The tale of the trek 

How octogenarians Martin and Esther Kafer climbed Kilimanjaro, set a world record and found both hope and despair

click to flip through (5) BY SUE OAKEY-BAKER
 

Page 8 of 10

The trail gets steeper.

Martin lags and sits down to rest, head hung low and cheeks sunken. "I am so tired." The boys begin to chant in deep melodic voices, "Babu, Babu, Babu." We help him to his feet and he continues. A bit further on Esther stops. I crunch over close to her and ask how she is doing.

"Not very well," she says. "I'm losing my balance."

"Are you dizzy?" I ask

"Yes, a bit."

Dizziness can be a symptom of acute mountain sickness. It's important to watch for these symptoms because mountain sickness progresses in stages, just like Alzheimer's, and if you don't heed the early warning signs, it may be too late. Esther is coherent and still walking steadily. She takes 125 mg of Diamox.

"Let's reassess in 20 minutes." I tell her and continue at a slower pace, although it hardly seems possible. She does not falter again.

Our line labours on connected by an invisible cord. The energy is heavy like a chain gang. I hear Cathie's words in my head. "We are all connected by a disease that equalizes us and does not discriminate."

"The sun will be up soon, we can do it." I call into the night. This is when I feel teary. I look at these people, hunched over, plodding, suffering for a common good. And then it happens. A yellowy glow rises behind us slowly lighting up the entire horizon. "Look guys, the sun is coming. Feel its energy. Draw it inside of you. We can do this." Joseph gives us the gift of his tenor voice and sings the Tanzanian version of "Hallelujah." We are so high that we can see the curvature of the Earth. People do not pick up the pace, but they do raise their heads. The snow crystals on the rocks shine. At 6:45 a.m., after more than seven hours of hiking, we top out onto the crater rim, Gillman's Point, a rocky ledge that holds a dozen people and drops off a hundred feet to the inside of the crater which is 2.5 kilometres wide, with ice 40-metres thick in places.

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