1 Mountain, 14 Climbers, $136,000 for GI Cancer Research
Associate Professor Niall Tebbutt, an AGITG board member, has recently returned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro as part of the 2015 Gutsy Challenge. The climb took place over a week and took the team to the summit at 5,895 metres. Niall showed extraordinary determination and commitment, both climbing the mountain and fundraising for the GI Cancer Institute. Altogether, the team raised over $136, 000 for Gastro-intestinal cancer research. This funding will support the Innovation Fund.
Upon his return from the Mount Kilimanjaro Gutsy Challenge Associate Professor Niall Tebbutt had this to say:
“Participating in the Kilimanjaro Gutsy Challenge was a fabulous experience for me. I encourage AGITG members to get involved in the Gutsy Challenge. This year of fundraising and being involved with the community, culminating in meeting other participants who are committed to furthering our work has been extremely gratifying and I hope to do it again in the future.”
Converging at the hotel in Arusha after the 32-hour journey from Australia, we are all tired and nervous. We know we’re in for a tough week ahead — no electricity, tents, sleeping bags, extreme cold, long uphill climbs, depleted oxygen, and the most disturbing aspect of all, chemical toilets.
We start the day early, travelling through north Tanzania. Arriving at the Rongai Gate, we pour out of the bus and see the porters for the first time. Dozens of them sit and stand, awaiting our arrival. The guides introduce themselves with smiles and open faces.
We begin our trek at 1,800m. Bruno, a taciturn young man who says he has climbed the mountain over 300 times, is the lead guide and he sets off at a very slow pace. All of us are bunched together in a line behind him. It’s jungle all around, humid and the thick vegetation provides a welcome canopy for most of the day. Early on we pass dilapidated shacks next to small, cultivated plots of land. At one point four little children come and stand by the trail and everyone stops to take pictures. Someone hands them pieces of candy and a child pops one in her mouth, wrapper and all.
Although our pace continues slowly, porters pass us at a fast clip, each laden with necessities, balancing burdens on their heads. Some of it is stuff for the camp — food, water, tents, chemical toilets, and the rest is our personal gear. Soon all the porters leave us behind. Eventually the jungle disappears, as do trees, opening up the view.
Sleep is fitful — part jetlag, part excitement and part discomfort with the thin sleeping pad. By 8:00 we’re off to Kikelewa Camp. By the end of the day we will be at 3,800m. The highest point, at 5,895m, is called Uhuru Peak. That’s where we’re headed. It is a difficult, unending ascent and I begin to understand the wisdom of slow pacing.
We leave for Kibo Camp at 8am. Kibo is the base camp, at 4,700 m. The vast, barren openness all around us makes it difficult to gain perspective or measure any sense of progress. By midday we crest the final steep incline and enter the camp.
We’re supposed to sleep now, have an early dinner, then sleep again until the 10:45 pm wake up to begin the climb to the summit. We’re too restless, and the bright sun heats up our tents’ interiors to an uncomfortable level. However, serious cold – well below freezing – sets in when the sun fades, and we’re all bundled up for dinner. The hot soup hits the spot. There is a sense of excitement in the air.
We’re at 40% of our normal oxygen levels at this altitude and we labour every breath. We reach our first rest stop at 12:30am, with another six hours until we reach Uhuru Peak. All extraneous mental activity is pushed aside by the physical battle — it requires a focused-mind, full-body effort every time we take a step. Bruno changes his attitude when alerting us to the next two rest stops. Along with ‘You’re doing great!” and “You’re almost there!” comes a new one, sharply barked; “You sleep, you die!” We’re concentrating so hard on each and every step that the words barely register.
When we finally reach the sign – that magical sign announcing the end, the top of Kilimanjaro – we are all ecstatic to have made it and all close to tears. There is enough time to have a few pictures taken of ourselves at the sign before we must start heading back down. We’re not supposed to stay at this elevation for long and the clock’s been ticking.
The return trip is easier but our pace remains measured and slow. Any illusion of a quick descent is quickly dashed. Again, the sheer vastness of the space around us makes it difficult to measure progress. Around 10:30am most of the team completes the final 50 meters back into Kibo camp. It’s been an eleven-hour summit and everybody is exhausted, but exhilarated.
2 pm is our appointed departure from Kibo Camp, when we will walk eight kilometres to the next camp. Eight kilometres is not that far when that’s all you do in a day. For us this day, coming after so many hours of excruciating excursion, it feels like eighty. Around four o’clock the overcast sky grows darker and a thick mist descends. As we break for our tents we hear far-off thunder and see the occasional flash of lightening. That night the camp is pummelled by a raging thunderstorm.
Thankfully the storm is over well before our 6:30am wake-up call, and when we step out we see the top of Kilimanjaro in the distance, shining brightly under a blanket of new snow. We’re collectively thankful it didn’t happen the day before. Fresh snow on top of that scree is an alarming thought.
We arrive at the huts at Marangu Gate under a tropical deluge. Great timing. Tent life is pure misery when it’s wet outside. The team walks in the rain to the bus. These last few steps feel surreal, with the intensity of the weeklong journey juxtaposed with the aura of modernity now in view.
Story excerpts adapted from fellow climber, George Lancaster’s, recount of the journey.