Triumphant Gwent charity team return home after Kilimanjaro ordeal
2:01pm Saturday 26th October 2013 in News
Kilimanjaro climb for charity. (left to right) Emma Obios, Elizabeth Evans, Garry Parker, John Harris, Deborah Harvey, Marc Eckley, Lee Jukes, Maraid Mcgoldrick, and Ellie Karistiani. (1785053)
A charity team from Gwent have returned home counting themselves lucky to be alive after their bid to help ex-Paralympian John Harris become the oldest man in a wheelchair to climb Mount Kilimanjaro went terrifyingly wrong.
Two members of the team had to be stretchered down the Kenyan mountain, while John turned back just 300 metres from the true summit as night was falling and he didn’t think he would make it in time.
The five members of his team who went on reached the summit as the sun set behind a glacier and temperatures suddenly dropped to minus 20 degrees Celsius. Freezing and with no food and water left, they had to climb down the icy mountainside in darkness with only two torches between them. Several of the women climbing were so weak they collapsed.
Marc Eckley, 45, from Henllys in Cwmbran, led the push to the summit. He said: “I just started screaming at the girls, “If you don’t stand up we’re going to die on this mountain.” I sounded like a drill sergeant but I knew we had to get them down. It was probably the longest three hours of my life.”
Mairead McGoldrick, 24, from Goldcliff, had to be dragged down supported by guides, and was stretchered down the mountain once they reached the check point.
They celebrated their lucky escape with a champagne reception at the Celtic Manor yesterday (Friday).
The trek hit danger when Bridge FM radio presenter Lee Jukes became ill with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Fearing he had just hours to live, expedition leader Gary Parker from Magor ran 45 kilometres down the mountainside with Mr Jukes, carried on a stretcher by porters.
The others carried on their push to the summit, raising money for Fullcircle and Dreams and Wishes, a charity helping seriously ill children by making their dreams and wishes come true.
Expedition leader Gary Parker attributed the problems at the summit to the chaos after he had to leave with Mr Jukes.
Realising team members were struggling, local guides hurried a push to the top leaving them without a rest day, and setting off at 9.30am when Mr Parker wanted the team to start their summit bid at around 4am.
They didn’t realise the guides had left without enough food and water and with an oxygen tank that was almost empty.
Mr Harris, of Pontypool, is a veteran of five Paralympic games and has won gold, silver and bronze medals for Great Britain. He made it as far as Gilman’s Point before he turned back with partner Deborah Harvey, leaving the others to carry on.
He said: “The chair I had cost about £3,000 and it’s totally wrecked, but the worst part for me was trying to get in and out of the tent, and the toilets were horrendous – just on the side of the mountain.
It was a fantastic experience. The friendships that were cemented on that mountain will stay with us forever.”
To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/fullcircleltd.
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