Looking Back II – Looking up.

This time last year I was fast asleep. No big deal, I had an early night. In a tent. Okay, January in a tent isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. At 4700m on the western slope of Kilimanjaro.

I can’t believe that it’s a year ago today I started the long and difficult slog up to the summit of Kibo. We were up at 10.30pm (7.30pm GMT as Tanzania is 3hrs ahead of us) for breakfast of porridge and more porridge and lashings of hot sweet coffee. I remember being fairly sharp the adrenaline was pumping at the thought of what was coming next. It was cold, and I’d worn several layers to bed so that the impact of the cold wouldn’t be too bad. I don’t recall it being a factor at the start.

We didn’t hang around. At 11.30pm we set off on a short but steep scramble over the rocks that surrounded the camp site before settling in to a steady plod along zig zags that led up the scree towards Gilman’s Point.

It got colder and colder. I went into a daze in which only the person in front of me existed. I saw a procession of lights coming up on a different route that looked like something out of Lord of the Rings. The moon sank below the horizon before we’d got half way up but Jupiter kept us company throughout the night. Every time we stopped for a break, I wanted to rest my head on my walking pole and sleep.

And then we got to Gilman’s point around 5.45am. It felt unreal and amazing at the same time. I celebrated with a wee down the drop we’d just walked up as payback for the cold and tiredness (the altitude makes you go much more frequently).

Sunrise was at 6.30am, just as we reached Stella Point. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve experienced – watching the sun rise over Mawenzi Peak and colouring the cloud layer way below us first a pink colour and then orange. It took me another 50 minutes to get to Uhuru Peak – the summit, at about 4.20am GMT. If I’m awake tomorrow morning at that time, I’ll be thinking about how I felt then. My journal, written about two hours later, lists the following to describe how I felt at the top:

“Rush to the head, relief, elation at achievement, happy, tired, a bit fuzzy due to the lack of oxygen, disorientated, in awe of the sunrise above the clouds, cold, aching limbs, pack weightless.”  I wrote that the effects of altitude seemed to disappear for a while.

Then we were descending and I think that is when the effects of altitude came back because the walk back to Stella Point passed in a blurry flash and suddenly I was charging down the slope trying to keep upright, to keep up with our guide and not to fall over. Equally as suddenly, Barafu camp came in to view and suddenly we were sat down in the sun warming up, fuelling up and staring at the top of Kilimanjaro some 1300m above us. The sudden increase in oxygen available made up for the fatigue and the packed 2nd breakfast (it was 9.20am local time) contained a real sausage! We stayed at Barafu for 90 minutes and then took another 90 minutes to descend another 1000m to Millennium Camp, which we reached at around 12.30.

I was fast asleep in my tent shortly afterwards and slept until they started using dynamite to excavate a toilet block some hours later.

 

Spring-ing

It’s time for cleansing. The sun is out and it inspires change.

No, don’t worry. I haven’t gone all hippy on you (well, no more than usual). I just find that feeling the sun on my face, looking at a cloudless sky and being able to enjoy an early morning without having to wear 17 layers of fleeces triggers some sort of renewal hormone in my brain.

I was out first thing this morning with Rufus and his real owner (I merely rent Rufus, of course, so that I appear to have a friend).  We spent a lovely two hours on the River Tawe, strolling up and down in the warm sunshine, stopping when we felt like it and, of course, throwing lots of stones for Rufus. We were early enough that for much of the time we had the river to ourselves. In the distance, a walking group appeared in a convoy of cars and set off for who knows where. By the time we were back at the car, it was still only just after 11am.

When we got home, I intended to watch the first Grand Prix of the season. I’ve been a motor racing fan for years but have become disillusioned with Formula 1 recently. However, this season promised to be different, as there had been a significant change in the rules resulting in radically different cars. A significant change for me was the prominence of the energy recovery system and the importance it plays in the performance of the car. Inevitably, this technology will filter down to the consumer and that can only be a good thing.

Instead both Rufus and I fell asleep. Not a reflection on the race but on my lack of fitness and Rufus’ tendency to cover 50% more distance than I do on walks.

But once I had surfaced, I felt ready to get on with some Spring stuff. There are two large fir trees in the garden and I’ve been planning to trim them for a while now. They block the afternoon sun and the night sky. So I had been building up to cutting the tops off. I’ve been put off in the past as I tend to leave it too late and they become a nesting place for birds. It seemed like a good idea to do it today.

I managed to trim the first tree and three quarters of the second tree before, to my absolute horror, I spotted a small white egg drop to the floor. It was quickly followed by a second, and the frantic fluttering of a pigeon. There, in one of the branches I had just cut, were the remains of a nest. The eggs were broken, the pigeon panicked and I was gutted. I should have checked before starting off, but in my defence, the trees were a dense mass of thick branches and it was difficult to get to each one.

I stopped, all the enthusiasm gone and as I cleared up, I saw the pigeon circling before it landed on a nearby roof. I took a quick look out from the kitchen, as the clouds rolled in to spoil the evening, and the pigeon was in the remains of the tree. I can’t look any more.

It needed doing. But I should have done it earlier.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro 6: The bits between the bits

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a serious business. There are months of preparation to be made. Training for physical fitness take as along as you like; the more you do the better the experience when you’re trekking. Mental preparation is harder to plan and do but is equally important to get you through the tough days when it’s raining, or when the slope is never ending.

For some, the gathering of kit is enjoyable. Testing each item and making the final decision about what to take and what to leave behind. I admit to secretly enjoying choosing which cameras to take as it’s where my interests lie.

But however serious and hard it is, ultimately I trek because I enjoy it. So amidst all the serious stuff, there have to be moments of humour, laughter and hysterics, otherwise what is the point? For every “…the ascent was long and hard and the rains lashed down…” there has to be a “…how we laughed…”. The problem with trying to write them down is that often they depend on the moment and knowing the people and places. So while I will try and convey the humour, I apologise if these stories occasionally come over as a bit insular and cliquey. And, of course, if none of them work, I won’t publish this.

Travelling is always stressful. My journey from Home to Heathrow by train and coach was marked by annoying people. On the train, it was the nasally-voiced gentleman two seats over from me. For three hours he talked to his travelling companion and at no time did I understand a word he spoke, but neither was I able to miss a single syllable of his piercing tones.  On the coach, it was the serial complainer who annoyed. But I left both of them behind.

At Nairobi airport, we had two litre bottles of water bought in the transfer lounge, but we weren’t allowed to take them on the plane unless they were sealed in a plastic bag. So we went back to the shop from which they’d been bought and asked them to seal them up. we were then allowed through the check in. Security at it’s tightest.

Our encounter with an Australian trekker on day one was the beginning of a running joke, She turned up while we were having lunch and decided we were her group. She’d missed a flight and arrived late. It eventually dawned on her that we weren’t her group  and she walked on. Her loud voice faded slowly as she went. We met her several more times and each time she was louder, more shrill and a little more annoying. At the next camp one of our guides convinced her he was from Brisbane, although he spoke very little English. Every time we  bumped into her over the next few day, we reminded her that our guide was from Brisbane. We even told him some place names that one of our trekkers knew from the Brisbane area.

Our campsites were pretty good on the whole. On a few occasions, we found that there was a distinct slope; after all we were climbing a mountain. Often there was a ‘low end’ to the mess tent table. After walking through the cold and miserable rain one afternoon, we retired to the mess tent and as I sat down, I all but disappeared. I found the whole thing funny and started to laugh, but it was laughter that you can’t help, that comes from a mix of tiredness and despair and it quickly turned hysterical! In no time, everyone in the tent was laughing. It was a welcome release from the misery of the day.

Early in the trek, we shared a campsite with another group of trekkers with a different company. Every night, their guides and porters would sing. We watched and listened, fascinated, and were even asked to join in. But after about an hour, it was getting a little jaded and during the second hour it began to grate on the nerves. Especially as the songs were chart hits, not traditional tunes. Our guide promised not to put our tents anywhere near them again, and he was true to his word.

The following night we camped on a tiny site where there was barely enough room for our four tents. As a result, they were cramped together and in my tent, a large part of Kilimanjaro formed a pillow under my head when I lay down. With a combination of careful positioning of my kit bag and a slight bend of the knee, I was able to lie reasonably comfortably. But at this site, the tents were placed on a sloping bit of ground and right outside the entrances was a small but significant vertical drop. At night, this would test us if we needed to go to the toilet tent, which was several metres away up the slope. We joked that we’d have to rope up to climb to use the toilet!

On summit night, our tent was invaded by a little four striped mouse. It was looking for morsels to eat, which we had loaded up the back packs with prior to the climb. When we went to the mess tent for dinner, it had scurried out from the rocks and gone all the way in to the tent. When I opened the flap, it rushed deeper in to the tent and only came out again when it realised there was no escape. I have a blurry photo of a seed eater bird perched on my back pack at Moir Hut camp.

At the park gate where we started, the gigantic sign warned of all the hazards that lay ahead, and the precautions to take. Most of the advice was sound and wise, but one point made us worry. “Do not push yourself to go if you have extreme.” We kept a close eye out for signs of extreme in all of us and although we all came close and some point, none of us suffered complete extreme.

Our card games, mainly ‘UNO’ were played in the evenings after food and invariably when we were tired. What shoudl have been a fast, snappy game was played at a sedate pace with slow reactions, missed opportunities and a lot of laughing. In the end, though, everyone won at least one game! The less said about the games of Pontoon, using miniscule portions of popcorn as betting chips, the better.

There were few laughs on the climb to Uhuru Peak, but at one point I offered to roll rocks down the slope to try and silence a bunch of very loud trekkers who seemed to think making a noise – any noise – was cool. At the Uhuru Peak signpost, we were constantly thwarted while trying to get the photo by a bunch of Americans. In the end, we dashed in between their high fiving and managed to get three individual photos without anyone else encroaching.

On the descent, there was little time for humour as I desperately tried to keep my balance. But on the second day, there was a slightly more leisurely pace and there was time to look around and enjoy again. We kept passing and being passed by a group of Canadians, with a friendly ‘hello again, fancy meeting you here’. They were friendly and it became a running joke to break up some of the longer and more demanding sections. Stopping at Mweki camp for a toilet break, I peed down a chute only to find some kind of flying insect down there. it wouldn’t leave and as I tried not to hit it, it flew around to avoid the stream. had I sat down, I expect I would have got a lovely bite.

As we passed through the lower slopes by the park gate, we found what could only be described as ‘The Kilimanjaro Experience’. It seemed like a theme park/visitor centre compete with elephant and buffalo noises (but no elephants or buffaloes), empty farm huts and large palms. It was an odd end to the trek.

It’s impossible to do a trek like this without a sense of humour.  I hope I’ve managed to convey a some of it in this blog entry.

Business as usual

It was a hard weekend. A last minute gig on Friday night, preceded by a visit to Swansea that I decided should be made on foot as I am now in training for my trek. It was 8.2km in total. Then I pottered about in the garden on Saturday morning and spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening at a charity gig in Parc y Scarlets. I didn’t get home until 12.45am, and after missing the teapot and pouring boiling water over my hand, I didn’t end up in bed until around 2am.

Sunday was a more leisurely affair and after a late breakfast, Rufus and I took a short drive to the hills, where we climbed Fan Nedd. It was cold and very windy but I was wrapped up in several warm layers. Rufus, with his built in thermals and fur coat, was fine despite a fine covering of frost on his fur. We walked along the ridge heading south to the trig point and then the small cairn marking where the hilltop drops away towards the Forestry Commission woodland. We’ve done that walk before, and it’s tough on the ankles, with lots of tufts of grass and ruts. It wasn’t for us today.

Instead, we turned about and headed back to the car. Rufus took the stile in style (see the photos below) and we wandered along the road for a bit until we walked past Maen Llia and down to the stream that becomes the river Llia further down the valley. Rufus wanted to catch stones today, so I threw little ones for him and he jumped up to catch them, flicking water all over me as he did so. By now, the sun was starting to hide behind the clouds so we decided it was time to head home. Despite the cold, I was feeling warm but this was making me tired.

I dropped Rufus off at his house, and went home to a hot shower, hot food and a comfy sofa.

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Life is hard…

…when you’ve spent the morning exploring the river, wading through torrents of water, searching for the right stone, catching pebbles, barking, entertaining your friend, putting up with his driving, patrolling his garden to see off the cat that pees in his house and chases birds and finally playing with him by getting him to chase you round the house.

Rufus asleep on the sofa

Elephants in the Room

As part of the ongoing development of my bathroom, I’ve been trying to decide what to put on the walls. The development was halted earlier in the year with the realisation that the guys that had put in the bathroom (in the 70’s) had made such a hash of the walls that I would have to take the walls back to brick to get it done properly. The house has black lime mortar which crumbles if you stare at it to hard, so trying to take tiles and wall paper off is a nightmare. Removing the tiles would have been easier and less destructive of the mortar if I’d used small amounts of gunpowder.

So I went on the recommendation of the guy that put the shower in and decided on aquaboard as a facing on which to tile. I had some vouchers to spend in a DIY shop by June, so today I calculated the number of aquaboard panels necessary and went to get them.

DIY! I don’t understand the attraction. The purchasing experience was a nightmare. The trolley was knackered but it didn’t start playing up until I’d loaded the 17 sheets onto it. Then it wouldn’t turn. I had to drag it around corners. The board was heavy – it’s made of cement to be waterproof. The board was as far away from the checkout as it could be. The trolley squeaked and wobbled it’s way down the aisles. Negotiating the car park was hard – there was an uphill slope and several corners. The board wouldn’t fit properly into the car so they were piled up in the boot with the lid partially open and held in place by bungees.

Back home, I had to carry each board up from the car to the house. Each board now weighed the same as a small African elephant (although to be fair, it was easier to hold and didn’t struggle so much – my African elephant carrying days are now long gone but the memories survive). I had 17 of them and to make matters worse, dark rain clouds loomed and I didn’t want the boards to get wet before I’d sealed them in place on the bathroom wall. My hall and kitchen now have aquaboard everywhere but at least they take up less room than the elephants did.

In exercise terms, I’ve had a good day.

Aquaboards

African elephants, disguised as Aquaboards, graze in my hall.

Cough

Cough. I have an annoying, tickly, irritating cough. Cough. I don’t feel ill and it doesn’t hurt. It just prevents me from settling, relaxing, concentrating for any length of time and sleeping. Cough. It has worn me out.

I often get this kind of cough at the end of a cold. This time, it’s come out of the blue. Cough. It’s worse in work because of the dry atmosphere. Cough. Cough. It must annoy my colleagues there, too.  Cough. It’s probably beginning to cough annoy you, too!

I just thought I’d share my cough with you.

No photos today so anything below this is an advert.