Kilimattjaro

My journey to reach the roof of Africa


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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…


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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.


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Doctors in the Death Zone

I just caught a replay of BBC’s 2007 Horizon program “Doctors in the Death Zone” which followed a group of British intensive care clinicians researching the effects of hypoxia on the human body with a view to gaining new insight to help critically ill patients. Everest makes a pretty cool laboratory! If you’re quick and in the uk you can still catch the second part of the program on iPlayer.  The team is looking to revisit Everest in 2013 to do further research – more details on their web site www.xtreme-everest.co.uk

They said that 1 in 15 attempts to summit Everest result in a climber’s death and that often was associated to the affects of hypoxia. It was eye opening to see the affects of altitude and reduced oxygen on some of the climbers. Everest is over 29,000ft but even on Kilimanjaro’s slightly more modest 19,340ft slopes the affects of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is apparently still felt by most climbers during their ascent. I’ll be doing more reading on this I think!