York butcher Matt Kneafsey has completed a challenge of a lifetime - climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and raising thousands for Aids orphans in Africa
REACHING the summit of Kilimanjaro after five arduous days on the ascent was a special moment.
Matt Kneafsey, a butcher from York, had joined a charity expedition to raise funds for two orphanages in the foothills of the mountain in Tanzania.
The goal had been to climb the 5,895 metres of the highest mountain in Africa and watch the sunrise.
The morning of the ascent meant an early start for Matt and his dozen teammates. "The day before, we had walked for seven or eight hours. We went to bed at 7pm and were woken up at 11pm to begin the ascent to the summit. We walked for seven hours in the dark with our head torches on in order to reach the summit for sunrise. It was fantastic and I really enjoyed it, but I was completely shattered and it was freezing cold."
Above the clouds, Matt savoured this once-in-a-lifetime moment.
The mountain was to be their home for six days and five nights. They slept in tents and sleeping bags and tried their best to acclimatise to the thinning mountain air each day.
L-R: Kilimanjaro, Matt Kneafsey, and the team
At one point Matt came down with altitude sickness, putting his chance of reaching the summit in jeopardy. "It makes you feel like you have the flu, you have a headache and feel shivery and nauseous." It also makes it difficult to eat - and yet the climbers had to make sure they ate enough calories and drank enough fluids to fuel their daily climb.
The higher they went, the slower they had to move, recalls Matt. "You walk as if you are walking to be hung. Felix, our guide leader, set the pace, and we were covering about one mile an hour. The reason for that is you have to keep your heart rate really steady as it is difficult to get oxygen out of the air at that height."
Matt also had to master altitude breathing, where he had to take a deep inhale of breath, filling his lungs completely, then exhale sharply, in time with each step.
Inside one of the orphanages in Tanzania
Before the climb began, Matt and his team members visited the two orphanages that will benefit from the money raised from the climb. Facilities are very basic, says Matt. At the second orphanage they visited, which is still being built, there was no running water nor electricity. Clothes were washed in buckets in the yard and one young girl's job was to cycle to the water source one mile away four times a day to fetch supplies. Most of the children have been orphaned because of the Aids epidemic in Africa. On the day of their visit, a two-year-old girl was brought to the orphanage with Aids.
The kitchen was in a stable, with the cook preparing meals in a large pot set over an open, log fire. Children sleep in simple dorms, in bunk beds covered in colourful blankets and mosquito nets.
Matt and the team hope to raise around £40,000 from the climb.
He said: "It was good to see where the money we raised was going and who was going to benefit. They need basic services like electricity and running water, but the money can also pay for medicines for the children too.
"It was good to see that they were happy children, they were singing and dancing and playing and having a good time."
These maps show the location of Mount Kilimanjaro in the north east area of Tanzania
Matt, of family business M&K Quality Butchers, Bishopthorpe Road, York signed up for the challenge of a lifetime at the request of customer and friend, Travis Young.
Travis, of South Bank, was joined on the trek by his wife Melanie and York hotel owner Greg Harrand, among others. The money raised is for the not-for-profit organisation The Kilimanjaro Children's Fund which supports orphans in Tanzania.
Matt, aged 38, is a keen tennis player, and prepared for the climb by undertaking some gruelling training walks, including completing the Three Peaks Challenge.
The team reach the summit, raising thousands for Aids orphans
In the end, it wasn't the climb, but the challenges of living on the mountain for six days that proved the biggest challenge. Matt had suspected this might be the case before he left Britain - he hadn't been camping since he was a small boy at pony club, and he found the experience of being in a tent anything but restful.
"You try to sleep, but you can hear everything, from people unzipping their tents to go to the loo, to people snoring," says Matt.
The toilet was little more than a hole in the ground, with a tent erected around it for privacy.
It didn't help hygiene matters that Matt left his toilet bag in the hotel - complete with deodorant, soap and toothbrush.
Porters carried the team's tents and sleeping bags as well as food and water each day, and set up camp for them each night, providing hot meals, such as soups and pastas. Each individual had to carry their own kit bag, with their clothes and snacks.
"You needed to carry three lots of gear with you because in the morning it was cold, then when the sun came out its was hot, then at 4pm the heavens opened," recalls Matt.
Despite all of this, Matt thoroughly enjoyed the expedition. "We all knew it was going to be tough, but it was really enjoyable. Having a physical challenge each day helped keep you focussed and gave me a complete mental break. If I was lying around a pool for a week, I'd still be thinking about work."
Having said that, it was nice to come back to some home comforts. He said: "When you sink into your bed, it feels like home - and it was great to have a big, fat, juicy steak!"
The team hope to raise another £10,000 from a charity fundraising evening, A Night in the Serengeti, which will be held at the Poppleton Centre on February 27 from 7pm. Tickets are £40 per person. All proceeds from ticket sales, auction, and raffle will go to The Kilimanjaro Children's Fund. The evening has been supported by many York businesses. For more information, visit the Facebook page: facebook.com/A-Night-in-the-Serengeti-386737331536827/