Kilimattjaro

My journey to reach the roof of Africa


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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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Goals that go up and down

goalsIn September last year I set myself a number of goals around the Kilimanjaro challenge and with our departure 28 days away here’s a quick review of where I’m at…

Fundraising Target: £4,000 – Achieved. People have been so generous in their support and donations that we recently got over the £4,000 mark. So what next? Increase the target of course! I’m now going to see if we can make it up to £4,500 – that would be brilliant. There is so much work to be done and opportunity to make a difference to those affected by PSC that PSC Support will make great use of every single penny and cent donated.

Weight Target 14 Stone –More to do. I’m hovering around the 14stone 5lb mark at present. I’m doubling up my gym sessions with Kristy my personal trainer for the remaining weeks before the tip. To be honest I’m more concerned about getting my fitness as good as possible and the weight loss is really a consequence of that rather than the main goal.

Age Target 42:  On track. I’ll be 42 the day after we come off Kilimanjaro if all goes well!


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Placebo Powered Kilimanjaro Medicine Bag?

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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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PSC Research and Support

QEH_pscLast Saturday I was volunteering at a PSC Support meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.  These face to face meetings allow people affected by PSC who often feel isolated and their condition and symptoms misunderstood to meet with others in the same situation. Knowing that they’re not alone can have the most remarkable positive effect on PSC suffers and their families. I remember when Martine went to her first meeting and she came back with a far more positive outlook after talking with someone who had gone through a liver transplant after having PSC and was doing really well.

The other part of these meetings is bringing together medical experts and PSC researchers to share their knowledge and deliver updates on their work. This time we had presentations around Liver transplantation in PSC and new scanning techniques which could dramatically improve Liver diagnostics and reduce the time of clinical trials. A lively Q&A session followed – and this was very welcome because you typically don’t get that kind of time and access to a consultant when attending your regular clinic appointment.

We also received an update on medical research on PSC and this was very exciting. There’s genetic profiling research due to be published later this year which should identify many of the genes associated with PSC – in fact it may even suggest that PSC is a cluster of similar but slightly genetically different conditions.  That kind of insight can really help clinical research into possible therapies. Another enticing research strand in the UK is looking at the autoimmune nature of PSC and seeing if existing drugs can be targeted to halt and even potentially reverse the effects of PSC. Of course all that takes time and money and that’s one reason that I’m fundraising for PSC Support – to enable them to make the research grant contributions that help medical science move closer to understanding the mechanism of PSC and to find effective therapies.

Events like last week both inspire me when I hear the various “PSC’ers” stories and give me hope when I see the research direction and energy.


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Donating Life

FTHPSC is unpredictable. Every sufferer experiences different symptoms which progress at different rates, some rapidly, some more slowly. In progressed cases Liver transplantation can often be their last chance.

Here in the UK there was a recent media campaign “from the heart”  which promoted organ donation.  As part of that campaign there were two videos about PSC suffers both of whose families happen to have also been supported by my chosen charity PSC Support. Take a moment to hear their stories – they’re both an inspiration and motivation to me.

Craig – a young family man who recently had a liver transplant.

Jade – a young women whose PSC has progressed to the point where she needs a new liver. Jade’s father was an organ donor after his unexpected death so her family has a unique perspective of both sides the subject.

Would you accept a donated organ if your life depend on it, or if a family member’s did? I suspect the vast majority of us would say yes –  I would! Signing up to be an organ donor doesn’t mean you any more likely to die. In fact you’re more likely to need a donor organ than to donate one.

When Martine was diagnosed with PSC and I began to educate myself about the condition I made sure I signed up to be an organ donor in the event of my death.  I’ve met many people who have gone through a liver transplant and the wonderful gift it is for them and their loved ones. Please consider registering to be an organ donor too and make your wishes known to your family.


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Motivated by (raising) money – and your support.

200px-HP_logo_2012.svg This week I received an email from HP’s UK employee social club with an offer to fund match employee’s charitable fundraising up to £150 for any activities that promote the employees’ health and well being. Well dropping a few stones and improving my fitness to drag myself up and down Kilimanjaro qualifies me nicely. Anyway, one online form submitted at the start of the week and on Thursday I get the confirmation my application is accepted. That’s an extra £150 raised then – thanks HP.

In fact the last week or so has seen a number of donations made to PSC Support in sponsorship of the climb. I emailed my LinkedIn contacts over the Christmas break to tell them about the climb and why I’m doing it and the response has been both remarkable and heart-warming. Colleagues, professional acquaintances and friends have been remarkably kind in their comments of support and generous in their donations. I really have been taken aback. I’m going to take a list of everyone who sponsors up on the mountain with me – whenever I get tired or need a motivation kicker that list of amazing individuals will provide it. Thanks to each and every one of you, I’ll make sure I repay the faith in me you’ve shown by giving it my all!


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It’s not all about booze, blow outs and acting recklessness Sally

01-george-best-drinking-031810-lgThis month Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Office published her first annual report. In that report she highlighted the increase of Liver Disease in the UK and how this is linked to life style choices and behaviors such as alcohol, obesity and infection.  There was a lot of national media coverage generated.

Whilst people undoubtedly need to be educated  on the topic so they can make informed decisions Ms. Davies’ comments fail to include that some liver disease isn’t self-imposed – it just happens. My concern is that by framing liver disease in the media as “self-inflicted” that the public then reduces is sympathy for the cause both in terms of charitable support and of registering to be organ donators in the event of their death.

There’s a massive shortfall of livers for transplant in this country and many people die whilst on the waiting list. PSC, the disease my wife suffers with isn’t caught or incurred due to lifestyle choice – it just happens. They don’t know why and there’s little to no funding for research. There are plenty of other “non-lifestyle” liver diseases out there too.

There’s a stigma to Liver disease – I regularly hear people with PSC act as if they have to justify their illness “it’s not because of alcohol or drugs” etc.  I think that our Chief Medical Officer has just helped reinforce that stigma and ultimately risked damaging support for Liver disease sufferers and charities in the UK. Next time Sally please thinks about the broader context and communicate more effectively!

Apart from helping PSC Support, my chosen charity there’s something else you can do though – register to be an organ donor and discuss it with your next of kin so they don’t have the burden of a tough decision at a difficult time. Most of us would want an organ transplant if we needed it yet so very few us register to donate…


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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…