A Remarkable Trek Inspired by Sarah
MARK WATKIN – MT. KILIMANJARO HIKE – OCT. 2015
On October 12, 2012 my 5 year old daughter Sarah, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, and given a 50% chance of survival. Our world was turned upside down. After two years of treatments, doctors’ appointments, poking and prodding, Sarah relapsed a fourth time. Sadly, she passed away at home on November 2, 2014. She is the inspiration for my trek to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Once I landed in Africa, it finally hit me that I was about to climb a mountain, a huge bucket list adventure! After a year of planning it was finally here. My journey was about to begin. A three hour drive brought us to Kilimanjaro National Park and our trek began. The next several days were challenging and breathtaking (literally and figuratively) all at the same time. A typical day began at 6 a.m. with our porters singing and inspiring all of us to get moving – their energy is incredible! Once we broke from camp we would hike eight hours past incredible scenery with changing landscapes (waterfalls, beautiful grasslands and rock formations) and temperatures! Pictures don’t do the mountain justice terms of its size and scale. It may look like a small hill in photos but I promise you it’s not! I became more excited each and every day that I was there. I also thought of Sarah a lot, I miss her more than words can say. I wish she could have been with me to see these cool sites. She loved taking pictures and so I can only imagine that she would have taken about a million photos; we probably wouldn't even have made it to the top because she would have been so lost in the beauty.
The final day before the summit we only trekked four hours so that we could conserve as much energy as possible before beginning our climb to the top at midnight. The final ascent would take eight hours and another five to get back down to our next base camp. The summit is an altitude 5,895m and on the trip we were reminded that altitude sickness can hit at any point. At this point most of us were on some type of pain medication (Tylenol or Advil) and altitude meds to help combat the nausea. But this is what we had been working for. This was it.....‘Summit Day’ was full of excitement and nerves. Everyone was dressed in multiple layers due to the cold and the pace was “pole, pole” which means slowly, slowly in Swahili. We had to stop every hour to re-fuel. About five hours up I became very dizzy and began walking a bit wobbly. The team that I was with knew why I was going to the highest point in Africa and they would not let me give up that easily. It was because of the guides, porters, everyone's encouragement, and of course thinking of Sarah, that I continued on. After 8 hours, on one of the most difficult journeys of my life, I arrived at the summit. It was perfect. To the left I saw glaciers. To the right I saw clouds as far as you could see. After being on the mountain for 7 days of hardship, I had arrived at the world's largest free standing mountain. Even at the top, as high as we could go, I thought almost exclusively of Sarah and how much I miss her. I wish she could see her dad now and how she changed the world. Before I left the top, I made sure to close my eyes and think of my family and be thankful - even if we only had Sarah for a mere 7 years, it was the BEST 7 years of my life.... Africa is a place that I have fallen in love with for its beautiful land, great people and incredible spirit - a place and journey I will not soon forget.