BURGESS & COLLINS

In the summer of 2014, a group of 28 Brunel students embarked on the Mount Kilimanjaro climb for Childreach International! Two of them were Vivienne and Becky, who spent months training, fundraising and preparing for the climb of their lives. Here, they open up to Le Nurb with the top 5 questions they’ve been asked since they returned! For more information, please contact RAG.

kili photo 2 - credit Vivienne Burgess, Facebook

What were you most afraid of?

V: I think it was being ill half way up, or breaking a leg and knowing that I'd have to suffer up a mountain for a couple of days until I got back down.

B: It wasn't so much about being ill stuck up a mountain for me, just being told "Don't be silly, you aren't physically able to continue. Go home, weirdo."

V: Yeah, getting to base camp and having to be taken back down was a real concern the whole way up.

B: By the second day I didn't think I'd be able to do it. My heart was actually hurting just from not having my rucksack on properly.

V: I guess the whole experience of estrangement made me nervous. After the climb we travelled through Tanzania, through the night, and we stopped off to grab some food before continuing the 8 hour journey back to Moshi. We pulled up at a Subway and, before we could open the doors, our driver turned around and said "Alright guys. Be careful, be quick, you're in Dar Es Salaam." I felt this jolt in my stomach, part fear, part excitement. I was stepping into a place with a reputation. Anything could happen.

 

What was it like at the top?

V: I didn't actually get to the top... I got close! 200 metres off. I passed a lot of people on their way back down, being carried, half conscious, dazed, and high. The altitude makes you high. I was falling asleep for 20 seconds at a time, imagining things were happening when they weren't, skidding on the snow, crying, yelling nonsense at my guide.

B: I can barely remember the top. My guide didn't ever let me fall asleep, so I was on the verge of collapsing for about an hour at the top. Everyone's like, 'aw, was it really amazing at the top?' It wasn't. I just wanted to get off the thing! Exhaustion really takes its toll. All you can comprehend is shuffling one foot in front of the other, and how nice it would be to freeze to death on a nearby boulder.

V: Before I left, my Dad told me to take a deep breath when I got to the top. (Sorry I failed you, father, please forgive me.) He said "this truly is a once in a life time thing, Viv, so when you're there, really know that you're there. You'll realise what really matters in your life when you're looking out over it all."

B: Yeah, that didn't happen for me...

V: Exactly! I mean, you might get your epiphany up there, and everything muddled in your life might straighten out and feel awesome, but it's more likely you won't feel or remember a thing until you get back to base camp and realise where you've been and what you've just achieved. Something incredible. And, credit to my Dad, I did realise what I should do with my life after climbing the mountain: keep being incredible.

B: Yeah, I just wanted to sleep.

 

What did you eat?

V: Soup. Every day.

B: That soup was good! Generally, the food was really nice and there was so much because you've got to keep your energy up, and your body warm. Altitude killed it though, and by the end it was hard to stomach anything no matter what it tasted like.

V: No, we ate well. Far better than I think anyone expected us to eat. Omelettes every morning. It was quite funny actually - we had porters and chefs to carry out food and tents - and sometimes you'd pass someone on the track and hanging off their back would be like 10 loaves of bread, or a bucket, filled with sand, and you could see the eggs resting safely inside.

B: The worst thing about the food for me was just the repetitiveness of it all. By the end of the trek, the smell of the same food triggered feeling ill, because you'd always be feeling ill! So on the last day I literally took one step into the mess tent, smelt the porridge and plastic-cupped coffee, and dry heaved for about 10 minutes. Horrible stuff.

V: Remember the night-

B: Probably not.

V: - When we had spaghetti bolognaise? Everyone was so excited. I screamed. We hadn't had anything that similar to food back home for what felt like months and having it up a mountain was just bizarre. Ran straight through me though – I had to run to the toilet.

 

What was it like going to the toilet?

V: Right. Yes. This is a very important thing for anyone going on the trip this year. Baby wipes are your BEST FRIEND. Have them in your pocket at all times because when nature calls, it doesn't matter whether you want to answer or not.

B: Brilliant. And make sure you take triple what you think you'll need. Seriously! I was so lucky though, I didn't get a bad stomach - or not as bad as others -

V: Ahem.

B: Until we finished the climb. But what I can divulge is just how... lovely... the 'toilets' are.

V: It's exactly how you imagine it would be. It's not pretty, it smells foul.

B: Just imagine a hole in the ground with weeks’ worth of nasty built up.

V: The one redeeming factor? THIGHS OF STEEL!

B: So much squatting...

V: Can we talk about how hard it was to find the perfect spot? It wasn't Disneyland, kids. Not even close. There wasn't a toilet every 25 steps just in case, there was one loo at each camp. If you needed to go between camps, you had to find the perfect spot.

B: But as we climbed higher, and as we got sicker, the vegetation grew thinner and thinner...

V: And our shame grew smaller and smaller. I've seen parts of Becky no one should ever see.

B: You're welcome. Again, we don't want to discourage anyone. It was gross, true, but hilarious. Everyone was suffering, and when we got back to Moshi, we would sit around, swapping toilet stories and nodding knowingly when someone had to all of a sudden 'duck out' of a conversation, with a groan and a strategically placed hand.

V: Smelling the things that come out of your friends brings you closer together.

 

Worst and Best moment?

V: I was horribly ill on summit night. We set off at midnight, and I had to take a pit stop behind a boulder about 10 minutes into the climb. When I emerged an embarrassing length of time later I found myself alone with my guide, in the dark, the rest of the group just a line of head-torch pin pricks high above me, creeping up the mountainside I couldn't see. That was my worst moment. Thinking I'd been left behind. Everyone was going to get to the top without me, come back down without me, get back to Moshi without me, get on the bloody plane without me. I felt that hopeless. I passed some pretty deadly sheer drops and everywhere the rocks glinted with ice. All I could do was keep going. The whole night felt like just a moment, an unchanging discomfort of dark and cold and solitude, until the sun started to come up. I guess that bit was nice. I have a video of the sunrise that morning. My guide took it for me. I was awake enough to know that I wanted to remember this moment, but I literally didn't have the energy to hold the camera up.

B: My worst moment was just after that: the descent. Not all the way, just immediately after reaching the summit, from the 5,895m peak to the camp at roughly 4,800m. It was so weird - all our energy went into the 9/10 hour walk to the summit, so by the time we had to go back down again we were knackered. Absolutely knackered. Though the walk down took half as long as it did on the way up, being able to see now that the sun was up was soul destroying. Porters kept saying camp was "just around the corner" but it never was! Again, crying, sleeping and subsequently freezing was so tempting. And as if the long walk through snow wasn't enough - most of us got sunburnt, both from the sun and the reflective, evil snow. Our poor nostrils! So another thing to remember for those planning to climb? Sunglasses and sun cream! Make sure you look after your sunglasses (mine broke on summit night), and really try to think of sun cream mid-exhaustion. Thinking of anything other than walking seems impossible, but seriously, it will save your face. And your dignity afterwards.

V: My best moment immediately preceded my worst moment. Fourth day. The journey to final camp. The day before, I'd broken down completely. I was terrified that my skull was going to crack because of the pressure in my brain. I was probably fine, but the mountain does things to your perspective. Anyway, fourth day, There was a blizzard after lunch but even so I was laughing. I was saying hello to the people we passed, which I'd stopped doing since day two. The blizzard died down and for half an hour I felt so positive. Reaching the top didn't feel like such a big task anymore, just another day of walking. I felt I could actually do it. Turns out I was wrong about that but hey ho. The point is, I felt so capable. I had complete faith in myself, if only for half an hour.

B: Mine wasn't really a moment so much as a feeling, however cheesy that sounds. Reaching Stella Point - which was a 45 minute walk from the summit - as the sun came up, was amazing. The amount of relief I felt getting there - that was the moment I felt most at peace. I could do this, you know? And then I was sick after drinking tea, which sucked. But after that, I saw a group of clouds floating by, the same height as me, above the plains of Africa and several layers of clouds lower down. Seeing the clouds like that, horizontally, was just incredible. A perfect representation of peace. And that feeling of peace and accomplishment lasted for the rest of the trip, and it's still lasting, really. Other than that, the general memory of laughing at ridiculous situations and inside jokes makes it worth it. We went with such a great group, and there was this constant source of entertainment and support whenever you needed it. So all in all, I guess the whole three weeks was the 'best bit'. Cheesy, again, but it's true! The suffering was so worth it, to remember what we achieved, how much we raised, and where the money is going.

V: And again, thighs of steel.