“Did you do anything interesting for the summer?” is a question often asked as schools re-open, and three Coláiste Dún Iascaigh students will answer a definite yes to it following their return from scaling Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. Ashlee Hally from Grange, Michaela Peters from Ballydrehid and Clogheen’s Kieran King were part of the fourteen-strong South Tipperary VEC group who climbed the mountain under the guidance of adventurer and lecturer Ian McKeever.
Ian McKeever has guided a total of 10 groups on Kilimanjaro this summer, including almost 150 students from all over the country. He has gained acclaim for his own climbing exploits, including shaving 32 days off the previous world record for the Seven Summits challenge in 2007, when he climbed the highest peak in each of the seven continents in 155 days.
Ian McKeever stresses the importance of the right attitude, motivation and preparation in his exploits, and in the months that followed the three Coláiste students dedicated themselves to the task. One of the elements involved fundraising, with proceeds from the South Tipperary VEC group fundraising going to Aware Tipperary, to be specifically used the fund the Teenager Support Groups; the Helpline and Greater Suicide Prevention Education. Events such as a leg wax, greyhound night, table quiz, battle of the bands, cake sales and barbeque were organised. Sponsorship cards were held by local shops and sponsorship was collected in the school and from the community.
Training and nutrition are important parts of the preparation. Each of the students participated in McKeever’s 12-week programme – nicknamed the “Broccoli programme” because of the amount of the vegetable to be consumed. A strict nutrition and fluid intake programme was followed, along with a training programme which included almost weekly climbs of Galtymore and regular gymwork, cycling and jogging to build fitness. The group had three training climbs with Ian McKeever as part of the preparation. A series of vaccinations – for illnesses including typhoid, yellow fever and tetanus - is also required.
Departure day from Dublin was August 22, and excitement levels were high. After a delay due to weather – and a longer than originally scheduled stop-over in Amsterdam – the group embarked on the eight-hour flight to Tanzania, the highlight of which was flying over the Pyramids in Egypt. Ashlee, Michaela and Kieran were struck by the heat when emerging from the plane, but had little time to enjoy it as they headed to get visas sorted and then to their lodgings.
The next day saw them make their way to the bottom of the mountain. Ian McKeever favours the Lemosho route up the mountain. It is the longest route, circumnavigating the mountain, but it offers spectacular views and most importantly it allows time for climbers to acclimatise to conditions and avoid altitude sickness. The group also met their porters or sherpas, who accompanied them on the climb and carried much of the luggage- some of them carrying bags on their heads. The porters were hugely informative, telling the students about the country and life there as they climbed. Their ritual of doing a dance on each occasion before the group began walking was greatly enjoyed. The average day was divided into 2 climbs – three hours before lunch and three hours after, before setting up at the next base camp for the night. Day four was particularly tough, but it brought not only a huge sense of achievement at the end of it but also the availability of mobile phone coverage following a two day gap! Kilimanjaro has three volcanic cones, and the option to do additional rockclimbing on part of a cone was taken by some. By the end of day four exhaustion was setting in, and the night’s sleep was warmly welcomed. Finally, after six and a half days climbing, the group reached the summit at Uhuru Peak, 5899 metres above sea level. The sense of achievement was huge, the relief, a surreal feeling, hard to believe that after the months of preparation and training they had made it. The views were spectacular, so much to take in. One hour was spent at Uhuru Peak. Songs were sung, pictures were taken, congratulations were offered and accepted, hugs and crying from many.
While it took six and a half days to climb the mountain, the descent took a mere one and a half days and was described as “definitely hard work”. The first part of the descent was done in poor light, and with a 13 hour day on the last day of climbing the day was particularly draining both physically and mentally. Following descent the group enjoyed a well-deserved party and some recovery time, before heading on the following day to the airport for the flight back, touching down in Dublin on September 1.
The challenges achieved by Ashlee, Michaela and Kieran, and indeed all of those involved in the South Tipperary VEC group, is immense. They have scaled one of the world’s highest peaks – at 5899 metres, Kilimanjaro is the fourth highest of the Seven Summits and is more than five times the height of our own Carrauntoohill, which stands at 1038 metres.
None of this would have been possible without the support given. Ashlee, Michaela and Kieran are very grateful to all who have helped them meet the challenges. They acknowledge the huge roles played by their parents, families and friends; the local community, shops and businesses; Coláiste Dún Iascaigh, its students, parents and management, South Tipperary VEC; and group leader Ian McKeever. While realising that they have achieved something special, each is appreciative of the chance given to them, the experience gained, the confidence it has given them. It truly was the journey of a lifetime.