CLIMBING Kilimanjaro was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, physically and mentally, but also the best.
That’s according to Lenore Good, who lives in Fountainstown, Co. Cork. Not not only did she make it to the top of the world’s highest free standing mountain, but she also raised just shy of €100,000 for six charities in the process.
In her monthly column for this newspaper, the mum of six (four of whom are on the spectrum) announced in October, 2019, that she had set herself 40 goals, when she turned 40. One of those was to climb Kili in Tanzania, and the plan was to raise €20,000 for Sonas Junior School, Shine Early Learning Unit and the Irish Guide Dogs who have all helped her family.
The pandemic, however, had other plans and her epic climb was moved from September, 2020, then to February, 2021 and finally to August. On the plus side, the delays gave her more time to fundraise and she tripled the original target, raising €62,000, along with a further €30,000 to be shared between Marymount, Cork City Missing Persons Search and Recovery, and Mallow Search and Rescue.
Lenore said she didn’t dare believe the climb would actually happen, until she had touched down in Tanzania. She did that on August 13, and on August 15, along with her 19-year-old daughter Shea, Shea’s friend Sorcha and Shea’s uncle Jamie, they started a climb, with seven others, they’d never forget.
“Normally you can see her (the mountain), but for the first two days of the climb she was covered in clouds. Then, on the third day, the clouds lifted and she was front and centre and I nearly had a heart attack! She looked so big!” said Lenore.
They started out in rain forest terrain where it was a tropical 27 degrees, gradually climbing higher over different terrain, and dropping temperatures. No two of their nine days on the mountain were the same in terms of physical and emotional challenges.
Typically, the routine was to rise in darkness at 6am, have their first of two daily health checks where blood pressure and oxygen levels were monitored, have a carb-packed breakfast and head off before 8am. On two days they finished at lunch time, others it was closer to 4pm. Then it was time for dinner, and to bunker down in their tents, before doing it all again.
“I found the second day one of the hardest. We were scrambling over rocks for five hours and it was really tough going. At times it seemed like there was no end in sight and I actually thought, what have I done, it knocked my confidence a lot,” said Lenore.
She escaped altitude sickness which plagued some members of their group, but she was hit with a migraine from day one which left her feeling quite debilitated on the fourth day. “I couldn’t turn my head from right to left that day, it was so bad. And then when we stopped it felt like I had vertigo and I had to hold on to a rock to keep steady. But the guides were on top of it, they gave me brain swelling meds and I got some oxygen and I knew it wasn’t going to take over.”
For the final ascent, the group was divided into three: “My group was woken at 10pm and we headed off into the darkness at 11pm. It had been snowing earlier, so there was snow on the ground and it was bitterly cold.”
A gruelling eight hours later, Lenore had reached the official summit point of Gilman’s Point, at an altitude of 5,756 metres (18,885 feet), for the last push.
“We were moving along a snowy path, just two feet wide, and basically just following the footsteps of whoever was in front of you. We had absolutely no concept of time, and I remember someone asking how long more it would take us and the guide saying not to worry about that - which made me worry!”
Halfway u,p the oxygen she was carrying on her back ran out and she needed help to change it, before continuing on, taking it step by step. A well-timed text from her husband Ian gave her the physical and mental strength to keep going, when she was struggling most.
“There was no reception on the mountain and we were cut off for the nine days but a text came through from Ian when I needed it most, telling me to keep going and not give up.”
Besides, Lenore said she couldn’t have, even if she wanted to.
“I had made a pact with the others that even if we didn’t all make it to the top, one of us would get the Irish flag there for us all – except I had the flag! So the onus was on me! I also had the ashes of my friend Yvonne Campion, who had passed away over a year ago. I made a promise to spread her ashes at the top, on the roof of Africa so I kept going. I had no option.
“To distract myself, I kept repeating the names of the charities that I was doing this for, those I knew who had passed away whose names were on the flag, including my cousin Audrey to whom I was very close, whose passing in 2018 gave me the push to do this, and my kids and family, over and over.”
By 9.30am, she had made it to the top in what was an incredible moment.
“I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t cry but I put down the Irish flag and found a quiet spot to spread Yvonne’s ashes and just walk and take in my surroundings. I had a Tanzanian filmmaker called Frank who was there for the trek with us. He got there before me to capture the moment for a documentary I’m making on the whole thing. It is due to be out in the next few weeks and it will highlight the work that all these amazing people do. I realised I was doing this for charity and it was my choice to do this but some of them have no choice, they have to do it to support families and are paid $8 a day.”
The descent took six hours and was even harder.
“It’s something I would not have been able to do without one of the summit porters, Emmanuel, who basically held on to me the whole way, all in all it took me 16 hours.
“It’s very hard to put the whole experience into words. It’s not something we’d ever do again, but we’re so glad we had the chance. I’d totally recommend the climb but I think you need a purpose, a strong reason to get to the top.
“This was Frank’s third climb and we had a girl in the group who had done Everest Base Camp and they both said our route was harder with all the climbing high and sleeping low and going around the mountain covering over 90km.
“We also had a night on the Kenya side where the porters took shifts on keeping watch for Jihadis. It wasn’t uncommon to spot a ranger with an AK47.”
Rejoining the ‘world’ again was strange: “In some ways it felt like we had had an out of body experience – the only way we knew it had happened was looking at photos and by how we found it so hard to walk the days following it!
“We celebrated on the mountain with (non-alcoholic) Champagne and dinner and then the following day headed back to the hotel, after an emotional tipping ceremony and donating of some of our trekking gear to the 43 guides and porters, who we had become very close to and who all signed the Irish flag and committed to making sure I made it to the top.”
In 2020, Lenore had put out a public appeal for black school shoes and stationery and arranged for the shipping of 22 boxes packed with supplies to be sent to over 500 orphans in Tanzania in February. She got to meet the kids who had benefited from the supplies on her trip.
“It was quite emotional, I turned up unannounced and the kids were wearing the shoes I was packing in boxes months ago. You donate sometimes but never see where these things end up. Some kids would randomly walk past me when they had finished school and would be nudging, pointing and waving, and as my friend Teddy translated, ‘They are saying, she is the one who give us the shoes’.”
The trip was difficult at times as Lenore wasn’t able to talk to her kids: “I didn’t want to risk upsetting them, reminding them I was gone and it being a trigger. I knew Ian had it all under control but I’m the type that can’t even go to Penneys without feeling guilty!”
Back home since September 4, Lenore is very proud of what she’s achieved: “Being diagnosed with Aspergers in 2019, I wanted to take this challenge on and prove anyone can make a difference when you have the determination, drive and support behind you. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could achieve this, it was like throwing a stone into water and creating this huge ripple. It really opened my eyes to how one small person like me can actually make a difference.”
To donate, see https://www.ifundraise.ie/6349_10kforkilimanj.html. You can also follow Lenore on social media at ‘Out in the Sticks at Six’