What adventure would be complete without some hard learned life lessons? Feast your eyes upon these rocks of wisdom gleaned from the mountain:
Travelling with a doctor is the worst thing ever because they tell you things like, "Did you know you can get hepatitis from food?" They generally dispense such info when you're eating at a ‘restaurant’ in the middle of nowhere. A restaurant that also seems to be a corner shop and doesn’t have any running water.
Just because you can see your next campsite in the distance and it looks only 20 minutes hike away doesn't mean that round the corner there's not a massive ravine that you take an hour and a half to climb 200m down and then back up before you get to camp.
You only have what you take with you. Don’t take a decent lip balm? Your lips will be dry and bleeding by Day 2. Don’t take a pillow? No sleep for you. No towel? Use your dusty clothes. No sense of humour? Good luck with that. There really are no Tesco Metros on the mountain.
Travelling with a doctor is the best thing ever because chances are they’ll cart around hundreds of pills to fix whatever ailment you have – headache, diarrhoea, lung infection? – they’ve got it covered.
Tiredness is not an illness – this is what our lead guide told us whenever we mentioned that we hadn’t slept well, which was pretty much every night.
Things guys don't have to worry about on mountains: finding suitable rocks/trees/bushes to pee behind, taking off a sports bra in a tent and periods. You don't even know how lucky you are.
Travelling with a doctor is the worst thing ever because they tell you things like "We're gonna get corneal ulcers from putting in our contact lenses with dirty hands." They dispense such info just as you're putting in your contact lenses with hands that are covered in dust and grime.
High altitude can make simple tasks ridiculously hard - I spent 20 minutes trying to work out how to fix my belt, turns out all I had to do was thread the fabric through the buckle.
I mostly went for the I Woke Up Like This approach of no makeup and if I was feeling fancy I brushed my hair but people do actually climb Kili wearing makeup and perfume, without a hair out of place. Meet ‘Paris’...
It's impossible to cry sob and breathe 5000m above sea level - you simply don't have enough oxygen.
Life back at sea level is claustrophobic after you've spent four days above the clouds.
Going up a mountain and getting closer to the sun, does not mean it is warmer. I literally don’t understand how this works. We did discuss this and other geographical questions at length on the mountain though.
Sunrise changes everything when you've been hiking in the pitch black of night for 7 hours (2 of which you spent hunched over your hiking poles unable to stand up as you tried to throw up and/or sleep whilst walking), two members of your team have had to turn back and you're colder than you've ever been in your life.
The whole thing was ridiculous. Kili is both beautiful and brutal.
I'd like to pretend I just waltzed up to the top without so much as a hair out of place. Buuuutttttttttt, the truth is a little messier than that. It wasn't half as bad as I thought it would be - probs mainly because I didn't spend the whole climb throwing up/with diarrhoea.
It was hella dustier than I ever imagined tho - I didn't get a tan, just layers, upon layers, upon layers of dust and dirt. My fingernails have never been so black and broken. Literally black - like I'd just come up to the surface from a coal mine. I missed flushing toilets and running water more than cake and wifi. And I have never loved and loathed hand sanitiser so much. Love because hello 99.9% of germs killed. Loathed because you know it's the remaining 0.01% that'll kill ya/give you explosive diarrhoea.
It was worth it though. Kili is beyond beautiful. And I actually miss it.
I was fortunate enough to climb with this random collection:Couldn't have asked for better and couldn't have made it without them. Nothing binds a group of strangers together like discussing how often you've been to the toilet and how long you spent in there - and given that we were sharing one toilet this was quite important intel.
And we literally couldn't have made it without our amazing 5 guides and 34 porters.
The porters are ridiculous. Not only do they carry food, tables, chairs, tents and everything else we needed for mountain life but they carry the bulk of it on their heads - that's around 15kg balanced on their head. We'd leave camp in the morning while they were still packing up and at some point in the next hour or two they'd overtake us and by the time we reached the next camp our tents were up and food was cooking. Most days I could barely walk and talk at the same time. I have never felt more privileged in all my life.
I know what you're thinking - "Rach, this is sounding like a 5 star hiking trip. Someone else carried most of your stuff, put up your tent and cooked your dinner. All you had to do was walk. How hard could it be?"
To be honest the first 6 days were ok, hard work fo sure but manageable - just. Summit Night (aka The Dark Night of My Soul) was something else though.
I was fortunate enough to not suffer from Altitude Sickness and so my biggest worry each day was looking for suitable trees/rocks/bushes to pee behind when we weren't at camp. Which as we got higher and higher into barren rocky wasteland got harder and harder to find - and when you're trying to drink 2-3 litres of water a day this is not helpful. Maybe Freud got something right, penis envy is real.
One of the most surprising things was how quickly I adjusted to walking slower than a tourist on Oxford Street. In normal life I NEVER walk that slowly, it's physically impossible. I have places to be and I intend to get there as swiftly as possible - but on Kili it was impossible to walk any faster, you just can't do it. A lack of oxygen or something I guess.
Life back at sea level has been great. I am still marveling/rejoicing at being able to wash my hands multiple times a day and flushing toilets also still seem like a luxury.
But let’s be real – the kids Refugee Support Network work with have had to deal with a lot worse. They’ve had to flee their home and country and start over in a place by themselves. RSN do a great job, through mentoring and support, helping these kids adjust to life in the UK and engage in their education. RSN helps them to find hope in their future again.
Thank you so so much to friends, family, colleagues, church fam, YWAM fam, amazing Corpus Kettlebells class crew and everyone else far and wide who have already donated. It has been so encouraging in a world that has recently seemed quite dark, to be reminded that people are loving and generous, that there is more kindness than hate, that the light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
It’s been all quiet on the blog front because I have been busy with fun things like:
Practising walking downmountain using trekking poles:
Running to outdoor gear shops in between wedding events to get outdoorsey gear:
Running back to outdoors shops to get the stuff I forgot:
Visiting my grandparents for the obligatory pre-holiday visit:
And lots walking up hills with this:
The marketing people must be from The Apprentice: “This bag is for girls. How can we sell this to girls without making it too obvious or pink? I know! Girls like flowers. Lets put a flower on it.” I laugh but it worked - I really like the flower.
So this is it. I don't know if I've ever been more scared in my life. Thank you to everyone who has reassured me I probably won't die and encouraged me to just keep taking one more step.
If you're the praying type, prayers for safe travels and climb muchly appreciated.
So, when I've mentioned to people that I'm spending 8 days hiking, camping and general living on a giant great massive humongous fat mountain with no showers or wifi a lot of people have asked:
1. Why I'm crazy enough to climb a mountain.
2. Why I've chosen to fundraise for the Refugee Support Network.
The reasons why we do things are important. RSN believe investing in education sends a clear message to the young refugees and victims of trafficking they work with, that despite being in the midst of uncertainty, they have a future that is worth preparing for. And I happen to agree, because these young people are important and do have a future worth preparing for.
As a volunteer with them I have seen the difference their work makes (more about this soon). So I'm climbing a mountain and fundraising for them. Want to support these young people and join the fun? You can donate here.
Thank you so much to those who have already donated - 5% raised already! You have no idea how encouraging it is and more importantly what a difference it will help make to young refugees finding their feet in the UK.
War has driven 13 million children out of school in the Middle East North Africa region, and almost 50 million globally. In conflict, schools are destroyed, occupied by armed groups and used to shelter displaced students. In places where learning continues, students and teachers can be targets of violence. For many, continuing to learn is just not possible.
When children and families are forced to flee their homes, they miss out on more education as they make dangerous journeys trying to find a place of safety. For the refugees arriving in Europe, education is a priority: it’s how lives begin to be rebuilt and hope for the future is rekindled.
RSN work with young people affected by displacement and crisis, enabling them to access, remain and progress in education at all stages of their migration journey. Watch this quick 2 minute video (do we even still call them videos?) that sums up what they do.
In the UK, they run educational mentoring schemes and offer education advice and support and social activities for young refugees, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and survivors of trafficking. These programmes work predominantly with separated children and young people, who are in the UK without a responsible adult.
“I am happy when I meet my mentor. I want to pass my exams this year so that next year I can study mechanics and my mentor helps me so much with this. This is good for me!” – 16 year old boy from Afghanistan
They also run a higher education programme, helping young people from these backgrounds who have the academic potential to go to university overcome the barriers they face.
Internationally, they are developing partnerships with local and international organisations in order to improve access to and quality of education for children who remain in, or return to regions of the world affected by displacement and crisis. Alongside these programmes they provide training, research and consultancy on issues connected to the education and wellbeing of displaced young people.
Separated children (refugee and asylum-seeking children and survivors of trafficking under the age of 18, in this country without parent or guardian, also referred to as unaccompanied minors) are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Having fled various traumatic experiences in their country of origin, they often experience further hardship or abuse on their journeys to the UK. On arrival they face a complicated asylum process that operates in a language they may not understand. They are looked after by local authorities in foster care, or housed in multi-occupancy accommodation or children’s homes. They often experience isolation, loneliness, and difficulties communicating. Those who have been brought into the UK by human traffickers can experience on-going exploitation and abuse.
Many unaccompanied minors speak of education as the most positive thing in their life, because it enables them to focus on the future rather than the past. Yet barriers such as language level, understanding of various systems, lack of personal contacts or networks and emotional and cultural difficulties often prevent them from getting the education they need to start to build a future.
Refugee Support Network helps young people to develop skills that will be useful to them both now and in the future - whether they ultimately receive permanent leave to remain in this country or are returned to their country of origin. They help young people build more hopeful futures through education
Want to help more young people find hope in their future you can donate here:
I am covering the cost of the climb so everything donated will go straight to RSN.
£5 Could pay travel expenses for a young person to attend a support session
£24 Could fund two specialist educational advice sessions for a young person
"WOAH?! What’s this?!" I hear you say. "Rachel wrote a Man vs Steel fan fiction remix featuring herself as a superhero fighting an evil supervillain called Kilin-man-jaro?! #epic"
Almost. 5 points for trying. Drum roll please:
I believe that young people in our care system should have hope in their future so in just under 2 months I’ll be undertaking the hardest mental and physical challenge of my life and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for the Refugee Support Network!
Forget Man vs food or Man vs wild. This is way more serious - Rachel vs. Kilimanjaro.
Refugee Support Network (RSN) do an amazing job supporting teenage refugees and survivors of trafficking, who have ended up in the UK, to build more hopeful futures through education. I’ve been volunteering with them for almost a year and a half and have seen first-hand the difference their work makes.
I'll be spending 8 days trekking up and then down, the 19,341ft of the highest free standing mountain in the world. I’ll be camping on the mountain with no running water, flushable toilets or wi-fi (gulp!). Because of the altitude I’ll potentially be battling shortness of breathe, nausea, headaches, lack of appetite and fatigue (altitude sickness is apparently no joke y’all). You see all these pictures of people grimacing smiling on the summit?
They’re all pretty much exhausted, freezing cold, have headaches and want to throw up.
And I want to be one of them.
Why?! I hear you ask (8 years later and those mind reading psychology degree lectures and mountain of student debt is still proving value for money).
First. Because I believe young people who have had to flee their family and home or been trafficked should have hope in their future restored. Living without hope is a desperate place.
I also believe education is important. Having worked in a school I have seen the importance of qualifications and the options it creates for a better future.
Second. All my other methods at getting legs like Beyoncé have failed (squats, kettlebells class, learning all the moves for single ladies, perfecting my crazy in love walk, vegan challenge. Holla at me Beehive - we’ve all been there). Also, I love a challenge. At least, I love a challenge as long as it’s one I choose, with defined boundaries and safety nets, and having done my research am confident that with some hard work I can complete.
Finally, I have come to the sad realisation that in the same way my hogwarts letter is not arriving any time soon, it's unlikely Gandalf will be knocking on my door sending me on a mission across Middle Earth any time soon. So rather than wait for adventure to come knocking I’m embarking on my own.
Many of the young people RSN work with have ended up in the UK by themselves, they live in foster care or semi-supported housing. Through mentorship and educational programmes RSN helps these young people adjust to life in the UK and engage in their education as they battle the immigration system and life in a completely new country without any support networks from family and friends. As a volunteer mentor with RSN I have seen the challenges young refugees face and their resilience in overcoming them. My mentee couldn’t speak much English before she had to come to the UK just over 2 years ago. She now has a full timetable of GCSE’s, BTEC and AS Levels. She did want to be a Maths teacher, but now she’s thinking about studying Medicine.
Want to help revive hope in young people and cheer me on my way up the mountain? You can sponsor me here.
£24 Could fund a specialist educational advice session for two young people
£50 Could pay for a training session for 15 new mentors
I have set a scarily huge target of £2000. Anything you are able to donate would be amazing!
I am covering the cost of the trip so all funds raised will go directly to RSN. Yeh, so I could just donate the cost of the climb myself, stay at home and eat cake, but where’s the fun/blood, sweat and tears in that?
International friends you can also donate here too.
I am super excited. And super scared. I am totally expecting to be half way up a mountain crying for my mother because I have extreme diarrhoea, ate all my good snacks and still have 5 days hiking up a mountain to go. But I’m telling myself “I will be fine.” And I'm sure I will be.
In every adventure it’s good to have a sidekick/wing (wo)man who’s crazy enough to go with you, hold your hand when you’re scared and laugh at/with you whilst you cry. I’m so thankful for friends like Kitch who sign up to adventure too.
Want to hear all about it? Over the next few weeks I’ll be updating my blog, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with training adventures (remind me to tell you the one about the parrots), general preparing to climb a mountain shenanigans, and of course the trek itself!
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Want to come too? The more the merrier. There’s still a few spaces so give me a shout and I’ll pass on details etc.
Just incase you missed it - link to donate here. Thank you wonderful people!