Kilkenny teenager Tadhg O’Carroll was among a group of 100 Irish students who completed the climbing of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, on August 23.
The 17-year-old has described the experience as the most difficult undertaking of his life, being drained both physically and emotionally by the climb and all it involved.
“I would not be able to explain the experience – one would have to undertake the climb to fully appreciate what is involved,” Tadhg said.
Tadhg, from Shellumsrath House, Kilkenny, had volunteered for the climb as part of a joint fund-raising venture for Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children and The Chernobyl Children’s Fund.
The Kilimanjaro climb raised approximately €100,000 for the two causes.
Tadhg undertook an extensive programme of climbing in Ireland before facing the Tanzanian test. However, he says, nothing could have really prepares him for the privations of a climb like Kilimanjaro.
“It was something well worth doing. I would not do it again but would rather seek another kind of challenge,” he said.
Tadhg left Ireland on August 14 and, following stop-overs in Frankfurt and Addis Ababa, flew into Kilimanjaro Airport, where he met up with the Irish group in the Snowcrest Hotel.
The mountain was over two hours’ drive away and they set out from the hotel at about 9am on August 17 to begin the climb. “We walked for about six to seven hours that day. That night we camped on flat ground. There were three of us in a small tent – my two companions were from my own school – Clongowes Wood College – they were from Mullingar and Dublin.” The school friends were billeted together for morale purposes.
The climb took six days and it was bitterly cold at night, sometimes as low as minus 20 degrees.
“At about 6pm on the day before the climb to the top, we got extra supplies of food. At 1am we awoke for the climb, leaving at 3am. I was responsible for distributing food supplies for three groups of 20 climbers. I was up all night and, although I was supposed to get some six hours sleep, all I got was a half-hour in bed,” he said.
“The overall climb was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life by a country mile. The freezing cold stung my hands, although we were equipped with hand warmers. But on that last stage to the top sunrise was spectacular and we could see above the clouds. We reached the summit at 8am.”
There was a great sense of achievement but at such altitude one was very aware of the lack of oxygen. Tadhg, like many of the Irish climbers, felt sick during the trek to the top of Kilimanjaro. “I suffered extreme headaches, dizziness, weakness and felt sick. Some of the climbers got physically sick,” he said.
The Kilkenny teenager said that, having reached the summit, “you simply wanted to get down.” The descent took two days.
He was astonished at the fact that their helpers – porters – were capable of carrying 20kg of the climbers’ pack as well as about 15kg of their own, without showing any great distress. Local knowledge was obviously a big advantage to the porters.
There was a big celebration when the Irish group returned to the hotel, swapping stories of the mountain adventure.
Late on August 27, Tadgh made it home. Once back in Kilkenny it was a speedy return to normal life. By the Thursday night he had returned for the new academic year at Clongowes – he is a 5th-year student – and was looking forward to rugby training on the following day.
What Tadhg achieved is certainly a character builder for the Kilkenny teenager and, no doubt, will stand to him in the challenges that lie ahead in life.