A Carnoustie woman has returned home triumphant after a gruelling six-day charity challenge 5000 miles from home and raising over £5000.
Petra McMillan, a volunteer patron with Marie Curie, the charity that provides free professional nursing care to the terminally ill at home, was one of 16 UK participants to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s fourth tallest freestanding mountain.
Battling severe altitude sickness, Petra successfully summited the 5895 metre peak in Tanzania last week and raised over £5000 for the charity in the process.
However, Petra who has taken part in numerous marathons, long distance cycling treks and hikes at home and abroad for Marie Curie, admits it was the toughest feat she has ever faced.
“I had trained well and I felt fit but the altitude just ripped me apart. Just one hour into summit night I became really ill and that continued for the next 17 hours until I got back to base camp.
“My whole body was protesting, in every way possible and it was a huge mental battle to keep putting one foot in front of the other when I had absolutely nothing left in me.”
Altitude sickness is common above 2400 metres with most climbers experiencing symptoms including headaches, nausea, sickness, fatigue, dizziness, nosebleeds and a rapid pulse. Severe symptoms such as swelling on the brain and in the lungs can prove fatal.
Each year more than 40,000 attempt to summit Africa’s highest peak and at least 10 die in the process.
Not even achieving the target of reaching the summit, Uhuru Peak, against the odds, eight and half hours after setting off from high camp at midnight in sub zero temperatures could lift Petra’s spirits.
“I was mindful to watch the sunrise, I looked at the glaciers, I kept talking and encouraging those around me that were struggling too but the truth is, I couldn’t wait to get off that mountain. I had to dig deep though and be really careful on the descent, I was so tired but I couldn’t afford to fall and get injured.”
Seventeen hours after beginning the ascent, Petra finally made it back to the base camp at 12,205 ft, just as the sun was setting.
“I was so relieved, I just fell into my tent exhausted. I had been propped up all day by a great doctor and expedition leader and I’d had various oral and intravenous drugs to counter sickness and as a safeguard against swelling on the brain.
“It’s only now I can look back and see that I was lucky to summit and appreciate the huge effort that we all put in to raise funds for Marie Curie.”
The Marie Curie group were the first team in 10 years to achieve a 100% summit success rate. In the process they raised over £81,000 for the charity which will ‘buy’ more than 4050 hours of high quality hands on nursing care for people with a range of terminal conditions, including cancer, in the last weeks of life at home or in one of he UK’s nine hospices.
Petra was the first UK Marie Curie patron to successfully complete what is regarded as the toughest challenge in the charity’s worldwide portfolio.
Already some of Petra’s team mates, ranging in age from 18 to 62, are considering an assault on Everest base camp in 2018 - at 5364 metres it is 531 metres lower than Kilimanjaro - but the 43-year-old mum of two is unconvinced.
“I am really glad I took part in the challenge but my body made it very clear it doesn’t like altitude. I think I’d rather run three marathons back to back than attempt a big climb ever again!”
For more information about Marie Curie, visit www.mariecurie.org.uk or to get involved with the charity locally, call Petra on 07717 810365.