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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

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.

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