Mera Peak Expedition April 2018

Mera Peak is a mountain within the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas. It stands proud at 6476m at its true summit (Mera North). There are two other summits Mera South (6065m) and Mera Central (6461m). Trekking companies take you to Mera Central rather than Mera North unless otherwise specified. Mera Central was first summited in May 1953 by Col. Jimmy Roberts and Sen Tenzing. Mera North was first summited later in 1975 by M. Jolly, G. Baus and L. Honills.

The summit view has got to be one of the main draws of climbing Mera peak, with five of the worlds highest mountains visible (Everest, Cho Oyu, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangchenjunga). It is classed as a trekking summit which gives the impression of an easy hike, but as with Kilimanjaro there is no such thing as an easy hike when it comes to altitude. It gets its name “trekking peak” as it does not require a lot of technical work, however a good amount of Scottish winter mountaineering knowledge is certainly advantageous.

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There are two seasons for trekking/mountaineering in Nepal these are post monsoon (Mid-September to November) and pre monsoon (March to May). The main trekking season is the post monsoon season with highs of around 20C in Kathmandu, with mostly clear sunny days. However night time temperatures can get rather cold (-15C). The pre monsoon season is my favourite season as its warmer and the rhododendrons are out in full bloom, however there is a risk of rain and snow.

The snowline starts above Khare at Mera La and High Camp, making nights a lot cooler. As with most summit days it is a very early start and so the temperatures will be extremely cold and therefore the best equipment is needed to avoid cold injuries such as frost bite and then snow blindness for when the sun comes up. Tempertaures can get as low as -25C with the addition of wind chill.

To get to most of the popular treks in the Himalayas you have to fly to Lukla (Tensing – Hilary airport) aka the world’s most dangerous flight. The airport opened in 1964 and was paved in 2001. With an increase in tourism and therefore increase in flights the safety has increased with 2 way control to Lukla to ensure the weather is good to land. If it isn’t then the flights don’t run or they turn around if they have taken off. I will say I am petrified of flying and I have done this flight twice now!

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Lukla is in the Khumbu district, the airport itself is on a small ridge. The flights are all normally very early in the morning. The airport in Kathmandu is packed with eager tourists waiting to get into the Khumbu valley and beyond.  The views are spectacular along the way, you pass quite low over ridges through the valley before you do a near vertical drop before landing, as you frantically look for where the hell the pilot plans to land the plane. Then out of nowhere a small strip of tarmac appears. The runway itself is only 527m x 30m with an 11.7% gradient, which helps you slow down upon landing as at the end of the runway you are greeted with a large brick wall. There is only one attempt at landing due to the twin otter planes not being able to take back off again to turn around.

Picking the company

I did a lot more research this time while choosing my next trip and who to go with. I suggest that personal research is done for both Nepalese companies and UK companies as all have pros and cons. Contact them and discuss experience and expectations of the trip, most will be happy to go through everything with you. Nepalese companies tend to be slightly cheaper as they do not have any UK guides.

Equipment

There is a lot of equipment needed and its not a cheap hobby to get in to. I would say if you have no equipment currently or very little you need to budget a couple of thousand to get decent equipment, or you can hire some of the equipment from companies, or buy second-hand online from outdoor groups on facebook. I had a lot of help from my local shop – The Climbers Shop in Ambleside, who were amazing and helped me with a lot of the kit. Here is a list of things I took:

  • Sleeping bag – you rely on this for a good nights sleep, and it needs to have a good temperature rating. I went for the Mountain Equipment Iceline – by far one of the most expensive sleeping bags on the market but it has a good nights sleep temperature rating to -30C (rated with person wearing thermals). It is highly breathable and rain resistant which is great especially when you get condensation in your tent at night. One of my favourite things is the inner pocket so I can store batteries etc at night without losing them. It also has a waterproof stuffsack. It Is overkill for Mera Peak but I sleep cold.
  • Sleeping mat – I took my therma-rest that I used on Kilimanjaro – mistake as a few nights I felt the cold through the mat. A down mat would be more suitable.
  • The down jacket – Mountain Equipment Expedition Jacket which was for High Camp and Summit.
  • Insulated jacket, keeps you warmer if its slightly wet out and takes up less space.
  • Insultated body warmer
  • Waterproofs
  • Shepee – mentioned this when I did Kilimanjaro.
  • B3 Mountaineering boots – you can hire these from most expedition companies.
  • B2 Boots are advised and on a few days were needed
  • Socks – essential that you have very warm socks and you can layer them on the colder days.
  • Mitts – must be goretex and warm for the summit day
  • Glove liners – extra layer of insulation
  • Thick Gloves – I have a couple of pairs of gloves that are warm and with the addition of the liners will be good for anything upto summit day.
  • Tent light – found this to be a pain on Inca Trail and Kilimanjaro using head torch to find things so I bought a little lightweight lantern to hang in the tent.
  • External power packs.
  • Bluetooth speakers and phone – on acclimatisation days after a few hours hiking you can get bored so having something to listen to is good for spirits.
  • Thermals – I have a light pair of thermals and some Rab powerstretch trousers which are warm and fluffy.
  • Fleece lined trousers
  • Trekking trousers/shorts
  • Fleece jumpers.
  • Camera and spare battery
  • T-shirts
  • Walking poles – protect your knees
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons – need to fit B2 and B3 boots.
  • Mountaineering Harness
  • Helmet
  • Selection of carabiners and ropes etc – specific to your trip and if you need them or if they are provided.
  • Hat/balaclava
  • Sunglasses – cat 2 to 4, I got polarizing, photochromatic lenses for ease
  • Goggles – protect eyes against spindrift etc.
  • Snacks – its always nice to carry biscuits or sweets to share.
  • Passport photos – minimum 2 for visa.

The Expedition

The company I chose give you 100L non waterproof expedition bag. Not much room in the bag for expedition gear and fresh clothes for after the trek. I struggled with packing and as always I pack on the day I travel. The bag had no give and the large down jacket, sleeping bag, helmet, crampons and mountaineering boots took up half the bag. Some of this equipment would be taken out of our bags and put in a separate bag for later on the mountain giving us more space on the expedition.

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Eventually I managed to stuff most things in my expedition bag and put the rest in my backpack. When I got to the airport they weren’t convinced that my backpack would fit in the hand luggage container (it wouldn’t) I had to take a few things out to cram it in. My suggestion is get a bigger expedition bag that gives a bit of breathing space for packing and make sure its waterproof.

I booked my international flights separately as I wanted to fly with Etihad and have a few extra days  in Kathmandu before the trip, plus it was cheaper to not book through the company. I set off Wednesday night and got to Kathmandu early evening on Thursday.

When I landed in Kathmandu I had to go through the visa process. After the hassle I saw some people having I would advise to get a visa before you fly as it just saves a lot of time and effort. The quick way while there is to fill the forms in as you get into the terminal. The other option is to use the automatic machines which take your photo for you. The queues were incredibly long for this though and it cost more.

Kathmandu is a very vibrant city with lots of wonderful people, many shops selling mostly everything you could ever want. Lots of mountaineering shops, some official, some not so much! But if you just want cheap tshirts etc they will suffice. It is not any cheaper going to the official shops in Nepal, they are just as expensive and in some cases can be more expensive.

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I decided to go to monkey temple (Swayambhunath) while I had some free time. Its quite far away from the centre and costs about 500 rupees in a taxi from the hotel one way, and a bit less from cabs on the streets. After the earthquake the temple was ruined and they are still in the process of rebuilding, however this does not mean its quiet. It was packed! Not the quiet place I remember from last time. Be warned there are a lot of steep steps to get from the bottom to the temple.

The night before the trip was to start, I had to head towards the Summit Hotel which is where the rest of the group were staying. If you stay in Kathmandu the best place to stay is in and around Thamel. The hotel was owned by Summit Treks who are the Nepalese company our UK tour company use for Sirdars, Sherpas and porters etc.

We had a quick meeting about what to expect and what to pack, our UK guide went through our gear to make sure we all had the correct equipment. I had brought up my ice axe, crampons, helmet, harness and boots to go into the overall gear bag which would be carried separately to our day to day things as we wouldn’t need them till higher up on the mountain. We had a group meal and then I headed off back to my hotel in Thamel

Day 1
Kathmandu to Lukla (2840m) and trek to Poyan (2800m).

It wasn’t a great nights sleep last night, I was worried about the flight and the expedition. I packed up the remaining stuff I had lying around and headed back to the Summit hotel.

We got checked in at Kathmandu airport and sat in the departure lounge. Our flight was due out at 7:30am, but the airline was late with the first flight and so that had a knock on with ours. We ended up leaving at 8:40am. The flight was pretty smooth, I was extremely nervous but had one of the people on the trek and the hostess chat to me and calm me down a bit. The views were spectacular out of the left side of the plane, all overlooking the Himalayas. The right side just had the valleys which were beautiful but a stark contrast to the mountains.

After our arrival in Lukla, our bags were picked up by our porters and taken to the teahouse where we would be meeting our Sirdar and Sherpas. One of our Sherpas was a young woman named Bhumeda, who had summited Everest and was promoting environmental issues with high altitude climbing.  Our Sirdar was a guy named Fu, a great guide and lovely person, full of energy and always in high spirit.

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We had a quick tea in the teahouse and headed off towards our lunch spot which was around an hours walk away. The route follows down past Lukla runway which gave some great views of the planes taking off and landing. There were a lot of steps down which seemed to go on forever, but the views were amazing and the weather was fantastic. The lunch stop was in a nice little teahouse and we were greeted with cordial, and the food was unexpected – beans and chips.

After lunch we started to head towards our camp for the night in Poyan, the path was pretty steep for around 90 min and we were met with a lot of yaks and porters coming in the opposite direction. In the afternoon it started to rain on and off so the porters and sherpas decided it would be best if we stayed in teahouses for the night to save our stuff getting wet. We arrived in Poyan at around 4:30pm. The area was beautiful and the teahouses were pretty impressive, little twin huts with an “ensuite” toilet. The main teahouse was nice with large fire in the middle of the room. We had some tea and I chilled out in here while my room mate had a sleep.

We all sat around and chatted until dinner was served at 6:30pm, vegetable broth followed by sausage and potato, washed down with hot chocolate. We all had an early night to try and catch up on lost sleep from last night.

Day 2
Trek to Pangkongma (2846m)

Didn’t sleep all that well, had a headache in the middle of the night, lay awake for ages until I could be bothered getting up and taking paracetamol. We were woken up by the porters with a cup of tea at 6am. Packed our stuff up with difficulty and headed towards the main teahouse for breakfast – cornflakes and warm milk. The views from the teahouse were pretty amazing, there was quite a few clouds around but you could see the Mountains through the breaks in the clouds.

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We headed off up hill for 600m, the path was being built along the way, but it was nice and easy going. The views were getting better the higher up we went. Fu kept calling them big hills as they were below 5000m. The walk was at a steady pace until after the first stop. I fell behind the group as usual as my pace is a lot slower than mostly everyone elses, but I had Bhumeda to keep me company for most of the way. I caught up again just before the dinner stop. I really wasn’t that hungry but managed to eat a few potatoes and bread, we filled up our water bottles and headed out again.

It was a beautiful day but really hot down in the trees, there were a lot of drink stops on the way down to try and keep us hydrated. The last bit of the trek was steep uphill to the campsite.  I was downbeat with my progress uphill but Fu was happy with my progress, letting me know that although I am slow I have a good consistent pace. A couple of the girls on the trek had waited for me near the top to walk in with me which was a nice pick me up.

When we arrive in the lovely little village a few of the hikers decided it would be nicer to stay in the teahouse instead of camping, and we got the rooms for 200 rupees each (£1.50). We all hung out in the teahouse and I brought in the hobnobs I had packed to share out.

Day 3
Trek to Nashing Dingma (2600m)

Up at 5:30am, and up to lots of sunshine after heavy rainfall last night, so a good choice to stay in the teahouse. The views were spectacular outside our rooms. I packed up my stuff and headed out for breakfast.

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We headed out at 7:30am towards a monastery which was close to the village and up 200 steps. The monastery was beautiful and had great views, there was a festival on so there were a lot of Buddhist monks present. We stayed here for around 15 min and headed off towards out next camp at 3600m. The weather was hot and sunny in the morning as we headed through the forests, it was really beautiful even though you couldn’t see the mountains. Some of the steps were pretty steep towards the top of the pass, when we got to the top we were greeted with cloud covered mountains.

The walk from here was gentle Nepali flat and was really nice and a great break for the legs. We had a quick chocolate break where we could see our campsite across the valley but we had to descend 1300m to our lunch stop, before climbing back up to the other side.

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We headed down which was hardwork on the legs. I managed to stay pretty close to the lead group but I did start to have leg issues on the way down. Lunch was pretty good and very filling, not the best just before a more or less vertical 700m trek. 

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We set off towards camp and we all more or less stayed together on the way up as everyone had stuffed their faces at lunch. The heavens opened not long after we started ascending, we made out way to a little hut and took shelter and chucked on our waterproofs. The rain subsided a bit and we started to head off again, however the heavens opened and it chucked it down, with no shelter we kept plodding along – the waterproofs were soaked and it started to seep through (waterproof jacket not so waterproof in the downpour). We took refuge under a overhanging rock for around 30 minute. Fu decided that we couldnt stay here all day so we set off again when the rain eased up. After about another 20 min Fu had had enough and pulled us into a locals house. They greeted us warmly and gave us hot drinks. We gathered some money together to give to them as a thank you.

We set off again and this time the sun had come out. We walked for another hour uphill through the treeline and to the campsite. The porters and Sherpas decided on teahouses again to give us chance to dry out clothes off.

The place was really lovely and the teahouse where we would be dining was large and had lots of windows to enjoy the views. We had a great night in the teahouse, playing cards and listening to the music I brought. It passed the time quite quickly until dinner came out. For starters we had popcorn, followed by mushroom broth, and then potatoes and carrots for me – pasta for the rest. We all disappeared off pretty early that night to get good nights sleep.

Day 4
Trek to Chalem Kharka (3600m)

Another early start this morning, but I had had a good night sleep. Had a long breakfast and chill out while we waited for the Mera and Island peak group to set off before us. The sun was shining and the beginning of the walk looked like we were walking through the lost world from Jurassic Park, it was so green and open it was absolutely stunning. The walk started off quite gently but then we started to head up hill again. The morning sun was beating down on us and so it was really warm and humid in the forested section. There were lots of Rhododendrons starting to bloom which was lovely to walk through.

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I was at my usual place at the back of the group but there were a few more taking it slow today. By the time we were approaching our lunch stop it had started to rain which was becoming the norm for this trip. We dropped down into a little dip which opened up onto a wide flat area where there was a little hut. We gathered around and were welcomed by our usual hot cordial by the porters. The heavens opened and we were told to go inside the hut which was the local ladies house, we could see her outside wandering around in the rain holding a chicken. The lunch today was hot dog sausages and bread.

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We waited around in the hut for longer than what was intended to try and wait out the rain but it wasn’t happening so we got all out waterproofs on and headed off uphill again. The rain was on and off for most of the afternoon. It was really miserable, I had my head down and let the other guys do their usual thing and walk off ahead while I progressed at my own pace. When I caught up to them I didn’t need the break so I carried on. I walked on my own with Bhumeda behind me for about another hour or so, the weather had started to improve slightly but it didn’t last long. The group caught up with me just before we started to ascend up to the campsite – or again teahouse site as the weather was too bad to camp in.

There were a couple of buildings one new and one old (shed), we got in the new build. My bag had still not arrived by the time we got there and the weather was awful, the mist had come in and you couldn’t see anything. My bag arrived after another 2 hours and it was soaked. I had to dry a few things out – thankfully I had enough dry bags in to keep most things dry. (Which is why your own kit bag is better than those given to you on expeditions). We had food (vegetable pizza) and went to bed.

Day 5
Trek to Chunbu Kharka (4300m)

Bad nights sleep, had a headache and felt dizzy – probably more dehydration than anything else, but I didn’t want any breakfast though I did eat some porridge. Today was going to be a long and difficult day with an ascent to 4300m. The weather was good to start with and the trek up from camp was pleasant. We saw a Danfe (Himalayan Monal) bird, which is similar to a pheasant but with colours of a peacock.

We had a rest stop at the foot of a large pass which we would be walking over, it was covered in snow and the clouds had started to form over the pass. It was a long slow hike up and over the pass, I was struggling with a headache still and I was having a hard time. I cried as I walked, wanting to go home and give in, but my feet kept going. It was a tough day but I knew I would get there at some point. It felt good to let the emotion out as I was walking on my own anyway. I caught up with another member of the group and walked with them for a while. We got to what looked like the top of the pass, but it was a false summit.

We had a little break and set off again. It was flat for a little bit then it started to get steeper again as we approached the top of the pass. You could hardly see anything at all. My feet had gotten wet through walking in the snow all day. The mist was thick and you could see hardly anything in front of you. I got to the top of the pass and the snow thickened, it became quite slippy underfoot and the ground started to slope downwards rapidly.

I caught up with the group pretty quick who were stood around having a break. Apparently through the fog there was a beautiful Lake where there were Tridents dotted around for worship. We continued on together and I stuck with the group all the way. There were a few occasions where I almost slipped over, but it was a fun afternoon. About 20 min before camp the porters came out to meet us to give us a hot drink which was needed.

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We got to camp, it was foggy and snowy. It looked really desolate. One of the people in our group was suffering with altitude sickness and went to bed, our UK guide went off to look after her while we had lunch. I had a bit of a headache and took a couple of painkillers, put on a big coat and headed off into the group dining room, where a few of us played cards. Before dinner our guide brought out his ipad and we had a quiz night. It is a real great way to pass time and relax.

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Day 6
Acclimatisation day at Chunbu Kharka

A well needed rest day today. Resting at a higher altitude aids acclimatisation for the group so although we are knackered and struggle when walking it will work better in the long run. We were up at 7am so we had a slight lie in. Its nice in the morning to not have to pack all your stuff up.

We headed outside as it was a beautiful sunny morning, we watched as the other group set off towards Khote. It was such a lovely morning that the porters decided it would be nice to eat breakfast outside instead of inside the dark dining room. After breakfast we had some time to do some washing down by the river.

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We headed out for an acclimatisation walk up above the rim of the valley we were in. I wasn’t really in the mood for hiking with the rest of the group so I set off before the rest of them and eventually they overtook me. I ascended over 100m and stopped.

I sat at this altitude and enjoyed the view. I saw a Pica which is a rabbit cross hamster type animal. I stood around taking pictures and ascended a bit more to get a good view of camp and then headed back down again and sat with the others who had decided not to head up.

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We had lunch outside on the sheet with the others enjoying the sunshine, but as dinner came and went the clouds started to roll in and the temperature dropped pretty quick. We all headed in to the dining room and sat around, some read and others played cards. I brought my music out to listen to. We had another quiz night which was a success again – mainly because we won! After dinner some headed off to bed. I brought my boots and clothes in that hadn’t dried in the sun and sat by the fire with them. I hung them up above the fire and headed off to bed pretty soon after.

Day 7
Descent to Khote in the Hinku Valley (3550m)

Up at 5:30am this morning and ready for 6:30am breakfast and 7:30am departure. After breakfast while others were getting ready I set off on the same route we used for acclimatisation yesterday. I almost made it to the top before the others caught up. The view was spectacular. You could see all the way over to the lake we passed the other day.

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Over the ridge the snowline started. The Sherpas and guides had decided that ice axes and crampons would not be needed but there was still a fair amount of snow and steps that needed to be cut in for us to descend safely. It was nerve wrecking but amazing at the same time. I really enjoyed the descent. Once we got out of the snowline we had a break, the entire view was amazing. We were starting to get into the mountains now and each day would bring us even better views. We stayed here for over half an hour and had a group photo.

We continued down the valley towards our lunch stop which would be in the warmer air. The descent seemed to go on forever, but the further down we went the warmer it got. The porters had picked the most beautiful spot for lunch. It was in a forested area with a slight opening in the trees. Food was as usual really good, we filled up on food and filled up our water bottles and headed out for Khote.

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After dinner there was a beautiful walk through the trees and then a descent down towards the river where we had another break. We carried on along the river and then crossed a little bridge into Khote. It was a long hard day.

The tents were all set up for us as the weather was much better. The teahouse was lovely, it was a new, with a large open area, it was pretty warm inside and the fire was lit early afternoon. We met a lot of other hikers doing Mera peak. I headed off outside and a couple of Sherpas were pointing out a large mountain in the distance which was coming out of the clouds – Mera Peak, which stood a huge 3km above us.

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The WiFi in the teahouse was good and so I managed to get in touch with friends and family back home. It was good to chat to them over facebook. Sometimes you need that extra support that some hiking teams don’t give you.

Fu had arranged to have chicken flown to Khote for me after the message that I didn’t eat pasta was not passed on to the porters in time. It was amazing, everyone loved the evening meal and were really full after. I headed off to bed with my tent mate, there were a fair few dogs hanging around which were really cute and friendly.

Day 8
Trek to Tangnag (4360m)

Up at 6am this morning after a great nights sleep. The sleeping bag was slightly frosty this morning. Packed up our stuff which was a bit more difficult with the two of us in a tent, especially with one stressing out. We headed into the teahouse for breakfast and set off to Tangnag at 8am. The views today were amazing, the sun was shining and the further up the valley we went the more the Himalayas opened up. The walk was pretty flat for most of the way, a slight slope every now and then but it wasn’t too difficult. We arrived at the lunch stop pretty early but it was packed so we headed out onto the grassy area above the river.

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After lunch the hike was pretty tough going, probably because I was stuffed from eating too many hot dogs and chips. We continued on following the river up the valley. The clouds started to cover the higher mountains around us. We arrived at camp at 2pm, so it was a pretty short day.

The tents were already set up for us, so I dropped my bag in and set up my sleeping mat and bag, while it was still light and dry. Headed into the teahouse for a hot drink and biscuits. We stayed in the teahouse for most of the day, it got really cold we had to beg to have the fire lit by offering to pay more money. It was still a bit chilly so I grabbed my down jacket and sat in the corner playing cards. We had another quiz night before dinner. Headed off to bed as we had an acclimatisation walk tomorrow.

Day 9
Acclimatisation day in Tangnag (4360m)

Rest day in Tangnang thankfully. Didn’t sleep well at all as the porters from a few groups decided to have a party outside our tent last night until the early hours. Probably had a good 5 hours sleep so not in the best mood in the morning. The lead Sherpa was not overly impressed with the porters behaviour. Had an early breakfast at 6:30am, and set off for our acclimatisation walk. I just wasn’t feeling it today, I was tired and moody. Once we started to ascend the hill near camp my throat closed up and I was struggling to breathe. It felt like I had a lump in my throat that was cutting off oxygen. I had a word with our UK guide who was pretty blunt bordering on rude with me, saying if I was struggling now he wasn’t taking me any further. It’s not like we all don’t have bad days in life, especially at altitude on little or no sleep. I didn’t need the hassle with him and I think one of the Sherpas felt the tension and told the guide to head on and he would walk with me on my own. I sat down with Eddie – the Sherpa, and we had a chat about the walk and that he was happy that I walk as slow as possible as we were not in a rush to get anywhere and the quicker we did it the more bored we would be back at camp in the afternoon. This was really helpful and very nice of him to do this and gave me some confidence.

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I continued to plod on at my own pace and stopping and starting as usual and caught up with the others while they were having a long break. They continued on upwards and I had a little rest here and admired the views. It was a walk along a wide ridge upto a weather station which was around 5000m asl. Most of the group wandered off to the top of the hill which was up and along the ridge. A few of us sat by the weather station and relaxed a bit and then headed back down to camp.

The walk down was pretty steep and slippy, few times I almost went over. Not far from the bottom of the hill the others caught us up and we walked into camp together.

We got back to the teahouse just before lunch where we were greeted with hot orange juice, followed by food. I felt a lot better in the afternoon after some fresh air and food. We had a chilled afternoon where our guide and Fu the Sirdar gave us all a demonstration of a PAC bag (Portable Altitude Chamber) which is used when someone is in serious trouble with severe AMS, HAPE, HACE etc. One of us got in the bag, it was zipped up and pumped up with a foot pump until the pressure dropped to 2500m which would help with any high altitude issue.

Sat in the teahouse for the rest of the afternoon, played cards, chatted and had another quiz night before dinner. Had our usual hot chocolate before heading off to bed.

Day 10
Ascend to Khare (4900m)

Up at 5:30am and packed our stuff up and headed out for breakfast which this morning was cornflakes and hot milk. It was a lovely sunny day and quite warm. It was a lovely walk along the river for the first bit and then up a quite steep incline to a glacial lake with lots of little balancing stone monuments around. Not sure how anyone has the patience to do that especially during a hike. We spent about 30 min here taking photos and admiring the views.

One of the dogs that joined us in Khote was walking with the other group and then joined ours. After the break the walk was quite steep for a short while and then levelled off and we continued to walk along the riverbed. We had another stop along the river where we spotted what looked like a weasel running along the other side of the river. It was a beautiful walk up the valley which opened up into a floodplain, up in front of us was Khare about another 300m above us. We sat down and relaxed in the sun, the dog was really friendly so I had a few cuddles with him, and gave him some food.

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The walk here to the village was pretty steep but it was only around an hour. We could see Mera La glacier and lots of snow covered mountains surrounding it. It was a nice day to just relax and admire the views. No one was rushing and everyone seemed in high spirits. We arrived in Khare at 11:30 and headed into our teahouse for lunch. Got all our tents sorted out and unpacked sleeping bags.

We got all our climbing gear out and tried on harnesses, B3 boots and crampons. Then trying to put crampons on with gloves, and then we had a race between all of us to see who could do it the fastest. A few of us headed out to go and find the bakery. It was pretty expensive but nice and warm in there, with wifi.

In the afternoon we played cards, and chilled out in the teahouse, looking at maps, discussing the route etc. Didn’t eat anything for dinner as they had only cooked pasta, which I am getting bit fed up with as I told the UK company I didn’t eat it and I am needing the energy more now the higher we get. Headed off to bed at around 8:30 to read a book I had downloaded on my mobile.

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Day 11/12
Rest days Khare

It was a cold night last night. We were up at 6:30am for a 7am breakfast. The dog slept in our toilet tent last night. I felt awful as I know my dogs wouldn’t be able to cope sleeping out in the cold and snow, but these dogs are used to it. I took a few extra bits of bread from breakfast to give to the dog. We headed off out of the village up onto a ridge that sits above Khare. I just plodded along at the back with Eddie, stopping and starting as usual. Only took about 1hr20 to get to the top point. The views were amazing and we spent a while up here. You could see all down the valley towards Tangnang, up over the Mera La glacier and the summit of Mera Peak. We could see groups heading up and over the glacier which looks pretty steep.

We headed off back down towards the teahouse where a hot juice was waiting for us. The other group had set up ropes to practice using ascenders and abseiling with B3 boots and mitts on. They finished up and we had a go on it. The clouds were coming in and it was getting pretty cold. The practice was good, my massive mitts were not good for using ascenders on, so I had to come up with a way to wear mitts and gloves without limiting movement, so it was a good practice session for that. It started to snow a bit so we packed up our stuff and headed into the teahouse for lunch.

We had a discussion about the weather situation and our summit attempt and the guides had decided to stay in Khare one more day as there was quite a bit of snow forecast over the next day or two. Sat with our large down jackets on in the teahouse as it was freezing as the woman refused to light the fire. A few of the group headed off down to the bakery. We played cards and had dinner (pasta again so I missed out on food yet again). Fu did get me some plain rice which was at least something to eat.

The following day the idea was to walk to base camp along one of the routes. But as soon as we headed out of Khare and up I realised I was drained and had no energy at all. Probably due to lack of food for 2 nights. One of the guys from the group had some protein bars in his tent which he told me to go and help myself to, which I was eternally grateful for. Got back to camp, one of the porters came out and gave me some strong juice and I sat with Eddie and ate one of the protein bars. I didn’t want the day to be wasted so I asked Eddie if he could take me on the hill we went up yesterday so I could at least get something productive done. We headed off up the hill and I got to 5100m which was better than nothing.

I got back into camp, chucked my bag in the tent and wandered down to the German bakery to have some food. I knew we were heading up to base camp tomorrow and I needed to have something to fuel me. I had a cheese pizza – I went for something that was least likely to give me food poisoning. There were quite a few hikers in there who had attempted Mera peak the day before and said it was a nightmare as there was a lot of fresh snow making it hard to walk through. I headed back to the teahouse and everyone looked knackered out. The porters had prepared chicken and chips for us, which I tried to force down after being full from the pizza I just ate.

We had a general chat after lunch about what was to expected over the next few days as we head up to base camp and high camp. Headed back down to the bakery again where it was nice and warm. It was snowing again by the time I left the bakery and headed back to the teahouse and sat round the fire reading for the rest of the night.

Day 13
Trek to Mera Peak Base Camp (5100m)

Early morning start, breakfast first and then to the tents to pack up stuff. We had to fit 2 peoples kit into one kit bag. I just packed the kit for the summit and my sleeping bag, and had everything else on. My tent mate was moaning I had taken up most of the space in the bag. We set off later than normal to head to base camp. The hike takes you up and behind Khare on a ridge, the other group were just behind us. Up on the ridge we watched the helicopter come in to take one of their members back to Kathmandu as they were suffering from altitude sickness.

The snowline started just above Khare. There were a couple of us at the back struggling along a narrow path to get up and over the rocks along the route. I don’t really remember the path much as Bhumeda was dragging me up and over at some speed my head was going a bit fuzzy. I think they were trying to get us to speed up but it wasn’t helping much with acclimatisation as I couldn’t catch my breathe and when I tried to slow down and take a second I was being dragged along again. It was nice that she was trying to help but perhaps if I had taken my own time I wouldn’t have had the headache. The base camp the guide had chosen to use wasn’t really a good base camp, there was no room for a mess tent and it was incredibly rocky and uneven. The other group went passed us, up and over Mera La to the other side where they would set up camp at 5300m. We were using tents that had been left there by other teams. We now had to share a tent between the three of us, to save space and also for warmth I suppose. It took a lot longer to set up mats and sleeping bags as there was hardly any space. I felt sick and had a massive headache which I have not had in a while. We ate lunch outside in the cold and then headed off back into the tents. One of our team was feeling a bit light headed and decided to head back to Khare as he didn’t want to risk his health.

A few of the guys headed off to go practice snow skills on the glacier but most of us weren’t feeling up to it so just sat in. I borrowed some cards off the lads to pass the time. We got served dinner in the tents which was good and I ate most of it. My headache was now gone thankfully and I was fully hydrated.

The most annoying thing about 3 in a tent is having to climb over one another to get to the toilet. It is hard work sharing with people you don’t know as tempers are more fragile at altitude and we were not enjoying the time together.

Day 14
Trek to High Camp (5800m)

It was another early start, I didn’t really stay hydrated through the night due to the difficulties trying to get out to go to the loo so I had a banging headache. I didn’t fancy breakfast as they were serving muesli and bread. It wasn’t altitude sickness or lack of appetite, I just wasn’t in the mood for it. I was told by the guide if I didn’t eat I wasn’t allowed to go to high camp as I wouldn’t get there. I took a piece of bread took a bite of it and made sure he saw me do it and then I threw it behind a rock.

We headed out of base camp and just before the glacier we kitted up with harnesses, crampons and ice axes. We would be heading over the glacier in teams. Two of us at the back would be roped to Bhumeda, 3 were roped up to the UK guide and the rest onto one of the Sherpas. It was really steep going at first so it was stop start.

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It seemed to take forever to just get up the first bit. We both made good slow progress on the glacier by having short breaks more frequently. When we got to the top of the glacier  we had caught up with the other group. Fu took over from Bhumeda and put me at the front as we headed on up the glacier to high camp. I was told to stop a few times as I was going too fast for the other person on the rope, so we swapped around. One of the other members in the UK guides team was struggling with dehydration just further on, as we caught them up Fu swapped us around. I was behind the UK guide now leading the other 2 girls on the rope. It was tough going as although I was usually slow I seemed to be alright on the glacier and moving faster than the others.

We carried on up the glacier which was becoming a bit monotonous, you couldn’t see where the clouds started and the glacier ended.

We eventually made it to high camp, both girls on the rope were really struggling to function. I got one of them into our tent where our other tent mate was already sat unpacked. I helped her get her mat and sleeping bag out and sorted while the guide helped the other girl. Both of them were now on Diamox and were not allowed to attempt a summit bid tomorrow. I felt pretty rubbish, it is the highest I have ever been and my head was pounding slightly. I took a couple of painkillers and drank as much water as I could.

High camp was pretty barren, but there were loads of tents there. Our toilet tent was quite far from where we were camping which was annoying as it was freezing cold and the path to it was rocky and narrow, with quite a large drop on one side. At high camp we had to use a bucket with a bag in it. Once the bag was upto a certain level it was to be sealed and replaced. However others in high camp were using our toilet and had not followed this procedure. As you can imagine it was not the nicest experience.

Stood outside for a bit while it was light as both girls in the tent were struggling and having a nap. The views from here were amazing. I took quite a few photos of the same thing just in case. Before dinner I headed back into the tent and sorted everything out for the summit bid that night. I crawled into my sleeping bag more or less fully dressed and waited for dinner to be brought to us. I stuffed it down as I was now hungry.

Day 15
Summit day Mera Central (6461m) and back to Khare (5100m)

Must have fallen asleep at about 6pm so I could at least have a few decent hours sleep before being dragged out at midnight to summit. Our guide came into the tent gave me some paracetamol which I took with the warm water the porters had left me, and had some porridge which I certainly did not feel like. I struggled to get dressed in the tent, and I put too many layers on under my massive down jacket. I was moving pretty slow trying to get my outer boot on over my inner boot which I had slept in to make sure my toes were warm from the start. Eddie came along and helped me get in the harness and crampons. We got roped up and headed out of camp. Unfortunately Eddie headed the wrong way and started to go back towards Khare on the glacier until someone whistled to him. We had to turn back and up which was demoralising.

Once on the right path I was slow. Exhaustion from the day before and altitude sickness were draining me. I had put too many layers on and I was burning up. I noticed the view around me as there was a full moon and Everest was lit up. I continued to make slow progress, my head was pounding and I started to feel sick. I had maybe been gone a couple of hours by now and not made much progress out of high camp. The path during daylight didn’t look as steep as what it felt now. I had a word with Eddie about my altitude sickness and unfortunately he had no idea about if what I was experiencing was normal or severe. I continued a bit further up but my headache got worse so I made the hard decision to turn back around and head back down into high camp. I was absolutely devastated to come so close. I got back to the tent and crawled into my sleeping bag and tried to sleep, but my sleeping bag was cold and I found it hard to warm back up again.

Eddie came to get me at 5am to watch the sunrise over the mountains. I felt a lot better now after more rest, which is sods law. We headed on out to where we walked earlier and looked back over to see Mount Everest, among several other 8000m peaks including Cho Oyu and Lhotse. It was well worth getting up for. The sky was a lovely pink colour and it was nice and calm. I took a load of photos knowing I would never try to climb Mera Peak again. I headed off back into camp after an hour where everyone else was getting up.

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The remainder of the group that didn’t attempt the summit due to altitude sickness (5 including myself) packed up our stuff and headed off down to Khare. Going down the glacier I could have imagined how much easier going up would have been if we didn’t have the clouds as the views were out of this world. We could see Everest for the most of the descent off the glacier until the clouds rolled in again as usual. We had a good laugh on the way down as most of us started to feel better the lower we got.

When we got to the steeper sections of the glacier towards base camp we had a go at abseiling. It wasn’t needed but we had the time and the energy to have a go at it. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. We got back to base camp in good time and some of the guys that summited were catching up with us having more or less run down the glacier.

The route from base camp to Khare was covered in snow, making crossing a bit treacherous. Eddie stayed with me helping me across some of the slippy sections. By the time we had crossed this bit we were a full team again as the summit guys had all caught up with us. They looked knackered. We headed back down into Khare together.

My tent mate decided to stay in the teahouse that night meaning I had a 3 man tent to myself which was bliss. A few of us headed down to the German bakery for hot chocolate and wifi. We had a good evening meal in Khare followed by cake and an early night for everyone.

Day 16
Trek to Khote (3600m) 

It was a really long night as most of us went to bed very early. I had the tent to myself and it was amazing, lots of space so I could take everything out of my bag and rearrange everything.

Everyone was more energetic this morning at breakfast after resting yesterday afternoon and an early night. We headed off down to Khote which was going to be a long day but easier as it was downhill. I strapped my leg up with so much kinesiology tape in the morning to ensure my knee made it all the way down with as little pain as possible.

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It was a lovely walk, very relaxing, everyone was more or less walking together and chatting. We followed the river down back the way we had come up. The weather was alright in the morning but just before the lunch stop it started to snow and rain on and off. We headed into a little teahouse for lunch, which I wasn’t really wanting. I hadn’t worked hard enough to work up an appetite from breakfast yet.

There was a lot of hot drinks on offer which we all took advantage of as the temperature was dropping the longer we sat in the teahouse. We were in no rush to set off in the bad weather so we relaxed a bit longer than usual.

By the time we left the teahouse it was snowing. The walk from the lunch stop to Khote seemed to take longer than from Khote to the teahouse on the way up. Due to the bad weather Fu had decided to check us into a teahouse for the night. The teahouse was pretty nice, we were all chilled out in the main room, a few people were having a few beers. As usual a few of us sat around and played cards until dinner came.

Day 17
Trek to Thulikharka (5400m) 

An early start today, the weather had improved massively, the sun was shining and it was quite warm. Today was going to be one of the toughest days, we have been on this trek for nearly 3 weeks and we were ascending yet again to get over the pass before we drop down into Lukla. When we seemed to start ascending we dropped back down to the river again, which was a bit disheartening.

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After about an hour of leaving the teahouse we started the proper ascent to get up the pass. I really couldn’t be bothered with today, I wish I had got a helicopter out of Khote, just to save 2 days of hard hiking. It was a really steep ascent and all of it was steps. It was a lovely walk, the views down were beautiful. We stopped off for lunch at a little shack. I was pretty hungry by the time I stopped. Cheese toasties, beans and chips. Everyone was loving it, definitely the best lunch we have had so far on the trip.

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Set off after lunch at a very slow pace as lunch was still heavy in my stomach. It was again another straight up section. The weather started to get worse and the snow started to fall. My hands were freezing. I kept pushing upwards, not stopping that often and we caught up with the others before the campsite. With awful weather again we were put in the teahouse. It was a pretty good teahouse as there was a large fire in the middle of the room downstairs and upstairs were the bedrooms.

We were all sat down around the fire, with one of the lads sharing his haribo tangfastics with me, which I was extremely grateful for. We were told we may need another day to get to Lukla as the weather was deteriorating rapidly and they were consider about the amount of snow on the other side of the pass. The other hikers were in the lodge with us had a few issues with frostbite which our guide and one of our team went to help out with.

Day 18
Trek to Lukla (2800m) 

It was our last day of hiking today, thankfully. There was some ill feeling within some of the group, me and my tent mate were hardly talking anymore, there were a few other group issues as well. The morning brought sunshine thankfully. There hadn’t been too much more snow since we headed to bed last night. After breakfast we headed off up and over the pass.

It was uphill straight away but we were all in good spirits. There was only another few hundred metres to ascend to get to the top of the pass and the views all the way up were fantastic. We got to the top of the pass and started to strap on our crampons. We split up into groups to get across the next few bits. There was another group that caught us up that had no crampons on at all and were attempting to get down in front of us. It didn’t work and our Sherpas had to help them along as it was steep and slippy without the crampons.

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We got across this section in a good time which Fu looked surprised at. Apparently the extra night was suggested as our guide didn’t think I would be able to make it to Lukla in the day. I was pretty miffed at this as although I was at the back everyday I wasn’t that far behind everyone at the end of the day. Fu mentioned this in front of a few other members who looked a bit shocked that this was suggested.

We took our crampons off and threw them in the bag for it to be taken down to Lukla. I am not sure why we took our crampons off here as the journey down was still pretty snowy and extremely slippy.

We got to our lunch stop at around midday, we could see Lukla from our lunch stop but it was still a fair few hours away, but the view was beautiful, it was really warm and we were surrounded by trees.

We headed off down again after lunch through the Rhodenedrum forest, the further we descend the warmer it gets. We started to cross rivers again via suspension bridges and started to see small houses dotted near the path. We got to Lukla at around 3pm, the first sign was the noise of the planes still coming and going which is unusual in the afternoon in Lukla.

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We headed to our teahouse and got into our rooms, a new luxury arrived in Lukla – sit down flushable toilets. Amazing! We changed our flights as we arrived in Lukla a day earlier than what our flight was booked for. No one wants to stay in Lukla longer than what is needed as its just a gate way to the mountains, with a few touristy shops and bars. We all wanted to get back to Kathmandu to have hot showers and clean clothes!

We got together and put tips in an envelope which was going to be split out between the porters and Sherpas. We were also asked to give any gear which we didn’t need to the Sherpas and porters.

A couple of us headed into Lukla for a bit of a wander round, I wanted to see how much it had changed since I was there last. Turns out, quite a lot, the entire centre was now paved and there are more shops and bars now.

We headed back to the teahouse, where I had a glass of wine and we had fried chicken and chips for our last meal altogether. I started to come down with one of the colds that another team member had had, some stayed out with the porters a bit longer and the rest of us headed off to bed.

Day 18 to 20
Lukla

It was cloudy and I knew full well we wouldn’t be flying anywhere today. We had breakfast, sat in the teahouse for a few hours while they decided to tell us that we weren’t flying out and that we would try again tomorrow. We could hear helicopters taking off and heading out but it was still too dangerous for planes. We headed off out to a café in town and had a few drinks and they put on some movies for us, there was also free wifi in the café. Quite a few of us stayed down there all day and night and ate there as well, even though the porters offered to feed us back at the teahouse.

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Another day in Lukla, got up and the weather was great first thing. We were stood outside the teahouse for quite a while as planes were coming and going. We headed down to the airport and sat around waiting for ages. By the time we were coming to get out luggage checked in the runway was quiet and everyone noticed that flights had stopped coming in. I headed outside and the clouds were gathering in the valley. We had some talk about getting a helicopter out of Lukla at our own expense, but it was $300 each which was a lot of cash and not everyone had credit cards on them. We were told if we chose to get a helicopter out then we would be on our own and had to sort ourselves out as we would be leaving the tour. Our guide was on the phone to the UK tour company while we were in the café in town, and we were told that they would get us a helicopter out tomorrow if needed as international flights for some hikers were the day after.

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Another morning spent in Lukla airport with a fine morning to start with and we headed off out to the airport again. We checked our bags in and flights were coming and going. We were on the 3rd wave of flights to leave that morning. The first and second came and went and then it all fell silent again. You could see people getting really annoyed with the situation, we were stuck in Lukla again and if we didn’t get the promised helicopter out that afternoon most of the group would have to rebook their flights out of Kathmandu.

Our guide was on the phone to UK travel group, it took a while to get through to them to try and sort out what was going to happen. The news wasn’t good, they said they would try arrange a helicopter but we would have to pay for it ourselves. Something we wanted to do a few days before but weren’t allowed to do if we wanted to stay within the group. One of our group members took it upon himself to talk to the tour company on everyones behalf to try and get us out that day.

Most of us got our bags from the runway and headed out towards the teahouse again. A few of the Sherpas came down to meet us to help us take our bags back to the teahouse. When we checked in I got a room to myself. We had a group team meeting trying to get what our situations were and what we wanted to do. The general consensus was that the UK tour group should pay for the helicopter out that afternoon to ensure we all got our International flights. People were getting really angry and there were some nasty remarks flying around towards other people in the group for no reason at all. It was a horrid situation and really ruined the end of the trip.

We all headed down to the café, the atmosphere was really horrid. Our guide joined us later to tell us the news of the fact that they had booked us a helicopter for tomorrow morning and rebooked the flights that were booked as a package, but it was at cost to us. Some of the group had a bill of £450. For the ones that had booked own flights later on we just had the bill for the helicopter. I stayed in the café and had several glasses of wine and read for a bit. A few went back to teahouse for food and then they came back down later and we went out for drinks in the Irish bar. We were annoyed at how we were treated and felt that the end of the trip had soured the rest of the hike. We headed off back to the teahouse, I sorted my bag out yet again, got rid of the stuff that I wouldn’t be needing and headed to bed.

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Day 21
Lukla to Kathmandu (1400m) 

We were up early again, stuffed breakfast down and carried our bags down to the helicopter pad. We had no idea what time our helicopter was due so we had to just stand and wait. Our contact in Kathmandu kept saying the helicopter had taken off, but its only 50 min flight and we were still waiting 2hrs later. People were getting more and more annoyed at this delay. It was starting to get close to our Sunday night flights at this point.

The first helicopter arrived at about 1:30pm and those with flights out that night were put on the helicopter. I got in the front as I am not a fan of helicopters, I like to see whats going on. The pilot was great, he was talking through flying and what the weather had been like over the last few days. Apparently its been on of the worse pre-monsoon seasons he has seen. We arrived in Kathmandu at 2:30pm, got our stuff and a minibus was waiting for us to take us straight to the hotel. I was lucky enough to be offered one of the girls rooms so I could shower and change before I had to head back to the airport. I grabbed a couple of glasses of wine and gave one to the lass who lent me her room. The other lot of the group were not too far behind us.

The shower felt amazing, it was great to get clean and put on clean clothes. I repacked my bag for the airport, thankful it was the last time I would be doing it for a while. I got all my stuff in the pack dragged it out of the room and put it near reception. I went to go find some of the lads and we went to go and eat in the hotel. I could have eaten loads. The food was amazing! I had a more wine and sat by the pool with them.

We got to airport in good time, checked in, and got upgraded to business, where I enjoyed a few glasses of champagne and slept. It had been a very busy day. Got to Abu Dhabi got a bit of food and then headed back to Manchester to drive home and sleep.

 

Looking back it was a good trip, some days were harder than others and it was soured by the last few days. You always take a gamble going on these trips getting put with people you just don’t get on with. This was one of those trips unfortunately. I did get on with the majority and we had a good laugh. It did put me off doing anymore expeditions but the longer it has been since the trip and the more I talk to other companies I have got my passion back, and I am off to the Pyrenees in January and Anconcagua December 2019. Different challenges and more physical as it is not serviced by porters. I am looking forward this side of the challenge as although not a technical climb it will be a completely different experience.

Just remember if you are having a bad day, you won’t be the only one. Be as relaxed and open as possible and look at it as once in a lifetime. There is no need to be rude and bad tempered as this can then have an effect on the rest of the group. Its a team effort and everyone should be there to support each other!

 

Journey to Iguazu Falls

The journey to Iguazu was extremely long, we had set off the night before from Bonito on a shared bus driving all the way through the night to get to Foz do Iguacu on the Brazilian side. We arrived at about 6am after 8hrs on the bus. It wasnt comfortable and I had a lass next to me that kept leaning on me through the night and waking me up. I suppose its all the experience and character building.

When we go to the hotel we were all pretty tired and grumpy, we had breakfast at the hotel and they allowed us to check in early. We headed upstairs to our rooms and crashed for a couple of hours. It was a good job we got to have a sleep as I had ben looking forward to seeing the falls since I booked onto the trip.

We headed off early afternoon to walk around the Brazilian side of the falls. We parked up had some very expensive lunch at the café entrance and headed off to the start of the walk. Our guide was really informative however all I wanted to do was walk off to look at the falls. The guide was discussing the fauna and flora that we could see in the area, the most famous being Coatis, which I hadn’t seen yet. Our first view of the falls were well off however it was beautiful. We were told to not take too many pictures at the start and just to make our way to the end of the track

Iguazu Falls are located on the Iguazu river on the border of Argentina and Brazil. It is the largest waterfall system in the world with around 275 waterfalls and around 62000 cubic feet per second of water cascade down the falls. In rainy season the larger falls can join up to make one large fall. Iguazu is also one of the seven natural wonders of the world and when you’re there its not hard to see why.

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We did spend a lot of time at the end of the walkway and I must have taken well over 200 photos between my phone and camera. We headed off out of the park and towards the very expensive hotel which is located within the national park we had a seat outside in the sun with a glass of wine with a lovely view of the falls in the distance. A few of us had decided to go for a helicopter ride over the falls and to meet up with one of the other group in the Bird Sanctuary across the road afterwards. I was a little nervous as I am petrified of flying at the best of times. One of the guys jumped in the front and me and my room mate went in the back and then a random guy jumped in with us which was a shame as my room mate was then forced to sit in the middle where your view is pretty rubbish. However we worked it out so she could get some good shots. The flight was only around 15 min and most of that time was flying to and from the falls.

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The views were well worth the expense and its something not everyone gets a chance to experience and I would recommend it.

After the high of the helicopter ride we headed over to the Bird Sanctuary, it wasn’t that expensive and it was brilliant. Most of the birds you get to see up close as you can go into their aviaries. I spent about 30 minutes in with the hummingbirds trying to get a perfect shot of one of the hovering. I managed to get quite a few good shots though so it was well worth it.

That night we headed out for a group meal to a restaurant near the hotel. Eating out in Brazil is a bit different as most places are normally buffet style – price per head or price per weight. It is very meat orientated as well so can be difficult very vegetarians to have a varied diet. The drink was pretty cheap in the hotel so my room mate and myself shared a bottle of wine. We all headed off to bed pretty early as it was going to be a long day on the Argentinian side of the waterfalls.

Our group merged with another G Adventures group that morning to get to Iguazu on the Argentinian side, just to make it easier for the border crossing. It was a very odd set up, we technically speaking never left Brazil so we had an entry stamp into Argentina but not out of Brazil.

It was a bit of a mad rush to get on the train in the national park to get down to Argentinas most famous waterfall “Devil’s Throat”. The train is very small and they cram you in the seats and it moves incredibly slowly, so be warned if you don’t like small spaces. Once we got there we sat around and waited until the rest of our group arrived and headed off down the pathway across the river.

There are around 14 waterfalls making up the Devils Throat which plunge around 350ft into the river below. In the video clip above you can see Great Dusky Swifts which fly very close to the waterfall. The spray is immense and rises high above the waterfall. It truly is spectacular and I don’t think words, pictures or videos can summarise just how amazing this place is.

After the Devils Throat we headed back up on the train and headed off around on one of the many walks that you can do around the national park. On the Argentinian side there are a lot more waterfalls and it is slightly better however if I had a choice to do both again I would as the Brazilian side gives you a better perspective. But if you do the Argentinian side first don’t expect too much from the Brazilian side. The walk went on for a couple of hours and we took our time and just enjoyed the scenery.

We did have a close encounter with a Coati which came down from one of the trees next to me which was brilliant. They are extremely cute.

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After this long walk we had a nice sit down in the sun having some lunch, in my case this was an ice cream chocolate milkshake. We hung around for the jet boat experience which we had paid for yesterday. This experience takes you on a boat up the river very close to the waterfalls and underneath a couple of them.

The trip to the jet boat dock was very good, we had a guide who spoke about deforestation and the animals that can be found in the area. We got on the jet boat at the back as apparently that was the best seat. It started out pretty slow however it soon picked up. We got to go under two waterfalls, one rather small one which was a tad disappointing and then a very big waterfall. We did not go under this waterfall however from the video below you can see we got soaked anyway, and it was incredibly fun.

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After this we walked up to the top of the path and headed off towards the van for our return trip to the hotel in Brazil. A couple of us booked onto a night time tour of Iguazu as it was a full moon event, so we had to get back to Brazil eat and come back again in a taxi on your own. We got a taxi from our hotel across the border into Argentina and he waited for us while the tour took place which is a few hours so be prepared to pay a little extra.

If the night time tour is an option you get then I would definitely suggest booking onto an early slot. We were told to get there for 8pm however our tour didn’t start until 9pm meaning we wouldn’t get back to the hotel until close to midnight and we had to be up very early the next day. It was very cold at night in the park and I wasn’t dressed for that, so I was freezing. We got on the train and had the slow ride back down to Devils Throat. By this point I was cold and tired and a bit annoyed at the organisation of it all, however as soon as we got to the falls I was amazed. The full moon lit up the water and it looked fantastic. I was also surprised at the heat coming off the water, making it actually quite warm by the water. I took a lot of photos but only a few came out which showed the light on the water, my camera got soaked in the process as the breeze was blowing the spray towards the tourist deck.

All in all, every single one of the experiences at Iguazu was amazing and should be a must do for anyone visiting Argentina and Brazil. Not many people get to see Iguazu at night so if there is a full moon when you are touring I highly suggest you book early and get on the trip, as we were lucky that our guide managed to sneak us on.

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Gruta do Lago Azul and Rio da Prata Snorkelling

While travelling through South America (La Paz to Rio de Janeiro) with G Adventures we met up with fellow travellers that had travelled from Brazil in the Salt Flats in Bolivia. We were chatting about best things to do in Brazil and they told us about Rio da Prata which was apparently not to be missed (they had missed out due to not knowing to pre-book). While I had wifi I contacted the hotel we were staying in Bonito and tried to get all of us on the tour as we didn’t want to miss out. We had almost 2 weeks to wait and see what was to come, but we were assured it was spectacular. Its the only activity in my years of travelling that I have booked that far in advance.

When we got to Bonito we were greeted by thunderstorms – all afternoon and night. It was very impressive. We had arranged to also go to Gruta do Lago Azul (Blue Lake Cave) in the morning then head off to snorkel in the afternoon however due to the storms and the amount of rain coming down both activities might be cancelled and it would be the only day we could do both as we were leaving the day after. We tried to get sleep through the storms and hope that the trip we had planned weeks ago would not be cancelled.

We got up at 6:50am for 7am departure to head out towards Gruta do Lago Azul, not knowing if it would be open for us to venture down to see. The weather had finally cleared up and the sun was shining and the ground had already started to dry up so we were all hoping that the water might have subsided. Thankfully when we got there they had the open sign out.

Gruta do Lago Azul means Blue Lake Cave. As the name suggests its a cave with stunning blue waters. Amazingly we had to wear hard hats to go down into the cave (so far in Brazil the health and safety had been lacking). There are ALOT of steps going down into the cave, these were very slippy from the torrential rain the night before.

As you descend into the cave you are surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. The tour guide did speak a bit of English but our G Adventures guide decided to come along for the entire day so she helped with the translation.

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Between September and February the waters are an intense blue colour. There are prehistoric fossils which have been found in the cave which unfortunately you cant see, fossils include a giant sloth and a sabre-toothed tiger. You can spend hours staring into the beautiful blue water and trying to capture the perfect shot. The photos below have not been enhanced on photoshop – it really is that blue!

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From The Gruta do Lago Azul we headed towards Rio del Plata. We had a lovely afternoon chilling out in the hammocks and enjoyed a very delicious buffet lunch. We waited around for around an hour and a half before we were called to get kitted out in wetsuits. The area is protected so wetsuits are mandatory to protect the waters, they also ask you not to have freshly applied suncream as well as it can pollute the water.

The tour starts with a 4×4 drive to the start of the trail which leads through the forest of the Prata River and its tributary Olho D’Água River. The area is protected by a Private Reserve (RPPN). The trail leads to the main spring of Olho d’Água River where the snorkeling tour begins.

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As soon as you get in the water you are amazed about how crystal clear the waters are. We snorkelled around the entry area for a while, so you could adjust the snorkel mask and for the guide to make sure you would be safe and listen to his instructions. The tour was amazing, the waters were so clear, there were hundreds of fish all around you. I have uploaded some videos and photos from the tour, however it doesn’t capture the tranquillity of the area or just how beautiful and how well the Brazilians look after the Olho D’Água. They are very proud of the area and try hard to keep it pristine for future generations to enjoy.

 

The video below is further downstream so there are less fish but still the crystal clear waters and surroundings make it very enjoyable. You don’t really need to swim, just float and let the light current take you downstream. They do ask you not to move arms and legs much in the water as well so you don’t disturb the ecosystem.

You do have to get out at one point along the way and walk for a bit, this is so you don’t get taken down some white water. You get straight back in though and continue your journey towards Prata River. There is a large area where you can jump in and take some good photos. None of us wanted to do this but we did take a couple of underwater shots.

From this point you continue downstream and you can tell immediately then you hit the Prata River as the water temperature drops a few degrees. You do have the option to get out here if you are tired or cold, or you can continue snorkelling downstream to the get out point. The river is not as clear here but there are some really big fish you can see which are worth it.

Overall this trip is well worth the money, it might not be cheap but the memories last a lifetime!

Enjoy!

Mera Peak Planning/Training

After my trip to Kilimanjaro I wanted to go for something a bit more technical and challenging. I had doubts about going back to Nepal because even though I love the country I was a little nervous about the flight into Lukla. However after doing some research it seemed to be the best place to take the next step in altitude.

As with most mountain hiking you need a general level of fitness, add into that altitude and walking for 19 days in a row you need more than your average weekend hiking fitness.

Mera Peak is 19 days on the mountain, with 14/15 days from arriving in Lukla to summiting and then 5 days back to Kathmandu. A high level of fitness is required for these trips as most days involve 8 hours or more trekking on a daily basis and most of this is at high altitude.

My main training for Mera Peak is aerobic fitness, mainly running. I was enrolled in the Paris Marathon which was to take place a couple of days before I flew out to Nepal but due to running injuries in February I pulled out as I did not want to risk ruining my chances of walking. I also try and get out walking as much as possible, but with weather in the UK being very stormy this year, time on the fells has been limited.

I am currently supposed to be on a strict diet to try and lose a bit of weight before I go and to detox my body. However its not gone to plan. I am currently at t-minus 21 days before I fly out so I am going to try cut out more alcohol and fatty foods and try and eat healthy for remaining of time.

When booking with a well established and highly recommended company like Jagged Globe you’d expect the best advice and support. Which is exactly what you get with them. From the moment you book to before you go any questions you have you can phone and email them and they will bend over backwards to help you.

As soon as you book you are asked if you would like to join in with the pre trip weekend. It is not mandatory however but it is in my opinion worth going. You tick the box to indicate you are interested and then they send an invite out closer to a time when a date is arranged. They also have an expedition shop, which if you book a trip with them, you get 15% off RRP. The guys in the shop have done some of the trips and know what they are talking about as well.

Another recommendation before Mera Peak was to go on a winter skills course. Just so you get an idea on ice axe and crampon use, as well as avalanche awareness and ice axe arrests.

Pre Trip Weekend in Peak District

The pre-trip weekend was the first weekend in February and it was extremely informative. Jagged Globe provided all the information you could think of and more from kit you are definitely going to need to different types of kit you can use (B3 boot variety), altitude sickness, food, welfare facilities, first aid, conditions and experience. Information such as delayed flights to and from Lukla, the famous airport which is renowned for delayed flights was discussed. I was more concerned about getting out into the mountains rather than getting back however we were notified that there were provisions in place, in such circumstances as it was not an unforeseen circumstance to them as they were well experienced.

They had opened the shop to sell items that we hadn’t bought yet, or in my case tempted me with a few extra midlayers.

After the morning presentations we headed out for a walk in the Peak District which was really good as it gave us an opportunity to walk and talk with those on the same trip as others or a modified version (Mera Peak and Mera and Island Peak trips). There were also a couple of guys on Everest South Col Expedition who were great to talk to for advice as well. That night we headed back to the offices for a traditional Nepali meal with a few drinks followed by a presentation.

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On the Sunday we headed out to Peak District again to practice ascending techniques, rope work and abseiling. This was really good practical advice session with the ability to test out the skills needed on the trip, especially for those like me who have never used rope work to climb before and very little experience abseiling.

The group seemed to bond really well, especially six of us on the Mera Peak Expedition. We also got on with the group doing Mera and Island Peak as we will all be heading off up Mera Peak together. We set up a WhatsApp group to keep in touch with each other.

 

Scottish Winter Mountaineering Course

Although not mandatory Jagged Globe and other providers do suggest competence in winter mountaineering, (ice axe use, crampon use, experience in long cold days). I chose to do this course with Jagged Globe for ease and because they offered the best structure over the week.

The course was based in Ballachluish between Glencoe and Lochabar. It consisted of 5 full days training followed by presentations at night. It was extremely well put together and was appropriate to the skill level and competence of the groups. There were seven of us in the group and all of us (except one) were beginners when it came to winter skills.

The first day was an introduction into avalanche risk assessment using apps and weather conditions while at the hotel and then using knowledge developed on the slopes assessing type of snow and slope angles. Another skill was the basic use of crampons, walking techniques, cutting steps, ice axe arrests. It was not an overly long day however the skills learnt would set us up for the remainder of the week.

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Photo credit – M Duffy

The second day was a longer day using skills gained to assess avalanche risk to assess which side of the mountain would be safe to climb and which areas should be avoided. Assessing weather conditions forecast to ascertain if it would be safe to go out and attempt a munroe with factors like wind speed, visibility and precipitation taken into account. We headed out to Glencoe to climb Buchaille Etive Beag – Stob Coire Raineach. I have climbed this before in winter conditions and I knew it was going to be a tough hike. The snow was extremely deep going uphill and I was carrying an injury from running so it was tough going for me and I fell behind. I did feel a bit pathetic as mu calf muscles were burning up with the constant steep uphill but I kept plodding on.  From the ridge we put our crampons on and got ice axes out and continued towards the summit. I was not confident in coming back down with crampons on as it was steep however the guides were very patient and helped me along. The view from the summit was spectacular, one of the best views I have seen from a summit, as everything as far as you could see was covered in snow. After the summit we built a snow cave suitable for all of us. We were split into two teams, one starting at entrance and exit and making our way inwards before turning to create a U shape.

On the way back down towards the vans we had a bit of fun going down on our backsides as some sections were quite steep and it was safe and deep enough to have a laugh. There were some sections on the way down were set up for small avalanches which our guides decided to set off to show us how they occur and what signs occur just before. A note to say that this was done in safe conditions without risks to others.

Day 3 was a right off for hiking out on the fells due to severely high winds and heavy rainfall/snowfall. However as this was a course the guides went through other options of things we could do that day such as a lowland walk or a day in the Ice Wall and Climbing Wall in Kinlochleven. We chose to spend the day in the ice wall/climbing wall. Although this was not winter mountaineering as such this was a fabulous day and I learnt a lot of new techniques such as belay work, rope work, figure 8 knots, ice climbing, crevasse rescue, prussic loops, general rock climbing and abseiling. I really enjoyed the tuition from Ed and Mark which was fun and yet informative.

Crevasse self rescue using prussic loops

Day 4 was a little better weather wise, still high winds and heavy snowfall however it was safe enough to try and get out on the fells. It was decided to try part of the West Highland Way from Glencoe over Devils staircase and into Kinlochleven. It was really interesting as all features that you would use for navigation were covered in snow and so we were shown how to get round this, as well as avalanche and drift assessment enroute. The wind was very strong gusts upto 40mph at some point which was enough to bash me around. It was a beautiful walk and a lot of fun as we got to enjoy winter walking and safety.

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west highland way – photo credit C Wood
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weather improving – photo credit C Wood
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white out – photo credit A Howarth

Day 5 – I didn’t go out on day 5, I wasn’t feeling well and my calf muscles were screaming due to the running injury. The rest of the group headed out back to Buchaille Etive Beag to summit a munroe and to practice snow anchors etc. I headed back to the hotel and had a chat with Ed about Mera Peak and training etc. Then I headed for a slow gentle walk at the back of Ballachluish which was lovely. I enjoyed the walking at my own pace without feeling rushed and the peacefulness.

Overall the course provided a good background knowledge for winter walking, I would however state that a high level of fitness is required to do this course. I would like to repeat this course next year and gain more skills but my fitness would need to improve a lot.

 

Journey to the Incas – Machu Picchu

I started in Huacachina which was a very small oasis town surrounded by amazing sand dunes. The journey ahead of us was around 745 miles which would take over 28hrs. There is a direct round from Huacachina to Cusco through the mountains from Nazca however this is not widely used due to the rise in hijackings. The bus was a great double-decker with wide reclining seats and extremely comfortable. Our first proper stop was the Nazca lines, they are believed to originate from the Nazca people between 500BC and 500 AD. The stop was by a tower which you climb up to look down on the lines, not all of them and not the best ones e.g. the monkey, however they are still Nazca lines and it still counts. It didn’t feel very safe going up or down and they do try to make sure people come down before they send the next group up but as always there will be a few tourists who ignore this rule.

I slept pretty well overnight on the bus, it did get pretty cold though so extra layers are recommended. We arrived in Arequipa very early in the morning to drop off most of the passengers and pick up some to take to Cuzco. From Huacachina to Arequipa we gained probably close to 2000m. From Arequipa to Cuzco the journey got harder as we started to gain a lot of altitude (4200m), I started to get symptoms of altitude sickness (severe headache and nausea). I took a few painkillers and tried to sleep through it. We arrived in Cuzco in the evening after over 28hrs on a bus. As the streets of Cuzco are quite small we had to get in taxis to get to our hotels. This took a long time as streets were closed off for a religious parade and there were a lot of cars crammed into a very small area.

Cuzco is a beautiful historic city with a population of around 420,000 people. It used to be the capital of the Incan Empire and is situated at 3400m asl and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture within the city centre is amazing, lots of old beautiful buildings and narrow cobbled streets. However it is rather modern with most of the shops catering for tourists including a KFC and McDonalds. Cuzco does offer more traditional foods such as Llama and Guinea Pig, the latter looks more like its been steam rolled and fried, not appetizing. The Llama however was lovely and can highly recommend.

 

There are plenty of outdoor shops here for last-minute items and you can usually get a good deal due to exchange rates. In the branded shops there is no haggling as they are authentic. The markets in the centre are amazing, lots to see and spend money on! Most of the stuff in the markets is not hand-made no matter what they claim, it falls apart pretty quickly and I wouldn’t wash them in a washing machine, but they serve a purpose to keep you warm.

The main reason most people go to Cuzco is because it’s the gate to the Incan empires, the most famous being Machu Picchu. This was the reason for my visit, Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list a long time.

The Inca Trail takes a total of 4 days of hiking at altitude up thousands of steps and then back down them again, the highest point is Dead Womans pass which sits at 4125m. As the trail is extremely popular I booked it well in advance with G Adventures so they could organise the walking visa and the porters and guides etc. The Inca Trail visas can sell out very quickly as they restrict the amount of people on the trail to keep erosion down. From experience now I would hesitate on booking with G Adventures again for this trip as they are expensive and compared to other companies they don’t offer the best service. The guides and porters however were fantastic they were locals and very enthusiastic about their history.

The first day on the trip was a meeting which took place about a mile from the hotel at G Adventures headquarters. We went through what to expect on the trek, if anyone had dietary requirements and checking everyone’s details were correct. My passport number was wrong so I had to stay behind call my parents and get my dad to take a picture of my old passport and send it via messenger (a G Adventures mistake). Thankfully after 90 minute of hassle of them telling me I would have to pay for a new one it was sorted.

The next day we set off to Pisac we spent around an hour walking around the ruins and admiring the stunning view, it was also a great opportunity for us to get to know each other before the hike. From Pisac we headed towards the G Adventures supported Womens weaving co-op, this provides a great opportunity to local communities to provide housing and education to young families. The weaving is all done by hand and is amazing to watch these women at work, they use natural dyes and wool from Llama and Alpaca. The product produced is all high quality and is available to buy, if I had known how much they were before heading out I would have taken more money and bought a jumper (£70), it is always worth haggling as they are expensive. I did buy a beautiful scarf for £25. We stopped for lunch at another G Adventure supported Parwa community restaurant in Huchuy Qosco. The food here was very rich but delicious. After food we sat outside and watched our guides (Daniel and Alex) play a version of swing ball. After lunch we set off for our lodge in Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo is a beautiful spot, its also where tours take the train to Machu Picchu. We settled into our lodge, got our bags for our trek which the porters would be carrying and I tried to pack some of the stuff I would need for the trek. It didn’t work, I seem to have too many clothes to fit in the bag and I was way over the weight limit. Daniel arranged for us to have a tour around the Incan site there.

Ollantaytambo is a town and also an Incan site situated at 2700m asl. It is said that Ollantaytambo was the estate of Pachacuti who ruled the region. It was a stronghold during the Spanish invasion to hold off Spanish forces from heading on to the sacred city of Machu Picchu. However after defeating the Spanish in a fight near Ollantaytambo the rule Manco Inca withdrew to Vilcabamba leaving Ollantaytambo deserted. The ruins here are some of the most impressive Incan ruins I saw in Peru, with large granite blocks used as base stones for temples and houses.

The sites here are very impressive, Daniel was very enthusiastic in telling us about the history of the place.

That night we went out to a local restaurant and had some food as a group, afterwards a few of us headed out to a little bar where we had a couple of drinks (hot chocolate), some stayed out into the early hours where as the rest of us headed back to get some sleep.

 

Day 1

First thing we had to do in the morning was sort out our tiny bags with everything we would need for the 4 day trek. We all knew of the strict restrictions for our little rucksacks so I was pretty tough on things that had to go in. First in was the sleep mat and sleeping bag so there went 4kg of my allocated 6kg, pyjamas, portable battery charger, spare trousers, underwear, deodorant, baby wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste, couple tshirts, socks, down jacket, and a spare jumper (waterproofs were in rucksack). Obviously this was over the limit, I ended up carrying my down jacket and chucking out a tshirt, trousers and a jumper. I didn’t have enough really to keep me warm and to change at camp if I got wet.

Our Inca Trail group consisted of 6 lasses (including myself) and 3 lads. 2 couples – Stijn and Alexandra and Alex and Shelley, then Sorcha, Kellie, Lindsey, Sean and myself. The couples had their own tent, Lindsey and Kellie shared, Sorcha and myself shared and Sean had a tent of his own.

We set off on our minibus to the start of the Inca Trail at a place called kilometre 82. Our porters had to sort through all of our bags and weigh each one and split the load of food and equipment between them. We were handed a little bag of goodies which we packed up, then I got harassed by women selling rubber bottoms for my walking poles. Apparently on the trek you must have the rubber bottoms on poles as they are worried about erosion on the footpath. I reluctantly had to buy them as I was warned if I was caught without them they would take the poles off me. We set off to the starting checkpoint and waited until our porters went through and then we set off after the mandatory starting team “sexy llama” photo.

It was an undulating start to the walk as we followed the river down the valley, we saw the tourist train taking people to Aguas Calientes where they can get the bus to Machu Picchu. The walking was moderately difficult but more to do with the altitude than the actual trail, there were a few very steep bits but Daniel made sure we had a few rest stops along the way, but he was adamant that we would all stick together on the first day. We came across our first Incan site of the trip called Llactapata, from the site itself you looked down onto farming terraces and across the Andean valley, the views are pretty spectacular.

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We had a snack stop where everyone ate the snack pack we got given, to be told that was to last us for the full 4 days. When we set off towards our camp for the night the group started to break up a bit, the majority at the front, me on my own in the middle and Alex and Shelley at the back with Alex. The trail was rather quiet so it was a nice peaceful walk for me.

The Wayllabamba campsite was already set out for us with our tents facing towards a lovely view through the trees or the Andes at a glacier just about visible through the clouds.  Daniel arranged for us to meet the porters and chefs that would be helping us over the coming days. They introduced themselves and Daniel translated Quechua to English for us and vice versa when we introduced ourselves to them. After this we headed into the mess tent to get ready for our food. There was a good choice of food available even for a fussy eater like myself and anything I didn’t want to eat did not go to waste. It was a great group and we all got along well straight away, Daniel ate with the porters while the other guide Alex sat and joined us, after food we played charades for a bit then headed out to get ready for bed. Unlike other companies we didn’t get a private toilet so we had to use the public ones which were disgusting, I won’t go in to detail but imagine the worse toilet you have seen and multiply by 10. A few of us sat outside for a bit star-gazing as the skies were clear and there was no light pollution, the milky way was clearly visible. After sorting our tent out me and my campmate settled in for the night.

 

 

Day 2

We were woken early in the morning by the kitchen porter who brought us a hot cocoa tea to wake us up and a fresh bowl of hot water to have a wash and brush our teeth. The morning was pretty cold and we wrapped up to go to the mess tent for breakfast. Today was going to be the hardest day as we were heading over Dead Womans Pass which would be the highest point of the Inca Trail at 4125m asl. Our guidance today was that it would be extremely challenging and we could walk at our own pace, however we were to stop at dedicated checkpoints and wait for the others. We all set off together and soon the faster walkers broke off to lead the way. I wasn’t walking on my own today as Kellie decided to stay back and walk at a slower pace. I can not tell you how many steps there were but it was in the several thousands.

It is probably one of the toughest hiking days I have ever experienced and that includes summit day on Kilimanjaro . There were a lot of people on the trail today both going towards Dead Womans Pass and coming back the opposite way. I think it the trail is massively underestimated by people. We hit the first checkpoint (Ayapta) in good time however we were the only ones there, the lead group had forgotten to stop. We waited for the last couple to arrive with Alex and we set off again at our own pace to the next checkpoint. This section was a lot harder as it was straight up more or less, constant stairs, there was a group of 4 of us (Stijn, Alexandra, Kellie and myself) that more or less stuck together. The views looking back down the valley were fantastic, the higher we got though the colder it became and I could see clouds coming in. At the second checkpoint (Llulluchapampa) the lead group had stopped, we sat down here for a while and had a chat shared some biscuits etc and relaxed before the next big stint which was reaching Dead Womans Pass which we could see towering above us.

We headed off up the path together, but after putting on layers below I started to burn up so had to take some off, then it started to rain so had to find my waterproof jacket, so I fell behind the group. By the time I had reached Dead Womans Pass I was knackered, cold and wet. Daniel wanted us to stay there to wait for Shelley and Alex but it was freezing and we were all getting extremely cold just standing around. We decided it would be best if we headed on down and waited somewhere more sheltered. Turns out this would be back in camp.

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The path down was horrendous, the steps had become death traps and the knees took a hammering even though I had my poles. Walking poles with rubber bottoms on didn’t really do much in the rain as they slipped as well. One or two of us took a tumble coming down, however to keep spirits up we played games. The rain was continuous and heavy, by the time we reached Paqaymayo Camp we were all knackered and wet through with most of us not having anything dry to change into (due to limit in luggage). As we reached our tents the porters were there to welcome us and applaud us. We chucked our things into the tents and headed for the mess tent to have a hot drink and to our surprise popcorn and lots of it! After a quick light lunch we chilled out in our tents trying to keep warm, I tried to write in my diary and had a chat with Sorcha, while snuggled in our sleeping bags. When we eventually clambered out of our tents the clouds were clearing and the sun was beaming down the valley, we had an amazing tent pitch for the views.

 

We headed over to the mess tent early to have hot drinks and a chat, followed by some dinner and then we chilled out for a bit afterwards and then headed out to our tents. The clouds had all cleared now and the stars were out and the view of them was spectacular. A few of us got our cameras out and were trying to take photos of them. It was a tad difficult without a tripod but I got a couple of blurry shots.

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Day 3

We woke up to the usual morning from the porter and a cup of coca tea, we were all in high spirits as today was an easier walk, the weather looked marginally better and it would be our last night camping. So we set off into two hours steep uphill to the Incan site of Runkuracay (3950m). The path up was packed with tourists, most of whom you had to carefully manoeuvre past as they were not in for giving you space . Runkuracay was used by runners as a resting point to get messages from different Incan Sites like Cuzco. The weather started to turn and we soon had our waterproofs on again.

After this first uphill stretch the walk was more undulating and a lot easier on the legs. There were still some steep up hill stretches and more steps downhill which were still challenging due to the rain. There would have been some amazing views had the clouds not been surrounding us, but it was probably best as there were some sheer drops off the footpaths and they were not fenced off. Most of the group stayed together today and we started to play a few riddle games like Around the world etc.

Our lunch stop was supposed to be one of the most beautiful views of the day however we couldn’t see 10ft in front of us so we missed out on that. The lunch today was incredible. It was a massive buffet lunch full of everything and anything you could wish for. The buffet included, pasta salad, chicken nuggets, mashed potato cakes, pizza, stew etc. but the best thing was the chefs had made us a personalised sexy llama sponge cake. We were all very full and in good spirits even though the weather was still damp and miserable.

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I have no idea what they put in the cake but we were all in very high spirits and giggling (maybe lots of coca leaves were used) we started having a bit of a sing song as we descended down some steep steps to take our mind off them. Our next Incan site some of us decided to skip as it was up steep steps and it was pouring down with rain so we carried on to the next site which was where the Incans used to do their sacrificing – sometimes human sacrifices were used but mostly animal.

We had a choice when we came to crossroads to either descend directly to camp down some steep steps but get there early or to go the long way round to view Intipata, we all chose to go to Intipata, and we were all glad we did. The sun started to come out and the clouds lifted on our way around to the site.

Intipata “sun terraces” and is mainly used for argiculture with a lot of farming terraces and a few storage buildings and houses at the highest points. It is thought that Intipata was probably used as a farming land for Machu Picchu. It was forgotten about after the Spanish invasion and was left to be claimed back by nature, however since the 1940s archaeologists have begun excavating the site and they are still slowly uncovering new terraces and buildings.

​We stayed around Intipata for quite sometime as the views across to the Andes and glaciers were spectacular, we could also see the back of Machu Picchu mountain.

We got to camp later than usual, we got settled into our tents, organised the porters tips as this would be the last time we would see them. After dinner Daniel(as our interpreter) and one of our group presented the tips to the porters. After the presentation and the thanks, Daniel discussed our options for tomorrow morning. We had 2 options, first was to get up very early, miss breakfast and get the to check point before other groups, or get up later miss the rush and get breakfast. We all decided that beating the crowds would be a great option even though we had to be up at 3am. Needless to say we had a very early night.

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Day 4

We were up at 3am, I went to bed more or less fully clothed so I didn’t have much to sort out in the morning. We set off to the checkpoint which I thought would be a few mile walk but turns out is 3 min down the hill from our tents. We were the third group there. It was freezing cold, we all huddled together and played charades to pass the time as we had to wait until around 5:30am for the sun to come up.

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The reason you can’t go through checkpoint earlier is for health and safety reasons, there are long drops at the side of the paths and they don’t want any accidents.

When 5:30 arrived and we went through after having our permits checked, Daniel shot off at some speed. It was hard work keeping up with him but most of us managed it, I was jogging for some of the time to try to keep up.  He set off at this pace so we would not be overtaken by other groups meaning that the Sun Gate would be quiet.

We were all layered up and as we were walking we got pretty hot so Daniel stopped after 20 min to let us take some layers off but he only gave us a 2min break before he was sprinting off again. We all started to separate, I was slowing down a bit but caught up with the group when they were having a breather so I decided to plod on knowing they would at some point catch up. The final challenge to get to the Sun Gate was climbing up “Gringo” stairs, so named as we climb up rather than walk up.  The steps were not as bad as I thought but they were still pretty tough.

We got to the Sun Gate around 6:30/7 and we were awarded amazing views of Machu Picchu, the weather was perfect, the sun was burning the clouds away. I was surprised to see so many people already in Machu Picchu with us being the third group to set off and us overtaking a fair few people on the way to Sun Gate. It turns out that those who get the train to Aguas Calientes are allowed to get the bus and into Machu Picchu at around 6am, which was a bit unfair as we couldn’t go through the check point until 5:30am meaning there was no way we could beat the tourists there. You would think those that have hiked 4 days to get to this point could be given 6:30-7:30 to enjoy the sites alone!

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We stayed at the Sun Gate while Alex and Shelley arrived  and had a few group pictures and then descended into Machu Picchu. We went to the famous photograph point overlooking Machu Picchu and had around 20 minutes here to take photos, which is good as by the time we got here it was packed with nice smelling, clean and tidy tourists. After this we left Machu Picchu to hand in our walking poles which are not allowed in the ruins themselves, we had a light snack at the restaurant on site – which was expensive, and we got to use nice clean toilets.

We re-entered Machu Picchu to have a guided tour by Daniel. We sat down on the grass near Llamas which were free roaming the site, and listened to the information Daniel was telling us. After the brief introduction we had a walking tour and then we were left to explore ourselves. By the time we were off exploring the place was packed with tourists, slow tourists at that, and having been walking for 4 days and not had washing facilities etc it was a tad annoying. Around 8000 people a day visit Machu Picchu mostly by train/bus.

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We saw quite a lot of the site but we were all pretty knackered so we found a place to admire the view and chill out in the sunshine.

After our free time we got the bus from Machu Picchu down to Aguas Calientes and had lunch there and then back to Ollantaytambo on the train. The train was fantastic, it had a partial glass roof and they gave out snacks and drinks. None of this mattered to most of us as we fell asleep.

From Ollantaytambo we had the very long journey back to Cuzco on the bus which seemed to take forever. The views were great though as always in Peru.

Back at the hotel we checked in, got washed up and headed downstairs for food and drink to celebrate our journey.

 

The overall experience of the Inca Trail is amazing, but what makes this trip extra special is the people you share it with. Being a single traveller can have its ups and downs but I thoroughly enjoyed spending the week with these guys and couldn’t have imagined better people to share this experience with.

It’s a tough trek and it is clearly underestimated by some, but keeping your head up and laughing through it is the best thing to do, otherwise the entire trip will be ruined. Some days it rains and you don’t get to see anything, and for the most part that’s what we got, bad weather and poor visibility so we didn’t get to see everything. However after 4 days hard work we got lucky on the last day, the day that what really mattered. From my travels I have met a lot of people doing this trek or just taking the train and bus up, and some of the photos you can’t see Machu Picchu at all, it’s the risk you take in the mountains. So go to enjoy the experience and to say you have done it!

Virgin London Marathon 2017 – Stroke Association

As I am sure most of you will agree, every April when the London Marathon comes on, I used to sit in awe and watch the thousands of people run for charities, some dressed in amazing outfits and some not so much. I always had a desire deep down to run the London marathon but never got around to trying to train for it or even trying to enter it. There are a lot of things you have to give up to do a marathon and I just couldn’t be bothered – not even going to try and make excuses.

So obviously I did the London marathon otherwise this would be a pointless blog. Back in 2016 I remember watching the end bits of the general mass marathon and thought it’s now or never. I had to keep my fitness up as I had booked to go on trip to Kilimanjaro, so I entered VLM ballot in May. I also decided that the odds were slim, so I entered in for a couple of charity places close to my heart. One being Cancer Research – though the amount required was a lot more than others, I have a close friend who has suffered with cancer, as well as other people I have known at work. The other charity was Stroke Association in memory of my Grandma.

To get a charity place it seems the biggest sob story wins. It’s sad but true I’m afraid. I think the basis in this is if you are emotionally attached to the charity you will do your upmost to raise as much money as possible. As I said, Stroke was a charity which did mean a lot to me as my Grandma suffered a few strokes in her life. The first one I remember I was in high school and she phoned me mum up in the morning to say something wasn’t right. She was as good as she could be and was refusing to go to hospital. From that day she was on stroke medication, there were a few lapses, but she never let it slow her down and stop her. My Grandma was a massive part of my life, she was there from day 1 and I saw her almost every day. When I went away to University I called her almost daily and when I went backpacking around New Zealand I was on the phone to her weekly and sending her gifts and photos back. She was my best friend, someone who was always there for me whenever I needed her, someone who wouldn’t drop me as soon as a better thing came along. I went off to Australia for a year and telling my Grandma she wouldn’t see me for a whole year was heart-breaking, we were both upset but she encouraged me to go and live my life. Unfortunately, this would be the last time I would see her. My Grandma passed away in February 2013 while I was in my final months in Australia. It has been almost 5 years and it still hurts as if it was yesterday. I want to call her and tell her everything I have been up to. The idea of running in memory of my Grandma was because I knew she would find it funny, me trying to run 26.2 miles when I have never been a runner, and I knew she would support me all the way.

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Anyway, moving on. Stroke Association liked my reasons for wanting to run for them and I was selected to be a part of Team Stroke in July 2016. I was shocked at first, I didn’t know what the hell I had just signed up for and I was also excited. I told my parents and my Uncle and got onto booking my hotel in London before the prices shot up.

First things first, I had never run before, never even tried that hard to run, as I used to get really tired very quickly. I started with 0-5k concept but in my own way. I had a stretch of quiet road I could run along with my dog where I felt like no one could laugh at my pathetic attempt at running. I started with running 30s and walking for 1min over 5k distance. Over time I reduced the walking time so that I was running 30s walking 20s and then one day I more or less managed to run the full 5k, with a few little walking breaks in the middle. My trainers were not the best that I was running with, so I went out and got a new pair from a local (ish) running shop. The guys in there were great and really helped me out. I knew I was an over-pronator, but they advised me to get a neutral shoe and some insoles. I went with Asics Nimbus 18s which were a fantastic trainer, wide fitted and unbelievably comfortable.

Team stroke set up a Facebook page for all its runners which was a really good source of information and encouragement. There were a lot of amazing people on that page, all running for the same charity but for very different reasons and one of the best things we did was to share all our stories on why we are running. I asked permission to share these stories on my Facebook page, as I found it hard to get donations in from friends on Facebook. I thought that sharing other people’s experiences with stroke and how the charity helped them might show people how amazing the charity was. It didn’t work but at least I showed people anyone can be affected by stroke.

I continued to run every weekend slowly increasing my distance and occasionally I did the odd 5k during the week after work, but it was getting dark and as usual wet in the North of England, so I tended to shy away from training. The more I trained I started to get excruciating pain to the side of my knee. I went to the doctor to get referral to physiotherapy where they diagnosed me with ITB syndrome and I was told to stop running for a while. It didn’t help that I had a sprint triathlon to do and a total warrior. I still did these, and I don’t regret doing them, but it did push my recovery back as I seriously messed my leg up. The physiotherapy was OK, but I didn’t seem to be getting any better with the exercises. I continued to get as much mileage as I could under my belt without hurting myself, and continued to do the exercises given to me.

After Christmas I was struggling to do anything passed 10k which is not great considering I was going to have to run over 40k. I decided to ditch the physiotherapy and go to a private sports therapist to try and sort my issues out. I ended up black and blue in my first session as I also had Piriformis syndrome which can cause ITB. I was given stretches and massage techniques to do before and after exercising and told to go easy on the foam roller as it can cause knots as well as release them.

I seemed to improve a lot under my sports therapist, and my mileage started to increase again, but then I had another setback and had to return to treatment. My sports therapist was not convinced that it was just piriformis causing my ITB and started to look for other causes and found out that I had flat feet, more so on the right then the left and gave me a company near me to go and see to have specially made insoles to correct the pronation and flat feet. After I put these insoles in I had no issues at all with ITB and to this day I am still ITB free. However, I do a lot of stretches before and after running.

The longest run I did was just over 13 miles and that was in March. With all my injuries and time off etc I should have been up to at least 18 miles as my longest run, but I was far off that. However, I was determined come marathon day I would push myself and get over that finish line. What was a bigger motivation as well was the fact that my parents were coming down to support me and my uncle and his partner were also making the journey to cheer me on.

The night before I was due to leave for London we went to visit family friends as it was their youngest daughters 18th birthday, unfortunately I over-indulged a lot and was a tiny bit ill that night and the next day. I woke up drunk still and had to get to the train station which was a 50-minute drive away – enter super dad who I had to wake at 6am to drive me to the station, drive back and then drive himself and my mum there a few hours later. Getting drunk was not the greatest idea I have ever had but I was enjoying the night.

I was staying in Greenwich as it was close to the start and easy enough to get to (once I had figured out the tube system). I had to go to the VLM convention which was on the other side of London and grab all my gear. It was a nightmare, there was so many people trying to get there the trains were rammed and getting into the hall to get your stuff was not great for someone who doesn’t like large crowds. The convention itself was very good but I didn’t stay too long as people were pushing and shoving, and others were just stopping mid walk.

I did get to meet one of my fellow team stroke members in the convention which was great, it was really nice to meet someone I had been talking to on the Facebook group for months. After here I went back into the city centre to meet my parents and grab a bite to eat before I went back to my hotel for a goodnights sleep.

The next morning, I was a nervous wreck, I got up early and went for breakfast at the hotel, it wasn’t the best breakfast, no cereal, no porridge, so I ended up with just toast. I headed back to my room put the news on to watch the build-up, I managed to eat the porridge I got free from the convention the day before. I started stretching and foam rolling to do everything possible to make sure I made it through the race in one piece. I checked and posted an update on my fundraising page this morning and shared on Facebook, I had almost reached £2000 by the start of the race.

I headed towards the start, the energy in the atmosphere was amazing, everyone was in a great mood and you could see people start to make the way to line the streets. At Greenwich park I met up with fellow Team Stroke Runners, I handed my bag into the coaches and went to queue for the toilet with my energy drink, met some really nice people in the queue all running for different charities. It took almost 20min to get to the toilet and when I left there were still lots of people queuing and it was 9:50am. I headed to the starting pen and met up with Mark a fellow Team Stroke runner who had lost his running partner and also a rhino and a guy running in heels.

The buzz in the pen was fantastic I was nervous and excited at the same time, over 30,000 people were running with me to complete one of the best-known marathons in the world, I just couldn’t believe I was there with them. Mark and I agreed to run with each other until he could find his running buddy which was good for me as I had someone to pace with at the start to make sure I didn’t set off too quickly. Ten o’clock approached and we could hear those at the front counting down as it started to filter back, then a loud claxon and we were off – kinda. We were at the back of red start, right at the back. It took us 35 min to get to the start line where we had to step on the starting mat to activate our timers.

The support along the route was fantastic, live music loads of people clapping, giving people high-fives, it was great. It is hard not to pick up your pace at the start as you’re on a high, but Mark kept slowing us down to make sure we were running a comfortable pace. The amount of people on the side of the roads didn’t diminish much in the first few miles. I started to need the toilet after the first couple of miles but everyone we went past was packed with people and the lines weren’t moving very quickly. Just after a Lucozade sport station there was a single portaloo at the side of the road with just 2 people queuing, so Mark and I joined that. I have no idea what the first person was doing in the toilet, but they were in there for about 5 min. In total I lost 10 minutes waiting for the toilet. The Cutty Sark was great to run past and first time I saw any photographers, it was slightly disheartening as we were still in Greenwich and about 10min walk from where I stayed last night, and we had been running around 45 min with an average pace of 11min/mile. My target was still in sight which was a finish of between 5-6hrs.

We were approaching Tower Bridge which I was really looking forward to, the bridge is between mile 12 and mile 13. We saw Team Stroke cheerleaders at the side of the road which was really great. As I got onto the bridge I did a live video stream onto Facebook to tell people to donate to help me reach the target. As I got half way along I heard a scream of my name which could have only been my parents. I turned and there they were with my aunt and uncle. I ran over and jumped on them, tears in my eyes, I didn’t expect to see them anywhere on the course as my mum hates the Underground, so I arranged to see them at the finish. It was a great boost to see them. Mark had waited for me while I said hello, and I ran to him and we carried on.

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This stretch from mile 13 to 24 is the hardest. As you cross Tower Bridge you can see people on the other side of the road on mile 23. It’s a long 11 miles, the crowds dissipated, and my body was aching. We started to walk from mile 13 onwards as it was faster than running, my body was aching. The Isle of Dogs was hard, there’s not much London scenery. My parents and aunt and uncle met me again coming back down to Tower Bridge. The crowds are fabulous cheering your name on telling you, you can do it gives you such a rush, it’s also emotional. The miles seem to be going up slowly. I remember passing Adam Woodyatt as he was running, and we were walking.

Coming into the city centre at mile 24 was great, there were loads of people, all with beer in hand and Haribo which were needed. Hearing “Kayleigh you can do it, it’s so close” was fabulous, I did have a few moments where I had tears in my eyes. Coming down Victoria Embankment was great the London eye was on the left and I could see Big Ben in front of us. As we turned right at the end of Victoria Embankment Big Ben was on my left there were so many people screaming and cheering everyone one, we were still walking at this point and I tried to get into a run, but I was in so much pain. The clock was ticking down we were approaching 5hr50, I started to jog as we started to run past St James Park. I could see Victoria Memorial approaching and I started to speed up around the corner. The finish line was in my sights, I could see we only had 3 min to get to the finish line to finish before 6hrs. the photographers were there, and I put my hands up in celebration of getting there, crossing the line I grabbed Marks hand as we started together we were finishing together.

I was so happy I had finished a marathon, I may not have run it all, but I participated, I raised over £2000 for charity and I loved it. Having the medal put over my head I thought, I am never taking this off. I went to have my finishers photo taken and we went to collect our bags from the coach. I had a message off my dad, he had missed me finish as apparently, I was going faster than they had anticipated and we were going to meet at the Team Stroke after party. In total I ran 27.4 miles as its only 26.2 miles if you stick to the yellow race line.

Mark went off to meet with family and friends and I headed off to the after party which was across the Thames near the London Eye. It was a tad far from the finish line. When I got there, I booked in for a free massage and went and sat down with family and had a large glass of wine, followed closely by another one. We all went and had a nice walk around to London Eye but for some reason it was closed on Sunday in April, so we couldn’t go on it. We had some really nice pictures taken by the London Eye overlooking parliament. My aunt and uncle left to go back home to Worthing and me and my parents had a little walk around, and then I head back to my hotel for a hot shower and a well-earned McDonalds.

The support I had from the Team Stroke Facebook page and family and friends was amazing. I wouldn’t have raised £2000 if it wasn’t for the generous guys I work with at BAE, with them paying for the many cakes I brought in and also just in general donating their money for a great cause.

I would recommend running London Marathon to anyone, it was a fabulous experience, something I would love to do again in the future. The crowds make it extra special.

 

Conquering Kilimanjaro – my experience!

Kilimanjaro, known as the roof of Africa, one of the seven summits of the world and one of the seven volcanic summits, as well as the highest point in Africa. It rises above the East African plains rather impressively with its stunning snow-capped peak. It was formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. There were 3 distinct cones – Shira, Kibo and Mawenzi. Mawenzi and Shira are now extinct volcanoes where as Kibo is the largest cone is still active, but lays dormant. Uhuru peak is the highest point on Kibos crater rim at around 5895m.  According to our guide Kilimanjaro means the white mountain or shining mountain as a rough translation as the glaciers on top reflected the sunlight.

According to history Johannes Rebmann was the first European to report the existence of Kilimanjaro in 1848. The first known people to summit Kilimanjaro were Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889. Since then there have been many trekkers attempting to summit Kilimanjaro breaking records for the fastest ascent and descent in around 7hrs, youngest and oldest summiters etc. Now most people do it for the experience, some even raising money for charity along the way.

Since I was 16 I had wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, I had seen it on a trip to East Africa on a school trip. I wasn’t even big into hiking back then but I liked the idea of a challenge. However time passed and I started to travel the world visiting places I hadn’t been before. The main reason Kilimanjaro was not on my list mainly was because I had been to Tanzania and I wanted to see places I hadn’t been before. In my late 20s I got back into hiking more seriously and after a night with family friends I mentioned climbing Kilimanjaro. I remember my Dad saying it would never happen as I had been saying it for years, whether he did this on purpose to give me a kick up the backside I don’t know, but it did. The next day I went into Ambleside and booked on February 19th 2017 expedition with Adventure Peaks.

Routes

There are several routes up Kilimanjaro that I had to choose from, and it all depends on timescales and budgets. The routes are; Northern Circuit, Machame, Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Umbwe and Shira and Mweka (for descent only). Marangu, Machame and Umbe approach from the South of the mountain. Lemosho, Shira approach from the West and Rongai and Northern route from the North.

  1. Marangu is the famous “Coca Cola” route, it is the classic trek on Kilimanjaro and takes around 5/6 days depending on if the company offers and acclimatisation day. It is the only route to offer sleeping huts along the way and is considered to be the easiest path to the summit. The downsides to the route are that the summit success rate is not as high due to lack of acclimatisation on the mountain and the lack of scenery.
  2. Machame or “whiskey” route is now the most popular trek on the mountain, it is a steeper more difficult climb and it takes between 6/7 days to summit. This route has higher amount of hikers on it so in high season you may find steeper harder sections bottlenecked. Descending down Mweka route.
  3. Lemosho is one of the newer routes on Kili and therefore has less hikers, it is also one of the longer routes taking between 6-8 days to summit. Lemosho joins onto Machame route around Shira camp 2. Not all Lemosho routes stay at same campsites, our expedition did not stay at Shira Camp 2 but at Moir camp which was slightly higher. The scenery is considered the most beautiful with panoramic views most days around the plains of Africa. Descending down Mweka route. One of the most expensive routes.
  4. Shira is nearly identical to Lemosho route however instead of hiking to camp 1 Shira route takes a vehicle and then hikes to Simba camp. The route then is identical to Lemosho. Although this is very similar to Lemosho you start at a higher altitude which could be a problem for acclimatisation. Descending down Mweka route.
  5. Northern circuit is the newest circuit on Kilimanjaro, the route follows the Lemosho trail but then changes to the rarely visited northern slopes. It is the longest route on Kilimanjaro with a recommended 9 day trek. Descending down Mweka route. It is the most expensive route out of all the routes on Kilimanjaro.
  6. Rongai approaches from the north and is the only route to start from the north. This route has low traffic and is better if walking in rainy season as the north side receives less precipitation. The duration of this trip is between 6/7 days. Rongai route joins up with Marangu route at Kibo camp and descends down Marangu.
  7. Umbwe is short, steep and direct route to the summit. The duration is between 6 – 7 days however this route has tough acclimatisation and therefore summit success is also low. The route descends down Mweka.

I chose Lemosho route as I wanted the extra days on the mountain ascending slowly to increase chances of acclimatising enough to attempt the summit. Personally the extra expense and extra few days is worth it as after all we are probably only going to attempt this once and I would like my chances of reaching the summit increased.

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Altitude map courtesy of Ultimate Kilimanjaro (http://www.ultimatekilimanjaro.com)

Weather

So after choosing the route the next question is what time of year. Kili is open all year to climbers however with every country there are better times of the year to hike. As Kili is equatorial it tends to have wet and dry seasons rather than the usual four seasons we are used to. December to February and June through to October are considered the best months to summit. June through to end of August are the coldest months on Kilimanjaro, but have lowest precipitation and therefore the crowds tend to be at a peak. December, January and February are warm with the off-chance of rain and again because of this the crowds are high. March, April and May and November are the rainy seasons and so therefore the amount of climbers reduces. It is really personal preference when you climb. I climbed in February and the rainy season had come in early. It was still warm but some days we got rain, and one in particular it rained all day.

Trekking Company

I chose Adventure Peaks as they were a local company and had been very knowledgeable and helpful with my questions. I don’t know why but for some reason the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro sparked an interest in me to climb all seven summits, a target I admit will never happen, more due to funding than passion and determination, but the staff were more than happy to talk through a training plan. Climbing Kilimanjaro wasn’t cheap either, I had to buy a lot of new kit and going with Adventure Peaks meant I had a 10% discount in store which was handy being so close to home. A personal advisory kit list is listed at the end, it can vary during different seasons but I have listed what I found useful and things I wish I had taken!

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Packing Nightmares

The trip itself started at around £1800, but it could be split in instalments which were easier on the wallet, although they did charge extra to pay by credit card which I think is a bit unfair when you’re paying so much out. I elected to book my own flights as the ones they booked left from London, and from talking to the others on the tour they went via Nairobi and had a long layover.

Not long before the trip was to start I got an email from Adventure Peaks to say the price of the climbing visa had risen and so they were charging everyone an extra 10%. I phoned up to find out what was going on, as it was a fair amount of money to have to pay for close to trip departure and out of the blue. Apparently in the contract I hadn’t seen or signed it does say that they can increase prices at whatever time they choose upto 10% of the total price. It just so happened that all their trips had a price hike at the same time so I am doubting the legitimacy of the Kilimanjaro climbing visa increase, as I would assume that would not be a percentage of the total price but a few extra quid! I was stuck I either had to pay or cancel the trip and lose my flights and my deposit so I had no choice but to cough up the extra cash.

It is worth noting that I paid a UK company to take me up Kilimanjaro, however, once we were booked on the trip, as there were only 5 of us we did not get a UK expedition leader. All treks on Kilimanjaro have to be through local tour operators using local guides and porters. It is sometimes worth doing the research as you can save around £600 booking this direct with tour operators in Tanzania. The tour company that lead us were very good (Kili Worldborn Safaris) and the equipment although old was suitable and sufficient. The guides speak very good English and the porters although don’t speak perfect English they do try, and they are very polite. If a UK company is offering the tour you are now probably looking at £2000 so if you are going to pay that much ensure that a UK expedition leader will be going with you, if not then book direct and save the cash.

Fitness

Kilimanjaro can be climbed by almost anybody, it’s not a technically difficult mountain to summit and as long as you are fit and healthy and take your time hiking then it is achievable. Most people seem unimpressed when you say you have summited as it is looked at as an easy mountain. However after my own experiences and reading several mountaineering books I think the general consensus is that it is massively underestimated. I would say a good level of fell fitness is needed before anyone attempts Kili, there are long days of hiking mostly going uphill but on Lemosho there was a fair few downhill areas, which were draining as you knew at some point you would have to hike back up what you just came down.

I was accepted into the London Marathon for April 2017 so I was running on a weekly basis as well as a few hikes now and then. I literally could not run when I first got accepted for the Stroke team so my main training was running. It seemed to work, yes I found it hard but I wasn’t exhausted everyday apart from summit day. I did hill walking once a month, to ensure that the right muscles were being used. I had damaged my ITB while descending down a fell in the Lake District so after I had that sorted out I was a little nervous about doing too many hikes before the trip.

What to expect

A few things to note before going into a day by day account of time on Kilimanjaro is the trekking times companies say it takes to walk from camp to camp can vary massively. Most days we would set off early and maybe walk for 6-7 hours which the information was pretty close to. The guide will watch your progress and will become very accurate on how long it will take you to walk somewhere as a group. However summit day was supposed to be a hike of 10-14hrs which by anyones standards is a very very long day hiking and at altitude this is a lot worse, this was not how long we walked for, it was a lot longer! Our summit bid and return to Mweka camp took 18hours. It was 18 hours in total, 15 hours of walking – 8 hrs to summit, 3 back to Barafu and 4 hours from Barafu to Mweka. It is an extremely long day and very tough so please be aware of this.

Be a team player, it’s not nice to have people walk off and leave you behind at the back of the group on your own, some people may take longer and you should physically walk at your own pace but stop every now and then have a breather take in the views and wait for them. Climbing Kilimanjaro is a marathon not a sprint and it’s always nice when you arrive in camp together as a team. You are spending a lot of time with these people, you eat together, some will have to sleep in same tent with others (unless you pay for single tent) and you spend all day in each other’s back pockets so being nice and waiting is key. Helping each other out and encouraging those that are struggling means a lot to others, summit day was a hard slog and I think at one point I was close to tears but the other 4 members of the team picked me up gave me the encouragement I needed.

The weather can change rapidly at altitude, you might be walking in blistering sunshine – where you can get burnt very easily. I had factor 30 SPF and ended up using someones factor 50 SPF as 30 was nowhere near enough. It was not hot at higher altitude even though the sun was shining down on us. It can rain/snow/hail a lot, so decent waterproofs are a must as are layers. It also gets very cold at night and on summit day, so ensure you have a lot of thin layers and a warm down jacket.

The food on the mountain is very good, a big surprise to all of us to get 2 courses every day twice a day. It is important to try and eat as much as you can as you need a lot of energy to hike at altitude. We had pancakes, toasties, chicken curries, pasta, rice, lots of soups, etc. If you are a fussy eater, tell them when booking to ensure that there will be food for you to eat everyday. I did tell my company this but the information was not passed on, so make sure that they do this.

The Trek

Day 1 – Lemosho Gate – Mti Mkubwa

Distance – 4miles

Time – 3-5hours

Altitude – 7742ft – 9498ft (2360m-2900m)

Landscape – Rainforest

Today was the first day the whole team would be together. I had met Rob, John and Alison (briefly) the night before and had a meal and a few drinks with them. I got up early to try and get a look at Kilimanjaro from the hotel terrace as it had been cloudy the previous morning by the time I had gone up to look. It was just breaking dawn when I got up onto the terrace and I was alone, it was beautiful, the birds had just started to come out and there were still a few bats flying around. As the sun broke it lit Kilimanjaro up, its immense presence looming over Moshi, there was a faint mist around the lower half of the mountain which reflected the colour of the sunrise. The snow-capped peak was shimmering in the sunlight. I was sat there quietly admiring the view until I was interrupted by Japanese tourists yelling and shouting and pointing pushing past each other to get a picture (the terrace was huge). I reluctantly headed off back to my room to finish off sorting my clothes out with what I would need for the trek and things I could leave in the hotel.

I headed to breakfast worried about what the next 7 days would bring, would I get ill? Could I make it to the summit? Would I even enjoy it? At breakfast I met the others and James who was the final member of our team. First impressions looked like everyone would get on really well, everyone was excited but nervous at the same time and were looking forward to the challenge. We headed to reception with our kitbags and daypacks in tow and sat waiting for the company to arrive. When they eventually turned up they picked our bags up chucked them into the back of the minibus and bundled us on-board, still none the wiser about what was happening or how the trip would go. The journey to Londrossi Park Gate where we would have to register for the hike took around 2 hours. Something we weren’t told about was the fact you would need your passport to register, most of us had our passports packed in our kit bags which we had to rummage through to get.

At Londrossi Park Gate the porters and guides sort through all the bags which are then weighed individually as each bag has a weight limit (15kg). There were a lot of groups waiting here and we were one of the last ones to arrive so we settled down on some benches and started to chat to get to know one another. Our guide Felison came over and gave us a packed lunch and stayed with us for a bit, he told us a bit about what to expect over the next few days. We were here in total about 3 hours before we were ready to head to Lemosho Gate.

Lemosho gate is around 2300m the gate sign itself says 1800m, no one is 100% sure which one is more accurate, but this one is the one with biggest variation along the route. We headed off slowly or as Felison says “pole-pole” which is Swahili for slowly-slowly, which was to a theme for the next 7 days hiking. It was a steady pleasant hike through the rainforest where we stopped often to admire the surroundings, toilet breaks and snack breaks. We did see some monkeys along the route which was fantastic. The weather was warm and it was rather humid under the canopy of the trees. The trek itself was not difficult and was undulating in favour of gaining height. There were no issues with altitude as they don’t normally start until you are above 3000m which would be tomorrow. I was on Diamox by now which a well-known side effect is the need to go to the loo more often. It is a pain but also a good way to keep track of hydration, sounds gross but it is the most important thing while hiking at altitude. As you would expect there are no toilets along the route so you have to find somewhere private to go, a note on this section is that bees nest in the ground so watch out.

We got to camp just before nightfall, it seemed quite a busy camp as there were a lot of tents put together. All our tents were up as the porters had shot off at the start at an impressive walking pace, not something I would have liked to have kept up with. A first for me while camping was the provision of a mess tent where there was a full table and chairs in there and it was equipped with a little light. All the tents had seen better days – the mess tent in particular had quite a few holes in it, but it was cosy and a welcome site. There were 5 of us on the trek, 2 women and 3 guys, normally it would be 2 women sharing, 2 guys sharing and a guy on his own, but Alison had paid for her own tent to ensure a peaceful nights sleep as if you are not travelling together you have no idea who you will get stuck with, and a snorer at night when you are knackered and trying to sleep could lead to attempted murder! Alisons tent was not brought on the trip which caused the guides and porters to panic a bit, James offered to share his single tent with me so Alison could sleep on her own. The guide promised at the next camp we would have the other tent there as one of the porters would go down and collect it and bring it up to the higher camp the next day.

After we had sorted the tent issue out we got all our kit out, inflated air mattresses, unfurled sleeping bags etc and headed into the mess tent for our evening meal. I had heard from other people who had hiked this trek how amazing the food was, but I thought they were joking with some of the things they had mentioned. I was wrong. The food was amazing. The first night we had leak soup for starters with bread rolls and then fish and potatoes for our main course, both were delicious and I am a very fussy eater. Rob had brought some crème eggs up on the trek with him and shared them out for dessert, amazing! We were all pretty knackered after the first day even though the hiking was neither long nor difficult, we headed off to bed at around 9:30pm.

Day 2 – Shira 1 Camp

Distance – 5 miles

Time – 6 hours

Altitude – 9498ft – 11500ft (2900m – 3500m)

Landscape – Heath

First night in a tent for a long time and I did not sleep well, my heart was racing for unknown reasons whether that was worry or the Diamox I am not sure. There were a few snorers in camp as well so when I did drift off I was awoken by them. I did have earplugs in my bag as well. It was an early wakeup call at around 6:30am, it wasn’t a bad one either we got a little knock on the tent with offer of tea or coffee and a bowl of hot water to have a wash. I had babywipe showers so I used the water to brush my teeth in. Breakfast was again really good with a wide selection of things such as toast, sausages, eggs etc. After breakfast we went back to the tents to pack everything up properly, sorted our day pack out and set off walking at around 7:30am.

The walk today was a lot steeper than the first day. The path was really good as well but a little muddy so gaiters were a good idea. The weather was not the best but when walking it was still quite warm and when we came out of the clouds and looked back the scenery was amazing. As we walked we could see far ahead of us the porters on a steep bit of the path which filled us with dread. Most of the say we were walking at around 3000m which was hard work for me personally. As a group we got on really well, we seemed to have bonded rather fast which was great and we all stuck together. I will admit that today was hard for me, I have shorter legs and I found the steepness of the incline was rather difficult.

After about 4 hours of walking through the rainforest the gradient of the path eased off a bit but with the respite from the uphill struggle we got rain instead. It wasn’t torrential rain but enough for us to all get our waterproofs out. The last hour of the hike was more or less flat, a welcome rest for my thighs and knees which were in protest. The scenery had change quite a bit from rainforest for most of the today to heathland. We arrived at camp quite early at around 1pm, Felison was happy with our slow and steady pace throughout the day. As we got into camp we dropped our bags off and went straight to the mess tent for lunch and a hot cup of tea. Lunch was soup with bread rolls followed by pasta and bolognaise which I didn’t eat as I am not a fan of pasta. I had a few biscuits from my stash in my kit bag.

That afternoon we sat in our tents – I was still sharing with James while we waited for the porter to come back up with the other tent. The weather was appalling it was throwing it down for most of the afternoon. I sat and wrote in my diary and tried to read my kindle but it was really hard not to fall asleep. Once the rain stopped I headed out to get some fresh air and stretch my legs, I looked around and saw the clouds breaking up which was a welcome site. From behind the clouds appeared a large dark mass with snow on top. This was our first close up view of Kibo, the summit. Everyone came out of their tents to take photos, we were out for maybe an hour having a laugh taking pictures from the toilet – as the toilet was overlooking the summit. We headed off into the mess tent together and drank a few cups of Milo which was delicious. Shortly after this my tent arrived so I got out and moved my stuff over and set up my air mattress and sleeping bag. Was quite hard work as I found myself out of breath trying to set everything up. When I had finished I looked up to see a wonderful sunset behind the summit. We had dinner and had a chat and some hot drinks and went to bed quite early as most of us were really tired.

Day 3 – Moir Camp

Distance – 7 miles

Time – 6-7 hours

Altitude – 11500ft – 13800ft (3500m – 4200m)

Landscape – Heath 

Another lovely wakeup call this morning from our porters with a lovely cup of tea which I had in my tent while packing everything up and getting dressed. It was around 6:15am when I stumbled out of my tent in the very fresh air, the tshirts now would be packed away until our descent. There was a beautiful sunrise this morning which we all enjoyed, tea in hand still. From Shira I most people head up to Shira II but we were taking a different route and going straight up to Moir Camp which would be a lot quieter and give us a bigger jump in altitude today to help acclimatise us.

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After breakfast we headed out to Moir camp at 4200m. It was going to be another 6-7 hour hike with a 700m altitude gain taking us for the first time over 4000m. The trek started out pretty flat and through a boulder field/ lava bomb field. The scenery started to become a bit more baron making going for a rest break would become more difficult for all of us. It was a nice steady pace through the boulder field not too many rest stops along the way. In the distance we could see quite a steep rock face where we saw our porters hiking up with our stuff, this would be where we would gain most of the height for todays trek. The hike up was quite steep but we took a few stops and Felison would tell us about the area we were in and the flora and fauna. We saw some scat on the path which Felison told us was wild dog.

When we got to the top of the steep section we came out at another lava bomb field we chilled out here for a while and ate sweets to get a bit of a sugar rush – haribos! One of our team started to feel a bit nauseous so we extended our stop to make sure they felt ready to move on. As we clambered through the rocks I started to get a headache and feel nauseous, I wasn’t sure what was causing it as it came on shortly after I had had a rehydration sachet to replenish lost salts etc. We got to a lava tube to have a look around and I just couldn’t be bothered I just wanted to get into camp which we could see from the there. When we started from the lava tube to camp I started to feel like I was going to be sick and had to sit down for a while. We carried on slowly and arrived at camp at 1:30pm. I got in my tent and tried to set it up while retching, my headache was unbearable by this point. I sat with the others in the mess tent and didn’t touch any of the food. I was really worried this was altitude sickness and that I wouldn’t make it any further. Felison and Sanjay (other guide) was also worried he came up to talk to me and said it might be because of the rehydration sachets and my body didn’t need the extra salts, or altitude sickness which may go away overnight.

After my non-existent lunch I clambered into my tent and took a couple of paracetamol and just lay there staring at the roof of the tent. A couple hours passed, I might have dozed off once or twice during that time but I can’t remember, Sanjay came to our tents and asked us if we fancied an acclimatisation walk. I really couldn’t be bothered with this and I just wanted to stay in my tent and sleep, but I knew this would be great for the days ahead so I pulled myself out and put my boots back on. We didn’t take our bags as the walk was just going to take us on a ridge above the campsite to about 4400m roughly. We took it extremely slowly going uphill, I think a snail may have been faster than I was heading up but we all stuck together and I was drinking a lot of water. The hike to the top was quite steep but we zig-zagged our way up to the top where we were greeted with amazing views. We didn’t spend too long up here just enough time for the guides to make a few phone calls (there was signal up there but no one else took phones). The trek down was around 40 min, when we got back we were straight into the mess tent for dinner. I still wasn’t hungry but by this point neither was Rob, the day was exhausting and took it out of both of us.

I was looking forward to getting into my sleeping bag and trying to get as much rest as possible and give it a go tomorrow and see how my body reacted. I was quite cold last night so I spoke to Felison who said if I gave him a water bottle before bed tonight he would fill it with hot water for me to use as a hot water bottle. Went to the toilet, brushed my teeth and got into a very warm cosy sleeping bag. Happy!

Day 4 – Barranco Camp via lava tower

Distance – 4 miles / 2 miles 

Time – 8 hours +

Altitude – 13800ft – 15190ft / 15190ft – 13044ft (4200m – 4600m / 4600m – 3975m)

Landscape – Alpine Desert 

Today was going to be one of the toughest days – other than summit day, as we ascending amd descending 700m so we were camping at roughly the same height as last night. I woke up still feel nauseous, I slowly moved round the tent packing everything up and sorting my daypack out. I got out of the tent to take my morning cup of tea which I tried to drink and then threw back up again. Felison was worried still but he said if we walked very slowly today I might acclimatise. I managed to get some food down me before we set off, a piece of toast, half a sausage and some hot water. As promised by Felison we set off at a very pole-pole pace. I felt for the others as this was a lot slower than our normal pace. It was going to be a long day hiking anyway over 8 hours without me slowing everyone down. When we got to the top of the first hill we had a break, there were stunning views of the summit and the sun had come out and started to warm us up, so layers of clothing came off. I started to feel a bit better at the top, the nausea and headache had both gone.

We were now in Alpine Desert surroundings which was very baron with the odd shrub and small rock, literally hardly anywhere to hide yourself for a discrete pee. As we descended from the top into the valley below Alison started to feel really ill, though it wasn’t from altitude. As Alison and I were drinking a lot we were drinking while walking and I think this is what caused it. We sat down for a while until she felt better, by this point the clouds had come in really quickly and the temperature plummeted. We set off walking again and it started to thunder slightly and then a hailstorm made our journey more interesting. The ascent to lava tower is quite difficult, add to the fact that the higher we climbed the hail turned to snow. When we got to lava tower the weather had subsided a little bit, enough to take photos of the tower and head inside our mess tent which the porters had set up for us and have dinner. There were a lot of hikers at lava tower when we were there and a lot of porters and what I found quite upsetting is the fact that the porters were all huddled together under large rock overhangs to keep warm and dry. These guys carry our own stuff, there personal stuff, a kitchen, food, mess tent and toilet all day and there was nowhere for them to take shelter while we ate. I have to say lunch was amazing and by now I had my full appetite back and was desperate to eat something. We were served cheese toasties and chicken stew for lunch, I ate loads.

When we came to leave Lava Tower it was dry again, we set off down a steep slope/waterfall and by the time we had got to the bottom it started to thunder and rain this time and quite heavily – just our luck. Baranco camp was only 2 miles away but for the entire 2 miles it was downhill. I hate going downhill as I am very clumsy when it comes to slippy rocks, I just seem to fall. The weather was miserable all the way down, we seemed to be walking through the clouds. There were some amazing trees called giant Groundsels, they looked very odd in the landscape. For the most part of this bit of the trek everyone had their hoods up and face down concentrating on getting down in one piece. As we got nearer the camp the group split up and as usual I fell, but only once.

We could hardly see camp when we arrived it was covered in thick cloud, there was hardly anything to see around us. Upon arrival we went straight into the mess tent for a hot cup of milo, which was needed. I disappeared off into my tent and used the string inside the tent as a drying line to dry all my clothes out. I set up my bed and checked my phone…I had signal. I phoned my parents up to let them know I was ok, the signal isn’t great up here as you can imagine but it was sufficient enough for a quick call, during the call I heard something in my tent, I looked around and there was a little mouse running around my tent, extremely cute. I got it out eventually after my call. I was aching quite a bit after today’s walk so I gave my legs a massage as I suffer with iliotibial band syndrome and so I need to release the tendon in my leg as when it gets tight it pulls the kneecap out. The sunshine came out while I was in the tent so I opened the door as it gets very hot very quickly in there. You could see all the way down to the plains below it was beautiful. I got out of the tent and admired the view and towering over me to the left was Barranco Wall, the famous massive obstacle we would have to get over tomorrow morning. There are so many horror stories about this wall with top to tail traffic jams being stuck on narrow ledges, and I was secretly dreading it. We settled into the tent for most of the afternoon until dinner came, fried chicken and chips. AMAZING! Again it was another early night for an early start in the morning.

Day 5 – Karanga Camp

Distance – 3 miles

Time – 6 hrs

Altitude – 13044ft – 13106ft (3975m – 4000m)

Landscape – Alpine Desert 

Another 6am wake up call this morning with our usual tea and smiling face. Saved my tea and packed up quickly and went outside to drink it looking at an amazing view yet again of Kibo. There was frost on the tent this morning and a fresh layer of snow on the slopes of Kibo. Went in for breakfast started to feel a bit nauseous again, I was sneezing and coughing a fair bit as well, I had a bit of blood coming out of my nose as well. I drank some water to clear my throat coughed and threw it back up again. Great start to the morning. I was hoping when I started to walk I would feel better or at least in pain so it would take my mind off the nausea.

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We set off towards the wall through the campsite. I am not going to lie, the trek up the wall was difficult but it wasn’t as jammed packed as everyone said and the space you had to walk although narrow was reasonable enough for you to fit on comfortably. It was constantly uphill zig-zagging along, moving out of the way of the porters bouncing up like mountain goats with huge heavy packs on their backs. I was pulled to the front of the queue, I am assuming because of my height, Felison was infront of me all the way and physically pulled me up some of the rocks as they were way to big for me to step up. I probably could have climbed up but it wasn’t an option with Felison around. We had a break about half way up and had a laugh at some of the other hikers around us, there were what I can only describe as Russian models with expensive ski gear on with their guides etc carrying their daypacks up with them. They had makeup on their hair was perfect and they looked like they could be on a shoot, and then there was me, hair greasy, a mess and in a ponytail, hot and sweaty, a burnt nose even though I had high factor suncream on, clearly the poster girl for hiking! I had the guys call me Rudolph as my nose was that red. To get up 900ft of Barranco Wall it took us around 2hours. On the top of the wall we were right underneath Kibo and we would be walking around the flanks of the summit cone to Karanga camp.

The walk from the top of Barranco was pretty easy going, the views were all around behind us was Mount Meru which was a stunning sight. It was flat for quite a while and then descended a bit. I started to feel a bit dizzy on the way down so we stopped for a rest at the bottom and I drank lots of water. When we set off hiking again we could see our camp across Karanga valley, there was what I thought a track that went along the back of the valley and looked pretty flat, however that was not a path. The path descended down to the bottom of the valley and then back up again to the same height. I am not going to lie I wanted to cry. We headed down to the bottom of Karanga valley, we could see porters going along the path along the side of the valley which stopped a short way in, this is where the porters were getting fresh water from. This apparently is the last place to get fresh water until we get to Mweka camp on the way back down. We had a short stop at the bottom to have a snack and some water. We headed up to Karanga which was more or less vertically above us. It was a hard slog up the other side of the valley, it seemed to take forever and I kept stopping for a breather.

We got into camp at 1pm and it in my opinion was the best camp site we had, we had a view down into Moshi and behind us the ever closer Kibo. We chucked our bags in our tents and headed straight for the mess tent for some hot chocolate which the porters had brought out. We had lunch and I sorted my kit out for tomorrow and set up my mat and sleeping bag. I called my parents again as I was getting worried about not being able to make as I seemed to be the slowest one in the group and I was knackered. I was still happy to plod along though I didn’t feel like altitude was affecting me as much anymore as the nausea had gone completely now. I was starting to look forward to Monday night sleeping in lower warmer conditions which is a shame as I was summiting tomorrow night and I should have been looking forward to that more.

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My tent broke

Felison came to grab us early afternoon to take us for another acclimatisation walk, as we hadn’t walked enough that day, we hadn’t really gained any height so he wanted us to go to a higher altitude. The hike was along the route we would be taking to Barafu tomorrow morning. It wasn’t too difficult just a slight elevation increase, however the weather started to come in so we descended back down to camp. The clouds came in and we lost sight of Kibo and Moshi below. Tonight was our last full night on the mountain and the idea of summiting tomorrow night was very strange, we had been walking 5 days for tomorrow night yet the idea that the day was almost among us was strange. We settled down into the mess tent, it was freezing cold. Food was pasta again and so I didn’t eat, as I really needed all my strength tomorrow night I had a word with Felison about food tomorrow to make sure there was no pasta so I could eat.

We left the tent to one of the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life. Kilimanjaro summit was right in front of us, the snow lit up by the moon and the stars shining so bright. The tents were lit up with people inside with their headtorches. Looking around the town of Moshi was lit up below. I went into my tent and pulled my phone out chancing a quick snap as clouds were closing in. I got one amazing shot on my phone, my camera didn’t take any good shots as they were too blurry. I tried to take pictures of the stars but they didn’t work either. We ended up going to bed at 8:30pm, I went with my hot water bottle as it was absolutely freezing.

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Day 6 – Barafu Camp

Distance – 2 miles

Time – 3 hrs

Altitude – 13106ft – 15331ft (4000m – 4680m)

Landscape – Alpine Desert

We had a nice lie in this morning as we only had 2 miles to hike today to Barafu camp. We decided there was no point rushing the walk today so we went very slowly. We had to ascend nearly 700m as well so the slower we did this the better it would be for us with acclimatisation. Most of the altitude gain was first thing in the morning. The views were well worth the effort, looking over at Mount Meru and Kili summit.

The walk was mostly undulating after the first stretch until the last section which was a steep climb up onto Barafu ridge. The walk was very steep and we needed a few water stops to get to the top. On the ridge there were very large rocks which were difficult to get round, we checked in at the lodges as was usual procedure and had to walk back the way we came to get to our tents. It was a pain to get on the other side of the ridge and down to our campsite as the slabs were massive and difficult to get down. We had a light lunch in the mess tent, the clouds were now below us and a thunderstorm was forming. We all headed off to our tents to have a nap. It was all we could do today as we needed as much rest as possible. We were woken at 5:30pm to have some chips and a hot drink. We spoke to Felison and Sanjay about the hike to the summit tonight and what we should take and what to expect, they didn’t say much other than pack light and drink lots. This was probably the best thing to not mention what was to come as we were nervous enough. We headed off back to our tents, nervous and excited at the same time. I packed my kit bag up as much as I could got dressed in my hiking gear and slipped into my sleeping bag for a few hours sleep.

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Day 7 – Summit and Mweka Camp via Barafu Camp

Distance – 3 miles / 7 miles

Time – 11hrs / 5hrs hiking

Altitude – 15331ft – 19341ft / 19341ft – 10065ft (4680m – 5895m / 5895m -3070m)

Landscape – Artic / Rainforest

Its hard to call this day 7 as it is still day 6. We were woken up at 10pm by Manjo one of our porters. Our tents were all frozen and it had snowed while we were asleep. We were given a hot drink and I managed to stuff down a few biscuits. I was knackered. I had several layers on; thermal long sleeve top, long sleeve top, short sleeve tshirt, jumper and down jacket. We put our backpacks and headtorches on and set off. We had to climb the equivalent of Ben Nevis from the base. I was again put right behind Felison which made me nervous about what lay ahead, Sanjay brought up the back of the pack. After about 10 minutes I was suffering really bad – my mistake – I had put too many layers on, I was boiling. I had to stop to take layers off, luckily Alison had also done the same. Felison was not impressed with how much I had in my daypack – I only had a camera my jumper and tshirt that I had taken off and 2 litres of water. Felison started taking everything out of my bag and then gave me an empty daypack back.

We went across a boulder field where Felison had to drag me up and over some of them. I really don’t remember much of it as I think I sleep walked through quite a bit. The air was really dry which was drying my throat out so I was drinking lots so I had to stop Felison to get my water out. One of my waters was in an insulated case and the other was not, it turned to slush after about 3hrs. As we were all drinking so much going upto the summit we needed to go to the toilet a fair bit which was not an awesome experience at these temperatures. We progressed very slowly and other teams started to overtake us. All you could see above you was the light from headtorches going all the way up, it was depressing. All I wanted to do was give in and go back to camp to sleep, but somehow I put one foot in front of the other and I was getting their one little step at a time.

The terrain started to get steeper and the snow on the ground slightly deeper than at camp, my feet were cold and I had to keep kicking them into the snow/ash to warm them up again. The path continued to zig zag and the lights above us disappeared, I was hoping this meant that we were approaching the summit ridge, but we weren’t. Everyone was struggling mentally and physically, we were all tired and cold, we were being stopped and told to drink but all the water was getting really cold and giving me brain freeze.

Hours had passed and the camp below us was a tiny dot now and the lights above us and all but disappeared, over to the right we could see the start of daybreak. Knowing we were due at Stella point at sunrise it gave me hope that we were close to the summit ridge. Felison had slowed right down and I was getting annoyed by the pace as we were literally taking baby steps now and the gradient had reduced a bit and I could have taken larger steps. I kept bumping into the back of him to try make him go a bit faster but it didn’t work. As the dark sky began to lighten I could see the crater rim just above us, it wasn’t far and I felt amazing, if not very cold and knackered!

We eventually got there onto the crater rim and Stella Point at 5795m. Dawn was just breaking and the view was breath-taking. We stopped here for about 10 minutes to take photos and to have a drink. There were a few people heading back down from the summit at this point and other trekkers from other routes slowly making their way up along the ride.

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Uhuru peak was just another 100m altitude gain but about another kilometre away from us. You could see it in the distance and it didn’t look that far but it took what seemed like forever. I was definitely feeling the affects of altitude sickness now, I had a dim headache and was feeling nauseous, I think the majority of us were feeling the same. We walked past the glaciers on the slopes and took some photos and then… we were at the summit. WE HAD ALL MADE IT! We had summited Uhuru peak the highest point on Mt Kilimanjaro at 7:01am on 27th February 2017.

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I can’t remember my feelings at the time, its strange. I know I was there and I had pictures taken but there was no sense of relief, it wasn’t too busy at the summit but I felt slightly rushed to take pictures and to get off. This is for your safety as we gained 1200m in altitude which is not recommended if you do that to stay at the altitude for long as you have not acclimatised. It was Johns birthday and so we celebrated on the summit with a sip of Rusty Nail which Rob had brought up with him. We all had our pictures taken – mine were not that good in the group shots as for some reason I was doing a stupid pose. I took my jacket off to show my Stroke Association t-shirt with “for Grandma” on the back. Everyone else had their pictures done for their charities etc. We headed back after about 30 minutes on the summit.

As we were descending it eventually hit me what I had just done and I was overcome with emotion, hoping my Grandma would be looking down on me with a big smile on her face. On the way down we bumped into quite a few more trekkers on the way to the summit, it seems like we were one of the first groups up there. The route on the way back down was slightly different as it was down an ash slope. Now the sun was up it was getting rather warm and some were struggling getting back down. The famous quote “It’s a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory” by Ed Viesturs. This was very true, we had spent most of our energy getting to the summit is was draining to get back down to camp. For me I am pretty good at going down as I seem to take one step on scree and fly down a few feet. Our porters came up to meet us on the way down to congratulate us and take our daypacks for us. I had hardly anything in mine now, I did take the rest of my stuff of Felison at the summit though. It took us around 3 hours to get back down to camp. We chilled out at Barafu camp for a couple of hours to let everyone recover, a couple had a nap, I didn’t want to as its not recommended and although I was tired I felt ok to carry on down as I was. I phoned my parents up from my tent here and told them I had summited, they were very proud and happy, although I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for what I had just done. Think the words I said were “never again” and “that was the hardest thing I have ever done”.

We set of for Mweka camp at around 1pm. We could see clouds forming below us and knew it was going to be a wet walk back down. The hike down to Mweka was 7 miles and all of it downhill, it was really hard on the knees and emotionally draining as it didn’t seem to end. I felt my temper going as time went by and I was soaked. We arrived at Mweka at 5pm, the pub we got told about on this route had been shutdown a while back as porters were not arriving at camps due to stopping off and drinking so they had to shut the bar down. It was gutting as well all fancied a celebratory drink. I jumped into my tent took off the waterproofs set my bed up. I wandered into the mess tent for a hot drink. Rob had gone to bed as he wasn’t hungry. I stayed and waited for dinner…. Pasta. I had some of the soup and bread and after everyone had finished we all headed off for a lovely long nights sleep. There were a lot of teams down at this camp, some had more energy than others, they seemed to have been there a lot longer than us as no one passed us on the way down and the camp was packed, so maybe they had had an afternoon of sleep. Music was blaring and everyone was having a great time. I shoved my ipod in and drifted off to sleep. I slept amazingly well.

Day 8 – Moshi

Distance – 6 miles

Time – 3 hrs

Altitude – 10065ft – 5380ft (3070m – 1600m)

Landscape – Rainforest

I was not impressed with the 5:45am wake up call this morning. Nice cup of tea in the tent and I packed my bags up for the last time on this trek. We had a pancake breakfast which was fitting as it was Shrove Tuesday. Everyone was up and ready to go an very cheerful, its amazing what a good nights sleep at lower altitude can do. We gathered all our money for the tips for both porters and guides and gave it to Felison who has the job to split it between everyone. We had a big group hug with all the porters and had some group pictures taken. Needless to say we could not have done this without them and they were all amazing. They sang us a song called Hakuna Matata (not the Lion King one) about how for us summiting Kilimanjaro was nothing to worry about and we managed it.

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We set off down towards Mweki gate, I set off at a slow pace as the ground was all smooth rock which was wet and so very slippy. I think we all fell over at least one on the way back down. The first hour or so was covered in this rock and then it turned into a dirt track which was very easy, loads of groups were all heading down some were running down. It was a lovely warm, dry day and I managed to put a tshirt on again. We managed to get to Mweki gate after only 3 hours, it was a very quick pace to what we were used to and it felt great not struggling to breath while walking.

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We had a picture taken under the congratulations sign altogether and individually. We signed out of the national park and got our certificates. We were all exhausted it was a tough hike, we wanted to go back to the hotel but Felison wanted to take us out for a celebratory meal. It was quite nice and it was first time we had wifi and everyone was inundated with messages etc. We got back to the hotel and said our goodbyes to Felison. We all must have looked like crap as the hotel decided it would be funny to tell us during check in that there were no ensuite rooms available for us. Our jaws must have dropped as the receptionist was laughing. It was a very hot day in Moshi. I grabbed my bag from storage and went to my room. I emptied my bag from the trip onto the bed and went to the bar to grab a bottle of wine and then headed for the shower. I probably spent a good half an hour in the shower, it was amazing. I got out and as soon as I opened the door from the nice smelling bathroom into the bedroom I could smell the utter stench that was coming from my hiking clothes. They were quickly shoved back into the bag and I got dressed and headed downstairs to sit by the pool. The guys were already sat at a table drinking Kilimanjaro beer. We stayed out by the pool all day, Alison joined us later on. We had a lovely meal inside the hotel and had a few more drinks and toasted properly to Johns birthday and to our summit success. Needless to say we didn’t stay up late.

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Overall and now looking back it was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t have changed anything, even the bad things about the trip were what made the trip extra special. We overcome a lot as a group and we got to the summit together. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done but even after saying never again, I really want to do lots more mountains. John, Rob and myself were even heard talking about Mt Elbrus in the future. But for now my next adventure is Mera Peak in Nepal which I need to do a decent Scottish Winter Mountaineering course with a new company I found called Jagged Globe, I will be doing both the course and Mera Peak with them and I am looking forward to both.

 

Tips and advice

Below are a few tips and advice about what to take, and what to do before you consider booking the trip. Everything below is from my own personal experience and if you are concerned or want to know more information you can contact me, or speak to your chosen tour group or doctor.

Gear

Gear is the most important thing on your expedition, if you get your gear wrong it could turn a great expedition into a nightmare. Please note that equipment is what I took on a February expedition, in winter time you may need more but your company should give you a comprehensive list, below is what I found useful for me. I do feel the cold and some things I have added that I didn’t take that I wish I had.

BAG

  • Daypack – 35L+10. Large enough to carry your camera, water, rain-gear, snacks & warm clothing
  • Most companies will give you a kitbag for the porters to carry.

 FOOTWEAR

  • Hiking Boots.
  • Shoes for camp at night – I didn’t take any as I stayed as was in hiking gear until bed
  • Gaiters
  • Warm / Thermal Socks – Summit day, personal pref how many you take.
  • Trekking Socks – daily fresh clean socks
  • Liner Socks – For under warm socks in case of extreme cold.

OUTER LAYER

  • Waterproof Jacket – ensure it’s a decent one you don’t want to get wet.
  • Waterproof trousers.
  • Down Jacket – I had a RAB Down Jacket and a RAB insulated jacket (RAB or a decent outdooe shop will be able to advise you on the best jacket for you).

 SECOND/THIRD LAYER

  • Tshirts/vest tops for lower down
  • Long sleeve tshirts
  • Softshell jacket
  • Fleece lined pants – a Godsend!
  • Trekking trousers
  • Hiking hoody
  • Bodywarmer
  • Insulated lightweight hoody

THERMALS

  • Thermal underwear pants
  • Thermal underwear top

CLIMBING ACCESSORIES

  • Buff – warm
  • Gloves – Insulated, Waterproof, windproof and breathable
  • Sun hat
  • Warm hat
  • Trekking poles
  • 2 x 1ltr water bottles which are either insulated or get insulated bottle holder. Water will freeze on summit day.
  • Headtorch and batteries.
  • Water Purification Tablets
  • Sun Glasses  with good UV protected lenses
  • Sleeping Bag – Rated to at least –15 comfort – although mine was and I was still cold.
  • Sleeping Bag liner – I would recommend silk as my cotton one was rubbish.
  • Insulated sleeping mat
  • Dry Sacks – for daypack and kitbag ensure all your things are kept dry as the kitbag is NOT waterproof. Also on summit day you are asked to take up passport and money as the porters don’t want to be in charge all day of those belongings (if any go missing they are fired). My passport got a tad damp summiting and my face melted luckily I was still able to fly home.

ACCESSORIES

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, wet wipes, etc, hand tissues.
  • Toilet Rolls – depending on company. We has toilet tent with paper provided.
  • SPF50+ Sun Screen Lotion, I took SPF30 and got burnt.
  • SPF Lip Balm
  • Aftersun/Aloe Vera
  • Fluffy warm bed socks – a must if you get cold feet
  • Pyjamas
  • External battery charger or spare batteries for camera etc.
  • Rainproof bag 35L covers to protect your daypack from rain – I find them a waste of time.
  • She-pee
  • Spare water bottle to pee in at night – believe me I was against this but this was one item I regret not taking. Its really cold at night and last thing you want to do is get out of your warm sleeping bag and trek outside to the toilet tent.
  • Metal water bottle for use as a hot water bottle – again I didn’t think about this but I borrowed one from one of the guys on the trek. I HATE the cold so I put this in my sleeping bag before we went to bed and it warmed it up and kept me warm all night. Bonus is the guy had sterilized cool water already for him in the morning.
  • Small hot water bottle for sleeping bag – If you feel the cold.
  • Phone/Camera – Phone Reception is not very good but you can get it in some places on Lemsoho route.
  • Energy snacks and sweets – nice to share chocolates etc after the meal at camp and sweets with the guides and porters and fellow trekkers along the route.
  • Ear plugs.
  • Plastic bags – there is so much toilet paper scattered along the footpaths, its just nicer to carry it with you instead of adding to it.
  • Isotonic powder – good if you have upset stomach and if you are sweating a lot. However I had one and it did not agree with me at all, was vomiting a lot and felt awful.
  • Cordial – I didn’t take any but I regretted it when I saw other had some. Thankfully groups share.

FIRST AID

  • Pain Killers
  • Personal first aid Kit For minor cuts and bruises
  • Imodium (diarrhea)
  • Laxative – just in case.
  • Throat lozenges
  • Insect repellent
  • Diamox – personal preference. We all took them, you need to pee more but it does help you acclimatize.
  • Antibiotics – if your doctor will prescribe them

 

A few things to remember before going on this expedition.

  1. Check with your doctor first, it is a physically strenuous walk and you want to make sure you are in the best condition so a check up before booking the trip would be ideal – just in case.
  2. Make an appointment with the travel clinic/nurse to get upto date on your immunisations. Some transit countries depending on where you fly via require you to have a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate.
  3. Malaria is not an issue anymore around Kilimanjaro so malarials are not required during the trek however if you have a layover somewhere you maybe required to take them. Always check the updated travel site http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk
  4. Most reputable UK companies will require you to have sufficient travel insurance and require the details. British Mountaineering Council do offer great cover for trekking/mountaineering but they require you to become a member which is not a bad thing as the magazines are full of useful information etc.
  5. Ensure when you book with whichever provider you choose you ask if they provide toilet tents. If not a highly recommend paying the extra to hire one. They are well worth the money, I never used the toilets provided enroute, however we walked past them and could smell them quite a way off.
  6. Do listen to your guides. They are highly experienced and know the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness. If they tell you to slow down, or go back, listen to them, they are not there to ensure everyone summits, they are there to ensure everyone survives. If you are ill don’t push your body, altitude sickness can become severe very quickly and reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro or any mountain is not worth your life.
  7. Before booking you should take into consideration into your costs tips. I know this because this was something I did not consider. Not long before we departed I got an email stating that the guides and porters expected a tip of around $200-250. I knew I would tip and had put aside $100 for this but I was not expecting this much. When a company says expected it is not mandatory to tip this much. Another way to tip or show gratitude is to give them hiking gear as believe it or not quite a few companies guides etc do not have suitable clothing etc. A few of our group left behind unused tshirts/jumpers etc, which they found really useful.

Altitude Sickness

Mostly everyone will experience altitude sickness, its not a big deal if you get minor symptoms such as headache, loss of appetite or nausea/vomiting and shortness of breath. To overcome these walk slower, take paracetamol and drink more water. Loss of appetite is very normal for everyone at altitude no matter if you are not experiencing any other symptoms, just ensure you are forcing yourself to eat something as you can summit on an empty stomach you need all the energy you can get. Diamox will usually prevent most of these symptoms. Shortness of breath will be more apparent when you are walking, and it will usually take you longer to hike shorter distances, and everything seems like an effort. This is just high altitude and even Diamox won’t reduce these symptoms massively as there is less oxygen available at altitude. More serious signs of altitude sickness or confusion, loss of co-ordination, hallucinations, weakness which are signs of High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema. Breathing difficulties (serious), tightness in chest, persistent cough, blue tinge to skin are sings of High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema. Both of these are life threatening and require immediate descent and dexamethasone injection. Your guide will be trained to deal with this, our guide carried an hypobaric oxygen chamber in case of emergencies. Altitude sickness can and has killed people on Kilimanjaro and should be taken seriously.