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.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007


I'm thinking of entering the Black Mountain Roundabout in April; 6 peaks and 25 miles of mountain walking with a vertical ascent of 6500ft during the course of a ten-hour day. If I do enter, it will be with the aim of completing the course. I'm still uncertain of my stamina and ability – I know I can reach the half-way point without difficulty, and I'm fairly certain I could push myself to the 20 mile checkpoint. I don't know if I could keep up the pace, though. The walk begins between 8 am and 9 am, and anyone who hasn't reached the 20-mile point by 4 pm will be retired by the organisers. 2.5 mph may be slow on level ground but over rough, steep terrain for eight hours it's quite a pace.

The final five miles will be a killer – straight up 1800ft before descending back down to the start/finishing point. I'm not at all confident of being able to do that at the end of a long, tiring day's walking. I have another month of training to prepare, although entries need to be in by the end of March. I'll take as many longer walks as I can fit in before the deadline. I'll try for at least one 12 mile timed walk in the Black Mountains in the next month to see how I might cope with the pace, although that might be difficult once lambing starts.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Beaten off the track

Yesterday, I attempted to climb Pen y Fan, 2906 ft, the highest peak of the Brecon Beacons. I hadn't been up there before, and decided to take advantage of the good weather before lambing starts and I become confined to the farm for the next three or four weeks. It was further than I remember, driving to the main footpath at the Storey Arms near Libanus, so it was later than I intended when I finally set off up the long trail across the mountainside. I soon discovered it's really not my sort of walk – the path is wide and paved with rocks or gravel for most of the route to the summit, and very popular with walkers even on a sunny winter afternoon; definitely not a wilderness experience. I think it is probably a good miniature simulation of what I can expect on Kilimanjaro, however; the rocky terrain -- so different from the mud and bogs I've become used to -- the long, slow haul up the slope and of course, the very fickle weather. It was the weather that beat me, for just like Kilimanjaro, the Beacons form their own microclimate. They may be tiny in comparison with Africa's tallest mountain, but they are still frequently shrouded in cloud while the rest of South Wales basks in bright sunshine.

Yesterday, there was only a hint of cloud around the peaks when I set off, but by the time I reached the ridge about an hour after setting out, visibility was reduced to a few yards and a vicious wind blew hard across the stunted vegetation. There was an intersection of several paths on the crest of the ridge, and without any landmarks showing through the cloud, I had no way of knowing which one led to Pen y Fan. Trying to read my map was hopeless in the gale force wind – it would have shredded if I'd even tried to open it. The right hand path looked as though it was rising more than the two alternatives, so I decided to keep heading uphill in the hope it would lead to the highest point. I persevered for about half an hour, during which time the wind became fiercer and the cliff top path became rougher underfoot before I decided it was simply too dangerous to continue. Both the dog and I were in real danger of being blown over the edge. I have no idea how far down the cliffs reached; the drop was a bottomless void lost in swirling cloud. So, we headed back to the path leading down to the Storey Arms, passing other hooded figures that loomed out of the mist, heads down, with a grunt of acknowledgement as they struggled past us against the wind.

D the dog hated it. He hated the wind, the rocky path underfoot, and most of all, he hated the numerous other dogs we met on the paths. Only the ludicrous sight of a pug in a billowing Goretex jacket cheered him up for a few moments – he jeered, but I suspect his reaction was partly fuelled by envy. That wind was bitterly cold. A few hundred feet down from the ridge, we emerged into sunshine again and we both cheered up until some hill runners in T-shirts and trainers went down past us at high speed. Now that is demoralising when you're muffled up in a hooded jacket and carefully placing your feet amongst the rocks.

I used my walking poles for the first time during the descent. I must admit I've always thought of them as an affectation and been rather scathing in the past, but research has convinced me they're essential for Kilimanjaro. I was given a pair as a Christmas present, and thought Pen y Fan might be a suitable testing ground. It felt strange at first, but they're very similar to ski poles, so I quickly became used to them, and have to admit they were very effective. My knees didn't suffer at all during the hour-long descent. But I think a wrist brace might be a good idea in future when I'm using the poles – another old minor injury began to nag during the descent. At this rate, my rucksack will be overflowing with supports for all my damaged joints when I head for Africa. And on the subject of rucksacks – I received some very strange looks from other walkers who weren't impressed by my bulging daysack. They obviously thought I had everything but the kitchen sink in there, and they weren't far wrong; am I a complete idiot to be hauling 15lbs of ballast up a mountain?

The really annoying thing about yesterday's walk is that when I later looked at my map, I discovered I'd been within half a mile and only 150 vertical feet from the summit of Pen y Fan when I took that wrong path on the ridge. I'd actually walked further than if I'd climbed to the top of the Beacons, but had seen nothing of the usually spectacular views across the country and had no real sense of achievement. I also forgot to take my pedometer, so can only make a rough guess at how far I walked. Oh well, the exercise was useful, I suppose

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

One for the girls

TMI for male readers. For my first product review in this blog I can say that the Shewee is better than the proverbial sliced bread, even for women who aren't planning on climbing halfway into space. It's a brilliant invention, and like all the best innovative products, it's simple and cheap. I wish I could remember on which Kilimanjaro blog I first read about it last month. It sounded potentially useful for any long journey, and especially for trekking at altitude – those five to six litres of water to be drunk each day to stave off Acute Mountain Sickness have to exit sometime. Well, a lot of times, in fact. The thought of having to leave my tent four or five times each freezing night is definitely not one of the anticipated highlights of the trip. So, the Shewee, combined with an old mineral water bottle seemed an ideal solution to a perennial problem. A quick search on Ebay revealed at least a dozen suppliers. My Shewee arrived this morning and I immediately saw an unexpected bonus for the Kilimanjaro trip. All that water isn't only a nuisance at night on the mountain. It also means many short diversions behind the nearest tree or rock during each day's climbing. And despite the wilderness setting, there will be plenty of people around – other trekkers, guides and porters, sometimes passing in both directions. That's probably not too much of a problem in the rainforest or areas strewn with lava boulders and rocky outcrops to give cover, but the final two days before the summit will be spent in a lunar landscape and on open scree slopes. In the lunar desert, everyone can see – well, just about everything. So, this neat little invention that fits easily into a pocket will put any woman on even footing with the men on the expedition (and that could well be a pun – keep those boots out of range). Put simply, it allows women to pee standing up and without undressing. It's brilliant, and it works. Five stars, without a doubt.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Friday, 9 March 2007

A swim too far

Went swimming again yesterday after missing last week's session. I overdid it the week before, learning the hard way that pushing a new form of exercise isn't a good idea. I'm not only the slowest swimmer ever; I'm also the least efficient. I expend huge amounts of energy for very little gain in distance. Seventeen lengths wasn't far but I used too much muscle power that hasn't been exercised for a long time. Maybe next time I'll heed those warnings about beginning any new exercise program gently. Just because I can walk up steep hills doesn't mean I can go straight into power swimming after only one session. Last week, my chest felt a bit like it did when my ribs were crushed by a cow. By the beginning of this week, the discomfort had eased, so yesterday I swam eighteen quite leisurely lengths without any signs of strain beyond a slight attack of cramp in my left calf. I discovered the jet of the pool's filtration system gives an excellent massage to affected muscles.

Went for an eight mile walk last weekend up Aberedw rocks and over Llandeilo Hill , which is a good simulation of the kind of terrain I can expect on Kilimanjaro – some steep sections and a long, slow climb of about three miles.

Discovered I'd made a bad mistake by only buying one knee brace when I was in London last November. Lilywhite's were selling off Lonsdale neoprene braces at half price, but I had no way of knowing if they would be effective for me at the time. So, I gave in to my mean streak and didn't risk getting one for each knee. Big mistake. I used the brace for last week's walk, putting it on my 'bad' knee (i.e. the one that's given trouble all my adult life and had surgery some years ago), and had no pain at all – the knee was fine both during and after the walk. My 'good' knee (which hasn't been all that good since it was hit by a charging ram fifteen months ago) hurt during the descent and then stiffened up horribly during the evening and following morning. The pain wore off in the afternoon, but it's obvious I need another brace before tackling any more long descents. The Neoprene works really well, giving plenty of support without rucking behind the knee. It's warm and comfortable to wear, and wicks moisture away from the skin to the surface. Highly recommended. I'll admit I was biased against it since having to wear a neoprene sling 24/7 for three very hot weeks in July two years ago, but this brace has converted me.