Trip to the roof of Africa / by Tim Mahlberg

A couple of months ago I returned to Australia from Africa where my Mum and I went to explore an tackle the climb up Mt Kilimanjaro. When I'm asked how it went, the two things that come to mind are "epic" and "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life". As mentioned in previous blogs, we chose to climb for a cause, supporting Plan International's gender equality projects in Africa helping education for girls in Uganda. Knowing that it was for a purpose bigger than us definitely helped in the early hours on the final ascent.

We were a group of 10, with me the only guy, and Mum the oldest woman. She became somewhat of a rockstar to the other younger women climbing and the group of Tanzanian male porters supporting us. Apparently, not too many 60-something people scale mountains, but she is pretty unique.

  Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg via helpful local guide

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg via helpful local guide

Travelling in a single line, we traversed rainforest, along ancient craters, through shrubs and across alpine deserts. My intention for this walk was to be as mindful as possible, climbing with intention and really immersing myself in my surroundings. Almost meditative. What was unexpected was the response from the mountain. On the third day, I broke away from the group to connect deeper with the walk, and after about an hour, I found myself in a powerful rhythm, with every step connecting with this incredible icon of Africa. I was so moved by the spirit of Kilimanjaro that seemed to reach out to me and beckon for me to listen. My heart raced, my limbs tingled as I powered up this steep slope, jumped onto a massive rock outcrop, and stood out looking out across the continent, with the magnificent Mawenzi peak towering over me. I was incredibly alive in this one moment that lingered forever. As I gently turned, across my shoulder I caught my first glimpse of the peak we were destined to reach: Kibo.

  Photo credit: Susanna Franco

Photo credit: Susanna Franco

It was as if two guardian souls were watching me experience something so profound. Just amazing. So, I sat down overlooking the valley and wrote:

With every step I take, I come to realise that I am being supported in my climb by greater forces.

With each step, as my shoes connect with the earth, I feel the mountain propel me forward. It is as though I am just an expression to the earth, a conscious part of it that longs to know itself.

Each breath of air I take in that fills my lungs and sustains my life, is the air coming to express itself through me.

The water that quenches my thirst and ensures that life on the earth can exist, and each mouthful reminds me that without it, I could never be. My existence is but a way that it can know itself.

And finally, as the sun beats down overhead, one of the billions of stars that exist, giving and sustaining life, I feel it feed by body with light.

I am but an expression of these elements, allowing them to realise their greatness in unison.
  Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

It took us 3 days to ascend from 1897m to 4720m above sea level before our final push up to the peak at 5895m. After arriving at Kibo Hut at about 5pm, we prepared for dinner, and lay to rest before waking at 11pm to start our climb at midnight. We were blessed with a full moon to guide us, which made it all the more special. We zigged and zagged up the rocky rubble of the mountain, ever so slowly. After a short time, we started to notice the profound impact of the lack of oxygen, the cold (minus 20°C) and the exhaustion started to set in. One of our group turned back, then another. After one short rest, I was hit by a wave of dizziness and started to sway and stagger. This was altitude sickness starting to set in, and consciousness seemed like something that could slip away like water through my hands. How would I be able to make it another 7+ hours to the summit? On reflection it is quite a scary experience, but something in me was determined to make it. In that moment, a peace came over me where the decision to make it or not was taken away. It was up to the mountain if it wanted me to make it, turn me away, or take me away. Death seemed just a natural likely option, of which I was completely ok with. And so, with one step in front of the other ever so slowly, I continued. The connection with the mountain I'd experienced earlier echoed through me and gave me the strength to surrender and trust that I had little control over what would eventuate. It also gave me strength to take each step with my Mum as altitude started to take a firm hold of her too.

  Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

After 6 hours of painfully slow climbing, our feet and fingers freezing to the point of no feeling and fear of frostbite, we clambers over boulders to reach Gilman's Point at 5685m and catch the sun pierce the African horizon. It was all so surreal as we glanced down into the ancient volcano and the surrounding glaciers. After another 2 hours we found ourselves at Uhuru Peak, the top of the African continent. 

  Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg via local guide who probably saved my life

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg via local guide who probably saved my life

It is hard to remember the extent of the feeling of having made it; the emotion cannot be easily described. I remember the six of us that made it huddled together in a group embrace of support. All of us on the trip felt a deep bond as we shared a personal odyssey that pushed us to our edge.

I'm full of gratitude to the amazing team of guides and porters from Marangu Hotel who looked after us so well. Thanks also to Intrepid Travel for organising the trip and supporting us with our fundraising. I am grateful for being healthy enough to embark on the trip to begin with, and the opportunity to share this trip with my Mum.