To go far, go together

A word from Rom

23 Feb 2016

Maybe I should have read the book on Mount Kilimanjaro before I committed to climb it over the Christmas break. It’s a big mountain!

Together with 23 Madews – including my husband, David, and three children aged between 12-16 years – we trekked 60 kilometres over six days to reach the 5,895 metre Uhuru Peak. Of our party, 15 were children between the ages of 11 and 21.

Traversing the Machame route to the top, we didn’t count on a torrential two-hour downpour on Day One, which soaked all our gear and saw my youngest son, Nathaniel, almost catch hypothermia.

Welcome to camping kids. No wifi, no showers, iffy loos, eat what you’re given, don’t complain about the cold, the rain, the hard ground…

I woke everyone in our group at 5am each morning so that we were the first group out – which meant we missed the rain at lunch. Our lead guide Bachi, and my brother-in-law Pete Madew, a mountain climber who had already scaled five of the seven highest peaks, knew if our gear got wet again we wouldn’t make the summit.

Mt Kilimanjaro

By Day 3 we were all struggling with altitude sickness, and I didn’t think we’d push to the top. The altitude sickness felt like a bad hangover, with symptoms including headaches, fatigue, stomach pains, dizziness and sleep disturbance. But trekking with your family alongside the beautiful Tanzanian guides is an amazing experience. No one lets you give up.

On the night of Day 3 we were tired, sick and cold. A mist covered the camp as Batchi described the next day’s trek. “We will start the day with a 1-2 hour climb up Barranca Wall”. Once the mist cleared you realise he is serious. It looked like a sheer cliff. We asked if there were ropes needed and he responded “no just some kissing of the wall”. The kids loved the rock scrambling up that 257 metre wall, and realistically, so did we.

Apparently climbing Kili makes or breaks relationships. In our case, it drew us all incredibly close together. If someone was feeling down or sick, a hand would reach out, a hug would be given or a quiet word of encouragement shared. There is nothing more motivating than a niece or nephew yelling out “come on Auntie Rom”. 

We made Base Camp (Barafu Hut Camp) – a shaley, cold camp on the side of the mountain – on Day 4 and pitched our tents on the stony ground. Then up at 2am, we started the slow – pole, pole – push to the peak.

After three hours the sun started to rise. The view was majestic and inspires you to keep going.  It was about minus 10 and we were slowly trekking up the hill with the Tanzanian guides singing songs to keep us going, the wind off the snowy glaciers was biting, and we only stopped every 30 minutes for five minutes so we didn’t get too cold. After five hours we could see the shaley cliffs of Stella Point, which is at the base of the Kibo crater.

Romilly hiking Mt Kilimanjaro
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Words can’t describe the effort it took just to get to here. Imagine being tired after walking for five days straight. You can’t breathe, your legs are weak and the shale is so awful it feels like two steps forward and one step back. Then you hit this ridiculous last lip you need to climb to get to Stella Point (at 5756m) and just want to scream.

Then you peek over the rim, the crater opens up, with wide snowy glaciers and the beauty of Kibo before you.  You breathe a sigh of relief, thinking you made it and appreciating what an effort it took. You lie down, feeling exhilaration only to hear Bachi say “come on, it’s another 140 metres up to the peak ‘Uhuru Peak’.”

Yet another 30 minutes of walking.

By this time, we were crawling up that last 140 metres. It’s hard to breathe. No one is talking, my nephew is trying to hold up the Australian flag and I can feel tingling in my legs and hands. I am really struggling the last leg. A Tanzanian guide, funnily enough named Peter Jackson and wearing a ‘Australia’ sloppy joe, drags me the last 75 metres. The view is breathtaking. We are standing on the highest point in Africa with glaciers all around us, beautiful blue sky and 19 of our group of 23. 

There is, of course, more to the Kili story – but the whole family made it to base camp. And what a lesson in pulling together, working as a team, shouldering the load when others can’t, sharing your best self, celebrating your successes! It was a classic example of the saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

A real-life lesson in mountain climbing is good practice for the equally tough mountains we scale each day in our industry. Over the years, we’ve stood at the base of a lot of big mountains. But by testing ideas, taking risks, mastering new skills, embracing new thinking, challenging the status quo and by working together, we’ve reached some spectacular heights.

Of course, we’ve still got a long way to go. And that’s why everyone in our industry should be at Green Cities 2016 from 22-24 March this year.

As all the industry’s movers, shakers, disrupters and dreamers gather in Sydney, it’s our chance to come together to encourage, explore, inspire and identify those next big mountains to climb. And if you have a spare minute, I will show you my iPhone pics of the mountain that slowed me down.