Kili Weather

Kilimanjaro Factfile

At 19,340 feet, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the only one of the seven summits (highest mountain on each continent) that is accessible without mountaineering equipment and experience.

It's the highest freestanding mountain in the world and one of the largest volcanoes, dormant rather than extinct.

On the summit, the lungs can only absorb half the amount of oxygen compared to sea-level.

The summit at Uhuru Peak is more than 1,600 feet higher than Everest base camp.

Estimates vary, but around 20,000 people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro each year. Almost half fail to reach the summit.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

More swimming

Went swimming again today. I intend to go once a week until a few weeks before departure date, when I'll increase it to twice weekly. I'm feeling quite stiff this evening after pushing myself harder than I did last week. Seventeen lengths plus a few of my underwater crawl widths sans breathing, in a much shorter time, has certainly tested the shoulder to the limit. It's aching, but hopefully stronger for the unaccustomed workout. I'm the world's slowest swimmer, and lopsided now, too, with one arm much weaker than the other for swimming strokes. At least I don't get puffed from the effort. Heart and lungs seem to be doing better than the arms and legs.

Boots were selling off strong winter sunscreen with a 'two for the price of one' offer in Brecon, so I bought a tube of factor 25 cream and a stick of white factor 50 which should protect me from the high altitude glacier/sun combination. I tend to go in for the boiled lobster look in even moderate sun, so I'm used to keeping well covered during the summer. It will be long sleeved shirts with turned up collars and a wide brimmed hat on Kilimanjaro for me whenever the sun appears. I thought it might be difficult to find skiing sunscreen later in the year, so grabbed it while there was still some available. It was a bit of a gamble, as my skin can react badly to some brands – I once bought an expensive cream that was supposedly for 'sensitive skins' and was forced to race for the nearest tap to wash it off before my face fried. It felt as though I'd rubbed on battery acid. A small test area has shown, this evening, that I'm not sensitive to Soltan Extreme Sports sunscreen, so that's good news. I also began stocking up my travelling first aid kit with a few bits and pieces – gel blister plasters and some silver dressings, which are supposed to be good at preventing infection in minor wounds. As hygiene standards are necessarily lowered during the trek (no bath or shower for at least a week, and wet wipes the trekker's best friends), infection must be a danger from cuts and scrapes.

I was hoping to set a time of year for my trip last weekend, but things didn't work out. My sister has volunteered to cover for me on the farm while I'm away, and will need to organise her time off work. We're hoping to get together in a couple of weeks to work out the optimum timing for both of us. My windows of opportunity are quite small. It isn't possible to leave the farm during January and February, supposedly the best time of year for climbing Kilimanjaro. The area's two rainy seasons can make for miserable climbing conditions (and I see enough rain here, thank you very much), so it will have to be either during June/early July (which isn't ideal because that's shearing time), or late Septenber/early October, which also has associated problems. I think we'll just have to pick a date and work around it.

In the swim

I went swimming last week – the first time I've been to an indoor pool in years. I haven't swum at all recently, and was expecting to find it hard work. During the course of swimming thirteen lengths and a few underwater widths (all I had time for – I'm a slow swimmer), I made two surprising discoveries; my heart and lungs are working much better than expected, while my injured shoulder is not as strong as I'd believed. Whenever I was forced to rest at the completion of a length it wasn't due to shortness of breath, but weakness in the shoulder muscles. I discovered I can no longer do the crawl – for some reason, I can do the strokes as long as my head remains facing forward underwater, but can't complete the stroke with my injured arm if I turn my head to breathe. As not breathing isn't really an option, I resigned myself to breaststroke for the duration. After dislocating my shoulder in July 2005, it took a year to regain almost normal movement of my right arm. I spent a lot of time working on building up the muscles that had wasted while the arm was immobilised and now have only the occasional ache or twinge from it. I still worry about a repeat performance from slipping on ice or mud – redislocation is always a possibility in people with an active lifestyle. Although I've resigned myself to the use of trekking poles on Kilimanjaro for the sake of my knees, I won't be using the wrist strap on my right pole whatever the risk of losing it. A slip on scree or ice with my hand trapped at the upper end of a pole is precisely the manoeuvre that caused my original injury. The consequences of another dislocation on the slopes of Kilimanjaro are just too awful to contemplate. I intend to be *very* careful. But I still need to get those weak muscles working properly; so regular swimming has now become a necessity. Sidestroke, leading with the weak arm would seem to be the best way to improve things. I'll also be doing regular workouts with the elastic pilates band I originally used after the accident.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Let there be light

And now, there is. My sister gave me a Petzl Tikka Plus today; a belated Christmas present that hadn't arrived through the post in time for the holiday. After some research, I'd come to the conclusion the Tikkaplus was the best head torch for summit night on Kilimanjaro and general use around camp, including reading and writing in the tent. It has four LEDs with three brightness settings (plus a flashing mode) and a much longer battery life than conventional bulb torches. I don't know how well the batteries will stand up to the sub-zero temperatures, but I'm hoping it won't be necessary to replace them in the dark and cold of that final climb. The catch to the battery compartment is quite fiddly and definitely not made for frozen fingers. The torch is unexpectedly light with a comfortable, broad elastic headband and a good system for angle adjustment.

I'm also hoping to do a temporary swap with someone within the family to get hold of a pair of lightweight pocket binoculars. My own pair of 10x25 so-called pocket Tascos weigh eleven ounces, which may not sound heavy, but is a lot when every ounce counts and has to be carried up 19000 feet. And for my final optical acquisition, I've already bought a pair of Cebe snow glasses with side shades for sun protection – last year's model at a quarter the original price (£15) from TKMaxx a few weeks ago. Very snazzy, even if they are considered outdated by the fashion scene. It was about time I bought a new pair of decent sunglasses anyway – I've been using a really cheap and ineffective pair for several years after losing two pairs of quality ones in quick succession. Funny how it's never the cheap ones that go missing.

I'm working on transferring my equipment list to spreadsheet form I can upload for access via this blog. There are general lists on the websites of most trekking outfits and plenty of personal lists posted on blogs by people who've already climbed the mountain, but one more may still be useful for anyone thinking of making the trip. Although the basic essentials are universal, there are differences in emphasis between individual preferences. Despite the weight limits for portering climbers' equipment (15kg per trekker for most companies) and daypack (limited only by the individual climber's ability to carry it), the list of essentials is surprisingly long. Having to prepare for temperatures ranging from equatorial African to below 20 degrees F means an awful lot of kit. I'm particularly fortunate to have been lent the two most expensive items by friends. An arctic grade sleeping bag and Thermarest mattress would have added considerable cost to my preparations. The sleeping bag has already been up Kilimanjaro once and proved to be well up to the task, so will be on familiar territory. The cold weather gear I've been buying -- Ebay is my best friend -- is already paying for itself by keeping me warm around the farm. Wish I'd discovered technical thermal underwear long ago.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Buffs rule!

I am the original Scarf Woman. I wear them for most of the year; cotton bandanas for all but the hottest weeks of summer, changing over to silk whenever there's a chill in the air. I mostly remain faithful to silk throughout our mild wet winters with just the occasional flirtation with polar fleece during a cold snap. I wear them all the time; around the farm, going shopping or out for a night on the town. And now, I have discovered the Buff, a very overpriced tube of stretchy polyester which has turned my head with it's irresistible charms. I first saw them last November in London when I was drooling looking over all the expensive trekking kit I can't afford at Field & Trek.

Once I hit the Buff's homepage I was hooked. Seeing all the possible ways of wearing that flimsy bit of tubing, I just knew it would be perfect for my Kilimanjaro trip. Scarf, balaclava, hat, sunshade – it's so much more versatile than any silk square and even more comfortable, if that's possible. The vast selection of colours and designs means there's something to suit all tastes and there's even a fleecy option for the really cold weather. I did some more research (i.e. overtime for Google and Ebay) and discovered there are much cheaper alternatives available, although in disappointingly limited and rather dreary designs. The the Oxford Comfy comes in packs of three for less than the cost of one Buff. The cheapest original Buffs I could find via Google are at Sporting Trianglewhich just happens to be in Hereford where I had to go yesterday to buy tractor spares. So, I am now £10.99 poorer and the proud owner of one Indu Mango Buff, a tasteful little number with a vaguely oriental design in rusty red on a beige background. I've worn it all day today, except for my swimming session, and have to admit it's the most comfortable and practical neckwear I've ever worn. I suspect it will be almost worn out by the time I leave for Africa, although they are claimed to be just about indestructible. It's an indulgence at a time when I'm trying to eliminate frivolous spending, but it will get a lot of use. No, I'm not convinced, either, but I love it just the same.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Early days

With hindsight, the run up to Christmas wasn't a good time to initiate this blog. A combination of the holiday and a bout of 'flu over the New Year meant my training programme was curtailed for almost a month. Blogging time was limited by my attempts to catch up with work and life in general once I had recovered. I resumed training two weeks ago, and was surprised at how little fitness I'd lost, expecting to be almost back to where I started in October, but both lungs and legs seem to be working at almost pre-christmas level. My training at the moment consists of a daily climb up (and down, of course) the three hundred vertical feet from lowest to highest point of the farm, a distance of about half a mile. I wear my daypack, a Karrimor Trail 25 containing 15lbs of ballast and walk on tip toe for 200 steps on one of the steeper sections.

I've been for longer walks in the hills some weekends and plan to do this at least once every two weeks. Last Saturday, a beautiful crisp sunny day, I climbed Lord Hereford's Knob and Rhos Dhurion, two minor peaks in the Black Mountains, a distance of about six miles. The views were stupendous across three counties of England and Wales, with the Brecon Beacons and minor hills rising like blue islands from the white haze of mist that covered the lower lying ground. The scene reminded me of a chinese painting, with the silver ribbon of the river Wye winding between the hills. The ground remained hard all day, thawing only where the sun's rays had fallen since early morning. It was slippery going downhill whether the ground was soft or frozen, ice and mud being almost equally treacherous underfoot. When I looked at the map on my return home, I was slightly disappointed to discover I'd only climbed a total of 1000 vertical feet during the course of the day.

The plan is to increase both mileage and height of climb each time I take a weekend walk. I also intend to go swimming once a week, although it is rather time-consuming to make the 24 mile round trip to the nearest swimming pool. I may join a gym for some upper body strength training, but that's another 24 miles to consider.

Today's news that British Airways is introducing a one piece luggage limit next week is a blow to my plan to take warm clothing to Tanzania for the porters who carry the climber's gear up Kilimanjaro. I'd more or less decided not to fly direct to Kilimanjaro with KLM via Amsterdam because of the history of lost luggage on this route. Climbing without all my laboriously gathered expensive kit would definitely not enhance the experience, so my preferred route would be to fly directly to Nairobi with BA and then take a shuttle bus to Moshi. Being limited to one bag means I won't have much room for extra fleece jackets and trousers. Luckily, I'd chosen a frameless daypack which fits within BA's cabin baggage limits -- a deliberate decision to sacrifice a little comfort on the climb for the certainty of having the real essentials safely with me at all times.

I haven't yet decided upon a date for the Big Climb, but will have to work out my itinerary quite soon. And my progress towards the goal of climbing to the roof of Africa will be regularly posted on this blog from now on.