‘Hiding requires energy: energy to suppress the real self, to conform, to keep the mask in place, to control the illusion and to restrain a spirit from revolt.

Alert to the small alarm bells warning that you are hiding—hiding from your light, your life, your potential, your gift or the unique song you are meant to sing in this life.

Hiding has a high price.’ ~ Dolores Cummins

Our path upward across the face of the wall seems an impossible climb. As we begin to clamber up, I look back at our campsite so recently cramped with tents and people, and it is now strangely deserted.

Everast, our guide, takes my walking poles from me and says, ’You don’t need these. Use your hands to hold onto the rocks as you climb.’ So I do, hand over hand, holding on while I move my feet.

Suddenly there is a gap in the rocks, which we have to step over, with a drop of fifty metres to the valley below. I look down and fear grips me. I feel my heartbeat increasing, and my breath comes in rapid gasps. I scream to myself, ‘I can’t do this!’

I stop moving for a moment and force myself to think, ‘I can do this—just one baby step at a time.’ I take that literally: Everast reaches out to hold my hand to guide me across and I am very thankful for his support. I don’t look down, but focus on the people ahead of me.

There is still a lot to cover and I am still feeling anxious about climbing the wall without ropes, not to mention the mountain. To cope, I totally focus on being present in the moment of the climb instead of thinking about the future, but I am feeling very scared.

It takes us about two hours, hand over hand, foot over foot, to do it. Despite my fears, we eventually conquer the Barranco Wall. I am elated! We all are. We have overcome one of the major obstacles on the journey to the mountain summit.

We stop for lunch, and the rest of the day is thankfully quite uneventful as the track stretches out in front of us over the undulating slopes of the plateau have reached. We walk and walk, with a joyous sense of achievement amongst us, still charged with adrenalin from beating the Barranco Wall.

I am still very much in the moment, just enjoying its splendour, with no worry about the future or the past.

We continue to climb to our next rest spot, Barafu Camp at 4600 metres, and our bodies are aware of the decrease in oxygen. We have only climbed 500 metres today and most of that was on the Barranco Wall, almost 300 metres high. Tomorrow we will be climbing 1300 metres to the summit and the thought fills me with apprehension. However, for the moment, I eat the meal that is in front of me.

It is now dark and the moonlight strangely softens the harsh terrain as it streams across the mountain, blending sharp contours and creating a futuristic fantasyland.

We go to bed in our tents at 6.00pm. It is very cold: the sub-zero air seeps in and surrounds me. I have five layers of clothes on my top and four on the bottom, with thick socks, as I struggle to stay warm in my sleeping bag built to cope with temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees.

I desperately try to sleep, but it eludes me.

I think back to when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. At that time I could have given in to the thought that it is a progressive degenerative disease and I would end up in a wheelchair, or even worse, dead. However I quickly realised I could choose my response, so I made a conscious decision to deal with it. I was not going to waste my days worrying about something that might happen.

I took daily action to meditate, visualise and exercise, aiming to stay in the moment and take each day as it came. It is easy to say, but of course it was difficult to do: but, like climbing the Barranco Wall, I took it one baby step at a time.

Lying in my tent, I hear other hiking teams leaving around midnight to climb in the dark: their reward must be the mountain-top sunrise, I can only guess.

I curl up in my bag, thankful we will be walking in the daylight. Eventually I drift into a light and broken sleep. I have vivid and distressing dreams of demons and monsters.

~ Barbara Baikie



This is an excerpt from Altitude – Two women’s journey on Mount Kilimanjaro by Barbara Baikie and Dolores Cummins. Barbara and Dolores, both executive educators, share a passion for adventure, and in this book provide raw insight into life for us all as they re-tell pushing their bodies and minds to the limit. www.altitudebook.com