A MORPETH teenager has hit the top height in Africa during her gap year.
Ella Ward-Baker successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro — the highest peak on the continent — during a six-day ascent.
And it has added to her unforgettable experiences during her time in Tanzania, where she has been since February working in a village orphanage and school.
Along with two American friends and their guides, the 18-year-old took what is nicknamed the ‘whiskey route’ up to the mountain peak at 5,895m.
They passed through rainforest, moorland, mountain pasture, mountain desert and finally rock and ice towards the summit.
Although the going got tougher, the group made good progress to Barafu camp at 4,600m.
In order to be at the peak for sunrise at 6am, they slept from 6pm to 11pm, ready to start trekking at midnight.
Ella said: “Even though we only covered 6km in distance, the altitude and the steepness of the climb made these some of the most challenging six hours I’ve experienced.
“To take your mind off the dropping temperature, which was down to -15˚C, and the fact that every breath is an effort, there is the incredible beauty of your surroundings — there was a clear sky and a full moon, and the fact that the moonlight reflected off the snow-covered ground meant that we needed no torches, we just had to keep moving on and upward, step by step.
“It is when you reach the crater that you really begin to feel like you are on the moon, the barrenness of the ground and the huge crater and the fact that you have to move so slowly all add to this surreal feeling.
“I don’t think I can do justice to how we felt when we reached the summit sign at Uhuru peak.
“It was just awesome. The feeling of excitement that had been building up as we got closer changed to such a fantastic feeling of achievement and joy that we had really reached the peak, something we had been heading towards for nearly a week and something which, on a clear day, I can see from my home in Usa River in Tanzania.
“Behind us the moon was still bright and clear but in the east, the entire horizon was a fantastic fiery red as the sun rose, seemingly below us. I will never forget those moments.”
The former King Edward VI School student is based at the Rehoboth Orphans home, located in a village outside the city of Arusha, after signing up with the Global Volunteer Projects organisation.
She teaches English, maths and science, plays games with the children and helps to cook up breakfast and lunch.
The conditions are very basic as when she arrived the roof was nothing more than a blue plastic tarpaulin, there was a dirt floor, just three beds for 12 children and each child had only one set of clothes and no toys or books.
Since then, Ella and other volunteers have managed to get a tin roof put up and a concrete floor put down and her friends and family have sent books, toys and creative equipment, such as pencils and crayons.
“Although you know how little some people have and we are always seeing and hearing poverty in so many ways, you cannot really prepare yourself for the conditions that some people must live in until you are there experiencing it,” she said.
“Yet somehow these children are some of the most fantastic, happy children I have ever met. I believe that they, and the mamas who take care of them, are incredible and it saddens me that the children have seemingly so little chance to have a better life.
“Greetings here last about ten minutes before you even start a conversation and it is a very sociable environment to be in.
“Before I came to the orphanage, I literally don’t think I understood the concept of ‘having nothing’, yet people work so hard and make so little money go so far.
“I really want to come back and offer more support when I can be more useful.”
Ella will return home in August and a month later she will head off to the University of Liverpool to study Medicine.