A 5,895-metre climb to say goodbye

  • Hessia Fernandes climbed Kilimanjaro in July in memory of her brother, who committed suicide. SUR in English spoke with the amateur climber, who will have climbed two of the world's most famous mountains by the end of next year

Hessia Fernandes at the peak of Kilimajaro in July 2017.
Hessia Fernandes at the peak of Kilimajaro in July 2017. / SUR

For many people, doing something for charity means making a regular donation, or attending an event, but for 46-year-old Hessia Fernandes, this is not the case. “For me, giving back has to involve physical and mental challenges where I don't need to wear a gown,” she told SUR in English.

Currently a consultant director for Oracle Communications, she has lived in England and Germany and moved to Malaga 14 years ago with her husband and twin sons, who are now 15 years old, and they live in San Pedro. This summer, Fernandes climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in memory of her brother Nabil who tragically took his own life when he was 16.

Not a professional climber, and “not a young bird”, as she describes herself, Fernandes trained for six months prior to the challenge. Her training involved lots of cardio to raise her fitness levels, yoga and climbing La Concha mountain in Marbella with a 10-kilo bag every Saturday and Sunday for the final month prior to the trip. “This was my personal challenge,” she explained. “It was all about my late brother.”

“Quite tough”

In Tanzania she joined a team of 15 people for the climb itself, including sherpas, cooks and a medic. She was the only individual climber which meant sleeping in a tent alone. “It was okay if you had a good day, but if you had a bad day, it was quite tough,” Fernandes remarked.

Although she felt well-prepared physically and mentally, no training could keep altitude sickness at bay. Fernandes suffered on the second and third day of the five-day ascent. “It's the weirdest feeling, you feel like you have fog glasses, you cry for no reason. You want to vomit but you aren't eating,” she described.

Summit night was the second major challenge: “It was the toughest. You have to walk so slowly. It's freezing, you don't feel your hands”, she said. “It's about you being able to put one foot in front of the next.”

But it was all worth it when she got to the top. “It was fabulous, the sensation, the achievement, you run on adrenaline.”

Hessia Fernandes did all this in aid of Samaritans, a UK-based charity which provides emotional support to people in distress. For Fernandes, work like this is so important in the world we live in today, and close to her heart. “With social media nowadays, everything is meant to be amazing, but actually lots of people don't feel their best all the time, people feel like they've got to keep a certain image.” She praised the work of the volunteers who “listen to people when they feel so shit they don't know who to turn to.”

Hessia and her late brother when they were children.

Hessia and her late brother when they were children. / SUR

A “fantastic” response

Response from everyone has been “fantastic”. Fernandes received numerous messages of support on her Just Giving page before climbing Kilimanjaro. She is moved by the response she has received from strangers, as she was fairly private about this undertaking. “It is so great for them to mention my brother and they don't even know him,” she stressed.

Fernandes' next challenge is Everest Base Camp, which she will be taking on in October next year. For this climb, she will be raising money for Malaga charity Nena Paine. This association helps underprivileged children around the province. “You might come from an underprivileged family but everything is possible, education is key,” Fernandes says.

All of her incredible achievements are entirely self-funded and every penny raised goes to charity. “This time I will be more vocal because I want to make more money as so many children are involved,” she said.

Just getting started

Hessia is full of ambition and motivation now and the mother-of-two is only just getting started. After Everest, she wants move away from mountaineering - her next goal is swimming the Strait of Gibraltar.

“These physical and mental challenges are my way of contributing,” she said. “All the galas that charities have are great, but not for me.”