Janet Evans

Janet Evans

Hiking above the clouds: Four women take on Mt.Kilimanjaro

Sooke residents tackle the highest mountain in Africa

Pirjo Raits

Sooke News Mirror

Hiking to the top of the world is not something many people undertake, but four women from Sooke did just that.

In August former mayor Janet Evans, Laurie Szadkowski, Terrie Moore and Jacklyn Orza took on the challenge of scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro.

So why did these women decide to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro?

Janet Evans said they had talked about it for years. She did the Chilkoot Pass in 2000 and Machu Picchu in 2005 with some of the Chilkoot Chicks, a group of eight women who hike together,

“In 1994 I went to Africa on a safari and I kept telling these guys how fabulous Africa is. And I said if we go to Africa we have to hike, they laughed, but we got more and more serious,” said Evans.

Their goal was to hike 65 kilometers over seven days to the summit.

To train for the hike they hiked the Sooke Hills every Sunday for four to five hours and they kept going higher and higher.  They had been working with a trainer for years and while they were fit, they were not prepared for what Mt. Kilimanjaro would throw at them.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa reaching 19,340 (5,895m) into the sky, a far cry from the heights some of the women scaled previously on Machu Picchu at 7,970 feet (2,430m) and the Chilkoot Pass at 3,057 feet (1,067m).

Terrie Moore, formerly of Sooke, wrote about the first part of their experience.

“We have arrived at the Marangu Hotel just outside Moshi on the northern border of Tanzania, not far from Kenya. The hotel echoes a colonial past; meals are served family style in the dining room, linens and silver settings on the tables. Despite it being winter in Tanzania, the grounds are lush with greenery and brightly coloured flowers. We are grateful for the spacious and comfortable rooms as we know this will not be the case for the next seven days.”

What they encountered was nothing they expected. They chose the Rongai route which is longer and less populated than some of the routes. They wanted to acclimatize themselves slowly before the reach for the summit. Altitude sickness was a reality and as they hiked very slowly towards the peak, each woman experienced it in various degrees.

The crew taking them to the summit consisted of 17 people including three guides and 12 porters. The porters carried most of what they required, the women carried lighter daypacks.

Meals were prepared for them with plenty of carbohydrates, heaps of vegetables and fruit.

The hike starts out easy enough but it is steadily uphill. They walk at the impossible polé pace, which is at best a snail’s crawl. The sun, heat and surprisingly the cold take its toll on the hikers. Everyone had bad days. Evans suffered from a racing heart, Jacklyn Orza got altitude sickness, others were disoriented and exhausted and all of them were cold.

“I was puking, blacking out and my guide had to unscrew my water and held it to my mouth, I wasn’t doing well,” said Orzo of the altitude sickness she suffered on the way to the summit.

For all of the training they did, they could not replicate the altitude, said Laurie Szadkowski.

“For me the unexpected was the cold on the second night. You’re in Africa, but its cold. It goes back to expectations, you couldn’t get warm,” said Szadkowski.

Every day was tough. “You have to have mental preparedness,” said Evans. “Even on day four and  five you watch one foot in front of the other. You’re zoned out and you go on automatic.”

“It’s kind of freeing,” said Szadkowski. “You don’t have to do anything else.”

The group split up as each made the decision individually whether they would summit.

They all enjoyed the hiking part but only Szadkowski and Orzo reached the summit.

Terrie Moore in her account said, “I cannot imagine facing several more hours of this bone-chilling cold and decide that I’ve had enough.”

Orzo said she didn’t even wait for the sunrise, she just had to get to lower elevations.

“I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said. “But on the way up you could see a stream of headlights, almost like a river.”

The river of light were other hikers who were heading for the summit.

Szadkowski said she was so exhausted but she did take some pictures and read the note from her granddaughter that she had carried with her.

“At some point it was only mental, the only reason I was here was because I followed the guides, I couldn’t even hit my mouth with water,” she said. “You’re way above the clouds, it’s equal day and night.”

“It’s an accomplishment,” said Evans, “whether you experienced the mountain on the top or the bottom.”

The women, most certainly, love to travel and as Szadkowski said, they “love to come home.”

Orza said she works to travel and will be going back to Africa and next on the list is Peru and Brazil. As the youngest of the group, she said she, “had a blast with them, they are all unique personally.”

At the end of the trip up Mt. Kilimanjaro Janet Evans happily left behind her hiking boots, poles and whatever else she could. They were tired of the dirt, the tents and the same clothes day after day. None of them are eager to camp out in tents anymore. They did, however, go on a safari in Kenya after.

Each woman pushed themselves further than they thought they could and conquered Mt. Kilamanjaro in their own way but the shared experience is best explained by Terrie Moore.

“So, what did we learn from all of this? We learned to be grateful for the many luxuries that our Canadian life provides. We learned that we are tougher and more resilient that we thought. Some of us discovered that we do not need to camp in tents anymore. We learned to acknowledge the many accomplishments along any journey. And most of all, we learned that to get anywhere, to accomplish anything sometimes you need to go polé, polé.”

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