My journey to reach the roof of Africa

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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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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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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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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…


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…


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.

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Cryogenic Cycling

Brrrrrr, I’m just thawing my fingers out with a little typing.

A glorious clear sunny autumn morning welcomed me today as I took the bike out. I guess the frost on the car windscreen should have been a clue how cold it was going to be though. Frozen hands and face acerbated by biting wind chill had me slowing down and even considering turning back home to try and find some more suitable clothing. In the end I figured that I just needed to toughen up and put up with it. Kili’s going to be way colder and today’s little ride only reinforced the need to get the correct gear for the environment. I’ll now look for a cycling hat that will go under my helmet, something to cover my face / neck and a pair of full fingers riding gloves. It’s not even October yet – what’s January going to be like?

Off into Manchester today to meet up with some of my MBA alumni friends. I’m looking forward to catching up for lunch and a few drinks with the guys. Perhaps I can talk them into joining me up Kili next year – watch out Paddy!

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Just recovering from a stinking cold for the last week so have not been out on the bike until last night when I rode over to a new member’s night for my local rambling club. The best training for walking up Kili is unsurprisingly going to be going walking. I figure joining an organised group will help me get out and about without the hassle / risk of going it alone. I’m hoping that it’ll also provide a useful source of advice when it comes to selecting kit.

Talking of kit my new favourite topic is pouring over the various UK outdoor sport retailer’s web sites. Never adverse to a little bit of retail therapy I’m going to enjoy my research and purchasing. As those who know me will confirm I can be prone to being “all the gear, no idea” so I’ll be tempering my enthusiasm as much as possible to try and minimise unnecessary purchases. There’s so much stuff to get though – here’s an example Kilimanjaro kit list from a Kili Trip organiser I’m looking at.

Oh and I’ve a lost just over a stone so far with me currently tipping the scales at a 15st 12lb (101KG) . Still a fair chunk to lose but it feels nice to see some progress (and the slightest hint of cheek bones appearing back on my face!)

Right, time to buy some boots and a woolly bobble hat…