Day 4 and 5– Summiting
“There were times I felt like I could not go on, that there was no more emotion left, this was also the time I slogged on because I had a goal and that goal was to become a survivor.”
We woke up very early at around 6am, the air was dry and it was already very cold. We packed and repacked and checked and double checked our kit. We finally left camp at 8am and hiked to our base camp before our summiting. The previous night’s disturbed sleep was probably the last decent sleep I had for the next two days. Today the pace was extremely slow as the mountain took its toll on us. I started becoming apprehensive and excited that tomorrow would be the final challenge – a 36 hour marathon of climbing.
We were now in an alpine desert – it was bleak, bare, dry and freezing cold. Every hour I needed to stop to relieve myself and consume even more of the disgusting water. It became more difficult to drink water but I managed to convince myself that survival depended on it. As we reached the Saddle at 4300m the altitude really started to affect our pace.
We stopped for lunch, which I nibbled at as food had become more of a hindrance. The last 1.5kms to Kibo hut took us over an hour to walk. We arrived at 3pm, had an early dinner and had to pack, dress and ensure that all our equipment worked and that we were ready for our 11pm departure.
We should have rested from 6pm to 10 pm but the energy levels in the hut were so high that I was feeling great excitement and sleep was almost impossible. The anticipation of what lay ahead seemed to summon my fear.
By this time our party had got a reputation of always being last in at all the camps and they jokingly said everybody is leaving at 11pm to see the sunrise on the top but our party would probably see the sunset. At 10 pm we had to start getting ready for our marathon walk. Our attire for this part of the journey included: Skin tight thermal underwear, thermal loose long johns, thick fleece track suit bottom, hiking pants and waterproof pants. We also wore 2 pairs of thick socks with boots and gators. On top we had a tight fitting thermal top, short and long sleeve moisture management tops, a light fleece pullover, a thick fleece pullover, an inner jacket and waterproof outer jacket. A balaclava, sunglasses and headlamp on my forehead finished the look, and I was ready. In my backpack was a litre of water in the bladder (storage facility for water attached to a pipe for drinking), another 1litre bottle of water with a special thermal cover to prevent the water from freezing and a thermos with 500ml of hot tea. Other accessories included snacks, camera and cell phone, all in special bags to prevent the batteries freezing. Just getting dressing required extreme effort and we were exhausted before we had even left.
The lack of oxygen to our brains accounted for a lot including putting our thoughts into song: “Jingle toes, jingle fingers, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to have Diamox twice a day.” One of the side effects on the medication is that the tips of your fingers and toes tingle. Sometimes we sang it and other times we allowed the silence and peace of the night to take us away in thought.
Our departure was delayed to allow other groups to go ahead of us because our reputation of being last was known by all. However, to me this was not a race, I just wanted to be able to meet my final goal on this mission. We finally left at 11.45pm. The temperature was 0°c, the stars were visible as I had never seen them before, the sky was clear and it was almost a full moon, no wind, it was a perfect night.
The moment took my breathe away as I realised that just like this clear sky above me, my life had evolved into something I could be proud of. I had become a survivor in many senses of the word – I felt healed to a point that I could take on just about anything. I had come full circle and I could now stare my abuse and rape squarely in the face and not feel shame. It felt like I had already summited in that split second.
We started to climb and very soon realised that it was not an easy task, because of the loose volcanic gravel we had to switch back (zig zag) up the steep slope to avoid slipping and sliding. We reached Williams point at 5000m and made our steady approach to Hans Meyer point where unfortunately one of our party had to turn back because of exhaustion. My sister and I continued taking only 10 steps at a time and then resting by leaning on our poles.
Well before we reached Gilmans point we saw the most amazing sunrise you can ever imagine. You could see the curvature of the earth as the sun rose, the orange glows awakened a new dawn. We probably saw the sun rise a little later than those in the town below as we were above the clouds.
My balaclava was soaking wet from my nasal fluids, people were vomiting and laying down to rest, the reality had hit home. Our guides stressed that under no circumstances must we lay down – never give up the fight. At this stage the water in my backpack had frozen and I had very little energy, not even enough energy to open the other bottle of water. As my doubts tried to creep in I realised how much this climb mirrored my journey for the last ten years, the parallels and similarities were amazing. My purpose was starting to become something more personal – if I did not get to the top would that mean that my own survival journey would also not triumph? With this thought in mind I pushed on.
We were clambering over the rocks and having extreme difficulty breathing and at this point I believed I had consumed all my available energy and would not be able to make it any further. It was at this point that it became a mental game. I had to remind myself why I was doing this and that it was no longer all about me but about all the other males and healers I had met in Scarborough and the young man “my hero” that I had met in the UK who was dealing with his abuse at such a young age.
We reached Gillmans point at around 7.15am and my sister’s chest was aching, she was coughing and her breathing was a gurgling bubbling sound. I was very concerned about her state as were the guides. The guides informed her that she needed to prepare herself that she may need to turn back as she was showing very clear signs of altitude sickness. Whilst there we saw the magnificent site of Africa’s only glaciers, the beauty of the white ice face against the barren sandy alpine desert was a clear contrast and revealed absolute beauty.
From there we could also see the frozen ice within the crater. As we rested at Gillmans I needed to get some nourishment but my energy bars had frozen so I nibbled at them like a rat.
After another 45 minutes we reached Stella Point at 8am. At this point my climbing partner had to succumb to the mountain – it would be too risky for her to continue. From where she stood was a view of the Uhuru peak sign. I was extremely heartsore and I cried as I nibbled my energy bar but we had made a pledge: “that our safety and life itself was more precious and that we would adhere to the guides advice no matter what, and that the other person would continue”. She was very brave as she was led away but she had seen everything, she was just 750m away from the top.
As she walked away I felt a sudden urge to join her and I was about to say “wait for me” but a pledge was a pledge and I knew that she would be angry if I did not try – I felt like one of us had to do it. The solo attempt at summiting was not something I wanted but it happened. I had to walk away on my own in order to complete my journey. In our journey of healing, we need the support of our families and loved ones, we need to be part of a structured therapeutic programme – BUT there comes a time on the journey when no one can accompany you and you have to take the hardest part of the journey alone. I continued my quest to reach my ultimate destination. I was taking a third of a step at a time and having to rest every few minutes, even though we were only climbing another 150m in height the air became so thin – approximately 50% of a humans normal oxygen requirements. Every time I rested my body wanted to give up. I had to continue for my fellow climbers, for Rose the love of my life, my children, for my own sense of accomplishment, for “my hero” back in the UK and fellow male survivors that I had met in Scarborough and all other males that have ever been abused.
I imagined every step being taken as being a tally of male survivors even those I had not met. It was probably the most painful and longest 90 minutes of my life, at minus 10˚c I finally summited and reached the highest point in Africa at 9.30am.
As I reached the top my emotional state took over and I cried, believing that I had made it and was now on top of the world. I had overcome a lot of my fears and kept my promises to the male survivors, healers and “my hero”. I was so proud of myself but I had limited time up there but I had to share it with a lot of people. Samson was already nagging me to hurry up as he was concerned for my health but I needed to have a photo taken of my flag.
The journey back was painful, I had used all my energy and reserves to get up, I had none left. I dug deeper and found the energy but the biggest motivator of all was getting home to my loved ones. I now wanted to go home more than anything. My mind and body was past exhaustion but I eventually made it back to Kibo Hut the transit camp at 2.30pm. As I looked back in daylight at what I had accomplished it felt like a dream, it was all unreal. I had changed my clothes, devoured some hot soup, packed and we left at 3pm for the overnight stay at Horombo Hut. I reached camp at 7pm after a marathon 36 hours hike since we had left this point the day before. Sleep came easy as I collapsed in bed at 9pm.
The next morning I got up at 5.30am had breakfast at 6am and left camp at 7am for the 7.5 hours hike to get to the main gate. It was a slow walk and I decided not to walk with anyone else. It was the first time I spent 7,5hrs in silence by myself thinking about everything. It may seem minor but I had always had a fear of being by myself because it would allow me to think, which prior to this journey I was not willing to do. In those hours I processed my journey, my abuse, my life and came to the conclusion that my purpose was to use my experience to help other men. Mission impossible accomplished! What a journey!
It is ironical and somewhat poetic that the organisation “South African MALE SURVIVORS Of Sexual Abuse” was officially registered by the government of South Africa on the same day as I reached the top. I am taking it as a good omen.
“Now that I have affirmed my purpose, found the strength to help male victims of sexual abuse. Just like me the men I help can also pick up the shreds and find the golden thread to mend their lives.”