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Climb and punishment on Kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro has been the best and worst thing I’ve done in my life.  I signed up for the challenge at Christmas, cushioned by the 10 month stretch between agreeing to it and actually setting off.  Since becoming a freelance presenter I’d been keen to up my challenge quota; it had been 9 years since I’d cycled up the equivalent height of Everest for Macmillan Cancer Care, 7 years since I’d wingwalked and 5 years since I’d flown a 1940’s fighter plane.   But none of that prepared me for Kili.  She’s a monstrous, wondrous, creature of relentless physical and emotional demands. It is achievable, but not without some serious doubts along the way, and some stern words with oneself.Kilimanjaro team photo small

A group of 21 of us flew to Kilimanjaro International Airport on Friday 13th (lucky for some) September and of that 6 didn’t make it all the way to the summit of Uhuru (meaning ‘Freedom’ in Swahili).  1 in 4 who attempt Kili don’t make the 5895m (19, 341ft) true summit, either being taken down with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), or worse, or having to turn back at the crater rim, unable to push to the peak.  I can understand why.  Those who’ve climbed this volcanic monolith know you have to dig really deep to push the further 140 vertical metres to reach the summit, and those who haven’t done Kili I implore you to do so.  It’s incredible.  But it is horrendous too.

Kaddy's Kilimanjaro climb - the crater rim above Stella Point

There are 5 main routes up Kili.  We did one of the longer routes, Lemosho, allowing an extra day for our bodies to acclimatise to the hostile oxygen depleted environment.  Camping for 7 nights without any creature comforts, or comfort for that matter, is tough in itself, but add to that the fact that from night 2 you’ll pretty much be subjected to freezing temperatures, invasive sub-zero fog and, if you’re lucky, only the minor side effects of altitude sickness like sleeplessness, headaches and vomiting.

Kilimanjaro

The walking aspect of the challenge is definitely doable. You just trek ‘polé polé‘  (‘slowly slowly’ in Swahili, pronounced ‘poley poley’) for several hours a day passing through monkey filled jungles, lunar landscapes with so much fine volcanic dust your nose bleeds, clamber over giant boulders, and then up above the snow line –  all the while gaining small chunks of altitude equivalent to climbing a Snowdon or Ben Nevis’s every day.  Camaraderie in the group is brilliant and a real boost when the lack of privacy and your resilience to yet another night listening to people snoring threatens to awaken your inner grump monster.  However, one of the biggest surprises along the way was that the food was exceptional!  We all had hopes of losing a few pounds on this trek of a lifetime, but the chefs prepared gourmet 3 course feasts for breakfast, lunch and dinner – despite being over 4km up the side of a mountain and days from a local shop or road!  Beef stroganoff and coconut rice, sweet potato and plantain soup, pancakes and fresh fruit, chapattis and crispy vegetables…and even freshly fried chips!  The porters did a superb job, and I’m half embarrassed to admit that for the 21 of us we had a crew of 81 porters, cooks, guides, water carriers and one poor chap in charge of the camp toilets (small tented cubicle with a chemical toilet in it) but each of them were instrumental in getting us up that beast and we couldn’t have done it without them.

 

  Kili challenge - group shot

 

Whilst each day has its own difficulties, it’s the summit night itself which really hurts.  You have dinner perched at 4,600 metres at a bleak, post-apocalyptic boulder-strewn camp site, enveloped in pervasive freezing fog above the snow line. It is here the doubts – and the cold – really start to creep in.  We were told to rest for a couple of hours but with sparse oxygen and far too much adrenalin my resting heart rate ranged between 120-135 for the entire week and I found sleeping at night often impossible, even more so on this evening.  Just after midnight on the Autumnal Equinox 22nd September we set off in high spirits, buoyed by seeing the flickering of tiny lights up the mountain ahead of us, the head torches of a few hundred other brave souls also attempting to reach the summit for sun rise.  At about 5,200m we passed the bleak sight of an evacuation stretcher, sombrely caked in snow and ice, little knowing that it was to be used about an hour later for an American lady in another group, very obviously suffering the dreaded AMS.  Around 1000 people are evacuated from the mountain each year, and about 10 people lose their lives each year.   In fact, more people die trying to climb Kilimanjaro than Everest, something I was grateful to find out AFTER completing the trip.

 Barafu camp, Kilimanjaro

After this we became silent.  Partly due to the unbearable cold, but also due to the 1 in 3 gradient and an inability to breathe normally or easily.  I can hardly even remember the details of that 6-hour, pitch-black stagger up the mountain.  At one point I started to have a panic attack at the lack of oxygen, which nearly became an unbearable spiral of uncontrollable fear until that nagging voice in my head reminded me that if a clinically obese, fag-smoking Radio 1 DJ managed this darn mountain then I could too. (Though by all accounts the celebrity team took nearly twice the time to reach the top, aided by the gift of an oxygen tent to rest in too…)

On finally reaching the summit I didn’t even have the energy, brain power or coordination to dab on a bit of the make up I’d carted up there in the hope of sprinkling a little bit of glamour onto my face. All I could manage at the top was a robotic wave and a sob of relief.   We’d done it, and raised £77,000 for a local school with the British run charity Village Education Project Kilimanjaro.

Kaddy's Kilimanjaro climb - summit glaciers

 

So, what makes it all worth it? Aside immense elation and satisfaction from pushing your limits, seeing dawn break over a volcanic crater rim and eerie grey moonscape with rocks like strange land coral, glaciers slowly lighting up in warm pink rays is an out-of-this-world experience. For our ten minutes or so at the summit, we basked in delirious high-altitude pride, and one of the most glorious natural sights in the world: the glaciers on the Roof of Africa radiant with a metallic champagne-coloured glow. It was 0650, and ten minutes later we started our 2 day descent…

Kaddy's Kilimanjaro climb - sun over Kili

Everyone’s now asking me what my next challenge will be.  I’ve had enough of Kili’s altitude and sub-zero temperatures for a good while, but I can’t say that she hasn’t put that cheeky challenge twinkle back in my eye.

A huge thank you to www.outdoorhire.co.uk, who lent me all my brilliant expedition kit which kept me as warm, dry and comfortable as is possible in those conditions.

If anyone is interested in sponsoring my next achievement or in joining in the next Kilimanjaro climb, please contact Kaddy or via Twitter: @kaddylp

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Fusion Forecast

Update 1402 Friday : If you’re a keen weather watcher like myself, you cannot have failed to notice that the weekend forecast looks a little sketchy, tetchy and wetski.  Whilst we’ve had pretty much 3 weeks straight of temps in the mid to high 20’s and rocking sunshine, we now may be in for thundery showers – not unlike those we saw at the end of the weekend.  The latest charts suggest it starting off dry but rain spreading up after midday, light at first but rapidly turning thunderous, lightning-ous (not a met term) and with rainfall amounts of an inch or more in just a few hours.  I’m on BBC South East Today today so will be able to give you all an update at 1830 and 2230…but for now, stay tuned and I’ll let you know as soon as I notice any positive news on the precipitation front.  But hey, it’s England, it’s summer, and we love them both for their little wobbles!

Ps. I am still on a royal baby high…anyone else?

Fusion details here:

Royal Tunbridge Wells might not seem the usual place to let it’s hair down, put up a stage and let loud music rock through the town, but this time it is!  I’m truly excited to be involved with the event – and there are some amazing acts coming to town.  So put Saturday 27th July in your diary, head to town and sit back and enjoy the music, stalls and other events taking place that day.  It’s time for RTW to Street Party!

fusiontw-toploader

TOPLOADER are an alternative rock band from Eastbourne with over two million album sales to their name and a string of top 20 hits both home and abroad. Their debut album sold over one million units and remained in the Top 5 of the UK Albums Chart for over six months. However, they are recognised most of all for their cover of the song Dancing in the Moonlight, which became a global hit for the band. Their second album reached number 3 in the UK Albums Chart.

In 2013, Toploader released a new single Turn It Around which features on the band’s third studio album Only Human which was reviewed by Mojo as “Their best album yet!”

As part of their tour commitments for 2013 it was recently announced that they would be headlining Fusion 2013 on 27 July and Joe from Toploader said “The band are all super excited about playing in Tunbridge Wells. We’re local lads and don’t get enough chances to play in the South East”.

fusiontw-virginsoldiers

VIRGIN SOLDIERS is a band based in Tunbridge Wells that blends contemporary acoustic rock with a fully fledged strings section.

In 2012 the band supported Keane, Joan Armatrading and McFly and their debut single Moon Song reached No. 3 in the Amazon Rock Chart.

fusiontw-snowdown-colliery-band

SNOWDOWN COLLIERY BAND was formed in 1926 and consisted entirely of miners from the colliery. There are currently approximately 30 members, of which a few are ex-miners or whose fathers were miners and also played in the band.

The band has its roots in the days when East Kent possessed three major working collieries. The collieries no longer exist but the bands, Snowdown Colliery Band and Betteshanger Band, continue as they always did.

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