MOUNT ZION – After five days climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Nicole Butler reaches Summit Ridge, Stella Point, nearly 19,000 feet.
The Mount Zion adventurist is on top. Three hundred feet ahead is a sign confirming the feat.
After months of training and preparation, she has conquered Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.
Suddenly it happens. She can't walk straight. She can't talk normally, slurring the words. Her head aches. Her nose is bleeding. She begins vomiting. She desperately wants to cover the last few feet. There is too much pain.
She is suffering high altitude cerebral edema, which can be fatal.
Her trainer, Valerie Molina, is there to save Nicole's life. She insists that Butler stop and orders two guides to immediately begin a rapid altitude descent with Butler on a stretcher.
“Valerie went with me on the steep, rocky descent,” Butler said. “She kept encouraging me to stay awake and to move my legs because going to sleep often leads to a coma. When we reach the summit base camp, Valerie gives me a powerful steroid medication.”
The nine-hour descent continues. Four men are carrying the stretcher. When they reach approximately 12,000 feet, Valerie drops off to take care of the man and woman who had been on the climb with Butler and decide to turn back on the fifth day.
Eventually, Butler reaches a Tanzanian hospital where her parents, Dick and Kathy, are waiting. A doctor explains that five days before a man with the same symptoms of high altitude sickness had died at Stella Point where Nicole stopped.
“I truly owe my life to Valerie Molina.” Butler said. “I definitely had an angel by my side that morning. I feel truly blessed for the second chance at life.”
Here's the day-by-day report on the adventure in Tanzania.
DAY 1: Butler starts with her trainer and the two other climbers. There is a 16-person entourage, including eight porters, four guides and a cook. They climb through a rain forest.
DAY 2: It rains constantly. The climbers keep going.
DAY 3: At 13,000 feet, the climbers pause to adapt to the altitude.
DAY 4: Butler is feeling fine upon reaching the summit base camp, approximately 15,000 feet,
DAY 5: Leaving at midnight, Butler reaches Summit Ridge at 8 a.m. The weather is freezing and windy.
Nowadays, she is feeling fine, A speech therapist in Los Angeles, she raised $20,000 on the trip for the No Limits for Deaf Children Foundation, based in Culver City, Calif.
This is another another unforgettable adventure for the 1997 Mount Zion High School graduate. Other adventures include swimming with sharks in Cape Town, South Africa, riding an elephant in Zambia, sky diving and ziplining.
To add to her list of accomplishments, she also got a kiss from a giraffe at a giraffe farm near Nairobi. Next, she wants to do more sky diving.
Butler's father also will remember this trip. He awoke one morning unable to see. It was a detached retina in his eye. On the return flight, they missed connections in Chicago. A kind stranger gave them a ride to Bloomington where Dick Butler had a 10 a.m. eye appointment. The damage has been repaired.