Kilimattjaro

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.

nailbrush

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.

STS_AREACTEX-TR-Thermolite-Reactor-Extreme-308x308

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x10Fuji X10 Camera  (superseded by the X20).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.


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Time to Go

Right today’s the day then. We leave this afternoon for Istanbul and then onwards to Tanzania arriving early in  morning Sunday. We begin our climb on Monday taking an 8 day Rongai route – you’ll be able to keep an eye on how we’re doing via the climb tracker. I’m taking my iPad / iPhone but I don’t know if I’ll be able to blog during the trip. Keep an eye on Twitter though as I might get an odd update out on that.

Didn’t get chance to write up on my packing kit list but I’ll certainly review what worked / what was superfluous once I get back. Finally, thanks to everyone who’s supported the project and donated to PSC Support. I’m off to fly my PSC Support flag at 19,340ft next week – wish me luck. Thanks!


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Talking To Myself

motivationletterJust a few days before we leave and so as you might expect the trip and the challenge ahead is never far from my thoughts. I feel good about the preparations and training I’ve done – my fitness is better than it’s been for many years and my weight is significantly lower than a year ago. I’ve also obsessively read and research anything I can find on climbing Kilimanjaro, trekking gear, hiking skills and high altitude physiology /medicine. I’m both exited (like a kid waiting for Christmas type excited) yet wondering what lies ahead. I know it’s likely to be tough in places and it’s the personal challenge to see what I can do that played a part in my first thinking about “doing Kili”.

Yesterday the team, our families and I did a local short walk and then shared a meal and drinks in the evening sun. It was great for us all to spend some time relaxing and talking about the trip ahead of us. Today I’m off for another IHE session and tomorrow is my last training session in the gym. I’m then into resting until we depart on Friday – the sports performance professional’s call this “tapering” – I call it taking it easy and eating loads of carbs before the climb 😉

The other aspect of my Kilimanajaro challenge was of course to raise funds and awareness for PSC Support. I’ve been delighted, amazed and humbled at people’s good will and generous donations – so much that I have had to rise the fund raising target couple of times. Jeff in our team has also been fund raising too and between us we’ve already raised in excess of £6,000 which is absolutely fantastic. Thanks to everyone who has helped make that happen. Of course if you’ve not yet donated there’s still time to help and every single penny will go to good use to help those affected by PSC.

Meeting my half of the sponsorship bargain will be a significant point of motivation when I’m on the mountain. To help reinforce my commitment and in an attempt of some amateur psychology I’ve produced a Motivation Letter to myself to remind me why I’m doing this and who’s supporting me. I’ll be taking a laminated copy with me in my back pack and plan to read it daily. So if you’ve sponsored the climb you’re going to the summit with me both in my grateful thoughts and on my motivation sheet. I’ll produce a final one on Thursday night before as I pack so why not get you name on there by sponsoring me?

This week’s main challenge will be how on earth do I pack all my gear and keep within my weight limits for the airline and mountain porters? I’ll write up a separate blog on my Kili Kit list and packing – it’ll be interesting to see what I actually find useful vs all the stuff I’d like to take.


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Exposure

photo3I’ve just started a course of Intermittent Hypoxic Exposure (IHE) using the Altitude Centre’s POD in Manchester’s Ellis Brigham store.  It works by allowing me to breathe rarefied air and so expose me to lower oxygen levels with the aim of triggering some physiological changes to help me “pre-acclimatise” before I get on to Kilimanjaro.  I’ll be trying to get a 40 minute session in each day until we leave a week on Friday.  I don’t know to what degree it’ll help but I’m pretty much happy to try most things to give me the best chance of reaching the summit!


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Placebo Powered Kilimanjaro Medicine Bag?

placeboeffect
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 www.drfox.co.uk  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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Just a little prick…

Travel_Vaccinations_1319644531

I’m a human pin cushion – well that’s how it felt today when I went for my first set of travel shots for Tanzania.  I’ve never been a big fan of injections (well who is?) but to be fair the experience wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d imagined – just a few little pricks and I was done for this month. Here’s what I’ve been getting protection against:

  • Hepatitis A & B – Liver complaints and given I’m fundraising for PSC and have seen at first hand the impact liver disease can have this was a “no brainer”. It needs 2 follow up shots after 1 month and 6 months but the first 2 will cover me for my June trip to Kilimanjaro. Covered by the UK NHS.
  • Measles/Mumps /Rubella – 2 shots so I need to go back in a month. Not normally needed but there was no record of me having these as a child  on the system so they gave them “just in case” I hadn’t had them. Covered by the UK NHS.
  • Tetanus/Diphtheria/Polio – single shot which lasts 10 years. Covered by the UK NHS.
  • Typhoid – Tablets but needed to be bought from a pharmacy after getting a private prescription (£15 from my GP).
  • Cholera – Liquid but needed to be bought from a pharmacy after getting a private prescription.
  • Malaria – Prescribed Malarone tablets which you just need to start taking 1-2 days before travel , whilst you’re away and for 7 days once home. Needed to be bought from a pharmacy after getting a private prescription?

I didn’t get a sticker from the nurse for being a big brave boy though…


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Ingleborough in the snow

DSCF0474Yesterday the team and I tackled Ingleborough, Yorkshire’s 2nd highest mountain.  We met up in Horton in Ribblesdale , got kitted up and set off at around 10.30am.  We were taking a direct ascent route to the summit and would re-trace our steps back down. Jeff had walked most of the route the previous week so armed with his map and prior knowledge he led the way.

It was cloudy and cold in the lowland area but as we began to climb we soon got into light rain and reduce visibility. The ground was very wet and some snow still around which combined with all the limestone poking out around the place slowed progress in areas. We stop for a lunch break but once stationary soon began to feel the cold so soon packed up and got moving onwards and upwards for the summit.

As we climbed higher the rain turned to snow and we entered cloud which dramatically reduced visibility. This is where Jeff’s previous trip up Ingleborough paid off as he led us on paths around some of the more arduous ground. The paths steepened and we were now walking on quite deep snow. Out came the walking poles to help get us better purchase and stability. I found this part of the walk the most challenging as was very slippery walking on compacted snow as my boot tread soon clogged up.  Eventually after some considerable effort and what felt like an age we made it on the summit plateau where we marked a large rock at the top of the path just in case we struggled to find our way down in the poor visibility.

Hot drinks, snacks and a few quick photos at the top before we all turned tail and set off back down.  The initial decent on a snowy track certainly focused the mind. By this time there was quite a few walkers coming up and down the narrow path and when added to the poor vis, snow and steep drop we all took it nice and slow using our poles.   As we began to get lower the cloud base rose and we started to see the path ahead to re-trace our route. It seems a lot longer walk on the return for some reason but we pressed on to get back to our starting point. You can see the walk’s stats and map here.

This was my first outing wearing new Berghaus Mera Peak jacket and PacLite Shell overtrousers both of which worked great for me. I found them light, breathable and kept me totally dry. My £2.99 fleece gloves where less of success as once damp they really didn’t keep my fingers warm. I’m still researching what gloves to buy – Jeff had some nice waterproof breathable ones with a removable liner which looked the part. I’m also going to rent some mountaineering mittens for the Kili climb as I’ve read they’re best for the extreme cold of the summit attempt.

A challenging but enjoyable walk and good training for us all. 3 months to go!


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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!


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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…