I Dared to Dream a Dream

As we began our journey through the rain forests, we caught a glimpse of the prize!

As we began our journey through the rain forests, we caught a glimpse of our ultimate destination!

It was the final push to the top. We all knew we were close now and with every agonising step we dug deeper into our souls to find the strength to keep going.

My legs felt like I had led stuffed into my hiking boots as I tried hard to lift my feet up to take another step but only managing to drag my feet mere millimetres above the grounds surface. If only I could muster up the energy to laugh I would have for there in that moment I was doing the “Kili shuffle” but with each step I knew it was bringing me closer to my dream.

One moment I’m walking and the next moment in my mindless state of following my team-mate in front of me I had failed to notice that he had stopped and almost bumped into him.  We had finally reached Stella Point and crested the steep ridge overlooking the crater. We weren’t there yet. It would take us about 45 minutes to an hour to get there. So close yet still so far…

One of our lead guides who had raced ahead to Stella Point, was there pouring us a warm cup of tea. Along with my team, I sat down at Stella Point for a moments rest as we sipped on our tea. The goal was not yet in sight, but I knew it was close. Soon we were on our way again. The air was really thin and your body and mind are beyond exhausted. Knowing I was near the summit somehow spurred me on. The walk was slow but so much easier with a gentle climb up and nowhere near as steep as before, and the views of the Southern Icefields were out of this world beautiful.

Stunning views of the Southern Icefield glaciers with clouds at the back covering the world below.

Stunning views of the Southern Icefield glaciers with clouds at the back covering the world below.

The final steps to the summit. I was so close now!

The final steps to the summit. I was so close now!

The ice path we walked on narrowed even more and I began tripping over my own feet, stumbling around like I was drunk. The wind was howling and despite the sun rising in the blue sky above, it was still bitterly cold. All of a sudden Donna stopped abruptly in front of me. Again, my head down and not noticing she had stopped I almost bumped into her.  She turned around and looked me straight in the eye. She was crying. She said between the tears “Lara, look over there, up ahead.” I leaned to my right to look around her and for the first time I saw it. There not too far off in the distance was the sign we had longed to see all night. The sign that said “Congratulations” the sign that said you have arrived at the summit of Kilimanjaro. I started crying too and in that moment we hugged each other, both of us crying. I hugged Donna tight and told her “We gonna make it!” As we broke apart, I started laughing. Well, more like chuckling really as that was about all I could manage. I wanted to run but my body could only take one small step at a time. I wanted to scream and shout. I wanted to jump with pure joy. But what the mind wanted, the body was unable to do. Inside I was dancing! As I systematically put one foot in front of the other, taking my final steps to the summit, my mind was filled with giddy displays of images and emotions.  The most predominant presence was Emma, my best friend who had succumbed to complications from Cystic Fibrosis 14 years ago. I thought of all the people who had contributed towards my fundraising for CF in order to help find a cure for this disease and to support those living with it. I thought of my family and friends back home.  I remembered the first night on the mountain, standing in our campsite just above the rain forests when we saw the peak and how far out of reach it looked. Now I was about to stand on top of that peak. I had almost arrived.

As we approach my heart was beating so fast and hard I was sure that everyone on top could hear it. Our fellow team members spotted us coming up and came rushing towards us. Between laughing and crying there was a frenzy of hugs and congratulations going around. The emotions finally spilled over, each one fuelled by so much emotion that we had carried along throughout the night. There was such joy in the air as we congratulated each other.

We had arrived. On the roof of Africa.  The entire continent lay at our feet. The joy spilled over. Finally, we had made it! It was 8:45am on Friday, the 13th July 2012.

Before you reach the summit you imagine all the photos you are going to take and how amazing it’s going to be. Truth is, you stand there and all you want to do it take the required photos and make your way down to Base Camp again. The cold is all-consuming and the exhaustion and lack of air is all too real.

Physically I felt weak by pure exhaustion, while mentally I was ecstatic. Our turn at the sign came quickly and we posed for the obligatory photos. I pulled my banner out of my backpack, the one I had carried on me from Day One. The time had finally come to show the world.  It is really not as glamorous as everyone thinks. The wind was so strong that all my team mates had to help me hold the banner. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  Except for Donna and I, we had all started as strangers and as we climbed we became friends. Friends who will forever share the incredible bond that we formed on that mountain. As the wind gusted we each grabbed a corner or edge of the banner and there in that moment my message to Emma unfolded at the summit along with my Thank You to each one who had helped me raise R20 000 for Cystic Fibrosis.

IN MEMORY OF EMMA WALKER

I Climbed This Mountain For You My Friend!

Until We Meet Again, May God Hold You In The Palm Of His Hand

I MISS YOU EVERY SINGLE DAY

Last Count U Helped Me Raise R19 641 For Cystic Fibrosis

 All around the message I had written the names of each person who had donated to my charity, The South African Cystic Fibrosis Trust.  Just one donor was missing. The final donation that helped me reach R20 000. Unfortunately, I had received this information too late last night to add it to the sign.

The team with my banner at the summit.

The team with my banner at the summit.

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We did it! Donna and I standing on top of Kilimanjaro, summiting together at 08h45 on Friday, 13 July 2012 ~ What a great moment!

After our photos I stepped aside and took a moment to be alone. I had surprisingly remembered something Thomas had said months ago when Donna and I had attended one of his presentations on climbing Kilimanjaro. He said that it’s cold on top and you can’t stop for too long as it will be hard to get moving again due to the cold and fatigue. But he added that’s it’s nice to go and find a place at the summit and just spend a moment acknowledging your achievement.  I stood there alone on the summit for what felt like a very long time. I thought of Emma and felt so close to her in those moments. I knew she would proud of me. I thought of Sean and Barry, our team mates who had turned back the day we left for base camp due to illness. I stood there, watching in awe, the people, the sights and listening to the sounds. The immensity of the open space that lay before me, totally uninhabited and although I was not alone, it was incredibly still. It was liberating and at the same time overwhelming. I look over at the summit sign and read it again

Congratulations!

You are now at Uhuru Peak 5895 m A.M.S.L.

Tanzania

African’s Highest Point

World’s highest free-standing mountain.

The emotions washed over me as I stood there taking it all in.  I had reached the top of Kilimanjaro and my body silently screamed in triumph. I stood there knowing that something significant had changed inside of me forever.  All my fears and uncertainties dissipated in that moment, leaving something new and untouched.

The events of the past 24 hours had proven to me that I was wholly alive, and no matter what transpired from there on out, I had truly lived!

“…by bringing myself over the edge and back, I discovered a passion to live my days fully, a conviction that will sustain me like sweet water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives.” ~ Jonathan Waterman

So much gratitude goes out to our amazing porters and guides who supported our incredible journey to the top.

So much gratitude goes out to our amazing porters and guides who supported our incredible journey to the top.

Happy 2 year anniversary to my amazing Kilimanjaro team. Thanks for the most incredible memories and for inspiring my dream to grow even bigger.  My Seven Summit journey had begun…!

Kilimanjaro Team, July  2012

Kilimanjaro Team, July 2012

~ I climb these mountains for you Emma, and will keep doing so in your memory until a cure is found. I miss you every single day! ~

As the great mountaineer Alan Arnette says, “Memories are everything, climb on!”

I dared to dream a dream and it was more unbelievably incredible than I could have ever imagined!

This blog piece is an excerpt from the chronicles of my journey to summit Kilimanjaro, where I wrote a day-by-day journal of my experience as I journeyed to the roof top of Africa. Since I wrote it, I have had many new blog followers so if you haven’t yet read the laughs, the tears, the agony and the ecstasy that was my journey, you can click on the link below and it will give you the full story to my days on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, plus all the photos.

The Kilimanjaro Chronicles, A Journey to the Top of Kilimanjaro.

 

Adventures after the Storm

“Always remember to play after every storm!” ~ Matty Stepanek

Over the last two and a half years I have become quite accustomed to people looking at me as if I have gone completely mad! This past week was no different. As everyone was battening down the hatches in Cape Town for what was predicted to be an epic Cape Storm rolling in, I was busy getting my hiking gear ready for the day after the mighty storm. Extreme cold, snow on the high mountains and the possibility of more rain forecast for Saturday, our chosen hiking day.

Most think we are completely looney to hike in the rain or when it’s so cold but truth be told it’s the best time for us to be out there training for the high-altitude mountains we are going to be climbing. Living in Cape Town we don’t have the luxury of training in the snow or extreme cold conditions so when it gets cold by Cape Town standards, you will find us out there on the mountains, training. However, one thing we never compromise on is safety and it always comes first even before we head out – conditions are checked and incoming weather is checked.  Climbing mountains for me has never been a question of risk taking. Rather, it is the pursuit of beauty, excellence and a quest for self-knowledge.

The epic Cape Storm that hit us on Friday was in true Cape style, but it was nowhere near as severe as they had been predicting. By 8pm that evening the gale force winds had died down to nothing and the rain was a light drizzle before stopping completely, with only the occasional minute-lasting downpour in the early hours of the morning. It was going to be cold with all the predicted snow around the high mountain tops but it was looking good for our hike.

Judi, my trusty hiking partner come rain or shine, has of late nicknamed me her “partner in climb.” It’s nice to know that no matter what the weather she’ll be there saying “yes” to heading out with me. In the 25 minute drive it took me to get to the mountain I got to experience various different weather outbursts, something Cape Town is famous for ~ in just one day in Cape Town you can get to experience all 4 seasons! By the time I arrived at the mountain I had driven in glorious sunshine, then as I got into town the wind started howling and the heavens opened up with a heavy downpour and as I arrived at the mountain, sleet was beginning to fall! It was going to be an interesting day on the mountain but I was ready.

Another beautiful start to our climb, the mountain awaited.

Another beautiful start to our climb, the mountain awaited.

We headed up just behind the Lower Cable Way station and steadily climbed up the path. Once we reached the contour path, we turned left and headed towards Platteklip Gorge, our chosen route to go up. Not even a few rain showers along the way could dampen our spirits as we walked.

Reaching the contour path, with dark clouds looming in the background, making the scenery dramatic.

Reaching the contour path, with dark clouds looming in the background, making the scenery dramatic.

The cables for the cable car going up, disappearing in the mist up the mountain.

The cables for the cable car going up, disappearing in the mist up the mountain.

On our way to Platteklip Gorge.

On our way to Platteklip Gorge.

The trail often flooded with water, found us skirting around the edges or stepping up onto little ledges to navigate our way around without getting our hiking boots soaked. Reaching the Platteklip Gorge turn-off, we took one look at the route going straight up, then at each other and decided to completely ignore the turn-off. It was easy to do as we are climbing it again next weekend with some of our Aconcagua team mates as one is coming to visit us from out-of-town.

Judi getting high around the flooded pathways.

Judi getting high around the flooded pathways.

Instead we continued on and decided to hike out towards Oppelskop. The path was incredibly beautiful as it always is in winter. The mountain side is lush with green fynbos and pretty little flowers and with the rains, the puddles in the path sparkling like diamonds whenever a few rays of sunshine poked out from behind the clouds.

The waterfalls along the way were something else, and there were many to be crossed! With all the rain we have had this winter already they were beyond spectacular, like strings of diamonds gliding down the mountain side. Our adventures found us crossing over gushing waterfalls, precariously balancing on tiny parts of rocks that just broke the surface of the water, we found ourselves walking under them, over them and even through them, with each waterfall more beautiful than the last.

Magnificent waterfalls making our views along the way.

Magnificent waterfalls making our views along the way. This one we crossed under and straight through, so much for not getting wet again!

At one of the thundering waterfalls, it was so loud you couldn’t hear each other talk. Then we had to cross it while trying to find a tiny piece of rock jutting out to step on as we crossed. Judi crossed first and shouted something and pointed to a rock. With the noise of the waterfall I didn’t hear so shouted back for her to repeat. She did, I still couldn’t hear so she pointed with her trekking pole to a rock right in the middle of the gushing water. Here I was thinking she’s pointing out the rock for me to stand on when in fact she was pointing out the rock I shouldn’t stand on as it was incredibly wobbly! Oh well, too late she cried as I stepped across straight onto the wobbly rock!  Luckily, with years of ballet and balance behind me, I didn’t land up in the water!

Thundering waterfall! This waterfall was so loud it was hard to hear each other talk.

Thundering waterfall! This waterfall was so loud it was hard to hear each other talk.

The waterfall crossing where Judi pointed out the loose rock, which I mistook for the perfect rock to stand on! Haha!

The waterfall crossing where Judi pointed out the loose rock, which I mistook for the perfect rock to stand on! Haha!

Along the way there were many places along the path with patches of ‘ice-balls’ that just weren’t melting. This is supposed to be unusual in Cape Town, let alone lower down on the mountain slopes, but it is becoming something we see more and more frequently as the weather patterns get more severe. It was while we had stopped at one of the spectacular waterfalls falling right over the path to take some photographs that the dark clouds began to pour over the mountain top again and suddenly the heavens opened once again. Luckily we had just passed a rock overhang and so we quickly traced our steps back and took shelter under the overhang, which was perfect for a little snack break and a nice hot cup of tea! It was while sipping on our tea waiting for the downpour to pass that the rain turned to hail and little balls of ice pelted down from the sky! We were truly getting a show from Mother Nature today!

The 'ice-balls' that we found all along the trail that just weren't melting.

The ‘ice-balls’ that we found all along the trail that just weren’t melting.

Taking shelter in the overhang as the rain poured down.

Taking shelter in the overhang as the rain poured down.

Stepping out into the sunshine between the rain downpour and the hail downpour!

Stepping out into the sunshine between the rain downpour and the hail downpour!

A ray of sunshine and the dark clouds loom in the background again.

A ray of sunshine and the dark clouds loom in the background again.

The downpour passed and the sun’s wonderful rays returns again and we continued on our way. We headed up onto the higher path and then walked across but decided to head to Oppelskop from the lower path so headed back down again when the path allowed. More beautiful waterfalls to cross and a little forest to walk through, the views across the city with the dramatic skyline was a feast for the eyes.

Looking back.

Looking back.

Reaching Oppelskop we didn’t quite make it to the top. The path, which is already mostly hidden, had been practically washed away in the storm. We followed what we could of the path but eventually when we reached the rock scrambling part, the rocks were slippery and any hand-holds of branches were not reliable with all the water that had washed down the mountain side. Eventually, we decided to turn back and once back on the lower path we stopped to enjoy the sunshine and some lunch!

Glorious sunshine when we stopped for lunch at Oppelskop.

Glorious sunshine when we stopped for lunch at Oppelskop. You’d be forgiven if you thought this was taken on another day but this is what I mean by 4 seasons in one day in Cape Town!

Just as we were packing up the stormy clouds were gathering again and before we knew it the rain was beginning to fall once again. Judi said I tempted fate as I had stripped my jacket off and was going to walk down in just my fleece as the sun was so lovely and warm. But just a few drops of rain came down as the next shower of rain passed over the city in front of us.

But the glorious sunshine didn't last too long for the dark clouds were looming again.

Still the same day, the glorious sunshine didn’t last too long for the dark clouds were looming again.

It was another amazing day on the mountain that had us walking from one end of the mountain right to the other end, crossing waterfalls – over them, under them and even through them, climbing up and climbing down and then heading all the way back again.

We arrived back at the car at 3pm after having spent most of the day on the mountain. I felt invigorated, alive and renewed. There is something truly magical about climbing mountains; it can’t be put into words for it is something that should be experienced by the soul!

Next weekend we take on our favourite, ‘torturous’ route, Platteklip Gorge and the spectacular views from on top of the mountain with some of our Aconcagua team mates. I for one can’t wait to get back on the mountain again!

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~ All Photos By Me, Except for the Ones of Me (Thanks Judi) ~

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