Tauranga woman Bonnie McCash says she can now set her sights on anything after hiking almost 6,000 metres above sea level.

Bonnie was one of 27 people to climb Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro in September, to fundraise for the Mental Health Foundation.

The group of Kiwis and 76 local porters took seven days to hike Africa's highest peak, which is 5,895 metres above sea level.

“It was big, but it was how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It’s the same with Kilimanjaro,” Bonnie says.

The distance was a challenge but so too was the mountain’s extreme climate. There were glaciers, snow and freezing temperatures, as well as excruciating desert-like heat.

“Kilimanjaro isn’t a physical thing, it’s a mental challenge, you can do whatever you set your mind to.”

It’s not the first time Bonnie faced a mental challenge head on.

The 38-year-old lives with schizoaffective disorder.

“I’ve come so far and everyone who knows me is so proud. But it hasn’t happened all of a sudden, you need to be patient with yourself and your recovery.

“It’s important to have a good support system, a purpose such as working and a good team who supports you.”

Bonnie’s adventure was another step in her journey.

“I wanted to show that we can still do amazing things whether we’ve had a mental illness or not.

“It’s about knowing yourself, what you’re capable of, how you can stretch yourself, staying positive and having a support system is really important – a lot of people feel they have to go through a mental illness alone but they don’t have to.”

Mental and physical preparation important

Bonnie gave Kilimanjaro her all by preparing mentally and physically.

“I went to the gym Monday to Thursday, climbed up and down Mount Maunganui every Saturday and went for a long walk on Sundays with the other ladies doing Kilimanjaro. I’d lost 14kg in preparation for my training.”

Bonnie’s hard work paid off.

“Climbing above the clouds and seeing the sunrise come up above the clouds was amazing.”

Bonnie made it to Gilman’s Point, which is just shy of the summit.

“I got to the top of the crater edge but I didn’t reach the summit because I fell behind and there wasn’t enough time to catch the rest of the team.

“I want to try Kilimanjaro again to reach the summit. I can be a bit hard on myself actually. I do realise it was quite an achievement, a once in a lifetime kind of thing.”

Personal potential realised

Bonnie says there was more to the adventure than the physical achievement; she formed strong friendships, discovered a passion for the outdoors and realised her personal potential.

“The sky is the limit,” she says.

Bonnie says the key is taking small bites, one at a time.

“Set realistic goals for where you are at the moment and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone slightly. Have that first goal as something that you know you can achieve, and then make it slightly harder, then you realise ‘ohh I am capable of doing these things’.”

In 2019, the team plans on completing the four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu! Stay tuned as we release more information about this climb further down the track.