MOTHER’S home cooking never tasted so good for the 12 Cork schoolboys who climbed Mt Kilimanjaro with 133 other climbers, the largest ever group to reach the 5,895m summit.
Conquering Africa’s highest peak is macho, so these 16- and 17-year-olds almost swaggered off the plane last week. While most transition year students were maxing out on computer games before their summer ended, these pupils of CBC Cork were gasping for air at high altitude.
But smashing a world record and raising €13,000 (the overall group raised €100,000) for Our Lady’s Children Hospital, Crumlin, and the Chernobyl Children’s Project was never going to be like a fortnight in Ibiza.
Despite all the the press coverage, teary Mums, proud, tight-lipped Dads, effervescent sisters and astonished brothers, it never went to their heads.
At a reunion in Gino’s pizza parlour in Cork last Saturday, the lads joked they were now the local “legends”.
The boys returned to school in Sydney Place in the city on Monday where principal Dr Larry Jordan was proud of the boys and their teacher, James Deane, who stood alongside them on the summit. “The whole school is talking about them. It’s the highlight of the school year,” Dr Jordan said.
Mountaineer Ian McKeever, 42, organised the climb, inspiring 117 girls and boys, aged 11 to 17, their teachers and fundraisers. The 145-strong group, including Ian and crew, became the biggest ever to stand on the peak.
Afterwards, Mr McKeever, from Wicklow’s Lough Dan, posted on Facebook from Africa that “It may take weeks or months for the sheer magnitude of the achievement to sink in.
“Seven other attempts had been made previously, with the biggest number ever managed below 85, to this point,” he said.
“Pure mammoth logistics, a core lack of team dynamics, porters, guides, medical support, had all negated against over 100 people ever summiting this great mountain together.”
The group included 11-year-old David Hamilton from Clare, and Sarah Pender, 16, from Galway, who suffers from cystic fibrosis.
Enjoying their afternoon get-together last weekend, the group of very different boys was unanimous on one fact: climbing the mountain was the hardest thing they had ever done.
Corey Cashman said: “On summit night, we set off in torchlight at midnight wearing gloves, hats, long johns, balaclavas and the warmest coats possible, but still the cold set in.
“The winds were driving against us, making it almost impossible to stand up. And with each step up, it was more and more difficult to catch a breath. We did this for seven hours to reach the summit. But from the top, we still had to walk down another five hours to reach the last camp.
“We were so tired. Some of us had altitude sickness, which made it difficult to eat and others couldn’t sleep much on the mountain. One boy was carried to the top by the porters as he couldn’t breathe.”
Liam Coates, 16, said: “We all lost weight, one guy lost 11kgs, but most of us lost around 5kg.”
But was it all worthwhile? “It’s a resounding yes. Nothing can beat the feeling of exhilaration you get when you look down at the view from the top. It makes all the hard work worthwhile,” added Liam.
Corey explained a typical day. “We were woken by the porters, who, by the way were amazing, at 6.30am, and sometimes given a bowl of hot water to wash. We breakfasted on pancakes, chatted between ourselves, left around 11am, and walked for a few hours. Then we stopped for vegetable soup or rice and vegetables, walked for a few more hours, stopped for dinner (which was more of the same) and mostly lay around at night, chatting in the tents, with our torches sitting in a hanging basket overhead.
That was cool, actually.
“There was no running around from tent to tent, though, as we were knackered when we tried to move quickly, the air was so thin,” he said.
What ‘luxuries’ did they miss the most? Teacher James Deane said: “Pizza, yes, we all wanted pizza for some reason.”
Aaron Singleton yearned for his mother’s roast pork and roast potatoes.
Liam missed fish pie and music the most.
“It’s also the first time I’ve been full in two weeks,” he said, as the group enjoyed dining together once more — this time without the vegetables!
Corey, and school mate Kevin Sheehan were thrilled to see normal toilets again, and warm showers.
Declan McCarthy missed McDonald’s, which was a popular choice among the boys.
Despite this, Corey wanted to climb Kilimanjaro all over again. Liam wasn’t sure.
“Maybe, when I’m older. But … why would I do it again when I’ve already done it once?”