Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Kili - The rest

Well I just found this in my drafts! Evidently after the Kili climb I just dropped the blog before I even finished publishing all the posts.

So today is a post on some random observations and tips I found that don't fit into any previous posts on our trek.

Altitude
I got altitude effects on day 2 mainly nausea and tiredness. I didn't eat anything after breakfast on day 2 apart from one cup of tea which rapidly reappeared, although after getting some anti sickness tablets from the doctor I did manage 3 pieces of pasta for dinner and a few spoonfuls of soup. It was rubbish but I then got over it until summit night, when I felt bad at the start then started feeling better. So for me it seems the effects come on early and bad but then I acclimatise reasonably quickly. I did lose my appetite though for a lot of the trek, I lost weight while there for sure. It will affect everyone differently though, Tom got some headaches and went a bit funny on summit night but didn't get it so bad.

One thing which does get everyone at some point is lack of oxygen, it makes you get out of breath so quickly. I tried taking deep breaths every few paces on summit night which helped, but it was knackering just stepping over a rock. Little things like putting the sleeping bags away got us out of breath at the higher camps, and we had some silly moments where we didn't have enough oxygen to power out brains fully! We tried to take it slow, walk slowly, move slowly, breathe deep and don't get too over excited. Those who were running about or powering ahead will get it eventually too, so don't feel stupid being the slow one from day 2. Go at your own pace, it's not a race, there's no medal for getting there first.

Neither me or Tom had Diamox with us as our GP's wouldn't prescribe it for us. The team doctor did have some though and I started taking it on day 2 when I was feeling bad. I did feel better the next day, but can't say whether it was the Diamox or if I just acclimatised. Neither of us really got any of the side effects from it though which was good. I got some minor tingling in my hands the first time but that went away after a few hours.

The Bathroom Situation
This is something there was a lot of discussion about before we left. Kind of obvious but there isn't any running water up there. We had toilet tents with a chemical toilet in them, and there was warm water in a bucket with small bowls to take some away for a wash in camp every night other than summit night.

I also took a lot of wet wipes, antibacterial wipes, alcohol gel and a nail brush to keep hands clean. We all stank by the time we got back but I felt reasonably clean most nights after a wet wipe bath, a wash of the 'essentials' (we call it 'pits and bits' at work) with some warm water in the tent and a change of socks. I also used the alcohol gel often, definitely before eating and after using the toilet, and washed my hands as soon as we had access to water.

The other 'bathroom situation' is not having access to a toilet. Working where I do I'm not embarrassed to talk about toilet habits, so here's what I found it to be like:

Night time - I didn't find this as much of an issue as I had been told it would be, I thought about this part a lot before I left. I heard horror stories of people taking Diamox and having to get up every hour in the night to pee, I suppose it differs for everyone but I found the frequency I needed to go didn't change at all. Tom didn't either. The team doctor Nik told us that Diamox is actually a pretty inefficient diuretic, a side effect of it was found to be that it helped with altitude sickness but otherwise it isn't really used much as a diuretic any more. I only had to get up once on one night, and on summit night but that was only at about 8pm so I don't think it counts. Most nights I got a solid 8 hours sleep, which I was not expecting and I was pleasantly surprised by! I thought about solutions to not having to get up before we went, but none of them were really viable and I decided just to go to the toilet tent. One thing I would say is not to limit your fluid intake but to think about timing and make sure you drink enough through the day to keep hydrated, if you feel dehydrated and down a litre of water before you go to bed you will likely need to pee in the night! I drank most of my water in the day while walking, then stuck to tea or cocoa in the evenings, but this is my usual routine to have the majority of my fluid intake in the daytime any way.

Having been on climbing days, weeks etc outside it doesn't bother me peeing outside. I actually found this trip better as there were other girls to go and find a good spot with rather then a bunch of guys who can just pee anywhere, and then me being the awkward one everyone has to wait for.

Girls if you are averse to peeing outside and you're planning on climbing Kili then some tips I had and some I used are:
Put a sanitary towel in, then after you've done the 'squat and shake' it will catch any drips. Take it out when you get to camp and dispose of appropriately. Kind of the best but most disgusting tip I have ever been given.
If you are going to use loo roll in the day take a separate ziplock bag to put used paper in, there were some boulders we visited that had gross wads of loo roll behind them left by other people. Not cool.
She Wees etc - I've never seen the point of them to be honest (and Tom wasn't sure he'd get over seeing me using one!), but if you get one have a practice before you go.
Practice aim. A good quote I heard when discussing peeing during multi pitch climbs (when you are on the wall all day or more than one day) was 'climber or not, every woman at one point in her life will pee on her shoes'. This is true, just try not to get it on your trousers.
A toilet tent in camp is worth it, if you have to pay more for one pay it!

Extensions
We went on a 2.5 day safari after the trek, which was amazing and a once in a lifetime experience. The only issue was we couldn't stay awake for it! I would recommend taking a day or two after the trek before going off on an extension, most companies seem to want to ship you off the day after you get back but it would be worth asking if you could pay for one more night before you leave. We left the morning after we came down from the mountain on our safari, and a day at the hotel just to sleep in, relax and re energise would have made us a bit more up for the safari. The guide must have thought we were idiots, or narcoleptic, as I slept the whole way to the park in the car then kept nodding off between animal sightings. We both were also a bit slow on the uptake, slow moving and generally not very good company. The first night at the safari hotel we went to bed at 8pm and slept for 12 hours. If you are going to Zanzibar or a beach break after then maybe it wouldn't be an issue, you could sleep on the beach!

Food
The food - we just couldn't have asked for more. We got cooked breakfast every morning, porridge, toast egg and sausages or bacon. Lunch was cold one day, but still plenty of sandwiches etc. The rest of the days it was 3 course hot food, soup to start, main of usually pasta but one day we had chicken and chips (On Chris' birthday, he also produced 3 massive chocolate bars for the group!), and then dessert of fruit usually. Dinner was also soup to start, main of pasta usually, one night we had mashed potato though which was amazing, and dessert of either fruit or we had birthday cake 2 nights as there were birthdays in our group. The cooks steamed a birthday cake for both of them and decorated them with their names and candles, cue tears from a few of us! I got a vegetarian alternative every time (not just what everyone else was having but without the meat, which I was prepared for), most nights a whole pot of it too which made me feel terrible because I couldn't eat much of it at all due to losing my appetite. To be honest I'd struggle even at home to eat a cooked breakfast, 3 course lunch and 3 course dinner every day anyway!

The Climate
The weather was changeable, the first day was tropical, and it got progressively colder. Summit night was cold and it seemed to seep into your bones through the night. However this was the only time we wore our thick jackets and trousers other than at nights in camp. The rest of it you will need lots of layers and some good thermals. Good waterproofs are a must as there are showers and downpours. Also you will spend a lot of time walking through clouds, which is really not as nice as it sounds. See my kit list here for what I took and what I used and didn't use.

I think that will be the last on the Kilimanjaro posts, I'm training for a few different mud runs now, next up being the race for life pretty muddy 11th July with one of our Kili team!

Friday, 29 May 2015

What now?

So, I'm a married woman!

Tom and I had a wonderful wedding just over a month ago and a gorgeous honeymoon in Napa, Hawaii and San Francisco.

Pictures of the wedding will eventually surface on the wedding page, but we haven't got them yet.

In the meantime I actually have spare time again (funny how climbing a mountain and getting married within 6 months of each other creates a rather busy life!) so thought I'd check in.

I'd love to get the blog back up and running, likely with some home projects but possibly a little more lifestyle based too as I have a lot of new interests now. The girl who started this blog 2 years ago is no more! I'm busy training for a few new challenges and I'd love to share a little of that journey with you, it's been a good one and something I never thought I'd do :)

Monday, 29 December 2014

Kilimanjaro - The people

So I posted a description of what our trip entailed back here. However what I remember more than the altitude in metres, the length of the days or the temperatures is the atmosphere and the people.

We went with a company called Action Challenge, they were really good in the lead up sending us fact sheets and reminders at appropriate times about visas, jabs etc. We also went on one of their training weekends to Snowdonia. So we were confident in them when we left.

We met our leader Rob and the doctor Nik at the airport, they were both organised and friendly but not too over involved at this point. Being usually very independent travellers I was a little unsure how going on a big group trip would be for us. It was fine though we all got checked in then were left to make our own way to the flight and while there were obviously a few points where we all got together for briefings, food etc before we left for the mountain it was actually very relaxed.

Once we left they were brilliant, when on day 2 I suddenly got altitude sickness not far from the camp doctor Nik carried my backpack then when we got to camp gave me meds to sort out my sickness. He was very reassuring that I'd be OK (I got it day 2 and was worried that I would just feel this rubbish all the time) as people who get it early tend to get over it sooner, which was right!

The local team were amazing, Action Challenge work with a company called Summit Africa in Tanzania for guides and porters. The head guide Charles was hilarious (not sure if intentionally or not) and kept us motivated. All the guides were fantastic, 2 of them carried my bag for me - without being asked they just saw I was struggling and took it off me. Gasper carried it on day 2, he was also working serving us food at mealtimes as well as being a guide. On summit night he came to the summit with us then served us lunch and dinner afterwards, on day 2 he carried my bag up to lava tower then served us lunch (I felt better after this and carried it myself!). On summit night Raymond carried my bag (I can't really remember when from I know I started out with it but by the summit didn't have it any more) plus kept an eye on me and Tom, helping us up rocky parts and practically holding my hand up most of it! Each break he got out my snacks and water for me, and made sure I had enough to eat. I kept offering him stuff but I think he found my vegetarian sweets a bit weird and preferred Tom's jaffa cakes!

These guys climb the mountain 2 or 3 times a month, they seemed to have OK kit and a lot of it had been donated by previous trips, we left a lot of stuff for them and Tom gave Raymond his poles. I felt like the recommended £150 tip per person just wasn't enough (especially once it had been divided between the 95 people in the team!), we gave more and a lot from our group did too.

The porters are another story. These guys carried our holdalls, all the camp stuff (including the toilets) as well as food and water and their own kit up the mountain and back. They also went much quicker than us, we would get to camp and it was all set up. They are paid less than the guides, but the company we went with did seem to look after them (they get a fair wage and also education and the chance to progress to being a guide etc). We did see porters and guides from other groups with less than adequate kit, Tom saw one guide in dress/office shoes on summit night and we saw many in sandals through the trip. If you're going make sure you go with a reputable company who looks after the porters and guides, they really are the hardest working people you will ever meet.

Our group is talking about organising something to raise some money or get some kit donated for our porters and guides to say thank you.

This kind of sums up our team really, everyone described it as our 'mountain family'...on day 1 at the hotel we were all awkwardly chatting and getting to know each other. By the last night we all decided to stay at the hotel bar rather than go out as we all wanted to stay together. The psychology of it is probably something to do with a shared hardship, common goal and lack of technology and distractions causing us to bond really quickly....but I just think it's because we had an awesome team!

I really identify myself as an introvert, I have a small group of very close friends rather than a large circle of acquaintances. I rarely ask for help preferring to do things myself, I struggle in group situations. I prefer to write on here, or Facebook, or just not say it at all, I rarely express my feelings even to Tom or my family. I hate being centre of attention and am very quiet usually until I get to know someone. Well on Kili that all went out the window! After day 2 I felt like I'd known some people in the group for so much longer, I have never cried so much in the space of 5 days, and I talked to some people about things my best friends have probably never heard about! Seriously I am almost crying writing this, I've had some kind of nervous breakdown I swear!

I think having a strong group really helped, I felt like I'd be letting the side down if I didn't make it. We were singing and dancing and doing the hokey cokey at Mweka gate. We couldn't understand why everyone else was just waiting in the queue to sign out while we were having a party, but Rob and Nik said most people just have a quick cheers then get on the bus. Someone asked Nik what this 'A Team' was we were singing about, like we were some kind of sports team, and what he'd been giving us...

Not wanting to sound like some kind of motivational speaker, or a soppy old git, but the people are what made the trip for me. I had thought the evenings would be me and Tom playing cards in the tent, maybe chatting to some other people. Little did I know there would be charades, headlamp raves, very rude stories involving 3 legged unicorns, laughter, singing, football chants, crying over birthday cakes, crying over wet tents, crying at the summit, crying at the tipping ceremony (must be the altitude, I am not usually a crier!), crying leaving the hotel...no excuse there I was just an emotional wreck.

Some things I won't forget from our trip:
On summit night Rob said he was going to split us into a faster group and slower group, as some people were struggling to keep up, and Scott just simply said why don't we just all walk slower and go together?
Sitting on a rock on summit night the last break we had before the sun came up and saying to someone (I think it was Scott again we must have gone a similar pace) that it wouldn't be long until the sun came up and then it would all be ok. We were going to make it. Then we had to stop talking as I couldn't breathe and talk and I was getting dizzy.
Georgie being upset because her tent was sodden and she was sleeping on her own anyway so had been cold. 2 other girls Sinead and Anya just got her to sleep in with them. No questions asked.
Everyone asking how people were doing who we knew were struggling (me being one of them for a few days) and offering support or snacks or just a well done when we made it to camp.
Sharing everything, snacks, hand warmers, kit, food, water, as naturally as if it was with my siblings. If someone needed something and you had it you gave it, nobody was keeping score of who gave and who took you just helped out.
Singing chants, and everyone's theme songs (everyone got a song on day 2, some stuck some didn't - the ones that stuck were the people who weren't doing so good and we would sing them whenever they got to camp or made it to a break point) and keeping morale up. It got as basic at one point as 'when I say team, you say morale'...when it was raining and cold and everyone's tents were wet, but it made us laugh.
Getting confused on summit night as we stopped for a break near another group and couldn't see anyone I recognised, and Georgie just reaching out and saying we're here (or something I don't actually remember the words), and being so relieved that we were still with the group. I think she was crying, I probably cried. Emotional wreck.
Looking out onto the view from Barafu camp on a clear night, stars above and the lights of Moshi below....all quiet and glorious until someone pipes up from the toilet tent 'There's a window! This is the best poo I've ever had'.
Dancing at the tipping ceremony, and singing ooooh Kilimanjaro and jumping around. So many other we saw just filmed the ceremony, and the dancing when they arrived to camp each day. Get involved, it's so much better!
If you are planning on going I can only hope you get a group like ours, if they aren't then sort it out. Start some singing, give yourself a team name and a chant ('We are the A Team we do what we want' became our mantra), play games in the mess tent, get to know everyone. It makes a long hard trek into an experience.

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