Conquering Kilimanjaro



Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫


[1] Måns Zelmerlöw “Heroes”
[2] Trap Nation “Song of Storms (Deon Custom Remix)”
Howard Shore “Concerning Hobbits”
The Rolling Stones “Paint It Black”
Toto “Africa”
[6] Diana Ross & The Supremes
 “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”



Personal hero
Noun: a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character.


Sometimes a single act of valor is all it takes. In my life I have had several personal heroes and you may well have heard me speak of my father’s position as my personal go-to-guy for inspiration on occasions too numerous to tally. There have been certain souls in my lifetime that have touched me so deeply through their actions or wisdom that I have endeavored to carry that learning forth in everything I do unendingly. Many of these champions won’t even be aware of their standing or the important role their influence has had on keeping me keeping on throughout the densest of emotional thickets. To me a personal hero loves life, thirsts for knowledge and passes it on open-handedly, motivates us to push harder, and set our sights that little bit higher. And I’m about to tell you all about one such person.


Matt O’Keeffe, better known to some of us as Silent Shadow, has earned himself the exclusive right to be considered a personal hero of mine. Of course, knowing him like I do, I’m fully aware that he’d play his act down out of the kind of humility that just comes naturally to him. However, deep down he knows only too well that he is “the balls” for what he recently achieved, against all odds and in spite of considerable hazard I might add. You may recall a piece I released last year called Shadow of Kilimanjaro which spoke of Matt’s upcoming exhibition to Kilimanjaro where he planned to scale the tallest peak in Africa to raise money for cancer research. Apologies for the shameful tardiness but the time has now come to tell his story as, thanks to the marvels of modern technology, I recently viewed the feature-length documentary Kilimanjaro: There and Back Again (Just About) and got to take that climb alongside him in the comfort of my own home. Matt was our shadow behind the camera for most of the runtime but, make no mistake, I felt every last heartbeat, ache and pain, sense of longing, and feeling of accomplishment by the time that ninety minutes was up.


So here’s the spiel Grueheads, while it would be all too easy to spend 1500 words sucking on Mr. O’Keeffe’s Fat Albert, it wouldn’t be at all Keeper-like not to make him work for that lipstick now would it? There needs to be a journey, a distinct path between A and K, we need danger and peril to share his every pain and frustration, thus making the moment he reaches for that void all the more monumental. This may or may not mean tossing in 90,000 grouchy gibbons intent on shredding his pale ass like a porn addict’s bank statement and it is possible that certain accuracies may be massaged ever so slightly for the purpose of good old-fashioned punchy narrative. But the fact will still remain that this dude made it to the summit, planted his flag, and raised his fist aloft à la Rocky Balboa but far more defiantly as the Philadelphia Museum of Art only has a measly 72 steps and there’s little heroic about guzzling a litre of whey protein beforehand.


Before we go a solitary step further, I feel compelled to mention another personal hero of mine, someone who I’ve not yet actually had the pleasure of meeting in person although I plan for that to change very soon. You see, there’s another young man by the name of Rory Phillips who also undertook this perilous mission alongside Matt, despite suffering a nasty bout of tonsillitis prior to departure and being recommended by his physician not to make the trip. Indeed, the whole reason this climb was facilitated in the first place was that Rory lost his own brother to a rare strain of testicular cancer a couple of years back and was determined to honor his memory in the most fitting manner imaginable. There were other heroes too and Matt’s friends Emma and Ben also courageously made the expedition for this more than worthy cause but Rory’s persistence in the face of considerable adversity highlights just how much this meant to him and he possessed the kind of never say die attitude that any adventurer worth their salt needs to conquer such a perilous peak. Thus this one’s for you too Mr. Phillips and, when we eventually meet in person, be prepared to have your balls cupped lovingly by a complete stranger. How’s that for an ice breaker?


So about Kilimanjaro then. Well this long dormant volcano in Tanzania stands almost 20,000 ft from sea level and takes six grueling days to ascend. O’Keeffe, Phillips, and their team set out from base camp on day one, set to tame this unruly beast and make some history. I would imagine that the general consensus around an hour into their bush land safari was that they had made the biggest mistake of their lives as it took around this long for Kilimanjaro (nicknamed The Roof of Africa) to remind them in no uncertain terms that it planned to pluck every last one of their tail feathers and go in dry with the fist of Shakma. While searing heat was their companion setting out, the temperature thinks nothing of dropping sub-zero whenever it sees fit, and this pretty much rules out those mankinis. Hiking from the National Park Gate along the winding trail to their first soft goal of Machame Camp took several excruciating hours and the entire party had felt the pinch by the time they arrived at the ridge, aching from head to toe and likely hallucinating those nice warm bunks and a nice mug of cocoa.


Alas, their arrival at base camp introduced them to harsh reality instead as they huddled up in their two-man tents agitated and deeply uncomfortable. It wasn’t all bad as there happened to be a communal lavatory on site, affectionately named “The Shitter” although there were no musical toilet seats or intermittent puffs of fragrance, just the aroma of twisted colons and constant threat of diphtheria. Needless to say, a good eight hours shut-eye was never going to be on the cards at base camp and, as dawn’s early light arrived like the schoolyard bully that it is, none of the party were feeling particularly rested. Worse still, it was time to continue along their ascending path, along a steep rocky ridge, to their next hard target. All the while, those 90,000 embittered gibbons were biding their time for the ideal time to strike and please allow me to remind you of the favored pastime of angry baboons for anyone not already familiar.


That’s right, we’re talking the bare minimum of pillow talk or stimulating foreplay, just a whole lot of disagreeable fuckery and lacking anything resembling two-way romance. It turns out that said primates were very much aware of the expedition and hell-bent on grabbing themselves some white meat before nightfall, much to the team’s bemusement (and O’Keeffe’s vague excitement). The thing is, only fools rush in, and monkeys aren’t that far down the evolutionary chain from we humans, so instead they watched on from their concealed vantage and bided their time. In addition to the constant threat of ambush, there was also the small matter of declining air quality as they reached their next point of elevation and the Shira campsite for the close of day two. Nerves were frayed, bodies weary, bodily functions compromised, and expectations exceeded in the very worst way as they settled down for another restless night under the red moon with 90,000 well hidden spotters strategizing their attack unbeknownst to them.

conquering kilimanjaro

Day three was one of harsh realizations as despite many hours of strenuous trekking, it ended at a similar elevation as when they set out. This is all about acclimatization preparing for the all-important summit climb but that’s of scant consolation when your weary feet are accommodating agonizing blisters the size of an Ewok’s elbow and your daily bowel movements resemble triple thick ice cream floats. It’s around this midway point that our minds begin playing tricks on us and this plays straight into the hands of the villainous monkeys as they love nothing more than observing a grown man’s will faltering. O’Keeffe and Phillips attempted to raise their spirits in the customary way by playing cards in their collapsible shelter and comparing flatulence (which was way beyond rancid by this point). Little were they aware that their farts may well have saved their lives that night as baboons happen to possess a rather keen sense of smell and thought better of instigating their ambush.


Have you ever been shown an extra whippy raspberry ripple cornet only to be informed that you cannot take a lick? Welcome to Kilimanjaro as, despite the all-important Uhuru Peak being plainly visible throughout day four, touching its void was not in the day’s itinerary. Instead, it was another stint of torturous rambling along perilous ridges, and another laundry list of reasons why they never should have harbored this smart idea in the first place. Moreover, the gibbons could now sense their momentum, and were starting to become unruly. That evening at base camp, they finally made their move, and it was left to O’Keeffe and Phillips to defend the honor of their fellow travelers and secure the group’s safe passage for the critical day five. After a bruising encounter which saw both men having to stitch their left legs back on at the thigh, the baboons sheepishly retreated and the battle of the mind was won. However, the war was still some way from over and they were now just a handful of hours from making that final push to the summit with battered shells and 180,000 beady little eyes on them the whole way.

kilimanjaro sunrise

Once you reach in excess of 15,000 ft above sea level, the air has a tendency to become thinner than one of Taylor Swift’s boob tubes and precious oxygen was at a distinct premium as they commenced their ultimate clamber to the peak of this beast. There were upsides of course and the most resplendent sunrise man is ever likely to witness acted as last-ditch bargaining tool just to ensure they didn’t succumb to eleventh hour cowardice and/or logic. Rory, in particular, struggled massively with this leg of the journey as doctor’s orders were proved to hold some weight and a simple combo like inhaling and exhaling was no longer quite so elementary. Then there was the small matter of 206 desperately jaded bones, one severely tested resolve, that last tenuous slither of sanity, and of course 90,000 murderous simians to contend with. Surely this was to be a climb too far? Had they come all this way just to be thwarted by the cruelest twist of fate since Han Solo and his one begotten son brought it in for a long overdue hug? Could the term “apeshit” be about to become applicable? And were they ever likely to take a solid dump again?


In answer to the above posers: this wasn’t a climb too far, fate was to be their best friend, those apes learned a thing or two about the triumph of human spirit, and I’m not altogether sure about the last part although I hear that both O’Keeffe and Phillips have been pooping through crazy straws since their return. You’re damn right they made it to Uhuru Peak and, while the latter had to be rushed back to Mweka Park in record time as he was beginning to resemble Arnie on the red planet and was mere moments away from the heart bursting in his very chest, all members of the party touched down topside and relinquished one almighty earth-shattering “FUCK YOU ROOF OF AFRICA!!!” as they soaked in the achievement by way of group snapshot. I hear that the baboons were furious and took their frustrations out on the next band of young hopefuls, whose bodies have still not been recovered but that’s another story for another day. What matters is that Kilimanjaro had been conquered and personal heroes forged.


What the entire team achieved here, not just our hosts, was nothing short of utterly monumental. Things may have looked decidedly shaky there on occasion but nothing was ever realistically going to stop them from planting those flags for such a worthy cause and honoring the memory of one of their own personal heroes in the process. Granted, both men now smelled suspiciously like assholes, as they played one last round of cards to determine who would get first shower, but it was nothing a few dozen flannel washes wouldn’t see right and, the fact remained, they had gone where few men in the greater scheme of things had gone before. Nothing can ever take that away from them and neither can it ever hope to dislodge them from the pedestals I have placed them on. I distinctly recall pledging to erect a marble shrine in honor of The Master of The Queef once he had completed his objective and now have to conjure up two Buddhas as Phillips has earned himself one also. Granted, I’m not best pleased about how much this pilgrimage is going to set me back, but I can’t think of any more deserving recipients. Had I mentioned that they raised almost £5000 for cancer research and the British Heart Foundation? Now if that hasn’t earned them a thorough ball fondling then I don’t know what will.


So those 90,000 angry baboons are still at large and Mount Kilimanjaro looks set to punish many other wayward adventurers as it looks to rebuild its reputation as The Roof of Africa. Meanwhile, pats on the back are long overdue, as this particularly merciless mission has taught me a thing or two about the importance of can-do attitude and the triumph of spirit. With my lamentable lung capacity, I’d have been lucky to have survived thirty seconds on their shoulders down at the National Park Gate without my basic respiratory function being compromised. However, after watching their struggles third-hand, I can state with some vehemence that I have found myself a fresh pair of personal heroes. Don’t let it go to your heads guys as the nefarious Shakma follows me on Twitter and I’ll think nothing of informing him of any cockiness while donating him your home addresses. For now, feel that immense wave of pride as it washes over you, know that you’ve motivated not only this tribute but so much more besides, and feel free to pop over any time to collect your Buddha statuettes. Alas, they were all out of 24 karat gold so I had to settle for Play-Doh. But it’s the thought that counts eh fellas? Now what about Mount Everest next time you freeloaders?




Kilimanjaro: There and Back Again (Just About)


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