Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is quite an undertaking for anyone, never mind doing so just 10 months after brain surgery - and in borrowed clothing - but's that exactly what Rob Langman (and wife Gemma) did.
In October 2009 Rob had undergone neurosurgery at the Wessex Neuro Centre, a third ventriculostomy, to relieve an aqueduct stenosis which was causing obstructive hydrocephalus. The surgery was a success, and the experience left Rob determined to prove his recovery by undertaking a significant physical challenge, and to raise funds for the WNC in the process. Though it was not until February 2010 that clinicians gave him the all clear, Rob wasted no time in securing places for him and his wife, Gemma, to undertake an expedition to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. The following words, written by Rob's wife, tell the rest of their story.
"So as you guys know, our flight was delayed by four hours due to a 'technical fault with the plane'. What you didn't know was that we just caught our connecting flight.....but our luggage didn't!! We were assured by our rep in Kili that it would come over with the next available flight (6pm that night) in time for kick off. So we transferred to the hotel. We met our guides who seemed ok and explained that our luggage may be lost. They said we could hire most equipment from the hotel....which we could....except clothes, underwear, toiletries! So we just had to hope the bags would turn up. We had dinner with 3 Americans...very nice. One was a young lad who was going up the next day too but by the easier route (and he was waiting for his 2 friends). The next morning, our bags didn't show and all we had for the trip was what we stood up in! The Americans were lovely and lent us a few items of clothes, a couple of blankets but basically, we were not adequately equipped!
"Anyway, with hired equipment, we met up with our guides and picked up porters. It was just Rob and I on the tour. We started out that day and were told it would take 3-4 hours. We walked through forest, plantations, saw monkeys! Steep climb in places but not too bad. And got to the camp site in 2 hours. We were pleased. Our 2 man TENT was already set up for us....you couldn't stand up in it though! We just beat the rain though which was good. Went to the mess tent for dinner. They had made us popcorn to start and then we had soup and beef stew. Food was overall nice, especially considering it all had to come with us. Toileting facilities were very basic - hole in the ground surrounded by hut. Things would have been easier if we had our stuff!!!
"Second day, we hadn't slept that well. Up for brekkie outside. We now had a beautiful clear view of the peak and ate outside looking at it....porridge and egg on toast. It was a steeper climb today but ok if you went pole-y pole-y (slowly, slowly). Different terrain and caves along the way. Arrived at 'second cave' camp in 3 hours (supposed to take 4-5 hours). It was very misty and cold when we arrived. Had lunch, then went for 200m climb for acclimatisation. Back down, dinner, bed.
"Third day, we slept better. Peak looked beautiful again and we started out after brekkie. First part was very steep, climbing up and over boulders. Again got to next camp (third cave) in plenty of time to predicted....except we didn't beat the rain. It rained for the last ten mins of journey. It rained ALL afternoon. The toilets were VERY far away from the tent. Not great. Didn't have acclimatisation due to weather. I (Gem) started to get a little cough and was a bit concerned. The guides told us to keep an eye on it.
"Fourth day the guides had decided we had been doing so well that we could take a shorter but steeper route to get to the final camp before summit......we agreed but it was tough! The mist and rain came down and it was very steep. My chest was getting worse the higher we went. Finally and thankfully we reached camp (Kibo camp). We were so happy....and then, our cases were there! Two porters had walked them up for us so at least we had more stuff for summit day...as always with us two though, nothing is ever simple....the guys had brought it up in the rain so EVERY thing inside was soaked and not really able to use. We met up with the americans from the hotel...the girls had had quite bad sickness and were struggling. We had lunch...then dinner. Plan was to go to bed at 7pm to prepare for summit. We were up at 11pm, packed, and went to mess tent for tea and biscuits at 11.30. We were both really scared (and it was very cold!) But the sky looked unbelievable - stars so bright.
"We had barely slept, barely eaten but at 00:15am, we started the long slow climb. It was sub zero when we started. It was night so you couldnt see anything but the feet in front of you. If you did look up, you could occasionally see the head torches of people who had started before you. We initially felt ok. We just kept our minds focussed (I sang 99 bottle of beer on the wall for example!). We seemed to be doing well because we kept overtaking people! However, neither of us felt strong enough to....but we had to put faith in our guides. The higher we got, the worst my cough got. About 3/4 of the way to Gillmans point (the first place where you can get a certificate) Rob started feeling dizzy. I kept falling on the scree (bearing in mind its a 60 degree climb and therefore drop down). We reached some boulders we had to climb and that's when we were both finding it tough and wanting to stop. The guide then said that Gillmans was 10 mins away so we ploughed forward and at 04:45am, we reached it. It was an amazing feeling!. Rob felt at that stage we weren't going to make it further. His legs were like jelly and I could barely breath. But the guides assured us the hard part was over...so we continued...they lied! It was about minus 22 degrees which wasn't helping and there were sheer drops at times to pass. The higher we got, the worse we felt. Finally, we saw the Uhuru (top of the moutain) sign in the distance....longest 4 mins of our lives but we made it! And the sun had just risen to our right! Hugs, kisses, tears (we couldnt believe we had done it considering where we were 10 months ago!) and a few photos, the guides said we shouldnt stay up there too long so we started the descent.....sounds easy but we were physically and mentally drained. How we got down, I dont know but we did.
"We had 1 hour break, then lunch then another 3 hour trek down to the next camp...we arrived there about 17:00 - an 18 hour day of near continuous walking! The route down was a different route which had huts with roofs and dining halls and proper toilets. We were exhausted and that night it rained harder than it ever had done....and the tent wasn't waterproof so we were soaked but were so tired we didn't really notice until the morning!.
"The next day, just a 6 hour hike down to the start and then we went back to the hotel, had some drinks with our new american buddies, before a night's sleep and back to the airport for the flight home - baggage and all! - overjoyed at having made it all the way to the top."
As we're sure you will agree, an amazing story and you'll not be surprised to hear that Rob & Gemma were worthy winners of our 2010 Fundraisers of the Year Award.