Representing Bermuda atop Africa's highest peak
Raygina Fox was ready for the trip of a lifetime – a seven-day hike up Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro.
A week before her departure she learnt the $1,950 she paid to an American booking agent for the trip was part of a $38,000 lump sum that he mysteriously invested and lost.
Sirikwa Travel, the Tanzanian company that organised the expedition, hadn’t received a cent from her or any of the other people hoping to make the trip from California.
Ms Fox had spent months training near her home in Vacaville, a city located 35 miles outside of Sacramento.
Even as she and many of the hikers considered taking legal action, she was determined to carry on.
“After all the anticipation, nothing was going to stop me from doing this climb."
The 51-year-old is grateful to have had the help of hiker friends, who raised $7150 and split it evenly between the 11 climbers who wanted to continue.
“We all had to pay the difference,” said Ms Fox, a real estate agent, and a partner in a construction firm. "I have been hiking for 15 years. I really fell in love with the outdoors and really wanted to do it for the challenge.”
She arrived in Tanzania on October 1 prepared for the challenge.
The altitude is considered the real kicker on Mount Kilimanjaro. There is an ascent of 4,084ft, with 49 per cent less oxygen, and a descent of nearly 6,870ft. The journey covers about 37 miles.
Ms Fox left the island for the US in 1980 when her mother Lynn remarried but makes regular visits here to see her father, Ray “Tommy” Fox.
On the trip she carried a Bermuda flag to pay tribute to her St David’s family and ancestors and a sonogram – her daughter, Shekia Cotton, is expecting a baby in January.
“That will be my first grandchild,” she said. “I told my grand baby I was doing this for both of us.”
It takes nearly a week to travel the Machame Route, one of five possible paths climbers take to the Kilimanjaro summit.
“It gives you six days to get to the top, as opposed to the four days on some of the other routes, and gives you time to get acclimated to the altitude,” Ms Fox said.
“I had never been in altitude before, so I did not know how my body would adjust. No one ever told me I would lose my appetite."
She didn’t eat anything for the entire seven days she was on the mountain. She thinks sheer adrenalin may have pulled her through. Her guides regularly checked her vitals and oxygen levels. As they were fine they let her go on.
One of the highlights of the hike was the Barranco Wall which she encountered on the morning of her fourth day. It has an elevation of 843ft and, while it does not involve any special rock-climbing tools or skills, it is considered a tough scramble.
“It was a different kind of hiking,” Ms Fox said. “You were using your legs and your arms. I had never rock climbed before.”
On the sixth day they left their camp at 11.30pm for the summit Uhuru. The idea was to climb at night and see the sunrise when they reached the top.
“Everyone started off together, but gradually everyone set their own pace,” she said, explaining that everyone had to wear a headlamp.
“It just looked like a million twinkling stars. We would pass people who would be on the side and you could tell they were exhausted and did not know if they would go on.”
Everyone in her group made it to the top. Ms Fox did it in 12 hours.
“It was stunning,” she said. “It was almost like you were on another planet. You were above the clouds. It was amazing. I felt so accomplished knowing that I had reached Uhuru. It was just super exciting.”
She lingered longer than she should have, and was the last of her group to start the four-hour trek down to base camp.
By then she was so exhausted that the guides had to help her down. They often just slid through the gravel.
“It was a long day but worth it,” she said. “When we reached base camp, I just slept for hours.”
After another long trek they reached the gates at the bottom of the mountain where a bus was waiting to take them to a hotel. Only there did the aches kick in.
“We were walking like we were 90,” Ms Fox said.
She had used deodorant and wipes to keep clean on the trek. Once in her room she took an hour-long shower and washed her hair at least four times. Then she had a massage.
Her appetite returned the following morning.
Now back in California, she is considering whether her next adventure will be the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain or Machu Picchu in Peru. She would also like to do a triathlon here in Bermuda.
Kilimanjaro, or Shining Mountain, is the highest peak in Africa and the highest single, free-standing mountain in the world.
Its summit sits at 19,341ft above sea level and is 1,743ft higher than Mount Everest in Nepal. Debate rages in hiking circles over which trek is more difficult.
Close to 35,000 people attempt to hike Mount Kilimanjaro every year; only 40 per cent reach the summit.