23 extremely brave woman climbed Kilimanjaro last month and below they have written about their experience climbing 4,600 metres from base to summit.
It is hard to believe that I have been back a week. Adjusting back to 'normal' life is taking longer than I imagined. It is hard to put into words all that I felt and experienced on my journey, but here is a little insight into my adventure.
Climbing Kilimanjaro, as it turned out was only part of my Challenge. Sleeping in a small tent, with no running water and limited toilet facilities was a challenge in itself. Just getting myself up every morning, getting dressed, packing up my bags, and putting away my sleeping bag, ready to start my day, often left me close to tears. Each day began between 5.45-6.30am (not my best time of day)! Rucksacks needed to be packed with lots of things including snacks, waterproof clothing, sun cream, hat and 3L of water. Each day was a new terrain, we trekked through rainforests, moorland, rocky slopes and the alpine desert, until we were so high we could look down and see the pillow of clouds below us. Amazing!
On Friday, we did a 'small', 4 hour acclimatization walk. Other than another awful headache, I was fine. By 1pm we were back at our campsite and told to rest for the day until dinner. On Friday night, we all gathered to light our Shabbat Candles and sing a few songs. Generally, I am not someone who cries too easily, however, this was all too much to bear and thinking of my family at home without me started me and many others off. Crying and laughing we got through dinner. Our guide also gave us a briefing about the following night, Summit Night! After that, there was not much talking, everyone began to realise the enormity of what lay ahead. In the meantime, Saturday morning we had to be up at 5.45 am and ready to leave at 6.45 am for a 6-7 hour walk across the desert to take us to the base camp for our Summit Climb.
11.30pm on Saturday night we were all gathered ready to begin our huge task of reaching the summit. I had on four layers of clothing, a thick jacket, loads of heatpads down my top and in my pockets, ski hat and gloves on, rucksack filled with water (that later froze due the temperature falling to -15). Somehow or other, just after 6 am I made it to Gilmans (5685m) which is the Summit. There was no feeling of euphoria, just relief and exhaustion. There were 2 slightly higher points one could go to, if you were able. Somehow, I pushed myself to the next point called Stella at 5756m which took another hour to get to. After that, with only 100m left, I too was told to start to go back, I was so ill I didn't even realise it at the time.
The sun was out and very strong by now, I was boiling hot, had no water and literally could not speak. After about 20 minutes, a friend turned to me and asked if I was ok and I just cried. Every step of the 4 hours it took to get back to camp was painful, I was exhausted and had no energy. It was a nightmare.
Eventually, I returned to my tent, where I slept for about 2 hours. We then had lunch and had to prepare ourselves for a 7 hour walk down the mountain to our last campsite.
Our last night in the tent was one of sheer joy and utter relief. It was almost over and we would soon be on our way home.
“It is very difficult to believe that we returned from a life changing experience only a short while ago – excited, exhausted and frankly shattered. I want to thank you all for making those 10 days the most memorable I have ever encountered. Despite it being the hardest, most difficult and challenging time, it has been astonishing and wonderful to share it with you.
You are all an inspiration, and I have been honoured and humbled to walk by your side, eat and drink with you in the mess tent, wait with you in the cold to use those very special facilities, climb rocks behind and in front of you, look at amazing views with you, share special and spiritual moments with you, and generally participate in a great adventure.
This was a challenge that bared us to our souls, stripped us of our defences and raised us up to great heights (literally!)
Thank you, thank you, thank you
I will never forget it and never forget you all”
“An utterly surreal adventure, with a strong, feisty bunch of 23 energetic Jewish women! So happy to have experienced it and it was such a privilege to have been there sharing with such a supportive, caring team.
Laughter, fun, tears, penetrating dirt & dust! Treasured memories! Wouldn't have missed it for the world....X”
“I don’t think I was properly prepared for what laid ahead of us. Never did I expect it to be so hard physically and as much as I trained to go up – forgot about coming down! HATED that bit the most! My main memory, apart from it being absolutely horrendous, was the absolutely wonderful people I met and shared this with, not only all the lovely ladies (and Gwyn), but the amazing guides and porters who were with us all every step of the way. I am most proud of the amount of money we have all raised to aid Chai Cancer Care.”
“When I was put forward to do this trek, I did not imagine or have an idea what this would entail. My first thought was to increase my level of fitness. Having also never done any form of camping, this was also a bit of a culture shock. However, my main determination was driven by the fact that this was being done to raise as much money as possible for cancer sufferers and their families and this was my only priority. Although I did not make it to the summit, the bonds made within the group, together with the feelings and emotions felt between us all will remain with me forever. “
“Climbing Kilimanjaro to the summit was the hardest journey of my life so far. I did it! From mountain extremes one day to dining at Nobu in my Prada’s the next! It has taught me that life is about mental and physical challenges which we all cope with day to day.
A while ago I felt traumatised after having a biopsy-but I was equally grateful and aware that when I heard the words "benign" that small chapter in my life closed.
Another person with different results begins another path of their journey- Far more scary and gruelling than climbing a mountain.
It was a privilege to have the ability and choice to climb Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for Chai. A truly unforgettable experience.”
“The first 5 days were magical. Spectacular scenery, wonderful company, endless laughter, even camping was more comfortable than I anticipated. Simply never experienced anything like it! There was no one to worry about except for each other. For the first time in many years we were not daughters, wives or mothers - just care free and enjoying nature.
Unfortunately my harrowing experience three quarters of the way during the summit climb changed my attitude towards Kilimanjaro. Unbeknown to me I had a chest infection and combined with reduced oxygen meant I was gasping for every breath, experiencing severe chest pain and genuinely thinking I would never see my children again.
We were terribly vulnerable on that mountain. Thank G-d we all made it home and raised an incredible amount of money for Chai in the process.”
"We were 23 women who came together for Chai Cancer Care, to raise money and awareness for the incredible work Chai carries out. I don't think any of us could have imagined what climbing Kilimanjaro entailed. Every day held different challenges, yet it was such a memorable and special time. We were led by an amazing group of guides. Early on our lead guide, Gwyn, advised us to work together as a team and that is exactly what we did.
The days were filled with tears and laughter. On our summit night we had a full moon and within 20 minutes of walking the most incredible shooting star shot through the sky.
Knowing we were walking for such an inspiring charity helped us go further than we ever thought we could. It was a privilege to be part of this amazing group of women."
The American mountaineer Ed Viesturs said “the summit is optional, coming home safely isn’t.” When summit night arrived, I wasn't really thinking about the summit at all. I just tried to distract myself away from the -17 temperature, the steepness of the climb and the dense blackness of the night by listening to uplifting house music my husband had kindly put together for me the week before. Without the music, I probably would have keeled over, but instead I had an undulating rhythm I could bang my poles and feet to.
I luckily had some prayers tucked away in my headache-filled brain too, which I decided were alarmingly appropriate, so as the timing felt right, I thanked G-d for every step I took and for giving strength to the weak and the weary and I just kept on walking and praying, walking & praying, catching sight of the countless head torches of my fellow climbers snaking up the mountain and hearing the the comforting words of Swahili wisdom, "pole,pole" -"slow, slow."
After walking (slowly) for six and a half hours through the night, we reached the first summit, 5,681 metres above sea level, named Gilman's point. There was a brief moment of euphoria before being told to quickly move on.
As the sun came up, the views became more and more breath taking -in more ways than one -one's breath was literally being taken away with the ever increasing lack of oxygen…with the lunar landscape of the crater itself to one side and the dramatic glaciers on the other, it was a true sight to behold. Thoughts of stopping kept trying to keep me from ascending but as soon as any doubt crept in, I was helped by friends from my group I never knew I had. One amazing woman gave me the last of her nutritious power juices and encouraged me to keep going -thank you Jackie. The women on this group were all truly exceptional people and the bonds we made will always remain the highlight for me -even more so than reaching the summit. Once I hit the second summit, Stella Point, my snail-like crawl felt like I was going nowhere fast, but Florence suddenly appeared telling me I'd be at the very top in no time at all. This is a man who has never kept time by any sort of real clock, but in the end it was his time-fibbing abilities that sent me up there and forty five minutes later, now close to 8am, I had done it - I had finally reached Uhuru -the Swahili word for 'Freedom'.
I greeted my friends who had arrived as a group just before me, and unable to resist a moment of humour, burst into dramatic song- "All by myself, don't wanna be. All by myself, anymore…" We laughed, we cried, we took photos; we cried some more and then we got the hell down. The jelly leg inducing, knee jarring descent was made more difficult by the fact that we were wearing ski wear in the boiling sunshine. Suddenly we all went into survival mode - trying to get off that mountain as quickly as possible was now the most important thing. When I finally arrived back at base, I found Julie, my tent partner and wonderful friend, who had also been crying; worried she had left me for dead on the mountain. I reassured her all was well in the world. We hugged; we cried; we took re-hydration tablets -all in a day's work on Kilimanjaro!
Almost one month has passed since we returned from climbing. now back to my normal daily routine I can finally sit down and think about the incredible journey I took, physically and emotionally.
I find it hard to put in words my experience. Everyday was a challenge in some way or other, more emotionally than physically. Sleeping in a sleeping bag was my first challenge to overcome! This may sound strange but I never sleep with my feet covered and being confined to that narrow bag was hard work! After not sleeping for the first couple of nights Alicia was kind enough to give her fleece liner to me which was wider than the sleeping bag and I then unzipped the bag and used it as a duvet. My lovely tempur pillow froze at night so was like a rock so I ended up putting my down feather coat in a pillow case and used that instead.
These things may sound trivial but when you are living in the conditions we were they compound and magnify in the high altitude and lack of sleep obviously made the daytimes harder.
As you have seen from the blog whilst we were away, the day times were wonderful, lots and lots of walking but very special times spent with very special friends, with plenty of laughter.
Everyone had different experiences of summit night. Mine did not turn out as I expected! I never considered that I wouldn't make it to the summit, unfortunately I was hit with very bad altitude sickness when I reached 5000 m. I continued for another 550 meters, 100 meters below Gillmans Point, the first summit point. The wonderful Porter George who was looking after me told me that last 100 m would take me another 45 minutes. I probably could have managed it but mentally I was broken, I had been sick several times and was very weak and all I could think about was how I would get down safely. I could hear Julian in my head repeating ' do not risk your health'. This made me chose to turn around.
As much as it upsets me now that I didn't reach the summit, at the time I really feel I made the right decision. I continued to be sick on the way down and was very dehydrated as my water had frozen. Because I didn't make it to the summit I had to make that journey back to camp in pitch black! This was more terrifying then the climb up. I couldn't stand without the support of George who held onto me the whole way down.
I remember ringing home later that day to Julian and my mother crying about how awful it was, how ill I felt and how disappointed that I didn't summit. Now sitting here its a bit like labour! The pain is forgotten. The disappointment maybe not! But as everyone says the Mountain will always be there and one day I will go back and beat it!!
Has the trip changed me? I don't really think so, although I did learn more about myself! I went away with very close friends that have become even closer to me now and to the girls I didn't know well I gained new friendships. I feel very blessed to have gone away with these special women and to have had the experience I did, at the same time raising an incredible amount of money for such a wonderful charity.
Thank g- d together we have raised over £330,000 to help Chai set up a children and young adults section, that will give wonderful support to those who struggle daily with their challenges.
Even now money is still coming in and I really hope this trip has further raised awareness of what Chai does.Sian Levy
It has been a surreal month since we came back for our challenging trip to Kilimanjaro. It feels like it happened long time ago. Many friends and family have asked me how my trip was and it was tricky to give a brief answer.
During the trip we laughed, we giggled, we cried, we struggled, we prayed, we sang and we bonded. There was something very beautiful about the formation of close relationship between women and supporting each other when we needed it.
Everyone had their particular reasons why to take this challenge and my particular reason gave me strength and confidence to achieve my goal.
The mountain pushed us to the limits but it gave us an amazing sense of achievement, not only for making it to the top, but for the unbelievable amount of money we have raised for a very worthy cause!!!
Soon I’ll be ready for the next challenge!
Thank you for all the support you gave us!
When I first decided that I was actually going to join the group in climbing the great Mount Kilimanjaro, I knew that I would have to train as hard as I possibly could both physically and mentally. Luckily, I did both and am glad to report that the intense preparation seriously paid off.
The first day on the mountain was very exciting, but I was also feeling anxious and eager to start walking since it had taken several hours to get going. Finally, the trek began: at first it was a pleasant, easy and slow-paced walking to a beautiful scenery. As the days wore on, though, I found myself facing difficult and varying challenges--but (thank G-D!) managed to surpass them all. Eventually, even the formerly tiring tasks of packing my bag, rolling my sleeping bag, getting my clothes organised and getting my wash done became easier. In fact, by day 3 all of those technical things were smoother.
What truly showed itself to be the (increasingly) tougher challenge was the intensely high altitude but, somehow everyday we managed to get to the next camp site through laughter, tears and a lot of chit chat. Through overcoming our challenges together we got to know one and other and built a strong connection-- that was a beautiful part of the experience.
By summit night we had all bonded and were "one" as Florence the main guide said, reminding us that that was the only way we would make it to the top.
As for Shabbat, it was at first a bit of a hard moment for me since it was the first I had ever spent away from my children. Yet, after receiving a text saying they were all okay, I felt relieved enough to decide to make the most and best out of being on a 4330 meter mountain with 22 gorgeous and incredible women. I was ultimately able to truly enjoy this very special and "HIGH" Shabbat.
All the signs indicated that we were being looked after and blessed by Hashem. On Shabbat we prayed a lot and read Tehilim--in other words, we geared up for summit night in a spiritual way (and then of course in a physical manner by putting on all our layers).
However, for me, summit night was extremely challenging because I was totally exhausted and was struggling to keep awake. Nevertheless, I pushed myself hard and convinced myself I would get to the top because I was here and had to do it. I was constantly out of breath and had to stop after every 3 steps and rest for a few seconds. It felt like I was walking on the moon--well, a very steep moon. At times I even had to hold on to the rocks to climb up. It was hard,very,very hard.
All of the physical pain passes, but what will stay with me forever are the many good memories shared, the amazing time spent on this beautiful mountain, and the magnificent views and landscapes. I am honoured to say that I have accomplished this once in a lifetime experience and achievement.
The money I raised for Chai made every step I took, every tear I shed, well worth it. It was thinking of the people at Chai that kept me strong and going. I was able to come back home relieved and so proud of what we had achieved.
I am now clear about one thing climbing Kili (I have earned the right to now call it that) was not about Uhuru, Stella point or Gillman's--it was about the entire journey there and back.
So I can say one thing: we all DID IT!!!
Jennifer Levy Goldstein
Climbing Kilimanjaro was a great leveller. We were stripped of all our defences, disorientated, vulnerable and alone, even amongst a group of 23. Lack of sleep, control, nausea, dirt, were all par for the course. Some of us reached the top, some didn’t but it was not about that for this group- for us it was about the journey we shared together every day and for what/who we were doing this for.
It was a privilege to share this experience with a group of such inspiring, amazing women, each and every one of which brought their own special ingredient which made this an unbelievable, memorable experience I will have in my heart forever.
I never in a million years thought we could do what we did, but strangely enough, I also never doubted our ability and strength to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Its over 5 weeks since we have been home and its hard to believe that’s its all over – a year in the making, blood/sweat and tears, but worth it all.
The best thing – the money we raised. So many people pledged the money before we left, so basically they all believed in us, all that was left was to conquer the mountain.
Looking back I loved the journey and the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro, despite feeling awful on summit night and having the enormous disappointment of not quite reaching the top, not to mention being stretchered off the mountain, something I will never forget, but I do see the funny side of it!
I have incredible memories of our 10 days, we forged and cemented special friendships, our bond is strong and safe and we take comfort in being in each others company.
I do feel it was a life changing experience, I have seen beauty beyond words and found myself not caring about things that often feel so important and really aren’t.
To know you have made such a difference to a charity is for me incredibly special. I am honoured to have been part of Chai, their strength and determination was what we took up the mountain with us. I hope I never have to use the services of Chai, but I take comfort in the work they do and the friends they have and continue to look after so wonderfully, and that is why I will always be here to help Chai in any way I can.
The online sponsorship page is still open, so to sponsor the 23 girls for completing their amazing challenge and support Chai Cancer Care please click here.