Wing News

Hampshire Air Cadets ‘Rise above the rest' climbing Kilimanjaro

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‘Rise above the Rest’ say the Royal Air Force. That’s just what 13 Air Cadets and Staff from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wing have done.

Following two years of training and planning the team flew to Tanzania to attempt the highest point in Africa, Kilimanjaro Uhuru Peak and to raise funds for Naomi House Hospice through this challenging and life changing experience.

Exploring the local culture helped the team get used to the local heat before the six-day ascent. A day on Safari in Arusha National Park revealed some of Africa’s most amazing wildlife, and the need for lots of sunscreen. Another day walking in and around the local villages was truly humbling, meeting families that make the most of everything and greet everyone with ‘Jambo’ and a smile! As for the third acclimatisation day – well the lodge resort had a very nice swimming pool!

After a final kit check the team were off to climb the 5,895m high mountain. Each day was the same but harder than the last. Walk four or five hours to the next campsite, lunch on arrival and an attitude acclimatisation walk in the afternoon. After dinner a civilised game of cards and then bed, followed by an early rise for breakfast, kit check, then off they set again.

During the six days of ascent, the team walked through every type of eco-system on Earth; from lush rainforest, earthy desert to an arctic peak.

The final ascent started at midnight, getting ready in frozen tents, putting on all the required layers to keep out the cold during the eight hour trek to the summit. Then off the team went ‘Pol-e Pol-e’, which is Swahili for ‘Slowly Slowly’, which helps minimise the risk of Acute Altitude Sickness.
Just short of Gilman’s Point one of the team showed warning signs of the sickness, so was lead down with a guide for safety. Shortly after reaching Gilman’s Point (5,685m) tears of joy and exhaustion were shed by many. Still two hours away from the summit the low oxygen was having its effect, sometimes taking six breaths just to walk another few feet up. Four more members of the team were affected by altitude sickness and were helped back down the mountain.

Eventually, at 8:40 am, the remaining members of the team reached the Summit, the highest point in Africa. With just enough time for the essential photos to be taken the next challenge began – the descent. With the achievement made barely sinking in the team headed back down, thankfully quicker than the ascent, and just three hours later were back in base camp.

After a quick nap it was then a five hour walk down to the next camp. Here the team had a great night’s sleep then an eight hour walk to get off the mountain. At this point the exhaustion really hit home and it took every bit of motivation to keep going.

Just wanting to get below the cloud level was the first aim, but with every metre of descent the air became thicker, so luckily everyone received a new lease of life! Soon the team were at the bottom, the same level where they had started just eight days before, then back to the hotel and sleep. After a day of rest and recovery at the hotel it was time for the nine hour flight home.

Then it’s back to life, back to work, and of course back on Parade with Cadets the following night….