“It’s not the mountain we conquer — but ourselves.”
Sir Edmund Hillary
First ascent of Mount Everest,
the world’s highest peak, in 1953.
By midnight on October 10, 2011, the temperature had plummeted to a brutal minus 40 degrees and ice was falling steadily from the sky, but Jodi Unsworth and her fellow trekkers were undeterred. They bravely climbed from their tents and set off on the final leg of their journey toward the peak of Africa’s highest mountain — Mount Kilimanjaro — soaring some 19,341 feet above sea level. It was a 10 hour-long climb into a raging ice storm, on a slippery slope, in the dark, with nothing to light their way but head torches.
“When the sun finally rose, we realized that we were covered in almost two inches of ice,” says Unsworth. “Our main guide said that in his 130 ascents to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, he had never experienced weather so bad as we had that night. He nearly turned us around three different times, but the team was determined to keep going.”
Then, finally, by 10 a.m., despite being mentally and physically exhausted, the team reached the peak. Literally frozen stiff, with aching bodies and altitude sickness, they were nevertheless exhilarated, having conquered a mountain to raise money for research.
“I have done some mad things in my life, but this has got to be the biggest challenge by far,” says Jodi Unsworth, founder of the UK support group Caring Matters Now, talking to folks at the 2012 Nevus Outreach Conference in Texas in July.
“I could never have dreamed of standing on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro having raised an amazing £80,000 for research for congenital melanocytic nevi (CMN).
“But it’s the best feeling you can ever have. What a blessing is CMN.”
Whose idea was this anyhow?
Unsworth remembers that she was watching a show on TV called Comic Relief one Friday night about two years ago. People can watch the show and donate money, which raises funds for various projects both in the UK and abroad for people who are less fortunate than us, she says.
“During this show, I learned of about 20 famous celebrities, who had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Some of these celebrities were not at all fit and they still made it to the top of the mountain.
“When I saw that, I thought — we could do that too!”
Laughing, she adds, “I had never even wore a pair of walking boots before.”
At the next meeting of trustees for Caring Matters Now, she suggested they do a big Charity Challenge, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, in 2011, if they could interest a team of family and friends.
And they did! Joining Unsworth on her climb were her dad, her sister Mia, and 16 other friends and members of the Caring Matters Now family. They scheduled their climb for October 2-13, 2011 — then began some serious training.
The journey begins
On October 2, 2011, the CMN team boarded a plane in Heathrow Airport, in London, flew to Kenya and then onto Tanzania, a 24-hour trip to the site of Mount Kilimanjaro. Mark Kalch led the team up the mountain along with Doc Jim Blackburn, who was charged with keeping everyone “happy, healthy, and fit,” he says. In addition, 52 porters helped to carry their load, set up camp, and prepare meals.
“It was SO hard,” Unsworth says, remembering their grueling effort to scale this mountain. “We were roasting hot the first few days, when we were going through a rainforest filled with all these monkeys, which was amazing! And then the final day, it was freezing cold. None of us could even bend our arms, they were so thick with ice.
“We walked seven days in all,” she adds. “After we reached the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro at 10 a.m., we took photos and then had to turn around straight away and head back to camp. This took another seven hours, so we walked for 17 hours on summit day!”
In between, each day held its own challenges. Day 3, it started raining. It rained and rained, and the team learned that “waterproof” clothing is not necessarily waterproof. By Day 4, most climbers were experiencing fatigue, muscular aches and pains, some nosebleeds, nausea, and headaches due to altitude sickness, keeping Doc Blackburn busy dispensing advice and meds.
But upward and onward, the team trudged ahead. One climber noted that “the terrain was deceiving as it looked flat from a distance, but it dipped and dived,” so hiking was hard. And then they got to the Great Barranco Wall, a worrisome 800-foot climb that awaited the already weary team on about Day 5. But spectacular views, along with the grace and laughter of the team, helped everyone to keep going until they reached the top.
“My dad said, ‘We’ve climbed many mountains in our life, love. We can climb this one too.’
“You know, Dad,” Unsworth answered. “You’re right.”
Done and dusted
Mount Kilimanjaro is “done and dusted” now, Unsworth says. The £80,000 her team raised on this climb has been given to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London to fund about two years of research.
But that’s not all. Inspired by this success, Unsworth says that her fellow trekkers now hope to complete seven challenges on seven continents over 12 years, working their way around the world.
“When we come to America, maybe we can all do it together,” she says, enthusiastically, trying to inspire the crowd gathered in Texas that morning.
“Go for it,” she says, laughing. “It’s fun.”
Then shaking her head, she whispered honestly, “No. Not really. It was SO cold.”
But then she is serious. “If you ever have a thought that you want to do something to make a difference — do it.”
Unsworth ended the meeting with her mantra:
“Sow a thought; reap an action.
Sow an action; reap a habit.
Sow a habit; reap a destiny.”