Page last updated at 06:01 GMT, Friday, 30 October 2009

Heroes scale mountain challenge

By Sarah Bell
BBC News

The Help for Heroes team at the summit
The trek took seven days to complete

A soldier blinded by an explosion in Iraq is among a group of severely wounded ex-servicemen who have scaled Africa's highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro.

Craig Lundberg, 24, was guided to the top by his friend Andrew Larky, in the trek which hopes to raise thousands of pounds for the Help for Heroes charity.

Despite facing terrible weather conditions and suffering from the effects of the high altitude, the group made it to the summit at first light on Thursday, after trekking through the night.

L/Cpl Lundberg, from Liverpool, was blinded in Iraq in 2007 when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded on his chest.

He spoke to the BBC News website via a satellite phone while 3,900 metres up the 5,896 metre-high mountain.

He said: "I feel really good. It felt quite emotional really, the sense of achievement more than anything. Really, really mixed emotions, it's difficult to explain.

"It's a once in a lifetime experience. It's been difficult for Andy to guide me but we've battled through it and done it as Team Scouse."

Terrible weather

The weather was a particularly harsh enemy and two of the local guides were forced to abandon the climb due to hypothermia.

Some of the group suffered terribly due to the high altitude, which causes sickness. fatigue and thumping headaches.

A particularly difficult day saw temperatures at zero, with sleet, hail and driving rain for six hours. But L/Cpl Lundberg made light of the difficulties faced by the team.

"One of the days had really bad weather, but we just laughed through it," he said.

Craig Lundberg
In 2008 L/Cpl Lundberg completed the London Marathon

"Watching a blind man and two lads with no legs try to cross a river is a pretty funny sight. It wasn't pleasant but we got through it. We stuck together as a team."

L/Cpl Lundberg explained his blindness did not diminish his experience in any way.

"I've had a whole team of people explaining what they can see. You don't get one view, you get 10 views of what it looks like. That's just amazing, people see things in different ways, it's so personal and I make my own pictures of what it looks like," he explained.

"I also get to touch the plants, the rocks, put my hands in rivers. A lot of it can be very tactile. Then you can feel the sun on your face and feel the clouds coming in. It's quite amazing."

Mr Larky led L/Cpl Lundberg using a hair band which they both held on to. Their adventure included negotiating a tiny goat track that goes up the 300, sheer Baranco Wall.

Mr Larky said he would guide L/Cpl Lundberg by telling him to move his foot to the left or the right. However, often the blind soldier would just sense his movements and respond accordingly. On other occasions he would hold onto his guide's rucksack.

Emotional experience

The sense of challenge was what drove L/Cpl Lundberg up the mountain.

"I just want the experience: I want to do something every year. Last year I did the London Marathon and a 350-mile bike ride," he said.

Also in the group was Stuart Trow, who lost his lower leg after being shot in Afghanistan, and John Sandford Hart who lost his leg in February.

The men were joined by Natalie Fellows who was walking in memory of her late husband, Jamie Fellows, killed whilst serving in Afghanistan in December 2008.

She chose to scatter his ashes at the top of the mountain.

L/Cpl Lundberg said it was the experiences of the people in the group and the emotions they shared which kept them all going.

"You get to meet inspirational people, it's really enjoyable meeting them," he said.

The team hope their efforts will raise thousands of pounds for Help for Heroes, which provides support to wounded servicemen and women returning home from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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