GREG BUTLER is a happy and proud man. Last year, he achieved one of his life-time’s ambitions, to reach the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.
“To reach the summit was a remarkable experience,’’ says Butler. “I had a sense of wonder, a sense of awe and a sense of gratitude that I had my health and the energy to do this. It was a blessing.’’
The trip was led by Pat Falvey, who has climbed the seven highest mountains on the seven Continents twice and has led many expeditions up the mountain.
“I think people like a challenge, they are fed up with the recession and want to escape the negativity. By January, we had 100 trips booked, which is absolutely amazing,’’ says Falvey.
For 40 years, Butler, 66, had dreamt of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. In his 20s, Butler had worked as an accountant for a copper mine in Zambia, and would often fly over the mountain, enthralled by its beauty.
“It is iconic, the idea of a snow-capped mountain, almost on the equator, which also happens to be the highest mountain in Africa, was very appealing,’’ he says.
“The other extraordinary aspect is that it can be climbed by hill walkers. It is almost 6,000 metres high. The equivalent mountains in Europe would be covered in snow and ice, so you would have to be a technical climber.’’
In 2000, Butler, who is a retired financial director from Douglas, Co Cork, made a tentative phone call to Falvey wondering whether he would be fit enough to join his expedition.
“I was 53 then and Pat invited me to join him for a walk on Carrauntoohill, the following weekend. It was a daunting experience. My legs and back ached, I was sweating and short of breath and I couldn’t keep up with the other walkers,’’ he says.
Although Butler was embarrassed, he didn’t gave up his dream. He joined the Lee Valley Walking Group and, over the years, climbed all the highest mountains in Ireland and Britain.
He signed up again, to join a Falvey trek, confident he would be able to climb Kilimanjaro. He also felt inspired that day two of the tour was Jan 26 — his 65th birthday.
“I felt that was surely a good omen,’’ he says. “But, then, two months before I was meant to go, I got cellulitis, a severe bacterial leg infection, and couldn’t walk at all for six weeks. So I had to cancel it.
“Sometimes, a setback like that can make you more determined than ever. After I signed up for the trek again, I focused my mind on that summit. I would say to myself, ‘Once you take that first step on that mountain, you are going to the top’.’’
Butler finally achieved his dream at 8am on Sept 8, 2012. It had taken a long five days of walking at a very slow pace, which was physically and mentally draining. But it was worth it.
“There was a feeling of wonder. You are way above the clouds. There was a group of 12 of us and we all hugged and cried. It was dream-like. Literally, you have been up all night, walking the coldest and steepest part of the mountain.
“Each step is bringing you more into the altitude. But I kept my mantra going and when I got to the top, it was unbelievable,’’ he says.
So now that he has achieved his ambition, has he any dreams left? Butler chuckles, before saying, “Base camp, Mt Everest, in October”.
“I have a little bit of an adventurer in me and I like to think that there is an adventurer in all of us. We all have dreams, we all have goals and, with preparation and support, you can achieve it,’’ he says.
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