In 2014, to coincide with the launch of our new website we ran a competition which resulted in one lucky person winning the trip of a lifetime to climb Kilimanjaro for free!!!!
Amy Heffron (24) from Limerick was the lucky Kilimanjaro competition winner and she fulfilled her dream of climbing Kilimanjaro in June 2015. Fast forward six months later and I sat down with Amy to get her thoughts about her journey to the roof of Africa.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to enter the Kilimanjaro competition?
I’m from Limerick and I’ve always been quite an outdoorsy person. My family have a mobile home in Spanish Point, Co. Clare so growing up I spent every summer there out walking or in the water. I had never done much hiking until secondary school when I signed up to do the four peaks challenge in transition year. My dad had never climbed Carrauntoohil so he asked if he could come along with our group that weekend and that’s where both of our love of hiking really started.
I had seen Earth’s Edge on Facebook and followed your posts about the various expeditions telling myself that one day I’d do one. The idea of climbing Kilimanjaro was always in my head, so I was delighted when I saw the competition that Earth’s Edge was running. I entered the competition on the off chance that people actually won Facebook competitions!
You mentioned you always loved the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro, where did this come from?
I knew a few people who had climbed Kilimanjaro in the past. Their stories and pictures looked so amazing that I had decided one day I would love to try it myself. It was a goal that I wanted to tick off the bucket list. I had always wanted to go to Africa and what better way to see Africa than by standing on the highest point!
Tell me about the day you found out you had won the competition?
I got the email on a Monday morning in February, it was lashing rain and windy out. It caught my attention as it read ‘WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER’ and I was sure that it was spam mail. I opened it and as I was reading it, it still didn’t click with me that I had won for a few seconds. When I got to the end of the email I was shaking from the shock of winning!
I logged onto the Earth’s Edge Facebook page and saw a post congratulating me for winning, I couldn’t believe it! My parents were just as shocked when I told them! When I told all my friends, I think people were genuinely more shocked that people actually win amazing Facebook competitions like this rather than the fact that I was going to be climbing the highest free-standing mountain in the world! Everyone kept telling me how lucky I was and I was on a high for days after getting the email.
Can you tell us how you prepared for the climb?
From the very first email, everyone at Earth’s Edge was so helpful and well organised. Once I confirmed my expedition date, all relevant information was provided to me and the preparation process was made stress free. I was sent information about training advice, equipment needed, suggestions of where I could get it, information about vaccinations & medicine and information about a training weekend that would take place before our expedition. Everyone in the office was so helpful, any time I rang or emailed I got a response nearly straight away and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. They looked after every aspect of planning the trip and kept me informed at every step.
The training weekend which was provided took place over two days in Glendalough and it was so helpful. I was nervous about travelling with people I had never met but it was such a good opportunity to meet the other trekkers, along with our expedition leader and the doctor who would be travelling with us. I tried to do at least one long hike at the weekends and get in a few walks/runs during the week. I’ve always loved running and would often go for runs after work, so started doing this more regularly to build up my fitness.
I started going on hikes or climbing mountains at the weekend with my dad. If it wasn’t for him getting me out of bed every Saturday morning I may not have been as prepared going as I was! The information briefing at the weekend was of huge assistance as it went through everything we needed to know about climbing Kilimanjaro. I had forgotten about a few pieces of gear that I needed and I was given helpful advice about where I could rent gear so I wouldn’t be spending big money on stuff I might not need again.
Hearing from our expedition leader and from our doctor helped put my mind at ease and got me really excited about the upcoming trip! The hikes on the training weekend gave me a good indication of what training I needed to do in the weeks leading up to the expedition. It was nice to have a few hours walking with the group and getting to know the people I would be travelling with.
You mentioned you were nervous about travelling with people you didn’t know; can you tell me a little bit more about your group?
Everyone seemed to click straight away and got on really well. There were eight in our group, six trekkers, the expedition leader Lorcan and our doctor Tom. Five of us had met at the pre-departure training weekend so we met the other three at the airport for the first time. Our leader Lorcan really made us feel like a team from the start and this team spirit stayed throughout the whole expedition.
It was a huge comfort knowing that there was a doctor with us on the trip. Thankfully none of us got very sick but Tom was always on hand to give advice when someone wasn’t feeling 100%. I began to feel quite sick on the summit attempt and it was a big relief having Dr Tom there with me. Actually, the night after we had successfully summited we were having dinner with our local guide and he congratulated us for our achievement and said that we had stayed together like a family from start to finish. I think that is a credit to a group of people who had never really met before!
The porters and guides who work with Earth’s Edge on Kilimanjaro are often unheralded heroes. How did you find your team of porters and guides?
Our team was amazing. We had a team of 36 including the guides, porters and cooks. They were all so friendly when we met them. From the very start they were so hard-working and did everything they could to make the climb as easy as possible for us. Our chief guide and the other guides came to meet us at the airport, and we had a briefing with Lorcan our Irish guide the day before we went to the mountain.
Our chief guide was so friendly and answered every question we had, and told us exactly what to expect. The porters and guides stayed with us for the duration of the expedition we were really well looked after. Anyone who knows me knows I love my food so I was nervous to see what the food was going to be like.
I was so surprised at how nice the food was and we were never left hungry, quite the opposite really. I can honestly say that every meal was so delicious and well prepared, we had a new dish for dinner every day. Summit night would definitely not have been possible without the team.
They helped us with what gear we needed to bring/wear and made sure we had enough food and water with us. When I began to suffer quite badly during the summit attempt, they were with me straight away and carried my bag for me so I could keep my strength. I felt so safe at all times because the guides were walking up and down and checking on us all every few minutes.
If you could sum up your journey to Kilimanjaro how would you describe it?
Climbing Kilimanjaro was an amazing experience and a huge sense of personal achievement. The feeling as I approached the summit is one I will never forget. We had climbed throughout the night in the freezing cold and everyone was feeling quite sick, but when the sun rose and we started the final ascent to the top I was so happy that all of us had made it together.
Every problem or difficulty on the trip seemed like a problem shared; whatever you were going through you knew someone else was going through or had already gone through it. On the start of our summit attempt, I felt quite sick and was not sure if I was going to be able to continue and make it to the top. Everyone rallied around me, their support helped me to get back up and keep climbing.
I couldn’t have done it without the others in the group and without our amazing team. The whole trip was a once in a lifetime experience so it really is hard to pick out the best part. There was such a feeling of relief and joy at the top and there were lots of hugs and high-fives exchanged. It was definitely an unforgettable moment for me.