Sunday, 27 June 2010

Kilimanjaro Trek, Shira Route - Day 3 (Shira Hut Camp to Moir Hut Camp)

Shira Hut Camp : 3850 m
Moir Hut Camp : 4200 m
Ascent : 500 m
Descent : 150 m

We awoke again to the call of "Washy washy!" from one of the porters who brought us our warm water to wash with and the sweet tea to coax us out of bed - both were welcome and did their jobs exceptionally well although the dust that had been ground into our clothing from the first two days was definately there to stay.

We all had breakfast and it was clear at this point that some of the group had not slept well, if at all.

Moonscape towards Moir Hut Camp
Moonscape on the way to Moir Hut Camp

We set off on our trek up to the Moir Hut Camp, here the terrain became even more barren and moon- like, we were now leaving the moorland climatic zone and heading into the alpine desert. This wasn't really much of a walk and only took around 3 hours. Whilst not suffering from the altitude at this point my groin was feeling the effect of not wearing suitable underwear and was feeling a bit chaffed. I did preempt this however and was carrying talk for this eventuality (or possible foot problems) hiding behind a rock I made sure and dumped a load down the back of my undercrackers, the rest of the tub was whisked skywards in the wind, I was met with some funny looks from the rest of the party who understood when I explained what I'd been doing. We walked past some quite obvious lava flows which reminded us all that we were in fact hiking up a volcano.

Moir Hut CampsiteArriving at Moir Hut Camp

We arrived at the Moir Hut campsite, so called due to Moir Hut, the remains of which are still there. This was built to house hikers attempting to summit Kilimanjaro some 20 years ago however there is not a great deal left of it now and has basically been left to the elements with a lot of the cladding and insulation now missing. It was at this time that we checked the temperature as one of the guys had a thermometer on their pack and for the first time the temperature had dropped below freezing.

Moir Hut
Moir Hut

One of our team was sick as we arrived at the camp at 4200 metres although I was still feeling pretty ok. At this height doing anything from walking to even taking your pack off was laboured and it took a few moments to get your breath back. The campsite itself was quite sheltered with a large rock wall running along one side of the camp which eradicated the wind from ripping through us. We were told to have a rest before lunch as we were to head off into the Lent Hills above the camp for an acclimatisation walk which we did but not before heading to the loo. The facilities on Kilimanjaro, as I'm sure you can imagine, are pretty primitive and are a touch limited. The toilets are nothing more than longdrops which are less than fragrant at the best of times. The one and only toilet here however was slightly less offensive then the others, in part due to the fact that it had no door and you were exposed to the elements, the view was pretty impressive mind, just a shame there was no seat to allow you to relax whilst taking in the view.

Kilimanjaro ToiletThe "at one with nature" loo

We ate lunch and had a bit of a lie down before we headed off on our acclimitisation walk to an altitude of 4700m in the Lent hills, one of the guys stayed behind in order to try to catch up on some much needed sleep that he'd missed for the last two nights due to the queeziness he'd been experiencing.

The walk took us over a huge lava flow, there was pretty much no life now as this altitude. We could see the point we were heading to which was around 500 metres above the camp. We zig-zagged up to the ridge and had to walk round to the back side of the pinnacle where we then had to climb to the summit of Lent Hills. The views from here were awesome and we had a great view down to our campsite where the tents were like specks in the distance from up here.

Campsite from Lent HillsThe view of the campsite from the top of Lent Hills

For some reason those visitors that had been there before us had balanced rocks in strange formations and shapes which we duly added to and took photos - the mind does strange things up here. On the descent the cloud followed us down to the camp bringing the temperature down with it.

Robert the chef prepared us a feast of Soup, Spag Bol and banana fritters which went down so well. Shortly afterwards at around 8pm we headed to bed leaving some of the other guys up playing cards.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Kilimanjaro Trek, Shira Route - Day 2 (Simba One Camp to Shira Hut Camp)

Simba One Camp: 3550 m
Shira Hut Camp: 3850 m
Ascent: 400 m
Descent: 100 m

We were woken at around 6:30 (praise the lord we were in bed at 9) with a cup of tea and a bowl of warm water each to have a wash before we kicked off, I cannot start to tell you how welcome these two quite simple luxuries became as the days went on.

I had a pretty good night's sleep to kick off with which I was grateful for as altitude and sleep don't mix too well supposedly. Being pretty used to camping and the fact that I was on a thermarest (albeit 4 inches thick) my sleep wasn't inhibited and I woke up, dare I say, as fresh as a daisy (marginally wilted - ok I'll give you that). It turns out however that some of the other guys hadn't had the same joy and had tossed and turned for most of the night either through being too cold or due to the onset of altitude sickness, the symptoms being migraines and upset stomachs. Touch wood (my head) though at this point me and Michelle were doing fine.

On getting out of our tent we had an amazing view of the summit of Kilimanjaro as clear as day towering into a clear blue sky. As pleasant as the weather was though the temperatures were still pretty bloody cold, demonstrated by Otto's socks which had frozen solid in the bowl of water he had left them to soak in overnight.

We packed our stuff before breakfast in order that the porters could get the tents down and packed away whilst we were eating, in order that they could get on their way - fair play they were probably carrying an extra 25 kilos more than us.

Breakfast started with porridge, followed by fruit, culminating in bacon and eggs. Just like being at home, although I'm not that partial to porridge but food is fuel at the end of the day. It was weird at this point as I started to lose my appetite, not that I felt sick or full I just kind of lost my appetite. Being aware of this though I saw the necessity to ensure I ate until I felt full which I duly did at every opportunity.

Paul sadly didn't stay with us for long during breakfast, he had his bowl of porridge which he fought down. The bowl of porridge promptly fought it's way back up. He was the first to be sick, not a great time to be doing this when we still had almost 2500 metres to climb.

Looking back to Simba Camp on the Shira plateau
Looking back at Simba Camp on our way over the Shira Plateau

We left camp at about 8:30 and meandered across the flat expanse of the Shira Plateau in the direction of Shira Cathedral for a few hours. Far over to the left we caught a glimpse of the Shira Hut camp which was to be our camp for the second night. Bizarrely however this wasn't the direction we were heading in and when the path forked right taking us on a further detour we realised we weren't going to be there for some time. The idea when walking at altitude is to walk high sleep low to try to acclimatise you body then descending to make it easier for your body to get some rest. For that reason we were headed for Shira Cathedral which was the middle peak of a ridge overlooking the Shira Plateau. This day was to be the longest but far better to yomp the distance whilst we were at a lower altitude.

Shira Plateau
Looking back over the Shira Plateau

We meandered over the Shira Plateau for some time, this in itself was once a volcano many years before Kilimanjaro had formed, the plateau is as a result of the volcano collapsing (forming a caldera). Whilst this was pretty much flat there were a few gullies and boulders to content with

The Shira Plateau
The Shira Plateau - we camped on a site at the top left hand side of the photo

Once over the plateau which represented Scottish heathland we started heading up to the ridge where there were huge tufts of grass and trees that appeared as if they were the result of a nuclear outbreak. Clouds swirled overhead at this point so we donned waterproof kit in anticipation of what we thought would be a deluge but as quick as the clouds appeared they disappeared not shedding a drop. Nearing the ridge, to be expected, the flat of the plateau was replaced with the incline to the ridge top, which got steeper and steeper until it turned into a scramble. Some of the guys were really struggling at this point, even for the best of us it was still tough going and breathing was laboured, taking a drink required deep breaths to try to fill your lungs with enough oxygen to allow you body to continue that said though I tried to keep my fluid intake up throughout as dehydration is a quick route to altitude sickness. This does have the downside that you end up going to the loo far too regularly which can be an inconvenience but better that than feeling rubbish.

Shira Hut CampPicture taken from Shira Cathedral - Shira Hut Camp is the small white dot in the centre of the picture

On top of the ridge the view was awesome, to the right hand side was the full expanse of the Shira Plateau taking in the site of the camp we'd left around 4 hours earlier and in the far far distance where we'd come onto the plateau the previous day. To the left were certain pinnacles and valleys. It's a bit harrowing for those that have any sign of vertigo, the ridge was probably about 15 metres wide with the drop to the left being around 200 metres and that to the right being about 50.

Heading to Shira Hut Camp
Heading to camp

We all took a load of photos before we headed back off the ridge and started the walk into camp. At this point I was feeling fine, my legs were feeling ok, I wasn't feeling tired and I was so far managing to keep the altitude sickness at bay fair play everything was slowed down to accommodate the reducing levels of oxygen but physically I was feeling better than I expected I would.

The landscape started to turn quite moon-like (presumably that's why they call it the alpine desert) as we crossed the landscape. We headed into camp and were again greeted by the team with a hot cup of tea and popcorn.

We chucked our stuff in the tent and dinner wasn't long to follow. At this point you could see that the trek was starting to take it's toll on everyone with fatigue starting to set in. People in the group were now starting to experience headaches at the very least, some were having serious stomach problems as a result of the altitude, thankfully I was getting away very lightly at this point, this reinforced my thoughts that I had to continue to eat and drink sensibly in order to keep the sickness at bay.

Shira Hut Camp with Shira Cathedral
Shira Hut Camp with Shira Hut Cathedral in the background

We'd seemingly covered a fair whack of distance today as Kilimanjaro now didn't seem too far away and it appeared as though we truly stood in its shadow. As dark fell we emptied our bladders to save us the seemingly huge inconvenience of being up in the night then we got our heads down for some much needed shuteye.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Kilimanjaro Trek, Shira Route - Day 1 (Start to Simba One Camp)

Shira Start: 2800m
Simba One Camp: 3550m
Ascent: 800m
Descent: 50m

We woke after a decent nights snooze in a proper bed and fueled ourselves to the max with breakfast, the last meal we were to take off the mountain. Our bags had to be weighed in and we were only aloud 15kg per bag (one bag per person) as the porters are only allowed to carry 20kg each (plus their own kit).We set off in the 4x4's from Arusha for around an hour and a half on paved roads and then a further 30 mins on unsealed roads, the change was pretty much marked by us hitting a dog on the road. Disturbingly the driver didn't bat an eyelid and just focused on the road ahead.

The road into KilimanjaroThe road to Kilimanjaro in the National Park

Following the next 30 minute natural massage, as the guides called it, we arrived at the Londorossi Park Gate where we had to sign in and have all of our luggage weighed again to ensure that it was all the correct weight so that the porters were not going to return from this trip an inch shorter than they set off. There was the below warning sign at the gate, which proved to be a touch unnerving - to this day though I'm not sure quite what the symptoms of "Extreme" are in point 6, I suppose some things always remain a mystery.

Rules for climbing Kilimanjaro"Points to Remember"

Once we'd done all this we were then driven for a further half an hour within Kilimanjaro National Park through the forest where we saw colobus monkeys high in the canopy. The jeep came to an abrupt halt at our departure point at an altitude of around 2800m. Well, whole hell broke loose as the porters leapt onto the roof of the jeep tearing everything off, checking it through ensuring we had everything we were gonig to need for the next 8 days and rearranging it into their packs that they were going to carry for us which were more like duffel bags that they carried on their heads.

Unpacking the jeep on KilimanjaroUnpacking the Jeep

Us trekkers looked on and chowed our way through our packed lunches whilst this madness ensued. Once we'd eaten and were set to go, our guides led the way off up the dirt track which led to Uhuru, hopefully in 6 days time.

Kilimanjaro in the cloudKilimanjaro in cloud

We already got a view of a cloud draped summet which in fairness looked miles away but from here on we were to inch on ever closer albeit pretty unnoticably. The group was quite split from the off with a few taking the lead eager to get trucked on and make pronto progress, the guides having to slow them down by calling "Poley, poley" (slowly, slowly) with the remaining taking their time making leasurely progress only catching up when the group took a brief break to catch their breath.

Not long later the porters passed us at a jog with their packs containing their personal kit on their backs and our kit packed in the huge bags balanced on their heads.

The track wended it's way up the hill and then turned off onto the Shira Plateau, which was disconcertedly marked by a stretcher on wheels which would have looked at home on a battlefield some 500 years ago. Fingers and toes crossed that none of us would have a use for this during the week. The Shira Plateau is a huge caldera (collapsed volcano) predating Klimanjaro itself, which subsequently rose up from one side of this early volcano.

Along the plateau the winds picked up and sprayed us with orange dust that was whipped up from the ground and was to stay engrained in our clothes for the rest of the week. Even with this wind though the temparature was still pretty balmy and loads of the guys were comfortably still in shorts. From here we could see the first campsite, with the cluster of blue tents errected in the middle of the plains. The porters which had charged past us not that long earlier had clearly been pretty busy.

Kilimanjaro not in the cloud
Kilimanjaro - not in cloud

We continued through the scrub and heather and across creeks before we arrived at Simba Camp where we were welcomed by cups of tea and popcorn.

Kilimanjaro guidePascal the guide

All our kit was already in the tents so after taking in the views of Klimanjaro, which were already hugely impressive, I took the opportunity to get a lie down in. Rest was invaluable so it was key to get all we can. We had an awesome spread that night laid on by the exemplary chef Robert and served by head waiter Simon who wiped all the plates down as he laid them on the table to get rid of all the dust - not a load of nutrician in that although it is remarkable if you're looking to shed a few pounds. Dinner consisted of soup, fish and deep fried potatoes followed by fruit salad.

Sunset on KilimanjaroSunset over Kilimanjaro

We all yakked on for a while after dinner before we headed to bed at which point some of the guys realised they had migrains setting in - the first sign of altitude sickness.

We hit the hay at around 9pm to ensure we got a good kip in before the yomp on the following day.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Preparing for Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro from the Air
We climbed Kilimanjaro in February 2008 and I had a kind of diary of it from the time but since I'm currently off my pins (or rather out of my shoes) I'm taking the time to diarise it and wing it up on here, it was a truly awesome experience.

In the lead up to the Kilimanjaro Trek it was essential to ensure that we were all properly prepared physically in order to maximise the chances of success of getting to Uhuru Peak - the summit and goal for any Kilimanjaro trek.

Organising the Trek

Aside physical preparation it is so essential to plan your trip properly in order to give you the best shot at it. For example by embarking on a 4 night trek statistically you only have a 27% chance of success of getting to the summit. With a 5 night trek your chances increase to 44% and with a 6 night trek your chances rise to a 64% chance of success, still not awesome odds. These are averages across the board although certain operators do give you a better chance of success than others.

Also by staying for 2 nights between arrival in Tanzania and departure on the trek instead of 1 you increase your chances by 5% and by staying for 3 nights (instead of 1) to flush out the jet lag your chances increase by 8%.

With this in mind we punted for the longest trek we could which was the 7 night Trek and we looked at going with the Shira route which ascends across the Shira plateau from the western side of Kilimanjaro.

African Walking Company through African Travel Resource
Choosing an operator

Geoffrey researched the operator and from speaking with a few he finally plumped for African Travel Resource who didn't come in as the cheapest but they came across really well and exceptionally professional which is key - especially when your life is potentially at stake.

Researching the operator is vitally important. This decision can make the difference of success or failure and without wanting to sound dramatic it has in cases been the difference of life and death, at the very least it can make what could potentially be a pleasurable experience into an endurance hell.

A lot of cheap and inexperienced companies don't have experienced cooks within their teams. Food is vital on any trek as it is this that gives your the calories it needs for the days exertion. It is vital that you consume food and if the chef is hopeless then you have little inclination to eat the inedible food he prepares and as a result you don't consume the calories you have to. That said if he cooks good food but the wrong food and the diet you have on the mountain is wrong, again you wont be fuelling your body as it requires. Good operators are aware of all these factors and cater for these needs accordingly. They are also aware of the need for good kitchen hygiene (as hard as it may be), the last thing climbers want is to succumb to a stomach bug due to poor hygiene. It has also been known that water has not been boiled sufficiently in order to save costs on fuel, this again can lead to stomach bugs. This is why it is so critically important to do the trek with a professional outfit.

Food aside, when it comes to the actual guides you are relying on them to guide you up and down the mountain safely and if at any time they sense that you are suffering excessively they may decide that you have gone far enough and that you've had your shot and that it's time to head back down. Ultimately 1 in 1000 people die on Kilimanjaro which is more than bungee jumping or freefall parachute jumping. Some guides can be more concerned with their pay rather than your comfort and safety and will lead you up the mountain quickly in order that they can get back down in time for their next pay packet. They may not have the training to spot those suffering from altitude sickness which could potentially be fatal as sufferers can become a bit delusional and don't think rationally which a single mindedness that can naturally come when you have a goal in mind.

Self preparation and training

From here, once we had decided on the route and operator it came to training and I was furiously battling with the cross trainer and the treadmill in the gym. This was in order to get my cardio fitness up so that there would be less demand on my body once we started getting to altitude. That aside though, at weekends I was trying to get as many hill miles under my belt as I could, if you don't exercise the muscles you are going to use you will experience the burn when it comes to the real thing, it is therefore crucial to be able to walk for hours on end for days back to back so that when you get to scaling Kilimanjaro you know that you're capable of having the stamina, especially for the final push to Uhuru. It is really important to go camping too so that you are used to sleeping in a sleeping bag in the cold, if you don't do this you may find it hard to sleep when it comes to the Trek itself and you need every minute of sleep you can get to recharge your batteries.


Lists of kit suggestions are available all over the web. Paramount though is footwear. It is key that you find a comfortable pair of boots and wear them in before you go. When you go wear your boots on the plane. You can't replace a pair of worn in boots, you can replace waterproofs or a first aid kit. This could make or break your trip.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The National 3 Peaks Challenge - the facts

I thought whilst this info is fairly fresh in my mind (moreso that I've got it all to hand), that I'd note down the facts for ease of reference for next time (hmm?).

The national 3 peaks are made up of the highest mountains in Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike) and Wales (Snowdon). The challenge needs to be completed in 24 hours for it to be a success.

Ben Nevis is generally the first peak to walk and it stands at 1344 metres. The ascent of Ben Nevis is 1325 metres from the hostel (which stands at about 20 metres above sea level). The distance from the hostel to the summit of Ben Nevis is around 4.75 miles. Ben Nevis has snow on the summit well into the summer months due to its altitude so it is important to be careful when on the top. The maps for Ben Nevis are 41 (OS Landranger) and 392 (OS Explorer).

Scafell Pike is the always the second mountain to complete and is 977 metres high. At this height it is the smallest of three mountains and involves a climb of 913 metres. The shortest walk is from Wasdale Head rather than Seathwaite. This does involve a touch of a longer drive but you are able to make the time back on the walk. This route is 2.5 miles from the base to summit. OS Landranger 90 or OS Explorer OL4 and OL6 cover Scafell Pike.

The last mountain to walk is Snowdon, which is reputed to be the most climbed mountain in the UK. It is 1085 metres high but due to the height at which you start it is only 725 metres of ascent. The miners path is a length of around 4 miles from the car park to the summit. The maps for Snowdon are OS Explorer OL17 and OS Landranger 115.

The driving distance is around 265 miles from Ben Nevis to Wasdale Head (base of Scafell Pike) and is 215 miles from Wasdale Head to Pen y Pass (the starting point for the Snowdon walk), being a total of 480 miles.

A typical schedule generally runs as follows;

4:00pm - Touch water at Loch Linnhe - Fort William
4:30pm - Start at the base of Ben Nevis
6:45pm - Summit Ben Nevis
8:30pm - Be back off Ben Nevis
2:00am - Start at the base of Scafell Pike
4:45am - Summit Scafell Pike
6:15am - Back at the base of Scafell Pike
12:30pm - Start at the base of Snowdon
2:30pm - Summit Snowdon
3:30pm - Back at the base of Snowdon
4:00pm - Touch the water at Caernarfon

It is best to attempt the national 3 peaks as close to the 21st June (longest day) as possible to maximise your daylight hours.

It is essential also to be quiet when you're in the vicinity of Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike as these are residential areas and the locals, understandably get a touch hacked off with noise of cars and challengers at anti social hours.

Try to get a driver in order that you can all rest as much as you can - you will need it.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Long walks - something to get your teeth into.

Following my jaunt on the national 3 peaks and my preparation for the Lakeland 3000's (which sadly I haven't managed to embark upon yet due to my pesky foot) I thought I'd have a scout around the Internet to find out what challenges I could set myself - cos we all like a challenge don't we!

I was humbled upon my first click through google where Stuart Ashley and Susan Cullimore-Pike walked the "Heart of Scotland" walk (read the full article here). This beast is 104 miles long! That is a monster of a walk, which I will hasten to add they completed in one sitting in an amazing time of 38 hours and 41 minutes. This kind of puts into perspective what some folks are capable of. At the same time The TGO challenge is a huge undertaking too at around 200 miles and I'll take this opportunity to congratulate those who completed it recently. These are challenges that really take grit and determination and leave you with an enormous sense of well being.

This brought me to the awesome website of The Long Distance Walkers Association which has loads of long distance walks all over the country and is exceptionally well put together. This has really wet the appetite and has instantly given me a list of walks I'm keen as the proverbial mustard to have a shot at. I think I'll be starting with the shorter ones mind and build up to the 100 mile plus blister fests.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Lumpy feet!

I'm still in my flip flops now with the foot injury I picked up surfing on the last surf of my trip down under some five weeks back. Getting a bit frustrated of not being able to get my feet into shoes I was having a closer look last night to see how the heal healing was getting on and in fairness it seems to be getting to the point where it might have turned the corner. Delighted as Glastonbury Festival will not be good if my foot ain't shoe worthy by then. Relying on flip flops for that bash is reckless at best, especially considering the track record weather wise - I might as well be barefoot when the mud's up to your armpits.

But on closer inspection not so delighted, I came across a lump on the outside of the foot which I must have picked up at the same time as I sliced my heel off, so I went to the doctors today where he pressed and prodded and twisted and pulled (my foot). It is fairly sore however the doc seemed to think that it was nothing suspicious and should it grow then I go back, fingers crossed it will as I can only see this prolonging the visit back out into the wilderness further. The saga continues........

Monday, 7 June 2010

Walking Poles turn you into the Duracel Rabbit

After having done some walking with walking poles recently I thought I'd put my view of this kit from pen to paper or more appropriately key to monitor.

I'd heard people talk of the benefits of walking poles for long enough however at the outset I never liked the prospect of having your hands tied up using poles. I would much rather have hands free to do what they need to. After all how much difference can poles make to your walking? Or so I thought.

First few times out if can feel a bit odd until you find your rhythm with your right pole going forward with your left leg and so on. The difference is astounding, when walking uphill it's as though you have a banister at your side at every step to drag yourself up the hillside with. For descending it's the same - cushioning your knees and ankles as you go, preventing the ache that so many of us suffer from. They do take so much pressure off your legs leaving them in better shape for longer. They come into their own when yomping through streams, in this case they are most definitely like extra legs and when you're balancing on small rocks and in these cases four legs are definitely better than two.

If at any time you're sick of using them or you need you hands for any reason - they slide away in seconds to about a third of their extended size and you can strap them to the back of the pack (most packs have straps specically for walking poles or ice axes) or carry them in one hand. I can not sing their praises highly enough it makes the whole job so much easier enabling us to go yomping for longer.

You see so many sites too that promote the use of walking poles for fitness, for an example click here. They are awesome for an all over workout! If you go for a good trek in the hills with walking poles you will feel your shoulders ache from their overuse, something you definately don't feel in their absence. As you are using your arms as well as your legs (even though it may feel only marginally) it does work your heart harder and give you a better cardio workout walking the same speed over the same distance - hard to believe but it's true.

Today too you can get poles that multi task, for example doubling up as the likes of monopods or torches. These are naturally a bonus as you don't want to lug a full blown tripod out for miles and if you can cut the weight you do without fully compromising on the quality of photographs or film.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

There's always a spanner in the works

On this occasion I am the spanner, but I'm not alone there is another dude joining me in the spanner stakes. The forecasted attempt for the Lakeland 3000's this coming weekend has sadly had to be temporarily shelved. My foot that was injured at the start of May and that I endured the National 3 Peaks with is still nowhere near better. I can't risk doing this walk in trainers and I still can't get my boots on so for me annoyingly it's a no no. One of the other guys had a nasty dose of toncilitis too and lost a stone and a half as a result leaving him not ready. Bad bad bad. Another date has not yet been finalised but with loads of us to consider it's never easy to find one that suits everyone. Very dissapointing but fingers crossed we get another date to aim for in the diary.
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