Veteran mountain-climber Scott Kress is planning an adventure 19,000 ft up Africa’s highest peak, Mt Kilimanjaro. He made the journey before in 2004 and 2011 and is looking for fit, determined individuals to join him again. One member of his 2011 team was Irene Feddema, a 49-year-old who never believed she could climb a mountain.
Unlike other summits, Kilimanjaro does not require the skill of a professional mountaineer, but it is still a gruelling journey. Feddema, a hiking enthusiast from Hamilton, had never climbed a mountain before. She feared the strain of multi-day journey and the dangerous effect of altitude, and much of her training was devoted to acclimatizing her body to the unique stresses of scaling a mountain. In addition to the physical challenge, Kress wanted to mentally train the group for their journey, and team-building exercises played a big part in preparing the group for their trip. He believes that a team that knows how to work together is the greatest safety net.
The journey to the summit takes six days, and what begins as a hike through a rainforest soon becomes a gruelling climb through a rocky landscape many have compared to the surface of the moon. Feddema describes the third day of the journey as the most taxing. The altitude began to take its toll on the travellers, who were experiencing headaches and nausea and the weather turned from rain into hail. The route was carefully planned to guide the team to a high altitude first before continuing the next leg of journey laterally around the mountain to give them more time to acclimatize to the altitude and travel at an easier pace on the second half of the expedition. On the night of the fifth day, the team made to the final push to the peak of the mountain. The trail was dark and she recalls Kress tucking frozen water packs into his shirt to help them thaw, but by dawn, the group had reached their destination.
On the way up the mountain, the team had made the decision that they would approach the summit together. Feddema recounts the moment when the team stood together at the top of Kilimanjaro, “I felt this huge rush of energy. I could feel my feet and hands again. It was real elation. Everyone kissed and hugged.”
Two years later she treasures not only the memory but the sense of achievement she felt on that day. In the face of day-to-day challenges, she always reminds herself “You climbed Kilimanjaro. You can do this.”