Faded stars regurgitate old material. Why should I be any different? Three years since summit day.
Tuesday 3 January 2012
So the training is done. Over Christmas and New Year the final two hills in my preparations for Kilimanjaro were completed. First was Slieve Donard on Boxing day, the second was Tinto Hill on 2nd January. Both were wild. The thing I learned when training for marathons is the training runs were not just about getting miles into your legs, they were also about learning. Learning what it is like to run in rain. Learning how to carry water. Learning how to talk about nothing for hours on end. Learning, learning, learning.
These final two hill climbs were no different. Donard taught me I can cope in winds gusting in excess of seventy miles an hour and Tinto taught me my gear can cope in sub-zero windy conditions. I also learned on Tinto that my footing isn’t great on icy paths (don’t believe the line “There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time” from the BandAid single of Christmas 1984. There bloody will and most of it will be on top of Kilimanjaro!) This is a worry and in a nutshell highlights my concerns about Kilimanjaro. I haven’t prepared well enough. I haven’t been up enough hills, I haven’t tested my kit fully, I am not even sure I have broken my boots in properly. And I am about to walk up the largest free standing mountain in the world.
There is so much conflicting information about what to expect. So much new information everyday. For example yesterday someone mentioned to Karen that our torches should give out red rather than white light to avoid attracting mosquitos!!! Pardon? Is this true? Why has no mentioned it before? Do we not leave mossies behind fairly early on?
Seven days time we fly out. Seven days later we will summit. Then I will know if I am prepared.
Wednesday 4 January 2012
When Karen and I are in the build up to a marathon, everything involves a countdown. Months, weeks, days. When we are running it is miles to go, bends to run etc. Kilimanjaro is less than a week away. This time next week we will be waking up in the shadow of the mountain for a day of exploring and relaxing. The briefing starts at 4pm. The climb starts a week tomorrow.
How will it feel? Daunting? For certain. Exciting? Undoubtedly. Incredible that it is happening at all? Definitely. I have been reviewing all my blogs over the last few months and recalling the days when I was looking into the future and seeing nothing. Just emptiness. With hindsight it was a blank page waiting for me to write a story or paint a picture. Imagine the hope it would have given me to see a picture of Kilimanjaro. Little me with backpack, kilt and spare kitchen sink. Marvellous. I would have crapped myself.
Hope is a glorious thing. Second only to humour and well ahead of Parkinson’s.
Thursday 5 January 2012
Twenty-six separate deliveries. Twenty-six parcels containing stuff. Clothing stuff, hygiene stuff, eating stuff. All the kit I think I will need for Kilimanjaro is here. All the parcels have arrived. Bar one. The most important one. The one containing my pants.
As a boy I loved to have the accessories. Before I had ever played a game of snooker, I had a waistcoat. I used to wear my waistcoat watching snooker on the telly. How can any serious snooker-lover possibly give a game of snooker the level of intense concentration required to influence the result whilst wearing a Mr Tickle T-shirt?
For Kilimanjaro, success will be based on my underwear. Boots? Down jacket? Sleeping bag? All bit-part players. It is the butt-part coverer which will see me through. For I have discovered merino wool boxers. They are sheer luxury. I bought a black pair at Tiso and instantly fell in love with them. Admittedly, they didn’t enhance my packet to anything like the extent enjoyed by the gentleman on the box, but they have provided comfort like I have never known.
I searched the Internet and found three grey pairs for sale at a discount. Looking at the picture, the grey pairs do not have the same packet-enhancing properties as the black, presumably explaining the reduced price.
And now I wait for the postman to deliver my secret weapon to me. My bottom armour. I do fear that such indulgence has come to the attention of the RSPCA. Why is this person so interested in these animal fur products (you also have to remember I have three merino wool vests and a pair of merino wool leggings in my packing)? As I wait for the postman I can’t help but notice the cow-print van with blacked out windows sitting across the road. It has been there for three days now with the door only opening briefly to accept deliveries of organic vegetables before daybreak each morning. If they are spying on me they clearly haven’t been observing my sleeping habits!
Friday 6 January 2012
One of my New Year resolutions was to go to the cinema more often. I decided this would be a New Year resolution in November and, as I was so excited about it, I put into effect at the beginning of December. As I grew older, I become cannier. If you start implementing your New Year resolutions in December there are two tangible benefits:
One – you can test them out and, if need be, abandon them prior to the official New Year start. Therefore they do not count as New Year resolutions.
Two – you avoid picking ridiculous ones like “losing weight” or “give up drinking” as you still have the festive period to negotiate.
To put my “I will go to the cinema more often” resolution into effect, and to give me a resolution which I will definitely keep, I signed up for a Cineworld Unlimited card. £14.99 per month and you can go to the pictures as often as you like. Unlike a gym membership, there is no hardship going to the cinema, so I will get my money’s worth.
In the past, I have noticed people who watch half a film and leave, and have often thought “what a waste of money.” I now realise these people have the Unlimited card. Since I joined their ranks I have studied them more closely. They are easy to spot. They are alone. They are male. They wear T-shirts which don’t quite extend downwardly a sufficient distance to meet the top of the trousers.
At the risk of receiving death threats (being suffocated in a bin of salty popcorn does appeal to me) I will continue with the stereotype. They are peely-wally* due to spending too much time indoors. They are overweight, slightly balding, and wear glasses. They always arrive after the trailers.
As an Unlimited cardholder, I will be invited to special events exclusively for cardholders. I cannot wait. The thought of sitting in an empty auditorium and having the trailers to myself is a fabulous one. Enjoying the mad scramble of the other cardholders as the main feature commences will be a spectacle. A flash mob.
To get my money’s worth I have to go to two films a month. Since the beginning of December I have seen Moneyball, Arthur Christmas, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol and, last night, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. A fabulous film with some fairly gratuitous violence (that is the extent of my film critic capabilities, I am no Barry Norman). So I am up to date to the end of January. I can go to Kilimanjaro with an easy conscience.
Saturday 7 January 2012
After Climbing Tinto Hill on Monday, Vicky, the girls and I stayed over at Brinsley’s house in Carmichael. It is a beautiful house, laid out to maximise the views of Tinto which looms large to the south. It is a raw and powerful landscape. And on Monday night it turned wild. We lay in bed listening to the chattering of roof tiles lifting and dropping in the wind. Each trying to dominate the conversation. On Tuesday we got up to a scene reminiscent of “The Night The Wind Blew And Scattered Some Tiles Over The Garden And Took A Lump Out Of My Car”. I was mildly devastated.
This minor carnage was nothing compared to the difficulties of the journey home. The M74 was shut. We had to take the old road. The old road is a rather sad affair. It is a full blown, four lane carriageway, magnificent in its day, now potholed and empty. Usurped by the new kid on the block. The M74. The old road passed through towns with names which were familiar only from motorway signs; Lesmahagow, Larkhall and onto Motherwell. Places which probably cried out for a bypass but are now completely passed by.
The journey took twice the length of time it should. The road was in poor condition. I could see our destination in the distance but had no idea they path we would take to get there. Good training for Kilimanjaro.
It’s now Saturday morning. I haven’t slept a full night or even more than four hours all week. I’m stressed out of my box. But the excitement is there. In three days time I will embark on my first trip to Africa. I will smell, see and touch Africa for the first time. I have read more Wilbur Smith books than he has written. I want to visit the places he describes. I want to find a hidden valley full of diamonds. Or even dartboards. I am truly excited. The team will gather on Monday evening for a meal and some chat.
My kit is all ready. The merino wool undercrackers arrived and I am good to go. Today I pack and repack.
Sunday 8 January 2012
I was never particularly happy that the party going up Kilimanjaro had a maximum number of 29. 29 is not just an odd number, it is a particularly odd number. There is no reason why I don’t like it; there is nobody who tormented me, dumped me or is related to me whose birthday is the 29th of the month to give me reason to dislike this number. In fact I know nobody who has a birthday on the 29th of the month (this is not unusual. I do not know anybody’s birthday.)
So now we are 30. In just a few short days Neet Nielsen has come through.
She has combined wire, fabric and glue. She has made man. Mr Wobbly is coming to Kilimanjaro. Mr Jelly was, frankly, too big to make the journey. And he doesn’t belong to us anyway. Mr Wobbly folds flat and can be smuggled into the hold of the plane. He will be brought to life in the Kilimanjaro Mountain Resort and beyond. Potentially into the record books as the first mascot to climb to 19,341 feet. This is indeed truly Wobbly.
I have a worry. A worry that Michael O’Leary, the boss of Ryanair, has bought Kilimanjaro. The documents sent through from the travel company have a whiff of the man. “Your packed bag must weigh less than 12kg”, “The bag must be a canvas or a soft-sided holdall”, “Trekkers who show signs of altitude sickness will not be permitted to continue.” These sounds very like “The hold baggage allowance is a maximum of 15 kg”, “Carry on baggage must be no bigger than 50 x 25 x 30 cm” or “passengers who are under the influence of alcohol will not be allowed on the plane”. Unless of course you cross our palms with silver. Or in our case US dollars which were printed after 2002. The 2002 restriction has yet to be explained to me but I’m sure there is a good reason. I wonder what Mr O’Leary will charge for the additional mascot?
Mr Wobbly is exceptionally lucky joining so late in the day. He does not have time to get his malaria tablets. I took my first one yesterday. It floored me. Malaria must be pretty bloody awful to warrant the feeling of nausea I had to endure yesterday. It was extremely unfair.
E-mails were flying around yesterday between Neet (the creator of Mr Wobbly), Julie (a TryAthlete whose organisational skills and sheer enthusiasm make things happen), Brinsley (who will wear the Mr Wobbly suit) and me (a Muppet) regarding sizing and delivery etc of Mr Wobbly.
Julie wrote “I’ve just read Bryn’s latest blog “The Road to ‘Well”, sounds like you had a wild time on Monday night….with the weather!”
To which Brinsley replied “I have never read Bryn’s blog as ‘in the flesh’ he talks ‘bollocks’, may be he is an easier listen in print; I’ll give it a go!”
Very amusing and, as ever with Brinz, extremely perceptive.
Today will be a quiet day. And then the mayhem begins.
Monday 9 January 2012
The influence which an older brother and father can bring to bear on a young boy is significant. Dad and Gareth were no different and, as I wasn’t a terribly resilient child, I had to endure many attempts to interest me in woodwork, making plum jam and sailing. When I decided they were off their heads, confirming yet again that there was a mixup at the hospital when I was a baby, they would move on to a different subject or interest.
There was one topic, however, that they kept coming back to. The works of Douglas Adams and, particularly, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. When the radio show was on, they used to regularly roll about on the floor laughing (I was the only child at school who truly knew that people did roll about on the floor laughing. To most people it was a metaphor. To me it was fact.). At least the radio show was only on once a week.
And then they brought out the LP. There was no escape. I sat impassively through legendary comic lines like “the Gorgon constructor ship hung in the air exactly the same way as a brick doesn’t.” I believe that was hilarious.
I tried reading the books. I tried watching the TV series. I even tried pretending. It was no good, I just didn’t find it funny. I appreciate, given that there are four or five books (it ws supposed to be a trilogy), a radio series, an LP, a CD box set, a TV series, a film, and a blow up doll with two heads, that I am probably wrong but, Douglas Adams just didn’t tickle my funny bone.
I tried the Dirk Gently books. Absolutely 100% the same. Not a titter.
And then I discovered The Meaning of Liff (sic). An utterly fantastic book. Undoubtedly the funniest book I have read.
I put this down to the fact that the co-author is John Lloyd, one of the greatest sitcom writers of all time. Whatever, it is brilliant. It is a dictionary of the “common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognise but for which no words exist.” The introduction goes on to say “On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.” The dictionary pairs these place names with the common experiences, feelings, situations and objects which don’t have names.
For example, from even the opening pages of this book you will find ….
ARDSLIGNISH (adj.) Adjective which describes the behaviour of Sellotape when you are tired.
AINDERBY QUERNHOW (n.) One who continually bemoans the ‘loss’ of the word ‘gay’ to the English language, even though they had never used the word in any context at all until they started complaining that they couldn’t use it any more.
AHENNY (adj.) The way people stand when examining other people’s bookshelves.
or one which I am guilty of, particularly in relation to John Barrowman…
ARDCRONY (n.) A remote acquaintance passed off as ‘a very good friend of mine’ by someone trying to impress people.
Last night, I endured an ELY, a WEMBLEY and a GODALMING over a very uncomfortable few minutes.
It was at 5:30 PM, we were in Ian’s house ordering a curry when the phone rang. It was Tony asking which hotel we were meeting in at the airport in advance of flying to Kilimanjaro.
“The Holiday Inn at the airport, the big one beside the terminal.” came Ian’s reply.
“I will be there in 5 minutes.” said Tony.
We had a good laugh at this because we weren’t meeting until Monday evening. Tony was 24 hours early. I did, however, have an ELY.
ELY (n.) – The first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.
We set off to pick up the curry. The phone rang. It was Bob. He was at the Holiday Inn wondering where everyone was. This was the WEMBLEY moment.
WEMBLEY (n.) – The hideous moment of confirmation that the disaster anticipated in the ELY has actually struck.
For Tony to make this mistake was typical and expected. For Bob to make a mistake of this nature was unthinkable. Bob is an actuary. Meticulous, precise and diligent.
Panic ensued. A phone round took place to verify who else was under this impression and, indeed, should I be under this impression. Do we fly out on Monday morning rather than Tuesday morning?
The first person I phoned was Fiona. A lawyer. She would have read literature and would know. I couldn’t get hold of her. My mouth was dry. My hands were shaky.
Next up, another details person, Chris Ryan. When he said he was still at home in Yorkshire I felt the GODALMING sensation.
GODALMING (n.) The wonderful rush of relief on discovering that the ELY and the WEMBLEY were in fact false alarms.
It was just a coincidence and everything was okay. Bob and Tony returned to their homes and were reunited with their wives.
And Ian and I spent the evening rolling around on the floor laughing.
Tuesday 10 January 2012
I am a wildebeest. I will reach the top because I have made that decision. It is my desire. I have the discipline to do it. I am determined to do it. I am a wildebeest.
All good stuff from John Haynes, the motivational speaker, who spoke to us tonight.
We talked about visualising our goal, we talked about our hopes and aspirations, we talked about affirmations. We talked about the leadership wildebeest show when under attack. We have to be wildebeest when things get tough.The web address is changing to wobblywildebeest.com.
I thought hard about my goal and maintaining solid bowel movements is high up the list.
The occasion was the gathering of the group. We joined up with Bob and Tony at the Holiday Inn, old friends and new. It was fabulous to get going. There was tears and snot as the girls left. I will miss them.
The flight is at 6am Tuesday morning via Amsterdam. We are flying wildebeest.
Tuesday 10 January 2012 Part 2
Written on the plane, flying over The Sudan. We land in Tanzania in 2 hours. Everything is perfect.
Back in April I put the Ghosts of Paris to bed. Running the Paris marathon in 2011 was my first trip to the great city since the weekend after I was diagnosed in 2007. The weekend I hit rock bottom. A weekend which four years later the memory of still turns my stomach. Our trip in April removed the tarnish, replaced sad memories with happy. There is a blog called The Ghosts of Paris from April 2011 which gives more detail.
One of the memories of that trip resurfaced this morning. A memory that had not been forgotten just buried. A memory which had been covered in pink wobbly wrapping paper and in a cupboard disguised as a leftover Christmas present. The memory of the walk to get my taxi. I described it in my blog of 24 October 2007 like this…
“I arrived in Glasgow and had a momentary panic about rapid onset of symptoms so I phoned Dad as I walked to the taxi rank. I felt I was heading for a wheelchair by Christmas. He had no answers. I could hear the helplessness in his voice.”
I remember feeling sore, achey (if that’s a word) and so, so frightened. The taxi rank was not the official rank, it was an unauthorised meeting point for our local taxi firm, outside the Holiday Inn hotel. I walked to the meeting point by following the path around the hotel.
I didn’t make the connection with those events and staying in the Holiday Inn last night, and the route I would inevitably take to check-in today.
At 4.15 this morning, I walked out of the side door of the hotel and into the path. The memory of a scared boy phoning his Dad for reassurance he couldn’t give.
Imagine if he had said “Bryn, in one a half thousand days, you will travel four and a half thousand miles, to climb a hill nineteen and half thousand feet high.” I would have been delighted.
With every push of my trolley this morning, I pushed the memories back. Now I will associate the walk between the Holiday Inn and Glasgow Airport with Africa, Kilimanjaro and trying to be a
Wednesday 11 January 2012
Written in bed at 7am on Wednesday, the day before the trek begins. Everything is perfect.
The door of the plane opened and, when it was my turn, I emerged into the African night. I wanted to pause, look around and smell. I was nearly blown of my feet. The wind was wild, it was like Hurricane Baw Bag all over again, a little bit of Scotland had come to Africa.
I had wanted to smell the air because Wilbur Smith writes about Africa having a smell. Being someone with no sense of smell I was hoping that the pungent African whiff would reinvigorate my nostrils.
We spent an hour getting through immigration, Tony got charged $50 more than anyone else because he had an Irish not British passport. He was so angry I thought he was going to get his guitar out and sing the man a song. Everyone panicked. How would an immigration officer react to being serenaded by a Ballymena boy with blonde highlights. I could hear the clunk of doors being locked and the clink of keys being thrown away. Sense prevailed and Tony paid up. A money making exercise. The only mishap was Nikki Ryan losing her rucksack in transit. I have donated a pair of my Merino wool boxer shorts to get her by. She is a petite lady, she can wear them as a onesy.
We were met by John and Joshua, our guide and driver, proudly sporting TryAthletes shirts. They bussed us in a proper bus – bags strapped to the roof, rolling suspension and seats covered with brown furry fabric and held together with vinyl piping, and filled with an abundance of soft springs, all pointing in different directions, all vying to be the first to burst out (if Burns had been African he would of immortalised Tanzanian bus seats gushing their entrails rather than a haggis. Ode to a Single Decker).
The bus journey lasted about ninety minutes, passing through villages and towns, I was surprised at how modern and well maintained everything was. I expected dust and potholes.
When we were between settlements the full moon lit up the landscape. There were hills clearly visible to our left. And behind them the faint outline of a mountain. A shadow looming on the horizon.
We swung off the pristine highway into Kilimanjaro National Park. They clearly don’t invest the park fees on road maintenance. Every spring on my seat was tested to the limit. I got my dust and potholes. We bounced, swayed and tipped for 20 minutes and then arrived at an oasis. The colonial Kilimanjaro Mountain Resort. Big Al was already there, he had supplied the TryAthletes shirts and the staff looked magnificent in pink.
Beers, banter and bonding – the essential features of a Wobbly walk lasted until after 2am. Matt and I retired to our room, unpacked our stuff and poked around. Behind a curtain was a door. Behind the door was a balcony. Beyond the balcony stood a mountain. It was beautiful. It was enormous. And it wasn’t Kilimanjaro. It was Mawenzi, the much smaller peak on Kilimanjaro.
Looking at Mawenzi, the words John Bundy said to me when I told him I had Parkinson’s came into my head. His reaction to the news that I had my own personal mountain to climb.
Thursday 12 January 2012
Written at 5am on Thursday. First walking day. 122 hours to summit. Everything is perfect.
Our first full day in Africa was a quiet day. For me anyway. We started with a briefing from the tour leader, John. The rules are simple: drink enough, eat enough, dress properly and walk slowly. I can do that. After breakfast, most went wandering, I lounged around the hotel, only venturing out to have a gander around the local museum. A couple of thatched huts erected in a front garden to show how the Chaga people used to live. With animals it seems. There were two cows and a goat where you would expect to find the tv.
It was a cloudy day, I had to wait for my first glimpse of
Kilimanjaro. At 5pm, the clouds peeled away to reveal the snow topped summit of Africa’s highest mountain. It wasn’t as daunting a sight as I had expected, because of our perspective, Mawenzi looked more formidable.
During the afternoon, a group of twelve returned from the mountain. They were very subdued, no dancing and singing. Just quiet chat. Eight of the twelve made it, maybe celebration doesn’t feel appropriate when there are those who don’t make it around the table. They said it was the best thing and the worst thing they have ever done.
After dinner, Nikki Ryan’s bag arrived. I was more relieved than her; I am now back up to a full complement of merino wool breeks.
It is just approaching 6am on the day we start our trek. Matt is asleep on the other side of the room. Blissfully unaware that once I send this blog I am going to simultaneously play U2′s Vertigo at full volume, switch on the light and shout “wake up wildebeest” in his ear.
He did say wake me up at 6 as he dropped off to sleep. He was very precise. If I wake him gently, he might not stir until 6.05 am and that would never do.
Friday 13 January 2012
Written at 4am Friday, the second walking day. Everything is perfect.
I didn’t get to wake Matt up as planned. I looked out the window and shrieked with excitement at the sight of the sunrise on Kilimanjaro on a cloudless day. I woke up Alan and Tony in the next room with my excitement.
We set off for the Rongai gate at 9.30, I was sitting up front with Lawrence the driver wearing his tartan Viking hat given to him by Gavin so I could film the journey. We passed through numerous villages full of colour and filled with people carrying huge weights on their heads. Imagine how tall these already tall could be.
We arrived at the start at 11.30 and met our guides and the chefs. After a team photo and a few words reminding us to look out for each other from Gavin, we set off led by Chief Guide Robbie. I expected the pace to be slow. I didn’t expect it to be so slow. We stuck together and climbed 600m over four hours through farmland and forest. We saw monkeys, beautiful flowers and even a thistle. A good luck sign. The whole time a continual stream of porters passed us carrying the bags, tents and supplies for camp. Our support team is 101 strong.
It was a glorious day. Although the pace was slow, I struggled in the heat, not drinking enough water. We stopped for lunch and occasionally to take a breather. It wasn’t hard walking, but it was a hint of what might lie ahead.
As we climbed the views behind us of Kenya and the Serengeti were magnificent. We arrived in Camp One at 4.15 and sorted our tents. Matt and I met our porters, Essen and Stanley who would be with us all week.
From 5 until 6pm we went on a short acclimatisation walk up the hill. Walk high, sleep low.
The rest of the evening was one of surprise. Surprise that a bowl of hot water was delivered to the tent for washing. Surprise that they had brought a mess tent big enough to allow all 29 of us to eat together. Surprise that the meal was so amazing. Zucchini soup, followed by battered fish and fried spuds with veg curry, topped off with fruit salad.
The banter at dinner was led by the usual suspects; Ian, Alan and Tony. Soon descending to the usual level. Today’s topic was piles. Childish, coarse and very funny. After dinner, the guitar came out and we sang like strangled cats.
The stars are out, the clouds are gone and Kilimanjaro towers over the camp.
Let’s see what Day Two brings.
Saturday 14 January 2012
He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. Muhammad Ali
Vicki Dillon texted me these words in advance of Kilimanjaro. They are very apt this morning. The courage Liz Ryan showed over the last two days has been incredible. Six weeks ago she had an operation on her knee and has been in severe pain. In the last two days she has scaled the height of Ben Nevis at high altitude. With a smile, a love of life and a determination like I have never seen.
She returns with her husband, Chris, to the Resort today. Foiled by a dodgy knee. Liz, you are in inspiration. Enjoy your 61st birthday tomorrow. I will wear your brooch to the top of Kilimanjaro.
Day two was good. I managed to get 4 – 5 hours sleep. We were treated to singing and dancing by the porters and guides before we set off, it was brilliant. We gave a feeble rendition of the Flower of Scotland in return.
The walking was upwards along rocky paths. Again Kilimanjaro was visible at dawn but shrouded in cloud the rest of the day. It was a hot day, many applications of factor 50 sun cream. We have, however left the mossies behind. We walked from 9 to 1.30. Liz struggled with the terrain but the team delayed lunch to wait for her and Chris to arrive. With the backing of the porters and porters performing once again, we Formed a guard of honour and clapped them home.
I was very emotional for the rest of the day. After lunch we climbed up the hill behind second camp to acclimatise.
At dinner we had a cake for Liz and I managed to say a few words without bursting into tears. Early night because it’s raining buckets.
Sunday 15 January 2012
Written at 4am Sunday, the beginning of Day 4. 48 hours to the summit.
I was up at 5am yesterday gazing at the summit bathed in starlight. I irritated everyone by getting my camera kit out and I photographing the sunrise gradually light up the mass of rock and snow which is now so close.
Before Liz and Chris set off to base camp we had a photograph of all 130 of us who are tackling this challenge. Gavin used their courage and inspiration as the focus of his daily team talk. I, for one, will be lifted by them as the climb gets harder.
The air noticeably thinned on Day 3. We have approached the peak from the north side for two days and now we skirt to the east side for two days before heading up the eastern flank on Tuesday. So today we headed east from second cave towards the ragged volcano, Mawenzi. We climbed to 3750m before dropping to 3450m across heather strewn lava fields. Undulating, craggy, dramatic and beautiful. The views over Kenya are wonderful. Eddie said it was like looking at Google earth.
The going was hard. The altitude was giving me a slight headache which went after the frequent rests. The sun was again scorching. Factor 50 still couldn’t protect me.
We arrived at camp at 2 for an afternoon relaxing. I took the opportunity to shower in the local waterfall. A cascade of glacial water invigorating me at 10,000m? Errr no. It was Baltic, made my headache worse, and I was grubbier after than before because it was so difficult to get to and from. I grazed my leg in the process which Karen attacked with disinfectant and plasters. Everyone else who showered enthused how wonderful it was. I think they were all fibbing because Gavin said he loved it. And I think he was fibbing too.
Karen has been a star once more. She has walked every step with me which helps because she visits the loo so often, meaning I get frequent breaks. She is on top of the water intake situation big time and she makes sure all those around her drink plenty too. The parties behind us must ponder on the newly emerging rivers on Kilimanjaro. Karen is a coeliac and even up here the tour guides cater for her. They are amazing people.
Everyone is doing fine. The youngest team members, Jen and Aimee are so bubbly you can’t help be lifted by them. They smile continually. The core Wobbly team that have been on this bandwagon from the West Highland Way days are all great – Ian, Alan, Tony, Bob, Chrissy, Fiona, Matt Eddie and Bundy are all keeping spirits up with laughs and smiles in their own way. Ian by his words of encouragement, Bundy with his observations like “I feel like s*** and there is still no f***** Guiness”. He is not so impressed with the tour company’s fulfilment of individuals dietary requirements.
My health is good. There are three obstacles in my way, three obstacles which may prevent me getting to the summit; the runs, the altitude and my Parkinson’s. The runs have not put in an appearance yet thankfully. The altitude is ok and I’m doing what I can by drinking loads and walking slowly. And my Parkinson’s does what it can but determination keeps it at bay. Without my determination I am nothing.
Dinner was soup and pasta bolognaise, absolutely gorgeous. After dinner we played cards and then stared at stars. I have never seen so many. There was a big cheer when news came through the Liz and Chris were safe in the hotel.
As hot as the days are, the nights are cold. I am in my sleeping bag in a vest, fleece, long johns and a hat. And there are still two colder nights to go. The hardest thing is sleeping on a slope. I slide down the mattress continually.
Tomorrow we climb to 4300m and up to Mawenzi. Mobile reception is becoming more difficult so blogs may become patchy.
Monday 16 January 2012
Written at 2am Monday.
Day 4 was hard. After breakfast in the open air, we set off for Mawenzi Tarn, a second day skirting the base of the peak to help us acclimatise.
We climbed to 4500m (summit 5895m) before descending to 4350m to camp on the east side of the mountain. The terrain was heather covered rock at the start becoming surface-of-the-moon-like by the end.
Visibility was down to about 50 feet by midmorning due to the clouds and we spent the rest of the day in the clouds. We are camping by a lake, in the shadow of the Mawenzi volcano. We can see neither. Matt nipped to the loo about 1am and said the clouds had lifted. It’s about -5 outside. I’m not that desperate to see it.
I started to feel the altitude today. The lack of oxygen makes me panic sometimes in my breathing. My inflatable pillow, which was the envy of the camp at the start, is now impossible to inflate. Its all I can do to breathe let alone blow up a pillow!!
Before dinner we went on another altitude walk to expose us to the thinner air. We climbed to 14.700 feet. It felt astonishingly high. Just over half the height of Everest.
It is now Monday morning. Today we walk to Kibo hut at 4700m by lunchtime. We then rest up until 11pm. At 11 we get up, wrap up and start the final ascent. We should reach the summit (5895m, 19341 feet) between around 8 am tomorrow morning, the seventieth birthday of Ali.
We return to Kibo for lunch before a rapid descent to our final camp on Tuesday night.
Finally, John Bundy’s quote of the day “Listen to me Williams. I don’t care how important this is, but if your next big idea involves camping, you can stick it right up your a****”
Monday 16 January 2012 Part 2
Written 7pm Monday. 13 hours until summit.
The walk to Kibo Hut was long and arduous. I got up at 5am to take photographs of Mawenzi. It is so very different to The summit of Kilimanjaro.. The start of the walk to Kibo Hut was great, last night was the first which we didn’t wake up to a view of Kilimanjaro, after about 20 minutes of walking up a slope, we crossed over a ridge and there she was. Magnificent. And awful close.
Between us and the mountain lay the Lunar Desert. The most boring stretch of land I will ever encounter. Happily it ended with Kibo Hut and much emotion. All 27 of us made it to Kibo (15,500 feet, summit 19,341 feet). All 27 will set off for the summit.
To get all of us to this point has taken a lot of teamwork. We have helped each other, supported each other and taken responsibility for each other. It has been brilliant. I hope we all make it.
After lunch John, our magnificent tour leader, briefed us on what lies ahead. Nothing pleasant basically. We set off at midnight.
If this wasn’t testing enough, the back of one of my crowns came off eating a kebab. Fantastic.
How do I feel? Scared. It looks so intimidating. So steep. So very, very daunting. I was breathless today, panicking at times, to get breath, both last night and today. Now I have to climb the height of Ben Nevis in ever thinning air. Scared is the word.
But with friends like John Bundy how can I fail? As we came into camp today he said “I’m f****** proud of you. Good darts mate. I will see you through this, even if I have to push you up myself.
Tuesday 17 January 2012
Written at 8pm Tuesday. Summit day.
Today was a remarkable day. 27 set off at midnight. 27 reached the crater rim by 8 am. A remarkable achievement.
We started to prepare for the climb at 11pm on Monday night. We had breakfast in the mess tent, which was a subdued affair. We were all dressed in as many layers as we could manage without cutting off circulation, sitting eating porridge with our head torches on. Except Gavin, who lost his. We hunted high and low eventually discovering it on Karen’s head along with hers. The mood lightened.
We gathered at midnight and Gavin did his team talk as he does everyday before we set off. On this occasion he asked me to say a few words as well. I spoke about the single biggest thing I have learned on this journey with Parkinson’s – determination.
We set off in a line at 12.15 and started to trudge upwards towards the summit, silhouetted against the night sky. I walked with Christine and Karen. There was no chat as we zig zagged up the mountain, the guides walking up and down the line asking us how we were. At 5000m, Williams Point, Chrissy and I, stopped for a photo. From then on the path got step and harder, winding upwards through fields of volcanic ash. I just chanted “plod on” or “this too will pass” to myself repeatedly.
Things started to freeze like water tubes which added complication. Trying to open bottles with heavy gloves on was no fun.
As we plodded higher altitude sickness kicked in. I had a headache and felt lightheaded as we approached the summit. I was using poles to help my balance but I had no energy to battle my Parkinson’s and make my right arm work correctly. This caused me to fall a couple of times, but I never thought about giving up. It was all about determination.
I cannot put into words how draining the climb was.
At 6am the sky lightened as the sun rose behind Mawenzi. A great lift.
By 6.30 we could see the sign at Gilmans Point. At 7 we were there, on top of the crater edge.
On top of Kilimanjaro. It was all tears and snot. Everyone hugging. No singing or shouting, just private emotion. I thought about my girls, Vicky, and my family. I was immensely proud of myself.
From Gilmans Point, some of us went onto Uhuru Point. Christine and Karen were in poor shape, Chrissy exhausted and Karen was cold. I set off with Bob. When we got to the first rest point Karen materialised. I was delighted, she has been on so many adventures it would have been a shame not finish this one together.
The 150m climb to Uhuru took 90 mins. I was shattered. It wasn’t as emotional but I was touching the roof of Africa and I clung onto the sign which told me so.
Ian arrived and we embraced, I owe the guy so much. News came through that all 27 of us had made it. I phoned Gareth, Dad and Vicky but could barely speak.
I was feeling rough and it was time to go. Davis, one of the guides, stepped in. He took my bag and manhandled me back to Gilmans. He let me pause briefly and, literally, ran me down mountain. Running straight down the volcanic ash and scree fields. It was great fun.
Unfortunately my boots filled with stones making every step a painful one. Davis marched me into Kibo camp and I collapsed. I shudder to think what would have happened if he hadn’t intervened at the top.
The day wasn’t over. After lunch we had a 6 mile walk to our next camp down at 2700m. I walked with Chrissy and Karen, and then Brinsley, Chris and Gavin. My feet hurt, my bag weighed at tonne, my pride glowed.
Dinner was a quiet affair. By 8.30 the camp was asleep. An amazing day.
Thursday 19 January 2012
Written at 9.00am on Thursday
I hurt. My feet hurt. I have a blister the size of Wales (I feel sorry for Wales, it is perfectly sized to convey exactly how severe a disaster is; “an area the size of Wales is on fire” or “the flood covered an area the size of Wales”. Wales is disaster sized.)
Surprisingly my head doesn’t hurt because we kicked the arse out of it. Beer and whiskey flowed until the wee small hours.
Day seven was an early start. Breakfast at 7, a rendition of “Jambo, Jambo” from the guides and porters, and “Show Me The Way To Go Home” from us.
I had a horrible day. My feet were agony. I was grumpy and everyone knew it. I won’t dwell on the 14 mile walk. We saw monkeys and part of it was through a rainforest. Karen and I were first out of camp in the morning and last to cross the finish line. Chrissy was there with a bottle of coke. Sensational.
The journey home was a blur. I got to the room, unleashed my feet and understood why they were agony.
I went straight down to the pool, created a slick on the surface and had my first beer. Fantastic.
The party was excellent. We all got someone else’s certificate and presented it to them with a few words. We sang, we played games, we received poetry. It was great. The guides were with us. It was brilliant.
I had a lovely chat with Vicky and the girls. I can’t wait to get home. But Tanzania will be in my heart for ever. The best week of my life.
Friday 20 January 2012
A flight home is a great time to reflect on what has been. For the remaining passengers on KL 571 it is a great time to sleep. Not I. My love of a reflection, particularly my own, is well known. So the lights are out, the cabin is asleep except for me. My little iPhone screen the sole beam of light. For the first time this week not attracting flies. A reflection on KLM.
Thursday was a day of idleness. A day when we rested up. Only the Church of Scotland members of the contingent, to whom idleness is a sin, felt the need to do something, so they went to the village.
I lazed. Long John, our chief guide, patched up my feet, proudly wearing his Wobbly Resplendent Tartan kilt, which Brinsley presented him with last night.
I read all the blog comments and messages of support that flew around between the loved ones back home.
I looked at the press – coverage in The Sun, The Herald, The Scotsman and The Sunday Express. My favourite was the Herald, a picture of Gav, me and Boy Band Barry on page 3. There is a pair of tits joke in their somewhere. It eludes me at this moment.
I chatted with Ian about just how astonishing the whole thing was. Gavin described it as “one of the best weeks of my life”. Long John said “you have left footprints on my heart”. Genuine comments from genuine people.
We discussed with Long John about using Tony’s Klik2Learn online teaching product to deliver English lessons for school children in the Kilimanjaro area. We don’t want to be another group of fundraisers who come in, take advantage of what the Kilimanjaro National Park has to offer, and leave again. These people changed our lives, in some cases saved them.
The journey to the airport was sufficiently stressful to warrant a mention. A few of the party wanted to visit a “shop”. For “shop” think “mall”. Instead we visited a Volkswagen museum which was shut, and a rundown precinct in Moshi. As soon as the bus stopped hawkers were round us. Like flies around this blog. The driver reversed the first bus into the wall whilst trying to make our escape. Gavin hung out the window of the second shouting “tell John I’m going to f****** kill him”
The airport was an experience in haggling. Kat negotiated the purchase of a stool for Vicky for me. The stool wasn’t even for sale and she negotiated the price the shop keeper chose by over 50%. The girls will get a giraffe each (wooden) and a buff which have been to the roof of Africa.
The flight is uneventful. A few bullfrogs seem to have sneaked on board. We shall be back in Glasgow mid-morning to be reunited with our families and to have some Scottish comfort food and beers at Sloans.
So that is it. I hope you enjoyed these Kilimanjaro blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them. It was a remarkable experience, reassuring that I will fight on, and, above all, rewarding in that so many people did something they would otherwise have not if it hadn’t been for my Parkinson’s
Thanks to the walkers…
Aimee – Left Scotland a girl, returns a woman. The world is your oyster.
Alan – his humour, zest and sex appeal are key to everything we do.
Chris Stewart – quiet, considered, caring and funny. An excellent Wobbly debut.
Karen McLernon – another great debut. Brought the first morning alive by breakfasting in a Celtic top. Ballsy.
Stuart – strong, determined and a truly great guy.
Rob – another new face. A lovely guy who’s amiable manner hid a determined core.
Brinsley – “quick with a joke, or a light up your smoke, but there’s someplace that he would rather be.” Everyone was glad you were there.
Bob – determined, funny, inspirational, supportive. Qualities you can’t buy.
Gavin – a Lion, a legend, a leader. Thanks isn’t enough.
Jennifer – a wonderful person, always smiling, chatting and singing. You light up a mountain from the second you arrive.
Eddie – oldest friend. A title you will hold forever.
Liz – my inspiration. You are truly amazing.
Chris Ryan – your devotion to Liz is humbling. You are a true gent.
Boy Band Barry – gel, aviator glasses and a Christmas jumper. You have no shame. You are a star ( CAUTION – only borrow his nailbrush if you are prepared to give it back clean)
David & Nikki – mentioned together because they had trials all week. Guess who led the way up the mountain. Genuinely lovely couple, I hope they are Wobblies forever.
Paul – another inspiration. As strong as ten Greeks.
Father Tony – you are staggering. Your finest 9 hours.
Scott – your knowledge of the trivial facts of this world is enviable.
John Bundy – grumpy old bastard.
Fi – beautiful bubbliness hides high heels of steel.
Chrissy – my darling sister, an honour to climb with you. You are brave and beautiful, and I love you with all my heart.
Kat – no 29. The last place was destined for you. We will write chapters about this journey.
Andrew – a truly funny, caring bloke. Delighted you came. You are a powerful man, you just don’t know it.
Katherine – quiet determination were the words I used to describe you when I gave out your certificate. That is the tip of the iceberg. You are wonderful
Matt – tent-mate! What can I say? Apart from thanks for helping me into bed, out of bed, tie my boots, pack my bag etc, etc. you are a lovely guy
Karen McCartney – thank you for walking with me on this journey. You are kind beyond words.
Ian – the photo says it all. .
Bryn – the jury is still out.
Bigger thanks to the Guides, chefs, porters and Long John.
Bigger still thanks to Davis for getting me off the mountain. I might still be up there, delirious, walking around in nothing but merino wool y-fronts.
Biggest thanks to friends and family for your support and donations. Thank you times 1,000,000.