As challenges go, trekking to the peak of one of the world’s tallest mountains is tough enough.
But imagine doing that in torrential rain, scrambling through flooded rainforest while your body is aching and you’re battling altitude sickness.
That’s exactly the experience University of Chester graduate Tom McFadden faced while making his way to the summit of Kilimanjaro in January.
The 22-year-old, who studied Spanish and Psychology at the University, undertook a nine-day challenge to conquer the African mountain to money for World Wildlife Fund UK and to help others living with anxiety and depression.
Tom discovered his passion for conservation during a placement in Costa Rica as part of his degree, but unfortunately struggled with depression and anxiety in his final year of studies.
Having got the help he needed from family, friends and the University he decided he also needed to set himself a positive challenge to help with his mental health.
He explained: “Organising the trip became a journey to improve my mental health. I fell in love with this journey, even before the trip itself.
“To go through something as big as this demonstrates that you sometimes have to fail to succeed. You may go through bad times but it does not mean you can’t turn it around.
“People have already contacted me over the past year saying they feel motivated by the journey, and to me, that’s priceless.”
Tom describes the trip as one the hardest things he has ever done – mentally and physically.
He said: “The weather we had was adverse, and it rained the whole time we were there.
“Not only was it so much harder walking through the rainforests, slipping and sliding everywhere, but it was also mentally draining.
“A few other hardships included the looming fact that, statistically, two of us were not going to make it to the summit. You really have to put this at the back of your mind, and let it fall how it may on the summit night.”
On that night itself, Tom suffered altitude sickness, but describes it as ‘just another bump in the road on the journey’.
He said: “I reached the summit at 8am, with the sun rising over Africa, and surrounded by a group of incredibly strong people. I could not stop crying at this point - everything I had worked for over the last couple of years had paid off, the endless hours of working on my mental health, physical health, and hours put into organising the trip. I left any problems I had on the mountain, and I came down a new person and I also raised more than £2,500 for my chosen charity.”