By Mark Halsey
Excitement was building throughout the team, albeit wearily, of reaching the summit. It had been a long and hard eight days prior, but we all knew how rewarded and satisfied we would be in the coming hours.
My third and final column recollects the final day of the trek and the following days after.
Wednesday 18th October
Leaving Barafu Camp at midnight with our torches and headlamps, we made our way to the first milestone Stella Point (5756 m), which is on the crater rim. That took us about seven hours and then after a brief rest we continued on the trail that goes on for about an another hour to Uhuru Peak, the summit (5895). That is the highest point and you can imagine the pure emotion that we all felt. Mission complete.
A lot of us, including myself, couldn’t hold our emotions, and why should we? The cause we were fighting for had impacted on nearly everyone there, and it was truly one of my proudest moments.
From my days of being a Premier League referee I have picked up a strong mentality and this was hugely essential in the final days of the trek. All the effort it takes to remain a leader within the group is exhausting; motivating people and being that person you can rely on, I was determined to carry out this responsibility. But upon reaching the peak I was able to completely let go, and allow my emotions overwhelm me and I didn’t hold back.
It would be remiss of me not to mention how proud I was of the three You Are The Ref Academy winners who all made it to the top, and I’ll reserve special praise for Stuart. If you read my first blog you’ll know I was worried about his capacity to complete the challenge, but I can honestly say that he did YATR proud. Full marks to the guy.
The whole team were inspirational with everyone pulling together through the tough moments. Trust me there were moments where you would consider the worth of completing the trip, but those thoughts would quickly disappear with everyone rallying around you and the camaraderie in the group pushing you through.
After a brief celebration we went down to the crater and attempted to get an hour’s kip, because in just a matter of hours, it was time to take part in the highest game of football ever.
Waking up feeling incredibly groggy and sick wasn’t a great start but thankfully, after a few trips to the toilet, it cleared up quickly, and I was able to join in with the rest of the group as we got changed into our kits. I remember taking a step back to soak up the atmosphere within the camp, it was completely filled with joy attributed to the success we had achieved thus far.
But all of a sudden, the clouds started to come over the crater. It was foggy, you literally couldn’t see a thing. Then the freezing rain came and it just seemed like it wasn’t going to disappear. We waited and waited until finally, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. The dread in my stomach as I told the team that we couldn’t play this game was terrible. I spoke to the doctor to get his view in a last resort bid for some encouraging news, but that only made things clearer to me that this was now a safety concern for everyone, and so the decision was made to abandon this world record attempt.
With disappointment hanging over the group, we all left at different times to make our way back to Mweka Camp, 26 kilometres away. I left quite sharply after the decision not to play the game. In hindsight that wasn’t the greatest idea as one hour into the walk I started to get headaches and it was clear I wasn’t coping with the altitude change coming back down . I was becoming more and more physically worn out and even fell down two or three times out of pure exhaustion.
I was dizzy, sick, perhaps a bit delirious as I recall the doctor running down after me telling to stop. But I pleaded with him to give me one more chance and forced myself forward to keep up with the rest of my group. Little did I know that Mehdi, who was in the group behind ours, was suffering the same as me and more, and unfortunately had collapsed.
He had become seriously ill from the altitude and luckily we had three doctors in the expedition who were able to apply him a Dexamethasone injection, which is used in the treatment of high-altitude cerebral edema. Quite serious stuff and very concerning.
He was then carried down the mountain by the Sherpa’s, on their back, who took it in turns. It took them twelve hours to get him down to the gate where he was then rushed to the hospital. I’d like to pass on a message from Mehdi who is incredibly appreciative of the doctors and the Sherpa’s who helped save his life.
I arrived around 8.30pm, to be told of the news of Mehdi’s fate by Linzi Prescott. Along with Tommy Martin and Mike Denning, they witnessed Mehdi’s collapse and they were visibly shaken by the incident. I was taken aback by it and wanted to see him, but knew I needed to get rest. I grabbed some food before quickly heading to sleep, first thing next morning I would be straight off to visit Mehdi.
Thursday 19th October – Saturday 21st October
Myself and Linzi left that morning as soon as we could, to go and visit Mehdi in Moshi. After a four hour walk we arrived at the hospital, remarkably he was sitting up straight. He was his usual self and I’m happy to report that he is absolutely fine now and has made a ‘miraculous recovery’ in the words of the doctor. Quite the experience for such a young man and everyone at You Are The Ref and The Steve Prescott Foundation are delighted to see him back on his feet.
In the following days we ended up back at Honey Badger Lodge where we were able to rest and recuperate. With spare time on our hands we headed into Moshi town which was eye-opening seeing firsthand the poverty Tanzania faces.
We visited a second-chance school where we donated our equipment such as footballs and kits and it was heart-warming seeing the children’s faces light up at our gifts.
The disappointment of not playing the game was still in the back of everyone’s mind and by Saturday I had the team on my case to get a football match organised. After speaking to the guys at the Lodge we were able to get a game arranged with Reggae Boyz of Moshi Town which was an enjoyable occasion and was a nice way to bring an end to our two weeks in Tanzania.
And there you go, my eight days climbing the world’s highest mountain. I hope I’ve been able to give you an insight into our journey up Mount Kilimanjaro, feel free to get in touch with us with any comments or questions you may have. I imagine one of those would be, should I go? That’s a hard one to answer because it depends on you as a person. You have to be motivated, athletic, and mentally capable. If you tick all three then why not?
Because I can honestly say it has been one of the most incredible events I have been a part of, it truly is one of life’s greatest experiences.