. Grateful to arrive at camp and have a cup of tea, I enjoyed yet another soothing sunset.
I was beginning to get into a habit now of managing my altitude sickness, falling asleep to the waves of nausea. Wipes had become my best friend and I had almost given up brushing my hair!
The next day, we were on our way to base camp, it was a short trek and like a giddy kipper, burning legs and all, I dragged myself for those few hours knowing at midnight I would be leaving in my attempt to summit.
Reaching Barafu base camp at 4,673m was just incredible, I was sick and nauseous, but nothing like I have ever felt before.
I had managed to get some reception and call home, bursting into tears. I said if I don't summit, I am simply grateful to have made it this far.
Taken by the view in my emotional glory, I sat high on rocks appreciating and holding onto this moment. I had chosen music to softly play in my ears to be able to listen to again on my return home.
We stumbled out into the starry darkness and began our weave up a steep slope with everyone else.
I ended up on my own with Jumanne, almost taking one step forward for every two steps back. It was the only way I was going to make it, I knew I had to pace myself.
And so, with the crunch of footsteps in the snow and the glow of head torches, I touched the Mount Kilimanjaro sign at Uhuru Peak at 5:21am.
Just completely overwhelmed, I listened as Jumanne explained that it was too dangerous to stay long because of the high winds.
We started making our way back and had to take cover, we were both so wind swept and tired. We reached a point on the way back where, linking arms, we could almost slide down, it was like skiing. By the time we reached the bottom, we still had several hours to trek back to camp and for the last two, we seemed to gather our own little entourage.
It is going to take a while to recover, enduring this climb took me to my physical and mental limits, yet with gravel still in my hand from a fall that has been treated for infection and with continued effects physically and mentally, I'd do it all over again - in a heartbeat - but maybe I'd tweak some bits!