Upwards and onwards
Olivia Roffe looks back on her mountain climbing fundraising adventure after tackling Mt Kilimanjaro in memory of her grandfather. By Kate Chapman.
Overcoming freezing temperatures, high altitudes and sleepless nights while scaling one of the world’s tallest mountains is not for the faint-hearted, but for Olivia Roffe it proved the adventure of a lifetime as she completed the climb in memory of her grandfather.
The 23-year-old, who lives in Long Sutton, likes to challenge herself and had always wanted to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, but when Covid struck she was forced to put her adventure on the backburner.
Still determined to make it to Kilimanjaro’s summit, which stands at 5,895m – making it the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain the world – Olivia decided 2022 would finally be the year and she flew to Tanzania late last year to realise her long-held ambition.
on the week-long climb in memory of her grandad Brian Osborn, who passed away in 2015 after suffering from Lewy Body Dementia (DLB) for more than a decade, and decided to raise money for the DLB Society in his honour.
“It was absolutely amazing – I loved completing the climb,” Olivia said.
“The last night was extremely difficult – it was cold and dark, and we’d already done a full six days’ hiking beforehand, plus we hadn’t really slept.
“We started our ascent to the summit at 11pm and climbed through the night. It was so dark – all you could see was a line of head torches in front of you!
“As soon as I got to the top, I was so emotional; it was a mixture of relief and exhaustion, just because I had made it. Thoughts of what I was doing it for, and about my grandad kept me going. It was such an amazing experience.”
Olivia, the manager at VM Gedney Newsagents in Long Sutton, admits that training to climb a mountain when you live in the middle of the fens is a little challenging.
“I completed the Three Peaks at the beginning of the year to help make sure I was capable, and I’ve done plenty of things in the past like the East Coast Climb in Australia and the Mediterranean Steps in Gibraltar,” she added. “I spent a lot of hours in the gym, doing inclines on the treadmill, HIIT workouts, spin classes, walking and anything else to help improve my general fitness.”
Acclimatising to altitude
Olivia travelled to Africa on her own, where she met up with the rest of her 12-strong group and guides. They took the Lemosho route up Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano. It is the longest path to the top, but is often preferred as it gives climbers more time to acclimatise to the altitude.
Olivia recalled: “The first six days were good. We’d hike up to a certain point, and then come back down to our camp, to get us used to the altitude.
“Fortunately, it didn’t really affect me. On summit night I had a little bit of a headache, but that could have been a mixture of tiredness, cold and possibly a little bit related to the altitude. It can make some people very nauseous.
“The weather was challenging though. The first three days we were just in T-shirts, and I got quite sunburnt, while on the fourth and fifth days we had to put extra layers on.
“It was freezing at night. The first night I woke up multiple times shivering even when we were still really low. All the camps were cold. By the last couple of nights I was wearing so many layers – jumpers, trousers, coats, gloves, my bobble hat – in fact pretty much everything I had!
“The camping experience was really good – apart from the night we were on a slope, and I woke up half-way down my tent! It wasn’t something I’d done since I was about 15, and waking up and seeing the sunrise in the morning was wonderful.”
Olivia said the group were well looked after by their guides, who kept them nourished with hearty breakfasts and warming meals including stews and pasta packed with carbohydrates for energy, while the camaraderie kept her going too.
“On the route to the summit, I was exhausted and there were people turning back,” says Olivia.
“Three out of our group didn’t make it to the top, but everyone kept each other going. I do think if it wasn’t for some of the others I could have given up. There was one guy in particular, we stuck together, and he really kept encouraging me.
“There were many times when I just had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, telling myself left and right in my mind, to keep up the pace – to keep going. There were so many thoughts going through my mind. It’s a real mental challenge as well as a physical one.
“But we reached Stella Point just in time for sunrise, which was epic, and then the final hour to the top was a little bit easier.
“We spent 20 minutes on the summit as it was so cold, just long enough to take some group and individual photos to prove we’d made it. I was over the moon to be up there, but also keen to get down!”
lanning the next climb
The descent was quicker, taking just two days, and now Olivia is already thinking about her next challenge, which will be to climb to Everest Base Camp with a friend. She’s then hoping to find an even bigger and better adventure for her next fundraiser.
So far, Olivia’s Kilimanjaro trek has raised more than £2,100 for the DLB society – more than double her initial target.
DLB is a progressive dementia that leads to a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent function. The DLB Society doesn’t receive any government funding and relies solely on charitable donations to fund its research.
“I’m pleased to have raised so much money as this charity isn’t particularly well known,” Olivia adds. “DLB is a cruel, terrible disease – I wouldn’t wish it on anyone or their family – so I’m happy to do anything I can to help. My family has been great and is so proud of what I’ve achieved, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported me.”
Olivia’s fundraising page is still open and donations can be made online at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/olivia-roffe
Photographs: courtesy of Olivia Roffe