Mt. Kilimanjaro Summit is a Gift
..Chef Elkana and Peter presented to our team a beautiful layer cake amidst the dust at Millennium Camp. The cake message read: CONGRATUTIOS! Alpine Acents Internation. It was our summit celebration layer cake and despite any misspellings, it was flavored with good intentions and we devoured it… enjoying both our cake and the satisfaction of having reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro earlier that day – as if this experience alone was not already enough of a GIFT!…
That’s the way it has felt all along through the CLIMB TO FIGHT BREAST CANCER (Climb a Mountain – Save a Life) benefitting Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Seven years ago, I helped my mother through breast cancer treatment, and last year, too many friends were diagnosed. I stood by my best friend through treatment, too, and while it made me so very happy to be there for her, it brought anxiety and sadness as well – neither of us enjoying the feeling that the disease might run out of our control. In spite of this reality, we chemo cold-capped, laughed together as a team through treatments and follow-ups, and crossed our fingers for the benefits of technology and research to even the scales.
I was in a place last year, looking for a challenge, seeking a way to create positive impact on the scenarios unfolding for friends and family, for those with cancer, and those helping to steward dear ones through their metamorphosis in treatment. One early morning last summer, I randomly Googled the words “climbing and cancer” and was rewarded with information on the challenge offered via the CLIMB program. It was incredible to me that I could combine the outdoor adventuring I love with something impactful that I wanted to do for others. Once I committed (and gained the support of my husband for childcare!), friends and family, coworkers and community members responded and my breast cancer research fundraising total quickly exceeded the $12,500 minimum for the Mount Kilimanjaro CLIMB. I had hoped to raise the funds early in 2015 so I might then focus on training, getting my kids through the school year, and focusing on changes and responsibilities at work and at home. It was a success and overall I raised over $15,000 for the CLIMB. I scheduled the trip for August, 2015.
When July arrived, I was offered the opportunity to train at altitude, and to hike and do yoga in Montana with Margaret Burns Vap and her company, Big Sky Yoga Retreats (check out the “Cowgirls with Cancer” program) Here again was another tier of delight and sweetness in the preparation for this CLIMB – another gift. In Big Sky, I met a group of encouraging and amazing women, each of whom directly or indirectly helped me to recognize my strengths and the focus needed to pull off two weeks away and the physical endeavor of climbing to the top of Africa! August arrived so quickly and it was time to leverage the training, intention and mindset on the journey to Africa, and on the sprawling and grand mountain. Acknowledging the layers of physical, emotional and mental preparation, I boarded the plane to Tanzania on August 14 – setting off on a cloud of best wishes and good intentions, I felt then indelibly lucky to begin my journey to this mountain, one of the seven summits of the world. The #payitforward concept of this trip was primary to me and it was my goal to fly over 40 prayer flags atop Uhuru Peak. I had addressed each flag with a donor-designated name, with wishes to stay strong, to persevere or… to rest in peace.
And, with enthusiasm and effort, the excellent alliance between Fred Hutch and Alpine Ascents International, and the African Big Expeditions Guides and Porters, I DID it. Indeed, there was a humbling moment at ~18,000’ where I grew very tired, but with the encouragement of my Alpine Ascents guide, Tom Chambers, and support of the team, it was just a moment of discomfort; it proved to be just a blip. And, that’s the great thing about a solid team, they help get you back on track.
Before I knew it, Stella Point was in view. After Stella, it seemed simple. One foot after the other. A few false summits, but in my mind, the goal was going to be reached. Trekking onward, following the crunch of our Tanzanian guide’s footsteps and pressure breathing with a smile on my face, I saw the Uhuru Peak signs silhouetted on the peak and beginning to gleam with the brilliant red and orange fire cast from the sunrise, on what seemed the edge of the world. The nearly six hours night climb was rewarded with a view of the glaciers to the left, and to the right, a carpet-like horizon of clouds alight with the eruption of the warm, brilliant, optimistic sunrise.
We were the first ones to arrive at the summit on August 23 at 5:55 am. My two fellow hikers, Dave and Patrick; our Alpine Ascents International guide, Tom Chambers; and our Big Expeditions, Ltd. Guides – Rodman, Frank and Abraham all reached the summit with relative ease that morning. All of the guides had achieved this summit many times before and were somewhat humble about their achievements, but for me this was purely magical.
….I had a long look around and took the prayer flags out of my pack to hang them from one end to the other on the Peak sign. There were no crowds to hinder my view of these flags waving and billowing, and I enjoyed a robust sense of pride and optimism. The prayer flags waved as Dave, Patrick and I surveyed the incredible 360 degree view, laughed, took selfies and summit shots and humbly stared at the wonder of light rising over the clouds here at the highest point in Africa, on the equator at 19,341 ft.
I wasn’t thinking then about the lack of oxygen, the work it took to reach this elevation, or the long climb back down. It was an incredible time of presence that I will recall and cherish forever. Layer after layer of hard work, appreciation, support, intention, endurance, teamwork and love of the idea of climbing for a cause personal to me was topped with the icing on the proverbial cake as the light continued to rise and daylight warmed and emboldened the summit. The beating sound of the prayer flags whipped in the early morning wind atop Mount Kilimanjaro and sent best wishes to all across the sky…
Uhuru Peak, means Freedom Peak, and this journey checked a lot of boxes for me – paying it forward for friends, family and those i had not yet met, and personally reminding me that setting a huge goal, amidst so many responsibilities to others in my personal life, was indeed possible. The trek embodied the fact that freedom means so many things – freedom from self-doubt, freedom from thick air, freedom from fear, and freedom from the idea that some challenges are too hard; They aren’t – particularly if you pair up with the right team, a good plan and positive intentions.
My layer cake was indeed fully iced, and every bite delicious.
Deirdre Childs ~ Adventurer. Philanthropist. Daughter. Mother. Friend.
All photos courtesy of Deirdre Childs