How 62-year-old Keith Davies achieved a long-held goal by trekking Africa’s highest mountain for VSO, overcoming huge challenges and personal tragedy on the way.
You’ve been hiking for six days. The air is getting thinner and your legs are weary from trekking, but the summit is so close now. For hours, all you’ve been able to focus on is putting one foot in front of the other.
With your head torch you can see the person in front of you, and beyond that, hundreds of tiny lights climbing steadily up the mountain, all with the same intention: to converge on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro as the sun rises.
Above the lights of other climbers, you can see stars. After five hours of climbing, the sky starts to become lighter, and the sun comes up over the horizon. You’re exhausted, but you’ve made it – you’ve reached Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro, and all of Africa.
A glimpse of the summit
For 62-year-old Keith Davies, this trip was 37 years in the making, a story that started back in 1979, volunteering with VSO in Malawi.
On the flight there, Keith caught a glimpse of Kilimanjaro through the clouds, out the plane window. He felt inspired to tackle the mountain, which stands nearly 6,000 metres above sea level.
Keith volunteered for two years as a plant pathologist: “We were testing seeds from abroad, and seeing how they would cope with local Malawian conditions.”
After volunteering, Keith decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro before heading home to the UK. He got close, reaching Gilman’s Point, 5685m up the mountain. However, altitude sickness prevented him from making it to the summit.
The second attempt
Back home, Keith got married and had two children, who grew up with stories of Africa and its most famous mountain.
His son Graham took a particular interest in climbing Kilimanjaro one day with his dad, but he sadly died at the age of 16 from an undiagnosed heart condition.
Ten years on from the tragedy, Keith decided to make a fresh attempt at climbing the mountain, both in memory of his son and to raise money for VSO:
“I wanted to fundraise for VSO because volunteering gave me the opportunity to learn. Africa educated me in a way I hadn't been educated before.”
Keith began training for the climb, determined to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in time for the ten-year anniversary of Graham’s death.
Against all odds
“Two months before I was set to go, I had a heart attack,” said Keith. This put the climb on hold yet again, but Keith managed to stay motivated.
“All the advice I got was that it's good to remain active. The goal of Kilimanjaro was a good motivator to keep going and keep exercising.”
Keith was eventually given the all clear by his doctor to do the climb, and with two trained medics available to support him on the trek, Keith felt confident to try again.
On 11 October 2018, Keith finally left to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, wearing a medallion engraved with Graham’s name around his neck.
In memory of Graham
Even after months and years of preparation, Keith wasn’t sure he’d reach the summit.
“At first, I was just going to go up as far as I could and enjoy taking photos along the way.
“Suddenly, about the fifth day, I thought yes, I can do this.”
After six days of trekking up to 18km a day, it was time to make the final ascent. Keith left at midnight in the pitch black. He made it to the top a little after sunrise, exhausted. Finally, he had made it.
At the top, Keith removed Graham’s medallion from his neck, and placed it on the sign at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
“I scattered a handful of Graham’s ashes at the top. Graham was always with me, on the whole trip.”
Keith has so far raised more than £1,500, and has advice for any budding fundraisers.
“If I was to do the trip all over again, I'd give myself more time to fundraise. VSO sent me a fundraising pack and some t-shirts. Talk to the charity you're raising money for, they can give you advice and help you advertise what you're doing on social media.”
Keith’s determination has paid off, raising over £1,800 in memory of his son, with the money raised being split between VSO and CRY.
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