On top of the world for Noah’s Ark

Fourteen-year-old Ben Northam and his dad Tim climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in October, raising an extraordinary £30,500 for Noah’s Ark.

The trek was driven by Ben who has always been a big climbing enthusiast.  Ben wanted to do something special in memory of Bella, his sister who died unexpectedly last Boxing Day, and was as much a fan of the great outdoors as her brother.

Bella suffered from a severe form of Muscular Dystrophy and Noah’s Ark provided vital help and support to Bella and her siblings Olivia and Alexander, as well as to Tim and his wife Ellie.  In spite of Bella’s very complex needs, the family liked to push the boundaries with her, ensuring that Bella participated in as many things as possible and lived life to the full.

The other big thing about Bella was her sense of humour. Tim explained: “Bella would have been laughing about a trek up a steep mountain like Kilimanjaro.

Ben and Tim did several long walks around the hills of North London and the Sussex Downs, as well as on holiday in Vermont, to prepare for the trek, which involved a five-day ascent and two-day return. The climb took them through different temperate zones; from 30 degree rainforest through woodland and Alpine desert to glacial plains with temperatures of minus 15 degrees at the summit.

For the final climb to the summit, they set off at 11pm to walk through the night by torchlight in arctic temperatures, reaching the edge of the volcano crater at sunrise. Says Tim: “You can’t see, it’s freezing and everyone is feeling sick with the effects of the altitude and then the sun comes up over the clouds, the glaciers come in to view and miraculously one of the porters appears with a cup of tea, which transforms the mood from one of absolute misery and pain to unconfined joy.”

For both Ben and Tim, one of the big highlights was sharing the trip with a small group of people that they had never met until they got off the plane in Tanzania. “Each of them had a very special reason to be there. It’s quite emotional getting to the top and to share that with people is one of those great, life-affirming experiences.”

There are not many 14-year-olds who attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and even fewer who get to the top, so Ben was a bit of a celebrity on the mountain that week.  He got to know all the local guides and porters. He loved hearing about their daily lives and often stayed up late swapping experiences.

Ben is already thinking about his next trip while Tim is resting up! Kilimanjaro is the first of seven summits (the highest peak on each continent) that Ben plans to crack, the next possibly being Mount Elbrus in Russia.

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