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Matt Evans scales Mount Kilimanjaro in memory of his sister

Climbing Kilimanjaro isn’t something I thought about until January. I turned 40 so it was an opportunity to reflect on my 30’s which had been very contrasting. Three great moments, my wedding and the birth of my two children marred by three tragedies, the death of my sister Joanna from SUDEP in 2005, the death of my dad in 2008 and then the death of my mum in 2013. All this tied in with the 10th anniversary of losing my sister, it made sense to honour her with something special. When I realised I could reach the summit exactly 10 years to the date, I signed up immediately.

I quickly understood that a high level of fitness would make a difference, so I used every opportunity I could to get out and about. Whilst Kilimanjaro is not the most technical climb it does require good endurance and understanding of conditions. Luckily, living in Wales means that I am never short of a mountain to climb and I even roped my family in on occasion. We all managed to climb Pen y Fan in September which was good going for my 7 and 4 year olds! 

When I finally climbed Kilimanjaro, it took us 5 days to reach the summit. On the summit night, we began a 6 hour climb in pitch darkness to reach Uhuru Peak at sunrise. It was already sub-zero when we started and within an hour our drinking water was frozen. The altitude means that every step is like taking a flight of stairs. After 4 long days you really have to find the physical and mental strength to succeed, especially when you’ve been walking in the pouring rain with a 10kg rucksack on your back. 

I successfully reached the summit of Kilimanjaro on 29th October, exactly 10 years since the death of my sister. It was incredibly emotional. We had split from other members of our group and ended up being the first people to arrive that day, about an hour and a half before sunrise. I had a good cry as the enormity of the occasion finally hit me so I was happy we were alone. 

It was a truly life affirming moment when the sun rose above the clouds and changed the black skies to pink, orange and finally blue. It’s a moment I will never forget. 

I have to give a special mention to the descent, though; it’s often overlooked but really is very tough indeed.

From beginning to end it was an amazing journey. I met the most fantastic people and we laughed, sang, talked and cried our way to the top and shared a magical experience along the way. We started our adventure as strangers and left each other as true friends.

It was an opportunity to close a chapter of my life that had been exceptionally hard. It also gave me time to understand how I had changed in this time and I have come back a far better person.

I've come back from Africa with a new sense of well-being. It was a cathartic experience to reach the summit and it allowed me the outlet to put the last 10 years behind me and look to the future. It staggers me now that even in great adversity we can find the strength to do something positive. 

My family reached out to SUDEP Action when we lost my sister so tragically. Talking to them meant we began to understand her death and realise we were not alone in our grief. Sudden death leaves so many unanswered questions which SUDEP Action helped us find the answers to. I am absolutely thrilled to raise over £8000 for SUDEP Action. I know with this money, they can not only continue to provide support to bereaved families like mine, but make advances in health care and awareness that could one day make this condition preventable.