Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro was the 'best worst thing' I've ever done

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro was the 'best worst thing' I've ever done

A CHILDREN’S entertainer raised more than £15,000 for charity by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Hayley Pearson, 29, of Wayside Green, Woodcote, was part of a team of 26 people, including her cousin Amy Pearson, from Didcot, who scaled the 19,341ft peak.

Miss Pearson, who was raising money for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance, and her fellow climbers flew to Tanzania to start their trek from Machame Gate.

It took them five days to reach their base camp at about 17,400ft, where they briefly slept before making the final ascent overnight and arriving at sunrise on the following morning.

They were accompanied by a team of about 80 porters who carried their tents, food, first aid and cooking equipment while each climber carried about 10kg of snacks and clothing.

Miss Pearson, who runs a playscheme for younger children from a converted double-decker bus, shared a tent with her cousin.

The pair had trained by taking walks in the countryside around her home and in Wales.

On the first day the team hiked through rainforest at the foot of the mountain, where they were caught in a heavy shower, but saw a variety of wildlife including monkeys.

Miss Pearson said: “There was quite a delay at Machame Gate while we were being registered, so it gave us plenty of time to think about what we’d let ourselves in for.

“It was getting hotter as the day went on, which didn’t help as it brought home the challenge we’d be facing, but I was feeling confident if a bit nervous.

“The rainforest was very humid and walking became a lot harder after the heavens opened because the ground became very slippery.

“However, it was worth it because the scenery was absolutely stunning.

“It was very hot on the second day and the terrain was very rocky as we climbed a couple of waterfalls. The views were even more incredible because we were above the tree canopy and could see the whole town of Moshi.

“On day three we started heading into the cloud layer, which was tough as it was very humid and rainy.

“ It wasn’t heavy like the first day but there was a constant, relentless drizzle and it was also a long day of climbing.

“It was pretty miserable as that’s when the first signs of altitude sickness kicked in.

“I was lucky as I didn’t get sick like some of the others but I could feel my chest tightening, my breath getting shorter and each step getting harder.

“I think everyone felt the strain because at that stage you could see the summit but despite all our efforts, it never looked like it was getting any closer. In fact, at times it felt like it was getting further away.”

The group stopped for lunch that day at Lava Tower, a famous rock formation on the mountain, but could hardly see it because of the mist.

Miss Pearson said: “By that point the terrain was rocky and you could really tell that you were on a volcanic mountain. It was strewn with huge boulders.

“It was just a case of pacing yourself and going ‘poli poli’, or ‘slowly slowly’, as our guides said.

“The worst part of that day was the end. You could see the campsite but you first had to descend a steep valley and climb back up the other side to reach it.

“The fourth day was shorter. I remember waking up, looking out of my tent and seeing a rainbow, which was lovely. Every morning you’d wake up thinking ‘that’s another day gone’ — you’d forget all the hardship of the day before.”

The team traversed the Barranco Wall, a steep and narrow ridge that runs along a sheer cliff face, then settled down for the night.

The fifth day was even shorter as they reached their base camp at about lunchtime.

They went to bed at about 5.30pm then woke up at 10.30pm for a cup of ginger tea to combat altitude sickness before embarking on the final push at 11.30pm.

They slogged through temperatures as low as -15C and 25mph winds to reach the summit at about 7am.

Miss Pearson said: “I knew it was going to be a long journey and it was hard to sleep thinking about the challenge that awaited us. It was pitch black with just our headtorches lighting the way and it was hard to tell which dots of light were stars and which were other walkers further ahead.

“It was really pretty, though. We knew there were steep drops on either side but couldn’t really see them and our guides did a great job of keeping us on the right track.

“We were all very hot to start with because we had to layer up heavily. I really wanted to take a few layers off but didn’t have the energy and knew I’d only have to put them back on later.

“I remember being mostly worried about the numbness in my toes. Another team member kept telling me I’d feel better at the top and I just thought ‘shut up, that’s hours away yet!’. However, it was completely worth it when we reached the summit and saw the first light of the sun.

“It was so spectacular — you could see the curvature of the earth below and the peaks of other mountains nearby.

“I was amazed that I’d made it and had to pinch myself as it felt so surreal. We stayed there for about 20 minutes then made our way back down, which took a few hours.

“We only had a short rest at base camp before we had to pack up and carry on descending. It was so hard getting started again after taking a break!”

The group camped about halfway down the mountain that night and arrived back at Machame Gate in early evening the next day.

They sang traditional African songs with their porters and gave them tips and donated clothes to thank them.

Miss Pearson said: “It was quite emotional because we’d almost become like a little family. I could see the next group getting ready to set off and thought, ‘you’ve no idea what you’re in for’.

“The day afterwards, I couldn’t move. I felt bruised and achy all over and was waddling like a penguin. I’m very glad I did it and would say it’s the ‘best worst thing’ I’ve done in my life!

“I’m proud that we finished and very thankful for all the donations we’ve received.

“The money is still coming in and I’ll be collecting at events like this summer’s Woodcote Rally.”

To sponsor Miss Pearson, visit https://tvaakili2017.everydayhero.

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