Kilimattjaro

My journey to reach the roof of Africa


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Getting High on Performance Pill Popping?

Whilst I’m doing some cycling to help get fit I’m clearly no Lance Armstrong. However the topic of performance enhancing drugs in cycling and Mr Armstrong is big news at present and it has got me thinking.

Acetazolamide (brand name Diamox) is a drug that can help  altitude acclimatisation  and so help reduce the severity of  Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) which all Kilimanjaro climbers will be affected by to some degree.  It works by altering the kidney’s ability to reabsorb Bicarbonate and so increases the acidity in the blood. This re-acified blood chemistry acts a respiratory stimulant that can help the body accelerate acclimation.

It’s not a magic bullet though; there are no medicinal cures or prevention for AMS. Common side effects of Diamox include numbness, tingling, or vibrating sensations in hands, feet, and lips. Also, taste alterations, and ringing in the ears. It also acts as a diuretic so you’ll be urinating more and need to keep your fluid intake up (dehydration is a big problem at altitude and will contribute to AMS).

I’ve read accounts of very fit people failing to make it to top due to AMS. It is a serious set of conditions and if not acted upon can become life threatening in severe cases.  There seems to be a range of view high altitude trekking / mountaineering world about taking Diamox.

  • Don’t use it as it’s all about man vs. the mountain naturally
  • Use it only if you have significant AMS symptoms
  • Use it prophylactically to help your acclimatisation and reduce the change / severity of any AMS systems

My current mind set is focused on making the summit and meeting the commitments I’ve made to the task, my sponsors and myself that I don’t have a moral objection to using Diamox. In fact one of the biggest concerns (and so motivators) is not making it and letting people down.  I’m open to using all the resources and techniques I can to help me achieve my goal.  I’m even considering taking it as soon as I begin the climb – I might as well get all the help I can.

I don’t know if my GP will prescribe it though and even then it’s unlikely to be on a NHS prescription. This is probably something to broach when I book in for some pre-Tanzania inoculations. With so much counterfeit medication in the world I figure it’s better to try and source Diamox in the UK where I can be confident in its credentials and authenticity.

Guess I’m a pill popper looking for dealer then…


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Go Outdoors Go the Distance For Me

I bought some gaiters last month from Go Outdoors (a UK outdoor store chain who seem to lead their offer based around competitive pricing, special discounts and promos). So whilst I’m happy to buy at rock bottom prices when the gaiters failed the first time I used them had pretty low expectations around getting a refund (I didn’t want the same brand / same  replacement item). I figured a “volume” player with lower margins probably wouldn’t have / couldn’t afford good customer service on the flip side of a sale.

How wrong was I?  Go Outdoors took the item back without question, scanned the receipt and issued a refund to my credit card. 2 minutes from start to finish.

For outdoor gear where I’m not looking for specialist advice then Go Outdoor’s my first stop to check pricing.  Where I’m looking for more informed help like when I was choosing my boots I’ll look to a more “value added” retailer. In the case of my boots I paid more but was grateful for the 30 min selection advice and fitting that my local Cotswolds Outdoors store provided.

Anyway, without trying to sound like a sponsored advertorial Go Outdoors’ customer service exceeded my expectations. Isn’t it nice when that happens?


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Kebabs and the Rongai Route

7 months, 29 days to go before I leave for Kilimanjaro…

After many hours of online research of many different combinations of flights I’ve finally settled on Turkish Airlines to Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO) via Istanbul as they were almost 40% cheaper than the KLM alternative I was looking at. The only down side is I have to overnight in Istanbul – still a night in an airport hotel is a modest amount and I like the odd Kebab now and again 😉  I’ve flown with Turkish Airlines before and always found them to have a modern fleet of aircraft and good service.  I’m also going to give myself 48 hours in Tanzania to rest, recuperate and hydrate before my climb.

I’ll be staying in Arusha which is where my chosen climb operator, Team Kilimanjaro is based. As it looks like I’ll be doing the trip alone I’ve booked on to a pre-scheduled open group climb organised by Henry Stedman the author of the definitive guide book “Kilimanjaro: The Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain”.  Between 18 – 24th June 2013 I’m going to be doing TK’s variation on the Rongai route up Kilimanjaro which they say offers excellent acclimatisation opportunities. I’m now pondering which hotel / lodgings to select. Whilst I don’t want to slum it I don’t really want some fancy air-conditioned hotel either as I want to ease my way into the climb and get used to the local conditions – it’s not like the Mountain will be offering me AC, mini-bar and satellite TV is it…

My fitness is slowly improving as I’ve extended my cycling circuit and improve on my times. I currently feel like I’m getting my fitness up to the point where I can start training in earnest – kind of “getting fit enough to get fit”. The months will soon fly buy and once I’m into the New Year I’m definitely going to have to up the training I think.  Haven’t really lost much more weight but I’ve had two weeks travelling with my work – never easy to avoid opportunities to over eat or enjoy the odd drink or two.  Generally feeling good though, energy levels are up and what used to be almost chronic indigestion has disappeared so something positive is already coming out of my exercising. Better not have too many Kebabs then…


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First Steps

Today I’m walking around with a John Wane like stagger as my leg muscles provide their feedback on yesterday’s trekking around the Blackstone Edge area in the Pennies.  Clocked up around 10 miles as we wandered around and up and down and I managed to keep up with the group (albeit at a price my legs are paying today!). I found the extended uphill stuff certainly got my heart rate up but I was pleasantly surprised to be keeping with the group’s pace.   Next time out I’ll turn on my iPhone Cycling app as it’ll log the distance and elevation covered.

The weather forecast was for wind and rain and whilst the rain held off until lunchtime by the afternoon we all got a soaking. It was however a good test of some of my recently purchased gear. My new Meindl Burma Pro GTX boots kept my feet warm, dry and blister free. I really like the Osprey Atmos 2 35 Rucksack and its optional hydration bladder too; so comfortable to wear as the weight seems to be taken mainly on your hips, not your shoulders.  I had a less positive experience with my Trekmates Cairngorm Gaiters however as their calf elastic gave way on the first pull to tighten the top – they’ll be going back to Go Outdoors this week. Next on my kit shopping list will be some breathable waterproof over-trousers, an absolute must for UK walking and handy to have for the lower levels of Kilimanjaro where precipitation falls as rain.

I’m going to try to get at least one walk in per month for the near term and then step up the tempo as Kilimanjaro gets closer in 2013. I’m still deciding on a date – either June or Sept depending on if anyone else wants to join me along with factoring in some family commitments.  Still researching companies to provide the climb with but keep coming back to Team Kilimanjaro who’s web site is by far the most comprehensive I’ve found and written in a candid (but perhaps a little verbose) style. They’re run by Brits and directly manage the climbs unlike many companies who are just agents. I’m leaning towards their Rongai route which they suggest offers good acclimatisation and based upon my huffing and puffing up Blackstone Edge yesterday that sounds like just what I’ll need.