This one was for you, granddad George

My name is John-Henry Sinclair. I am a final-year student at the University of the Free State (Kovsies).

I am a positive, young Afrikaner boy from the Free State. Positive despite living in a society where my sister almost became a victim of rape, where my brother was held captive by robbers, and where I lost my granddad when he became a victim of a farm attack.

This is why I decided to tackle Kilimanjaro. I did it because despite all the “mountains” that we must overcome on our continent, I need to continue…

I have always had an adventurous spirit, but the idea to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania never really occurred to me. After all the bad experiences, I was determined to get away from it all.

In the same manner that I daily had to keep my brain focused for the big climb, I also had to discipline my body. I ran and cycled daily to make sure that I will be able to reach the peak. But nothing can prepare you for the altitude sickness – it does not matter how fit you are.

From the start, the trip was a challenge. Our connection flight from Nairobi Airport in Kenia to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania was delayed. That meant that we only had one hour to catch our next flight. After a big struggle at the search point, we stormed to our next flight with shoes and belts in hand and were just in time. Another disaster met us at the Kilimanjaro Airport – my one friend’s bag was missing; and this the bag with his hiking shoes in. After a few hours of battling at the airport, we found his bag.

The next morning, we departed in a kombi and with two guides to the starting point at the Machame gate of Kilimanjaro. I couldn’t see the mountain, because it was rainy and misty. All six days of the climb were characterised by rain, sleet and even a snowstorm on the way to the peak. But I kept reminding myself that each step I took was for my granddad. Each step was against farm murders.

The climb took place over six days and I saw how the other climbers battled with altitude sickness. Each step they took reminded me on how I struggled after my granddad’s death. Each step was a battle. Close to the peak, the water in all my water bottles froze; my one friend even started hallucinating. My other friend started to experience extreme headaches and I wanted to pass out due to too little oxygen reaching my brain. Despite all these obstacles, we could not stop, because it was just too cold.

Our last climb session to the top of the peak already started at twelve o’clock at night. The only reason for this was to be able to see the African sun first. Alas! Not everything always works according to plan. Instead of finding the sun on our faces, we entered a severe snowstorm. We carried on. Being able to climb with my friends really made me feel blessed, because it was an incredible challenge and incredible memories that I would cherish and carry with me for the rest of my life. I realised once again that those moments that take your breath away, are the most important ones in your life.

My granddad’s death was very, very hard on me, but after conquering Kilimanjaro, I realised that life will always place a mountain in your path…