19 January was the 1st anniversary of the gang of 6 (Sue, Mairead, Bill, Ken, Trevor & I) making it to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro – and raising about £15,000 for charity as we went.
It was a remarkable event. I wasn’t sure how to celebrate it yesterday. A reunion? Perhaps, but we lived in each others’ pockets for 6 days and nights, so I’m not sure we’re ready for that yet!
Another possibility was to go out and climb a hill here in Scotland. Nowhere near comparable, but fun. The weather ruled that out – snow all week. I’ve no experience of extreme conditions here. It would be kind of daft to survive Kilimanjaro (not to be taken for granted, as those who’ve done it will testify) only to freeze to death on a silly wee Scottish hill.
Sadly, 4 people died in an avalanche on a Scottish hill on Saturday, so my caution was the right call.
Eventually I decided a good long hike along the Fife Coastal Path would be about right. Flat and 6ft above sea level – the antithesis of a year ago.
It worked well. Just over 17km in a little more than 3 hours. Kirkcaldy to Aberdour, and then the train back. Cold by Scottish standards, and some wet snow, but nothing nasty.
Lots of time to reflect on our achievement a year ago.
This time last year (the day after the summit) we were on the last lap. A 20km hike from Horombo to the park gates (and our bus) at Marangu. After “checking out” of the park, the guides took us for burgers & beer in Moshi. Heaven, after 6 dry days and living on campsite food.
Then we piled back into the bus – 30+ sweaty, smelly bodies – to head back to the hotel in Arusha. Our hotel – the Mt Meru – was just gorgeous after 6 nights under canvas. I’ve never been so dirty and smelly in my life, and I remember just sitting in the shower (I was tired) enjoying the hot water and the joy of being clean again.
Someone on Twitter who’s planning to do the climb asked me last week if I have any tips. A big question, and one I thought about while walking on Saturday. Here are a few:-
- Get fit. The fitter you are, the more you’ll enjoy it. It won’t prevent you getting acute mountain sickness (AMS), but it will help you deal with the exhaustion. Climb hills. Get used to walking 5-6 hours in a day.
- Buy good kit. My boots were great. Lowa, from Bavaria (available in a few places in the UK). Your sleeping bag must be good enough to keep you warm. It will be well below freezing at night. I rented a down jacket & mittens in Arusha to save trying to get them in my suitcase.
- Take Diamox (if you can). It helps prevent AMS. Speak to your GP well in advance. Ideally, he/she will prescribe enough to let you test it out (in case of adverse side effects) before you leave home. Start taking it before you begin the climb – that way you’ll get used to the diuretic side of it before you get onto the mountain.
- Get your vaccinations lined up early. I’d reckon you should see your GP practice 6 months before you leave. I ended up without a rabies vaccination because (1) my GP practice is a bit dozy and (2) the vaccine was in short supply due to a manufacturing problem. The yellow fever vaccination will probably give you “flu” for a day or two.
- Use a good expedition company. Their guides will check your health on the way up. They will monitor your condition, and adjust the pace to suit. They’ll get you off the mountain like a scalded cat if you develop AMS. People die up there. You’re putting yourself in their hands.
- Don’t choose the quickest/cheapest route. You’re paying a lot of money anyway. Pay an extra few £s to take an extra day or two on the way up. It will improve your chances a whole lot. It may also help you enjoy it a bit more.
- Go camping. I wish I’d had a few nights in a sleeping bag under canvas as part of my preparation. I hadn’t done that since I was a student. I slept badly. Not ideal, with all that exertion to deal with.
Scotland, 20 January 2013 © iain taylor 2013. Some photos used with permission from Bill & Mairead Stewart.