Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro blind

Post date: 
Thursday, 8 February 2018
Photo of Marvel at Kili peak

Marvel Opara, who is 53 and registered blind, talks about her experience of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and offers advice to others wanting to take it on.

When I was about four or five, I fell and banged my head. My brain started to swell and I had to have an emergency life-or-death operation. My parents had to sign a disclaimer and were told that if I survived, I would have limited or no vision.
 

The accident damaged my optic nerve, so my brain doesn’t receive messages from it anymore. As a result, I have no vision in my left eye and only seven per cent in my right.

Last October, I took on the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain on Earth. It's always been my dream to climb Everest, but I know it can be dangerous, so I looked into other top mountains to climb. When I came across Kilimanjaro, I knew it would be perfect.
 

Preparing for the peak

I went to Richmond Park, did Nordic walking and took spinning classes which are good for stamina. On the mountain you need to carry three-and-a-half litres of water and a day pack, so I bought a 10kg weighted vest to wear around the house. I also did hula hooping which is a great workout for abs.
 
I knew I would be facing the elements and not showering for the seven days I was up the mountain, so I had to psych myself up mentally as well. A lot of the prep is mind over matter. I wrote on two RNIB balloons before I left which said “Marvel was here! Kilimanjaro 2017” and put them in my bum bag, so when I reached the summit I could get them out.
 

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

On the first day, we were trekking through forest. We saw chameleons, dogs and lots of children who sang to us. There were 13 of us, a guide, a medic and porters who carried the luggage and did all the cooking. The oldest in the group was 61 and the youngest was 25 (who unfortunately had to go down early because of altitude sickness).
 
During the trek, I made sure I focused on my breath. When the going got tough, I sung “the only way is up, nothing can stop me” over and over again. My mind set was to reach the summit and to blow up those balloons to celebrate when I got there.
 

I took lavender oil for headaches and eucalyptus oil for blocked noses. I also made sure I had magnesium oil to rub into my muscles to help prevent them getting sore. A friend who had previously done the trek lent me a warm down jacket and sleeping bag. I was told that batteries freeze nearer the top of the mountain and to keep them at the bottom of my sleeping bag, which was great tip.

The hardest part of the trek was the second day – there were rocks, upon rocks, upon rocks. My guide would say “stone” every time and I constantly had to lift my legs. Even in the campsite, I would use my trekking poles to make sure nothing was in the way. Volcanic mountain ash was everywhere too, so I always felt like my hands were dry. My body soon became acclimatized to that environment though.
 
By the third day, it started getting cold – and it was really cold at night. I put my hand warmers in my socks to keep my feet warm. At night everyone would sing songs, but I was going to bed at 7.30pm because I needed to rest my body.
 

Reaching the summit

When we got to the summit I planned on screaming for joy, but I couldn’t do anything - I was just too exhausted! The RNIB balloons I took with me, I couldn’t blow up because I would have passed out. Luckily my guide did it for me, because he knew I wouldn’t back down.
 

At that point I became animated, I became alive. It was like my brain kicked in. At that point, I felt on top of the world.

Coming back home

It was over before I knew it. When I got back to London it took me a few weeks to get back to reality. It all felt like a dream. Not only did I make it to the summit, but I also ended up fundraising £4,700 for RNIB.
 
I chose to fundraise for them because they have helped me a lot over the years. I wanted to make more people aware of the charity and the work that they do. It’s important to educate people about sight loss. People lose their sight every day.
 

My advice to others

  • Do your research: Watch YouTube videos of other people who have done the climb to help get a feel for what it will be like.
  • Go to meetings: It’s important you go along to any meetings with the trip organisers to find out what you’re going to be doing and what you have to take with you.
  • Get prepared early: Make sure you get the day pack you're going to carry early on so you can get used to walking around with it with stuff inside.
  • Break equipment in: Be proactive with any equipment that you're going to be using so that you can break it in beforehand.
 

Further information

Interested in taking on a challenge of your own? Check out the incredible events RNIB has to offer.

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