My journey to reach the roof of Africa

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Kilimanjaro Equipment Review

During the planning and preparations for my Kilimanjaro trip I was obsessed with gear and equipment.  I’m sure any would be / in preparation Kili climber will figure out their waterproof / cold weather gear so here’s a summary of a few other items that worked particularly well for me and some that I found less useful..

I liked…

airlok_456_456autoAlpkit AirLok Dry Bags.  On our 1st day of hiking we had rain on the lower slopes – these kept all my gear bone dry. I had a selection of sizes and found them really useful for keeping stuff organised in my back bag and porter duffel – just the job when you’re scrambling around with limited time to pack up and strike camp in a morning.  I’m still using them today when I travel.  Low prices and good service from Alpkit make these one of the best gear buys of my trip.

meco_120_ls_tee_mayaRab MeCo Base Layers.  Comfortable, light weight and stink free – just the job. I had a T-shirt, long sleeve, Boxers and full length pants.


Nail Brush. Kili’s dust gets everywhere – give yourself a fighting chance of keeping your hands clean for meals. Take something to scrape the dirt from under your finger nails too!

KJ311_Rain-Hat_FRONT-RIGHT-374x374Seal Skinz Trail Hat. Kept the sun and rain off me nicely on the lower slopes of Kili. Lightweight and relatively low cost to the alternatives I looked at. Not the most glamorous item I ever wore though – still, screw fashion – stay dry / avoid sun burn!

magic coin towels

Magic Coin Disposable Pock Towels. Cheap as chips, takes up very little space and an absolute god send. A new flannel for every bowl of washing water!  Inexpensive cleanliness…

socksHeat Holders Socks. Warm feet at night – ‘nuff said.


Thermolite Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner. I rented a sleeping back from my climb company so I wanted to ensure I had a liner for extra warms / cleanliness. As it happens the sleeping bags provided were clean and warm but this lightweight / low pack volume liner ensured I was toasty every night on Kili.

x10Fuji X10 Camera  (superseded by the X20). Compact, good battery life (took 2, only needed 1), great lens. I’m no photography expert so my lovely wife who knows about these things choose the Fuji for me, particularly because of the lens range from macro to semi-wide angle. Loads of features yet idiot (me) proof.  You’ve got to capture the trip, right?  Cool retro styling. A top gadget.
A81100261212Power Monkey Extreme Solar Charger / Battery.  Kept my iPhone and iPad charged for the whole trip. I used a GPS app to track my climb. Didn’t manage to make any calls but did get the odd patch of cell phone coverage to send and receive SMS. Easy to use and robustly built but a little heavy because of the larger battery capacity– you might find lighter versions if you just want to charge a phone

I was less impressed with or didn’t use…

altivitAlti-Vit Vitamin supplements.  I didn’t feel that these made a difference for me as I still felt the effects of altitude (headache, nausea) most days. Your millage may vary of course.
headpadsHi-Gear Heat Pads – didn’t feel too warm on summit night, maybe due to lower oxygen levels (catalyst for heating process). Had to take gloves off to open / activate – so your hands get colder  just when you’re at the point of already needing to warm them up. May work better at lower altitudes, haven’t tested.

STS_ASTOOL-Nylon-Pocket-TrowelPocket Trowel- Reinforced Nylon. I didn’t need to poop en-route during the day’s hikes so this never got used. I’m not sure it would have been robust enough to dig into Kili’s slopes though.

CanteneNalgene Wide-Mouth Canteen – This was going to be my “pee bottle” for when I didn’t want to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag at night. Once on the mountain I decided  that  didn’t feel like risking any in-bed spills or leaks so I just got up when nature called (which can be very quickly when you’re just started taking Diamox!). Seemed like a perfectly functional and robust flat-pack bottle – I just didn’t need to use it in the end.



Placebo Powered Kilimanjaro Medicine Bag?

Do you believe in a “pill for every ill”? I think I could be accused of being more than a little pro supplement and pharmaceuticals as I prepare for next month’s trip. I’ve done plenty of googling and  read a copy of “Altitude Illness: Prevention and Treatment” which I’ve found to be an excellent reference (and will be in my backpack up Kili)

I know I’m probably being a little over the top in what I’m taking with me to either actively use or have as a back-up. I rationalise to myself that it can’t hurt so why not take them even though I know that in the case of supplements their intended effects are not always backed up by evidenced based science. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Altivit – a multivitamin and herb supplement designed to aid acclimatisation.
  • Glucosamineto aid cartilage production. I sometimes get knee pain so I figure I might as well try to give them a little help.
  • Garlic – to aid circulation/ coronary wellness and cholesterol issues. I’ve no history of heart problems but figure that cardio vascular performance is going to be important up Kili.  There’s also some tales that in Tibet that the local garlic soup helps acclimatisation.
  • Diamox (Acetazolamide) as a respiratory stimulant to help acclimatisation.
  • Ciprofloxacin – antibiotic useful in the treatment of diarrhoea.
  • Avomine (Promethazine) – an Antiemetic in case I get nauseous due to altitude or even stomach upset.
  • Imodium (loperamide hydrochlorid)  – Treats diarrhoea by slowing down muscle movements in the gut  so more water can be absorbed.
  • Malarone (Atovaquone Proguanil) – Anti Malarial tablets.
  • Ibuprofen – regular over the counter pain killers.

The UK’s National Health Service is designed to be “free at the point of use” but for a number of my medications I was expected to pay for a private prescription and pay for the drugs. I ended up sourcing the prescription only drugs online through~UK online pharmacy services  and    pharmacydirectGB. This was the first time I’d bought UK medicines online but I found it a slick experience, low cost and all the drugs came from regular UK dispensaries.

Let’s hope I’ve bought more than just a bag full of placebo effects with my supplements…

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Pen-Y-Ghent (and a bit)

A return viDSCF0532sit to Pen-Y-Ghent today this time with Paul and Debbie too. A cool, still morning fooled us into wrapping up in multiple layers but as soon as we got working up the inclines we quickly warmed up. Off came the coats and thick fleeces to be left with just base layers or micro fleeces with zips down and sleeves rolled up. Whilst the peaks are still wearing plenty of snow it did feel like some spring weather might be making an appearance at last.

The assault to Pen-Y-Ghent’s summit from the south is almost one continuous climb with just the odd dip here and there that cheats you of your hard won gains. You can see profile on the climb stats. The final section is steep and rocky, initially with rough stone steps and then almost scrambling up rocks. By this point the guys had worked up a sweat and Debbie however was of course like all ladies merely “glowing”. The assent still felt as tough as last time I did it but whilst I was hot and certainly breathing harder my legs weren’t too bad at all –It felt like the gym work must be paying off.

An early lunch at the top was a welcome break and I feasted on my tuna salad pitta followed by a Cliff energy bar and a quick cup of coffee. I took the chance to have another play with my camera. I’ve just picked up a Lowepro Apex 60AW belt mounted case which now means it’s quick and easy to grab my Fuji X10 rather than taking off my back pack to get it. I also tried the monopod camera adapter on my walking poles – it was a fiddly job so I don’t think I’ll be using it much whilst trekking but perhaps for night shots in camp when I’ll need a slower shutter speed and must minimise camera shake. I’ve posted some of the day’s photos on my Kilimattjaro facebook page.

The descent was over snowy and slippery ground and so our poles were very useful as we slowly picked out way down the side of the mountain. There were plenty of people out on the hills today including fell runners who I have to have a begrudging admiration for their fitness, even if I do think it’s a crazy pursuit. One fell runner was bounding up the hill in the snow wearing nothing more than trainers and running shorts. Mad bugger!

As we got to lower ground we detoured a few hundred feet from the path to show Paul and Debs a small waterfall and sinkhole. We then elected to take a more circular route to add few more miles to our walk before making our way back to Horton in Ribblesdale and a well-earned cup of tea in the café.

I’m not free next weekend so my next hike will be in two weeks for another Pen-Y-Ghent return but this time at night!

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Pen-y-gent – Take 1

IMG_0114Jeff and I just got back from hiking up Pen-y-ghent in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s one of the peaks from the “Yorkshire 3 peaks challenge”.  Just a two man team today as Paul and Debbie couldn’t make it as they’re on honeymoon in the Caribbean (good enough excuse I suppose) – congratulations to them both! All four of us will be doing Pen-y-ghent on the 20th of April as a night hike. This is to help up get used to our night gear, in my case my Petzll Tikka Plus 2 head torch. We’ll be doing the final ascent of Kili at night so it makes sense to have a practice at handing ourselves whilst walking in the dark.

It was a relatively short hike at < 7 miles but we worked hard on the first half as we ascended up the fell’s “steep” side as you can see from the climb stats. Conditions were overcast, still and pretty cold to start but the work rate of getting up the southern slope soon had us loosing layers as we warmed up. I took a totally loaded up pack with all the daytime gear I’d expect to have on Kili +3 Litres of fluids. Overkill for what this day walk demanded but good training – no point lightening the load only to try to carry more on Kili. In fact I might try to overload my bag for UK training walks so my Kili pack is lighter – train hard, fight easy and all that….

I took my Fuji X10 camera out on the walk. Martine bought me this for Christmas after researching suitable cameras for my Kilimanjaro climb. It’s compact but with a great lens (wide angle –> tele-photo zoom) and in the right hands can take some nice shots. I’m by no means camera savvy so I’ve been playing with some of its extensive features, settings and modes. I’ve posted a photo album from the day on my Kilimanjaro facebook page.

Post walk celebrations were a mug of tea and toasted tea cake in the Pen-y-ghent café before the 70 mile drive home.

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Our First Team Walk

teamLast Sunday we were on our 1st training walk where all four of our team have all been together. We hooked up with my local Ramblers group to go on an organised walk over the fells around Staveley in the Lake District. Jeff and I met Paul and Debs at Wills Café for a pre-hike drink (and sausage sandwich in Paul’s case) and headed off around 10.15am for our hike.  The weather was glorious and you can see our route and stats here.

Things I learned on this hike:

  • It’s bloody difficult to get 3L of fluid into my 3L hydration bladder once it’s installed in my pack. Next time I’m going to fill it first then install it. I also used some electrolyte tablets in the water – don’t know if they had much effect but as we’re told their good practice for Kili I figured I might as well get used to them.
  • My new Burghaus Choktoi Fleece is very warm and was soon ditched for a thin micro-fleece as the weather was mild. It should be just the ticket on a chilly Kilimanjaro though so I’m still happy with the purchase (got a killer price too from Go Outdoors’ price beat guarantee )
  • Carry some anti-inflammatory painkillers – one of our team twisted their knee and whilst we did have a bandage to strap it up none of us had any painkillers – a rookie mistake and already fixed by spending 79p in the local convenience store on the way back to the car.
  • I’m fitter but not there yet – on some of the extended uphill sections I broke into a heavy sweat but had no problem keeping up the pace. Nor did I have post hike aches the day after.
  • There’s a lovely  craft brewery with bar and restaurant in Staveley – pity I was driving and so passed on having a beer.

There are some photos from the walk on my Kilimattjaro facebook page. All in all a great walk and I’m looking forward to getting out with the team again soon. In the meantime I’m still getting in the gym about 3 times a week to work on my fitness.


Digging Some Retail Therapy

pocket_trowelI’m spending an inordinate amount of time online reading gear reviews and researching potential kit for Kilimanjaro.  I’m currently lusting after Berghaus’ Men’s Ramche 850 Fill Hydrodown Jacket as its very light and uses water resistant down filling (most down jackets don’t cope well with damp and quickly lose their insolative “loft”). I think this jacket would be just the job for summit night but I’m still shopping around trying to find a good deal as it isn’t cheap!  I’m also hankering after a thick fleece and waterproof shell jacket – possible a “3 in 1” style where they zip into each other. Apart from that I’ll need some base layers (probably Merino wool based to they don’t get stinky) and some head wear (sunhat and extreme cold mountain hat or balaclava). But whilst I continue my research and quest for killer discounts my gear pile is still growing. Whilst over in the USA last month on business I managed to fit in an evening tour of the local REI store and picked up the following:

Hydration –  MSR Alpine 1L Water Bottle as it had stellar reviews in a recent UK magazine. I’m currently planning to use this as a hot water bottle at night and during the day to carry an energy drink to complement the water / electrolyte mix in my Osprey 3L hydration bladder and insulated hose.

Sleeping –   A Reactor Extreme Thermolite Liner for the sleeping bag. I plan to rent a sleeping bag from my climb operator as a good down bag that is rated to -10 / -20deg c is very expensive and I’d be unlikely to need it after the trip. Buying a liner give me both additional warmth and the peace of mind that I’m not touching much of a potentially unclean (or at least pre-used) bag. I also picked up a tiny COCOON Air-Core Pillow Ultralight inflatable pillow. I’ve since read some poor reviews for the pillow so I might end up resting my head on my jacket!

Personal Hygiene –  Multiple packs of Fresh Bath body wipes as I’ll be shower free for 8 days on the mountain (urgh) so these should help to keep my bits and bobs clean.  And for when nature calls whilst on the trail a delightful lightweight pocket trowel.

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A Rivington Ramble

rivington-pike-stepsLast Saturday the 5th Jan saw 3 of the 4 “Team Killimattjaro” members get out on the hills together for the first time. Jeff, our fourth team member is just playing himself in as he breaks in his new boots and custom insoles; he’ll be ready to rumble with us soon. I’m really looking forward to getting the whole group out on a walk as soon as we can.

The weather on the day was  unexpectedly mild, dry with sunny spells and light winds as Paul, Debbie and I enjoyed our 9.5 hike around the West Lancashire Pennine moors near Rivington,  close to my childhood home of  Chorley with the local Ramblers walking group (who made us very welcome – thanks folks). I recorded the hike data on my phone’s Cycle app – you can see the results here.

This was the first time that I tried my new walking poles – they’re ace, super light and easy to stow on my day-pack but a bit of nuisance to adjust whilst walking. I really felt the difference during steeper sections as they allowed me to share some of the load with my upper body and use my arms to help pull me along. During descents they act like a second set of feet so you can always keep multiple points of contact with the ground and take some of jarring off your knees. That said I had a few traction control failures  much to Paul and Debbie’s amusement but I did just about stay upright – without the poles I suspect I’d of been flat on my ****!

I drank my 2 Litre hydration bladder dry during the walk – I’m seriously now considering going for a 3 Litre one. As Paul subsequently said” you don’t have to fill it completely if you don’t want to”. I think I’d like the flexibility to carry more drink.

My post-climb recovery seemed very good with no pain or stiffness, just a little “tightness” in the legs to remind me I’d been out the day before. I was able to exercise the day after no problem. Feels like progress in the fitness stakes but as ever there’s plenty more to do ahead. I’m off to the states next week so it’s some hotel gym action to try and fight off the jet lag.

I’ve quite a bit of travel on over the next few weeks but hopefully I’ll get another hike in before the end of month.

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Christmas Expansion – People, Kit but not my Waistline.

Christmas overeatingKilimattjaro is expanding to a team of 4, I’m excited and delighted to being joined by my friends Jeff, Paul and Debbie.  Debbie’s a GP and Jeff joked that he’s very glad to have two stretcher bearers and a personal doctor to look after him on the mountain. I guess Paul and I need to get working on our carrying skills then!  It’s great to have them all on board and I’m really looking forward to sharing the Kilimanjaro experience with them.  I’m also going to appreciate having others to train with, discuss gear and generally put up with me being a Kilimanjaro obsessive bore!

I’ve been adding to my collection of kit with a recently purchased North Face 90 Litre Duffel bag which I grabbed in the sales. This bomb proof bag will be on the head of a porter bringing my camping items / additional clothing up to each day’s  campsite . We’re limited to 15KG in this porterage baggage and I think we’ll easily reach that figure.  I’ve also invested in a set of Leki Carbon walking poles which are super light and also have a photo adaptor to allow them to be a monopod for my camera. I’ll be trying those out on my next walk early in Jan.

I much prefer being outdoors when I can but as the weather has been wet recently so I’ve been ditching the bike for sessions on our Elliptical Trainer which recently was brought out of storage. My weight is around 15 ¾ stone (220lb /100KG)  at present and has been pretty flat for the last month (I’m actually pretty happy with that given it’s the Christmas period with all its associated opportunities for excess). Santa also brought me a set of gym gear I can travel with (thanks Martine x). I’ve a lot of business trips coming up in the New Year so now I can ensure my training doesn’t lapse by getting in the hotel gyms.

Whilst my general exercise and weight reduction are all going to help with cardiovascular fitness it’s really importantly I get plenty of long walking in to build up the appropriate muscles, stamina and get comfortable with all our kit.  I’m scheduling a number of walks per months with my local ramblers group to get myself out into the hills. On top of that the team are looking at doing a formal training weekend in Snowdonia where we can do a couple of days back to back with an experienced mountain guide and to get the benefit of their knowledge and experience.  We’ve also booked ourselves on a Night Hike in April that will give us the chance to test our head torches and get some practice of hiking in the dark.

2013 is going to be busy – and I can’t wait. All the best for the New Year!


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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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.