‘Tis A Long Way From Ballyfeard To Kilimanjaro
Ballyfeard resident Bernadette De Courcey recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. An outstanding achievement from the college teacher who is a member of The Carrigaline Road Runners and Carrigaline Writers Group and is the mother of two young boys. Bernadette has kindly put together this piece for The Carrigdhoun to tell us about her incredible journey.
The question is not what can one do here, but how can one find the time to do it all? For the outdoor adventurer there are endless miles of hiking trails from the Sheep’s Head, to the Old Kenmare Road, to the Vee in the Knockmealdown mountains. One can climb Carrauntoohill or Mount Brandon, or even drive a few hours to Glendalough to hike in the immense Wicklow hills. The scenery is amazing and the only equipment I’ve needed was a good pair of boots, a rain jacket, a camera, and a flask of warm tea!
Some people like a quicker pace and indeed road running has become increasingly popular amongst adults. I run with the Carrigaline Road Runners and we have a coach that puts us through our paces Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm from the community hall. We may have different race goals, but we have no problem training together. There are many races from the 5km to the full marathon, happening most weekends of the year. The Great Railway Run is coming up – April 23rd. It begins in Cork and ends in Carrigaline. Runners can do 5k, 10k, or 25k. How cool is that?
And of course there are also opportunities to get out on the water. The ocean to city rowing race in June each year is a popular event for even the most amateur rowers like myself. I completed it twice in just a Canadian canoe. The atmosphere is electric, with drummers on Viking boats, music playing, flags waving, and onlookers cheering. It was fun just to be a part of the action.
Even though there is plenty to do here, I recently went to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It was on the bucket list. I chose to go with Earth’s Edge because of their membership with KPAP (Kilimanjaro’s Porters Assistance Program) and their strict “leave no trace” policy. The trip took 12 days, 7 days and 6 nights of those were spent on the mountain itself. Our group of fifteen took the Machame trail to the top. It is the most scenic and gives climbers an extra day on the mountain to acclimatize to the high altitude. Porters carried our rucksacks and cooks prepared our meals. All we had to do was dress for the elements and carry our water each day.
We started out in the thirty degree rainforest and climbed to the top, where the temperature dropped to minus seven. The trail is well worn with thousands of climbers making the summit each year. Our group was enthralled with the views of the other mountains in the distance, the city below, the stars above, and the terrain that changed daily. We hiked during the day and then relaxed playing cards in the evening. The local guides chatted easily about their traditions and even taught me some Swahili. They also motivated us all with a lively singing session in the mornings. We were lucky that it didn’t rain and so everyone was in high spirits. There were a few times on the trail where we had to scramble, but mostly we just walked very slowly because of the high altitude. If I ran I got out of breath really quickly.
Each day of the trek prepared us for the big day – the summit attempt. For this part of the climb, we started just before 1am. The scree is frozen at night and therefore safer for climbing on. Our trail of headlamps worked its way up the steep ascent from 4,550 meters to Stella point at 5,756 meters, which we reached by sunrise. Here we stopped for hot tea. The view of Mawenzi peak was behind us and Uhuru peak was ahead of us. There were glaciers to the left and the volcanic crater to the right. The clouds rolled into the snow making it a sea of white. I had never experienced being above the clouds like that. The locals call it the roof of Africa.
The final leg took about 45 minutes and I reached Uhuru peak, 5,895 meters by 8am. Having no choice but to move slowly, I was able to take it all in. My heart filled with happiness and I cried with joy. As I completed the last few steps I couldn’t help but think of everyone back home.
With the whole group at the top we took lots of photos. The Irish flag was flying, not to mention GAA jerseys galore. We were all so proud of each other and of our unified accomplishment. And after that - well it was all downhill from there.
Now I am just busy planning my next hike, run, and maybe even another climb!