Author Archives: tonybarradell

About tonybarradell

A husband. A brother. A learning and development professional. A trainer. A coach. A provider of Supported Lodgings for youngster from the Care system. A runner. A tree planter. A photographer. And tons more. Blimey, no wonder I get tired some times!

14. Don’t forget the Everyday Heroes

To complete my Kilimanjaro story . . .

Having climbed through the night to reachUhuru Peak, the very top of Kilimanjaro, we still had another long day ahead of us. Rather than lots of celebration, a good sit down, perhaps a cooked breakfast and a glass of bubbly, it was a case of Chop-chop rather thanPolepole. For our own wellbeing our guides were keen to get us moving back down to an altitude more suited to human lif


After returning across the rim to Stella Point, the descent was not as hard as the ascent, but it

Walking poles

Walking poles

was not easy. We travelled over loose scree. Each step down was accompanied with a slight slip. In some cases a long slip and on occasions a stumble and a tumble. This is where our walking poles really came in to their own. After about an hour and a half we made it on to firmer ground, but it was still a long walk back to the camp. I was very glad to see the porter who had been assigned to me throughout the week. He had walked some 20 minutes or so up the mountainside to greet me and relieve me of my back pack. Down to the camp. And at last a rest.

Rainbow over Shira 1 campsite

Rainbow over Shira 1 campsite

However, this was not the end of the day. After about an hour or so we were called to have some food. We were glad to find the three members of our party who had not made it to the top were all well and in good spirits. Although we had all come to climb the mountain, as Florence our guide had said, the main priority was that we all got down safe and well. Another short rest and then back on the trail, heading down to the next camp on the Mweka Route. It was another long walk, but mainly downhill and we quickly recovered from the earlier effects of high altitude. We began to feel normal again – although exhausted!

That night was one of celebration, but also of some sadness. Two of the party, Bjorn and Katrine, would be leaving very early the next morning to continue their holiday. So, just like in the Lord of the Rings, this was to be the breaking of our Fellowship. The Kilimanjaro 15 was to become the Kilimanjaro 13. We toasted our success; we commiserated those not fortunate enough to make it to the very top and we mourned the fact that this would be our last meal together. (Okay, so perhaps it wasn’t quite as dramatic as Boromir being shot by the Orcs of Orthanc, Pippin and Merry being captured and Frodo and Sam slipping off to Mordor, but you know what I mean!)

The guides, porters and 'stomach engineers', giving us a final song

The guides, porters and ‘stomach engineers’, giving us a final song

The final day dawned, and another long morning walk. This time down a path with semi-natural steps every 5 metres or so. In theory easy. In practice, hard on the legs, which struggled to adjust to the constant descent after 7 days of walking mainly uphill. A final delay in checking out of the Kilimanjaro National Park; a celebratory first cold drink of alcohol (for some) and a bus journey off the mountainside. The main part of our journey was complete.

Final reflections

Throughout this blog, which I started some months before the climb, I have drawn out lessons learnt along the way. Maybe not spectacular or stuff that wouldn’t have occurred to me (or you) if thought about, but put into sharper context by the scale of the challenge.

If you have followed the blog from the start, you may recall the Lessons:

1. Inspiration and Action (lack of)

2. Back on track. Public Commitment

3. Gaining momentum – gathering a team

4. The power of a challenging goal

5. Fail to prepare, then . . .

6. Camping – don’t do it

7. Altitude Sickness – be as prepared as you can be

8. Be firm on the goal, be flexible as to methods (or Charity begins at home, but it ends in Kenya)

9. Impressions of Tanzania – there is always a different way of doing things

10. What are your crater walls?

11. A journey of 5,895m starts with the first step

12. No Guts, No Glory (but try to hang on to your guts)

13. Getting to the top is always that much easier if you have the support of others

And to complete the list:

14. Don’t forget the Everyday Heroes

In the course of my journey I have managed to raise in excess of £3,000 for the three charities I wanted to support ( And this has meant as much to me as making it to the top of the mountain. And I very much appreciate all of the donations that so many people have made in recognition of my effort in climbing Kilimanjaro.

But this is my final reflection. I chose to go on this trip. I was fortunate in having the financial means to do so; the flexibility in my work and the support of my family to be able to take the time away. Plus lots of other support along the way. Some people – actually most people – would not have been so lucky. I had a great time, and any hardships I suffered (see Lesson 6 above) were 1) temporary and 2) self-inflicted. In contrast, so many people suffer hardship that is 1) long-term or even permanent and 2) certainly not self-inflicted. I only have to look around me to see:

  • People suffering from physical and mental illnesses, but who struggle on
  • People struggling against the effects of injury (mental and physical) that have been inflicted upon them
  • People struggling to make ends meet, with little money
  • People struggling to care for those they love, who are perhaps in the categories above.

The youngsters in the Footprints orphanage in Kenya, one of my charities, live a hard life. But it is not all sweetness and light for many people in the UK and other developed countries. People are battling on every day. People not fortunate enough to climb Kilimanjaro and reach ‘the roof of Africa’, even if they wanted to.

Whilst my blog may be aimed at those striving for success, let’s hear it for the everyday heroes. Those people who struggle on, against adversity, day after day. They are the real heroes, not the ones who can go for a long walk in a high place once in a while. So, on your way to the top, Lesson 14 – Don’t forget the Everyday Heroes.

Thank you for following Kilimanjaro – there and back again.

Tony and Jonathan

Tony and Jonathan


13 Getting to the top is always that much easier if you have the support of others

It was a slog. It was probably the hardest slog of my life. But it was what we had come to Kilimanjaro to do.

The day before the final ascent was a bit of a strange one. Following on from the previous day, which was probably the longest walking day we had had so far, this one was relatively easy. We set off at about 8.15 a.m. and had a slow start up a long, steepish slope. By this time we were amongst a number of other parties, all going in the same direction. With all of the porters, it was veritable ‘trail of humanity’ across the mountain side. The weather was glorious and we had great views of the Kibo summit and of Mount Meru in the distance. The land was barren, as we were above the altitude that most vegetation – and most sensible humans – were found. But the walk was only a little over three hours before we reached Barafu, the final camp on our way to the summit.

The trail of humanity

The trail of humanity

We lunched at about 1.15pm and then had our ‘summit briefing’. We were told the timetable for the climb and the climbing conditions we would meet. We were told what to wear (lots, as it was going to be cold). And we were told not to give up when it became tough, but at the same time to be aware what our bodies were telling us. If we got severe headaches or other medical conditions we were to tell the guides who would be with us. This was NOT to be a ‘success at all costs’ mission – everyone needed to stay safe. Acute Mountain Sickness can have fatal consequences if ignored.

Darren, Joanne, Florence and Jonathan

Darren, Joanne, Florence and Jonathan

Me, shamelessly advertising Coeliac UK

Me, shamelessly advertising Coeliac UK

In theory, the afternoon and the evening were for resting and ideally for sleeping, as our ascent would start around midnight and take place during the night. However, I did not get much sleep and I would be surprised if many people did. Sleeping in the tent – as you will recall, NOT my favourite part of the trip – was made even harder this time by a combination of high altitude, a noisy campsite and the fact that our tent was pitched on what seemed to be stones, rocks and boulders! Comfortable, not! Also, to be honest, sleeping was made difficult by the excitement of the challenge ahead.

We were up at 11 p.m. for a final meal before setting off. And come 12.05, we were on the move. This was it.

The start of the journey is the part I can remember. It was such a surreal experience. Our party of 15, together with our guides and a number of porters, were not the first to set off. There was already a trail of tiny lights from the head-torches of the walkers in front of us. The lights already stretched what seemed to be a long way up the mountain. But at the same time we were walking alongside another party, perhaps some 20m to our left. We were all walking Polepole (slowly-slowly), but gradually converging as our paths came together to a common point. It was like a bizarre slow-motion race. The two groups merged, with only a small amount of pushing and shoving!

The first part of the journey was actually the one that involved the most scrambling over the bare rock, rather than just walking. Probably a good job, as we were at our best at this point. I hate to think how I would have coped if I had to do this 5 or 6 hours in to the climb.

After that, we had a relatively easy walk for an hour or so. Well, I say easy. The weather was clear and cold, and the wind made it colder. Temperatures were certainly below 00C, which was confirmed when our drinking water started to freeze. Florence and the rest of the guides kept us moving, probably for longer and with fewer and shorter breaks than many of us would have desired. But the simple logic behind this was that when we were moving we were keeping warm; when we were resting, we were getting cold.

Apart from the cold, the other big factor was the effect of altitude.  As I mentioned last time, this has a number of effects. The one that played the biggest part in my climb was the lack of oxygen and the difficulty that this caused in breathing. The higher I climbed, the more I became short of breath, and the harder it was to carry on walking.

After the first couple of hours, the climbing was zig-zagging across the mountain side. Whilst this would have been a stiff walk at sea level, it was an absolutely energy-sapping one at altitudes of over 5,000m. Most of the time I was simply looking down at the boots of the person in front of me and following their foot steps. When I did occasionally look up, I saw the trail of tiny lights above me on the mountainside, always stretching away into the distance.

And this is where it all gets a bit hazy. As well as the physical effort, it became a mental challenge. How to keep going? When your body says please ‘stop for a long rest, or even better, take me down!’

The things that got me to the top:

  • Replaying in my mind the messages of support I had received before setting off
  • The thought that I was raising money for charity
  • The sense of achievement I knew I would get if I did get to the top
  • The desire to tell people that I had made it to the top
  • The camaraderie we had developed within out group over the last few days
  • The help and support of the team of guides and porters.

So, this is where all of the hours and hours of work I had put in over the last six months paid off. The physical work of exercise and the mental work of telling so many people of my crazy plan to climb Kilimanjaro. I was very fortunate in that, apart from the breathing and the tiredness, I was physically okay to carry on. Not all of our party were. So for me, it was the mental challenge.

I had taken with me on the trip to Kilimanjaro various messages of support. Some of these were short messages, such as the ones people had left when donating money to the charity website ( Some were longer messages from Christine, my family and some of my friends. One was a picture drawn by my 6 year old nephew, James, showing me on top of the mountain. And all were inspirational in their own way.

Sunrise over Mawnzi

Sunrise over Mawnzi

After what seemed to be an eternity, the sun started to rise and the darkness turned to gloom, and then half-light and then full sunshine. And so I approached the rim of Kibo, the highest of the two mountain peaks that make up Kilimanjaro. Stella Point was the first target. There I met up with some of my party, and other exhausted but exhilarated climbers. But that was not the end point (at least not for all). After an all-too-brief rest our guides said that if we wanted to get to the top we must set off now. Jonathan and I were at the back of the party who had made it to the top.  We then had a further walk for about another 45 minutes or so to the highest point on the mountain, Uhuru Peak. The walking was not too difficult and we only gained another 150m or so. But we were shattered by this point. The 45 minutes was a LONG 45 minutes, and a number of times we reached a high point, only to find that beyond it, and previously out of sight, the path continued yet further.

Me at Stella Point

Me at Stella Point, shamelessly advertising New College, Leicester

Jonathan at Stella Point

Jonathan at Stella Point

However, at approx. 7.30am on Friday 6th February 2015 Jonathan and I both reached the Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro. At 5,895m this is the highest point on the African continent, at an oxygen-deprived 5,895m above sea level. It is higher than any point in Europe, Australasia, South East Asia or Antarctica. But we had made it!150206 5 Day 7 TB and JC at Uhuru 1

Getting to the top was hard. Very hard. And it was only through the support of others I made it. And I think I will make that my lesson for this post. Lesson 13 – getting to the top is always that much easier if you have the support of others. So nurture your relationships. And be prepared to help others to achieve their dreams, and they will help you to achieve yours.

Next time – my final reflections on Kilimanjaro – There and Back Again.

Lesson 12 – No Guts, No Glory (but try to hang on to your guts)

I won’t take you on a day by day account of our journey across Kilimanjaro. I’ll save that for the book, or better still the trilogy. Or better still the Star-Wars-style x-ology, whatever x turns out to be! Instead I will tell you something of the highs and the lows as we traversed the mountain, gradually gaining altitude as we moved to the camp below the summit.

The highs. For me, the biggest high was finding myself with such a fabulous bunch of people, and having the time to talk to all of them over the course of the week. I don’t know if Kilimanjaro attracts a certain type of person but I found them all to be a joy to be with (when they weren’t throwing up).

View from Shira Cathedral

View from Shira Cathedral

As well as my chum Jonathan, we had Bjorn and Katrine, who adapted well to the conditions and were usually at the front of the group. Their fellow Norwegians, Morton and Hilde had a harder time, mainly due to the effects of some dodgy food eaten before they arrived at the mountain, but they persevered manfully (and womanfully). Then we had the mother and daughter combo of Annika and Julia. Annika introduced the Daily Award for the person who had done something heroic that day. It was a bottle of rum, which was passed around the group until the final night on the mountain (no guesses as to what happened to it then). Julia was very comfortable on the mountain for most of the time, singing away to the music on her headphones. She practically skipped up the mountain, whilst others (like me) where doing the more mundane things like trying to breathe.

Jo and Darren, our fellow Brits, were on their honeymoon. Now there is a honeymoon to remember! Beats our honeymoon in Scarborough – although our bed was probably more comfortable. Allison and Pete and Pete and Ed were introduced in the last blog, so the final namecheck goes to Dave. He was the only sole traveller in our group. I think we all admired the fact that he could undertake such an arduous trip without at least having someone else to provide support. I was also jealous at times of the fact that he was sleeping alone in a two-man tent, but that is another story.

Senecio kilimanjari in the Great Barranco (valley)

Senecio kilimanjari in the Great Barranco (valley)

The scenery was another big high for the journey. It varied considerably through the week. We started crossing a scrubby plateau, but soon came to an area of sharp peaks and pinnacles. Much of the mountain was scrub or indeed barren, but the Barranco Valley was a verdant exception, with masses of greenery, including the giant Senecio kilimanjari. The final walk to the bottom of the mountain was through topic forest, complimented by birds and various types of monkeys. And as we had good weather for most of our time on the mountain, we had good views of the two peaks of Kilimanjaro – Kibo and Mawenzi. These were stunning, especially in the moonlight or at dawn.

The walking itself was a highlight for me. I love being outdoors, although the day-job for me is generally an indoors one. And I love being active. No beach holidays for us. Generally it wasn’t hard to walk, although in various places it was tougher as we had to scramble up a steeper rock face. The biggest challenge, apart from the final summit ascent, was one such rock face, known as the Barranco Wall. It may not be mountaineering as mountaineers would see it, but the 200m ascent up a steep mass of rock was close enough to the real thing for me, thank you very much!

Not a bad view I suppose

Not a bad view I suppose

And the final highlight I will pick is just the challenge. The challenge of doing something that was physically hard, and doing it with a group of like-minded people.

So what about the lowlights? I won’t dwell on these, but they have to be mentioned.

The hard part of Kilimanjaro is simply its altitude. The mountain peaks at 5,895m above sea level, and our bodies were simply not designed to operate at this height. At the top, the atmospheric pressure is about 50% of that at sea level. So there is less oxygen. Also the lungs’ ability to extract oxygen deteriorates with altitude, so a double-whammy. And when you are climbing difficult terrain the muscles are working harder, so they need more oxygen – a triple-whammy!

This affects different people in different ways. For myself, the biggest effect through the week was that of headaches. Our guide, Florence, introduced us to the rating scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being a slight headache and 10 being really really bad. He asked us to tell him of headaches, and any other health problems, as his primary job was not to get us to the top of the mountain, but to keep us safe. I had headaches on a number of days, but the worst I got was probably a 4 or 5. This was tackled by paracetamol. Others had more severe headaches, but nothing at the very top of the scale. If they had, and if the headaches persisted then Florence would have ensured that person descended the mountain.

Dawn at Karanga Camp

Dawn at Karanga Camp

Other effects were nausea and loss of appetite. Fortunately I was not affected by these symptoms, although quite a number of our party were, at different times. Florence had various medicines for these ailments too. I was affected by insomnia, which was partly the result of altitude and partly as a result of my ‘love’ of sleeping in a tent! This was not helped by the fact that each night the temperature dipped to freezing or below. This meant we awoke to ice on the outside of the tent, and a general reluctance to wash in the bowl of water that had been deposited next to our tent at about 6.45 each morning.

And breathing was hard work at times (for those of us that weren’t skipping up the mountain whilst singing!)

Throughout the week, these were the main things that affected our group. We supported each other well and we all managed to get through the trials and tribulations to Barafu Camp, the one below the summit.

But we only got there through the hard work of walking across the mountain for a week, and in putting up with the hardships. I wouldn’t have been with such a lovely bunch of people for a week if we had not all come together to accomplish the same goal. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the scenery if I hadn’t been prepared to put up with the deprivations of camping on a mountainside. And I wouldn’t have enjoyed the walking, and the challenges, unless I have been prepared to put up with the mild health effects of altitude.

So the lesson – Lesson No.12 – No Guts, No Glory (but try to hang on to your guts).

11. A journey of 5,895m starts with the first step

Having had the holiday, now it was time to start the work. We had seen the ‘wild life’, now it was time walk on the ‘wild side’ of the mountain! (Okay, a bit of artistic licence here.) But it was time to meet up with our climbing group.

And, as was not uncommon on this trip, Jonathan and I were late to the party. Not our fault on this occasion, as we were expecting a group briefing from our mountain guide in the evening. So a little perturbing when we polled into the hotel at about 5pm to find that the briefing had taken place in the afternoon and we had missed it. Like true pros we adjusted our plans, made arrangements to get a private briefing early the next morning and retired to our room prior to meeting up with the group for dinner.

And, as was not uncommon on this trip, Johnathan and I were the last to arrive for dinner. By that time the table was pretty much full, with an empty chair at each end. So we split up. And that proved to be an excellent start to the trip. It meant that we could chat to the people at our respective ends of the table, getting to know twice the number of people in the same space of time. We could also establish our own separate identity within the group rather than being seen as a pair.

I joined what turned out to be the Norwegian end of the table. I sat and chatted with two couples from Norway; Morton and Hilde and Bjorn and Katrine. Both lovely couples, and both of whom were familiar with the mighty Leicester City FC. Later I moved down the table and met Pete and Allison from the States and Dave from Australia. Lovely people. And it turned out that everyone in the group was lovely. Four Brits, four Norwegians, two Americans, three Aussies and two Swedes. One common goal, which was to climb Kilimanjaro and enjoy ourselves along the way.

The next day we had our briefing and then the bag-weighing ceremony. Almost all of the climbers would be carrying a relatively light back pack with the stuff they needed for the day (water, spare clothes, suntan cream, snacks etc.). The main luggage – and we were going to be on the mountain for over a week – was to be carried by the porters. And even with their superhuman strength, there was a limit as to what they could safely carry. And that meant that we had to leave a fair amount of excess baggage at the hotel, to be collected on our return. For me, that meant leaving some of the gluten-free food I was planning to take. However, that in itself was the start of a useful conversation, as I found out that two of the other party members – Pete and Ed – were Coeliac, like myself. Considering only about 1 in 300 people are diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, to find two others in my party was amazing. Rather than 1 in 300, the ratio in our party was 1 in 5!

A bumpy ride of a couple of hours saw us enter the Kilimanjaro National Park and travel some distance up the western side of the mountain. We had to disembark and sign in – much excitement. At that stage we were at an altitude of 2,250m. Higher than any point in the UK – but nothing to trouble us. Another short ride and then we did leave the jeeps for good. Almost a year to the day since I had first declared my intention to climb Kilimanjaro, I was now on the slopes of the enigmatic mountain, putting on my back pack and adjusting my walking poles. I was finally about to climb the mountain!


One of Jonathan’s photos – our group of porters

The start was a fairly gentle affair. The party assembled and set off. ‘Polepole’ (pronounced ‘poley-poley’) was a word we heard a lot on the mountain. It means slowly. And for most people, polepole is the only way to climb Kilimanjaro. There are multiple benefits of taking things slowly. The first is that it is easier to move slowly rather than fast (until we were actually coming down the scree-covered slopes from the summit some days later, when coming down slowly was quite difficult to do!). The second is that it is easier to breathe if you are exerting yourself less, and breathing is ‘a big deal’ at high altitude. And a third reason is that a slower ascent helps the body to acclimatise to the altitude. So polepole we started, and sometimes we could only move very polepole!

Much of the first few hours was relatively easy, which made it easy for us to talk to our fellow trekkers. All very pleasant and easy until we got to our first gulley. Only about a 10m drop, No problems in getting down and across the little stream. And then up the other side. Again, not a hard climb. But it was probably the first time that many of us started to breathe more heavily and realise that we were at altitude and that this was going to be no picnic.

150131 22 Day 1 Shira 1 Camp

Shira One campsite – our first

As the afternoon wore on we reached out first campsite. And it was a proper campsite. No comfortable huts for us. The porters, carrying all of our heavy luggage, their own kit and all the camping equipment had raced on ahead of us and erected tents for all of the party. Welcome to the world of camping!

If you have been following my blog you may recall my feelings for camping. It was not something I was looking forward to, and it managed to live down to all of my expectations. Cramped. Cold. Uncomfortable. And those are just the good things I have to say about tents and camping!

And unlike my one previous camping experience in the UK, there was not even a warm and welcoming pub in which to spend the evening. We had our evening meal in the mess tent at about 6.30pm and by about 7.30pm we were heading back to our tents and to bed!

I can’t say I slept much that night, which was something of a pattern on the trip. Various factors contributed to this. However, I had read that high altitude does make sleeping difficult. I was glad when morning came. Although I was cold and had to get used to washing in a bowl of water, delivered to the tent, I was glad to be up and out and about to crack on with another day.

150131 24 Day 1 View from the camp 2

View from the campsite at Shira One

We still had a long way to go, but we had taken our first steps. And that is the lesson for this post. To get to the end, you have to start. For me the first steps were taken over twelve months ago. Jonathan and I wanted to enjoy the company we had on the mountain, so the evening meal at the hotel provided us with the opportunity of taking our first steps of getting to know everyone. And the polepole start to our trekking was the first steps in reaching the peak at 5,985m.

Lesson No.11 – A journey of 5,895m starts with the first step. What is your journey, and what is the first step you can take?

10 What are your crater walls?

One of the benefits of involving my friend Jonathan in the trip was the way in which he expanded my original idea. My first plan had been to climb Kilimanjaro as part of a group from a national charity. We would sign up to one of their scheduled trips, which would see us climb the mountain in a relatively short time, and then come home. Jonathan suggested that we look into the matter more deeply, and consider the possibility of including some additional time in Tanzania. The country has a fine array of National Parks within fairly easy reach of the mountain. If we were going all that way it would be a shame to come back without seeing the wonderful wildlife.

So, that is what we did. After some research we arranged our trip through a travel company called Gane and Marshall, and included a few days in the National Parks as part of the trip. We also included a day of trekking up another mountain in the area as well. This was to give us some time to acclimatise to altitude, which would be our main challenge when we came to climb the ‘real mountain’. The trek up this mountain (Ol Deani) saw us ascend about 1,000m – roughly the height of Scafell Pike or of Snowdon (the tallest mountains in England and Wales). But the altitude we reached was nearly 3,200m – about 2 and a half times the height of Ben Nevis, the UK’s tallest mountain. And quite high enough for us to start feeling the effects of the altitude!

However, whilst Ol Deani was good, the time we had in the National Parks was even better. We flew in to Kilimanjaro International Airport on Tuesday 27th January, arriving at about 9.30 in the morning. We were met by our driver and guide for the next few days, a lovely chap called Miraj. He drove us straight over to the Tarangire National Park. Before entering the park proper, we sat in the car park, eating our lunch. We were joined by a small family of monkeys, who also showed great interest in eating our lunch. And then we drove into the park (but without the monkeys).

Fantastic. My first experience of anything like this, and it was a great one. Within minutes we were stopping and taking pictures of a warthog. Then impala. Then big, improbable-looking birds. And then, far in the distance we spotted elephants. Miraj duly stopped, letting us enjoy the excitement of our first spot of big game. We took a dozen or so long-distance photos, not wanting to find that these were the only elephants we were to see and to miss the opportunity of capturing them ‘on camera’. Little did we know that the park was teeming with elephants! Within a few minutes we had seen more small groups, and then larger groups, and then a whole herd of elephants. And not just at long distance. Over the next few days we found ourselves up close and personal with elephants on at least half a dozen occasions.

We also came across a rare group of ‘lesser-spotted French’. They were of particular interest as their jeep had become stuck in the mud as it tried to drive up the bank after it had crossed a shallow river. The jeep had to be pushed backwards into the river, and went back to the far side, leaving our slightly flustered european cousins on the near side. Much mirth as they were invited to walk across the river, on the assurance that there were no crocodiles in this part!

The next day we went to another National Park, and this was the most interesting. It is called the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and within it lies the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater (technically a caldera for all you geography buffs) is all that remains of a large volcano that was originally higher than Mount Kilimanjaro. The volcano blew long ago, but it left behind an area of approx. 100 square miles within the walls of the circling crater, which stand some 600m above the crater floor. Nowhere else in the world is there a caldera of this size on the land.

The sides of the crater are fairly steep. They vary in their terrain, from very steep and tree-covered to more gentle and grass-covered. But they make a fairly impressive barrier. And within the crater live a profusion of wild animals.

I will mention that the area is not without its controversy. For much of the last 200 years the Maasai, one of the local (and best known) tribes have lived in and around the crater. They are pastoral farmers, deriving most of their livelihood from their herds of cattle. However, they are now banned from much of the area and their traditional way of life is under threat.

This we learned a little later. Our main focus on the day was the wildlife. And what wildlife! From a vantage point on the rim we looked down and saw little, although a ranger did point out a couple of small, light-coloured blobs who were slowly moving away from us. It turns out that these were rhinos, some of the relatively few that live in the crater. It was only when we got down to the floor of the crater we realised how many animals lived there.

The first animals we saw in any number were zebra. Beautiful beasts. And then we encountered wildebeest. Not quite so beautiful, but still very impressive. Impala and other antelope. And a few herd of wild buffalo. And where there is game, there are predators. We saw a few jackals and hyenas, but most impressive were the lions. Fortunately for the other animals, the carnivores all seemed to have had their fill for the day, so no dramatic David Attenborough hunt scenes for us to watch at close hand.

So, a magnificent set of animals in a magnificent setting. And it was this that got me thinking.

For some of the animals in the crater, the crater would have been their whole world. And in fact, not just their whole world, but the whole world. They would never have known life outside of the crater. Now, I don’t want to get into arguments as to how much animals think or are aware of the bigger world (although with stories of migration and of the memory of elephants it is probably more than we often believe). What I do want to do is to think about humans. And the view they have of the world.

For some, the world is a big place, with news coming in to their life from much of it. Some are lucky enough to travel to other parts of their own country, or to other countries. They have an appreciation of what goes on ‘over there’. For some, the world is a far smaller place. There may be restrictions as to the news they can receive, and for some the cost of travel is prohibitive. However, for others the world is a small place because they put up their own barriers. They chose to live in their own crater, without ever venturing to see what is on the other side of the walls.

What barriers am I putting up in my life? What am I choosing to exclude; to put beyond the barriers? When am I staying within the comfort zone of my own barriers, rather than to expand my knowledge and capabilities?

For many (although not all) of the animals in the Ngorongoro Crater, the walls of the crater are the things that hold them in. My lesson this time is more of a question than a lesson – Lesson No.10 – What are your crater walls? Can you take the chance to move beyond them?

Next week my blog will move us on to the mountainside. I hope you will be there with me.

9. Impressions of Tanzania – there is always a different way of doing things

If you have been following my blog so far you will know the preparation for my trip to Mount Kilimanjaro started over a year ago. In January 2014 I announced to a surprised and probably somewhat sceptical group of managers on a training course that I would be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in January 2015. At that stage I had no idea if this would come true or not, but by making the public commitment I greatly increased the chance of it happening.

And in late January, true to my word, I set off for a trip of a lifetime with my friend Jonathan. In addition to Kilimanjaro we had also arranged to spend a few days in Tanzania prior to the climb. This was to see the wonderful wildlife and to sample some of the culture of the country. As well as plenty of clothes, plenty of gluten-free food (thanks, Eva), plenty of protein shake (thanks, Alison), I also took with me the good wishes and encouragement of many.

I am pleased to report that at approx. 7.30am on Friday 6th February 2015 Jonathan and I both reached the Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro. At 5,895m this is the highest point on the Africa continent and is sometimes described as the Roof of Africa. It was the hardest challenge of my life, and I think I have learned a few lessons on the trip. I hope to share these with you over the next few weeks by keeping you interested, amused and engaged by my tale. I am sure that you will stop reading if I don’t!

So, my first impressions of Tanzania. Wow! What a culture shock. I have travelled a little in Europe and in North America, but nothing prepared me for the way of life in Tanzania. Tanzania is a poor country. Its latest GDP per head was $630, placing it within the bottom 25 countries in the world. More than half of its population are employed in agricultural production – many of them in subsistence farming. Life expectancy – 61 (which is a sobering thought for a fifty-something year old). However, by other measures, it is country of riches. It has had a stable government since independence in the 1960s and a multi-party democracy since 1995. Its wildlife is second to none and it has been acclaimed as one of the happiest countries in the world.

There is so much I could write but I will pull out just a few points:

  • Lots of people in the town and villages, with hundreds – perhaps thousands – of small shops and businesses lining the main roads. People are not working in large building (factories, offices etc.). Instead they are working in very small-scale operations.
  • Various modes of transport, from cycles and motorbikes (LOTS of motorbikes) – all of which seemed to be carrying impossibly large loads – to small motorised taxis, to small vans masquerading as buses and even a few buses! Transport to suit your earnings – and plenty of people walking too!
  • Few multi-story buildings, even in the towns. In fact we passed many half-built buildings. At first I thought these were ruins – buildings on their way out. It turns out to be the opposite – they were work-in-progress. When people get a little wealth they often invest in (literally) bricks and mortar, to replace their wooden or sheet-metal houses. They start to build a house, and this often takes years to complete. No big house-building companies here or pretty show-homes on new estates. Here you build your own, as and when you can afford to do so.
  • Predominance of mobile phones. Practically every other shop, out of the many, many we passed on our travels, were advertising for Vodaphone, Airtel or other mobile services. We asked why so many, and the answer is that phones are generally cheap models, run on a pay-as-you-go basis. And people often can only afford to put the equivalent of a dollar or 50 cents credit on the phone at any one time. The numerous stores thus service the huge market of regular users with low transaction values.

Above all, my impression was one of bustle, vibrancy, even a little chaos. But it works! The Tanzanians are participating in the modern world in a very different way to you and me. But it is a way that works for them.

And this is my lesson – Lesson No.9 – There is always a different way of doing things. Be flexible and adjust to the circumstances in which you find yourself. If you can’t change the world, change yourself. Do what it takes. That’s what the Tanzanians do.

Next week I will tell you about a very special place, the Ngoro Ngoro Crater. It has wildlife in abundance, but in a very unusual setting. And it made me think about the ‘setting’ in which we all live.

8. Be firm on the goal, be flexible as to methods (or Charity begins at home, but it ends in Kenya)

The final weeks of ‘Project Kilimanjaro’ have flown by. There has been lots of activity to do with Kilimanjaro, and lots of activity connected with ‘the day job’ and lots of activity at home. And as I am sure that you know, its hard work fighting on three fronts. Still, we are getting there.

The Kili activity has come in a number of different forms. I increased my running from the summer onwards. Seven miles before breakfast? A mere bagatelle! Eight or nine miles at a weekend? A walk in the park! Six half marathon last year? Yeah, doesn’t everyone?! Although this is no guaranteed protection against Altitude Sickness, it should certainly help. I have even been walking up and down a few hills locally, mainly to get used to the boots and the rucksack.

Other more practical activities have been undertaken, like getting the appropriate vaccinations for travel to Africa, and getting the right kit and equipment for the trip. I have also had to think about food. Having Coeliac Disease means that I should not eat food containing gluten – and as many of my friends know when they have tried to cook a meal for me, this excludes a LOT of food from my diet! But this is where having good friends has helped. Alison has provided a gluten-free shake for me to take. This will give me a good dose of nutrients and comes with weight/size efficiency. I just need to hope that the customs officials at the various airports don’t take objection to my tub of shake (“Oh, pea protein is it sir? That’s what they all say.”) And Eva has provided me with whole load of gluten-free food from the company where she works. I just need to hire another porter to carry it all. I thank them both.

The other main activity linked to my walk has been in fund-raising. My travelling companion Johnathan and I took the decision early on that we would book our trip via a travel company, rather than link up with a charity that was organising a group to do the climb. Although it meant that we had to pay for the trip ourselves, it also meant that we were neither committed to one charity nor committed to raising a certain amount.

This enabled me to choose three charities to benefit from any donations I collected. One is the Footprints Orphanage in Kenya, who care for twenty or so orphans at any one time. The second is Coeliac UK – the charity supporting people like myself with Coeliac Disease. And the third is the Woodland Trust. The money raised for the Woodland Trust will all be spent on the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood, which I have been playing my small part to create in north-west Leicestershire. So, an international, a national and a local charitable cause will all benefit from any kind and generous donations.

However, setting up the charity page was not as straightforward as I had hoped. The orphanage was not registered with Virgin Money, and the registration process has been somewhat torturous. Hats off to Kevin, who represents the orphanage here in the UK, for doing all the work to fix this up. It’s now less than 4 days until I fly off and the orphanage has just be registered. The charity site has already taken donations, which will be split by the other two charities. However, I will stick to my word of supporting each charity equally, so I’ll have to juggle the donations at the end to make this happen. And sticking to my word is important to me.

My goal has been to raise money – and ideally I want to raise £3,000 so that all charities receive £1,000. My good friend Teresa has already raised nearly £350, and online donations have already topped £500, so we are on the way!

My thought in January last year – climb Kilimanjaro and raise money for charity. And although the methods may have changed over the last 12 months, the goal has remained fixed. Lesson No. Eight – Be firm on the goal, be flexible as to methods (or Charity begins at home, but it ends in Kenya).

And that’s about all I’ll have time for now, before I set off. After a few days in Tanzania, acclimatizing to the weather and the altitude, we will begin our climb of the mountain on Saturday 31st January. The transport will drop us off on the west side of the mountain at an altitude of about 2,800m. We climb about 700m to reach the first campsite (camping – yuck!). Over the next 5 days we steadily traverse the mountain to reach the final camp below the summit (4,600m). And on Friday 6th Feb we will set off at midnight for the final ascent. If we make it up to the rim of the mountain top we will have climbed to 5,735m, and if we make it to the very top we will be at 5,896m. The highest point on the African Continent. And the day will just be dawning.

Thank you for following my blog. If I can post a progress report during the trip I will do. If not, I know I go with the best wishes of Christine, Tinkerbell and the rest of my family and my many friends, and I will tell you all about it when I get back!

7. Altitude Sickness – be as prepared as you can be

This is the tough one. For many would-be conquerors of Mount Kilimanjaro, the thing that gets to them is not the technical challenge of the climb, nor the absolute physical effort required, but the effects of altitude.

Basically, our bodies are used to working at home. In the UK, home for almost all of us is at altitudes no more than 1,000 metres above sea level. The top of Ben Nevis, our tallest mountain, is only 1,344m above sea level. The effects of altitude generally start to be felt above 1,500m. Above this height, air pressure becomes lower, which means that for every breath you take there is less oxygen. And oxygen, it turns out, is somewhat important in keeping one alive.

The body starts to behave differently as it tries to make up for the change in oxygen levels. Breathing becomes faster and deeper. Often there is a feeling of being ‘out of breath’, accompanied by headaches, sleeping badly and not feeling hungry. These are symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

There are a number of ways of preventing or at least reducing the effects of AMS. The best way is to forget about going anywhere near mountains and just having a relaxing beach holiday. The second best way is to gradually acclimatise the body to higher attitudes. In effect the longer you are at high altitude, the more the body adjusts to the oxygen levels, and so the nasty effects are reduced. Also, a good trick is to climb higher during the day and then come down the mountain a little for sleeping.

Our planned route to the top of Kilimanjaro will probably be a game of two halves (or possibly three!). We are following what is known as the Shira route, which approaches the mountain from the West. From the town of Arusha we are driven to a drop-off point just inside the National Park at an altitude of 2,800m and we reach our first campsite after 4 – 5 hours of walking and having gained another 750m of altitude. So, by the end of Day One we are at 3,550m. And if you recall, the effects of altitude can be felt anywhere over 1,500m. Gulp!

However, from there we take a much more leisurely walk across the southern flank of the mountain. Over the next three days we gain only another 1,000m in terms of the altitude of our evening campsites. The following day our campsite is lower, and then only slightly higher on the final night before we strike out for the summit. So, if we cope with the shock of the altitude on the first day, we will probably not find the rest of the week too bad. Plenty of time to think about the other hardships of the journey rather than AMS!

And then the final ascent. This is the toughest one. We set off at about midnight and climb for 5 or 6 hours to reach the ridge of the Crater Rim by just before dawn (I did tell you that Kilimanjaro was a dormant volcano didn’t I?). The gain in height is over 1,000m at this time. But that is not the end point (at least not for all). Those who are still able can walk for a further hour or so to the highest point on the mountain – Uhuru Peak – at an oxygen-sapped 5,896m. This is the highest point in Africa, and higher than any point in Europe, in Australasia, in South East Asia and in Antarctica. This is the point for which we are aiming. If we do achieve this, it then just a matter of a further walk of some 6 or more hours. But at least this is all downhill!

As I write this, I honestly don’t know if Jonathan and I will reach the top of the mountain. Altitude sickness can affect anyone, and fitness is no guarantee of success. And if the symptoms are ignored, much more dangerous medical conditions can come into play, which for some, alas, have proven to be fatal.

What I do know is that we will do all we can to reach the top. We have given ourselves the best chance we can by:

  • Choosing a tour company with an excellent track record of getting people safely to the top
  • Getting as fit as we can, as this will help
  • Going to Africa a few days before the Kilimanjaro climb and trekking up a smaller mountain (but one that is still over twice the height of Ben Nevis)
  • Going on one of the slower routes across the mountain, to give us the maximum acclimatisation time before we make the final ascent

So, we are prepared.

And how does this relate to ‘the day job’? Well, I often come across people who are looking for a career that takes them higher and higher in the organisation or in their industry. This means promotion or moves to other employers. And sometimes things go well, and sometimes things don’t go so well. Without getting too much into detail, I would recommend that people think of their career in terms of climbing a mountain. Think about what you can do to prepare for the next increase in altitude. Look for opportunities of working at a higher level, but with the chance to return back to your ‘home level’ after a period of exposure at the higher level. And think about your physical fitness, which can also play an important part in your rise to the top.

In summary, be like us. Lesson No. Seven – Be as prepared as you can be for Altitude Sickness – but don’t let it stop you from striking out for the peaks!

No. 6 Camping – don’t do it

I can’t get away from it. The fact that there are no hotels on Mount Kilimanjaro. The best that some trekkers achieve is to sleep overnight in huts. However, the route we are taking does not come with this level of luxury. So camping it will have to be.

Although not in the same league as some, I would describe myself as an out-doors sort of person. Having grown up playing cricket in the summer and playing football in the winter, I got used to adverse weather conditions. I also enjoyed my time playing American Football and well remember the effort we had to put in to clear the pitch of snow in the hours before my first match. When playing we took the attitude of loving the rain. It seemed to give us an advantage over other teams, so when the rain came down, the shout went up – “Panthers’ winning weather!”

When it comes to travel though, our usual option these days is the 3 star hotel. That little bit of comfort with a good location, preferably near a city centre in some country where I can make myself understood in English. (I am sure that my order of ‘small fries and a milk shake’ in French, at a fine Parisian dining establishment {McDonalds} didn’t really sound like ‘six chicken McNuggets’ that I was served!).

Alas, no 3 star hotels on the mountain, nor, I fear, even a McDonalds. So, as part of my preparation for the trip I thought that at least one night in a tent was called for.

With Jonathan, my travel companion, I ventured as far as the Peak District on a weekend in September. Jonathan is much more familiar with holidays under canvass than I, so it was no big deal for him. But for me, at my tender middle age, this was to be my first night sleeping outdoors.

Having pitched our two-man tent, which will be the style for our Kilimanjaro trip, we did what any self-respecting campers do and found ourselves a pub. A good meal was had and we returned to the campsite. Fortunately the weather was good, with a clear sky. Some other campers were having a much more outdoorsy experience, having barbequed their meal. There was even singing and the obligatory guitar! However, soon it was time for bed.

The clear sky, although giving a fine view of the stars, also heralded a chilly night. I did sleep, but it was pretty uncomfortable. Cold and sleeping on a hard surface. And getting up and getting dressed is not quite the same experience in a cold tent as in a warm bedroom. Not the best preparation for walking. But I had done it. And the climb up to Kinder Scout was a pleasure. Hard work, but a pleasure.

So, Lesson No. Six. If you have to do it, be prepared for the hardship of camping, but if you don’t have to, don’t do it! Work hard, save your money and use good quality hotels on your travels!

5. Fail to Prepare, then . . .

It's all in the throw

It’s all in the throw

Spring moves on to early summer, and it’s time to put some elbow behind the good intentions. Time to book ourselves a trip to Kilimanjaro.

Back in January, Kilimanjaro came back into my thoughts due to a leaflet from a charity. It was pretty much a one-liner on the leaflet, alongside charity bike rides, walks and runs. But the one-line led to a website, where there was much more information. After a few minutes reading, I was smitten.

Slightly daunting was the sponsorship money that people needed to raise for the charity to become a member of the trekking party. Some of this would no doubt be to pay for the costs of the trip, with the remainder to go to the charity. I would of course pay for the costs, but it still left a hefty target to achieve. However, if I was going to get to do the climb, this was the way to do it. Or so I thought . . .

And this is where my friend Jonathan comes in. Having agreed to join me on the trip, he suggested that we do a little investigation before we sign up with the charity. Was it the only one going? If not, how did the trips vary? Could we do anything else whilst we were in Tanzania?

This research uncovered a number of interesting facts. First was that the specific charity I had been looking at was by no means the only route to the top of Kilimanjaro. Other charities had trekking parties to the mountain, and quite a number of travel agents also arranged trips. We also found that another major factor was in the length of time we would spend on the mountain. The slower one ascends the mountain, the less the altitude effects the body, as it gradually acclimatizes to the different pressure and atmospheric conditions. This reduces the likelihood or the severity of altitude sickness. So, if we could find a trip that took longer than the charity one, we would stand a better chance of reaching the summit.

This led to further investigation. A company called Gane and Marshall organised a variety of treks on Kilimanjaro, including one that took eight days on the mountain. The success rate of getting people to the top was in the high 90% – much better than trips that were quicker. Gane and Marshall were also the company that got the Comic Relief team of nine celebrities to the summit for the Red Nose Day appeal in 2009. If they could get pampered celebs to endure the hardship of the mountain, they obviously knew what they were doing!

So, within a couple of weeks we had provisionally booked our trip. We gave ourselves an even greater chance of reaching the summit by planning to reach Tanzania a few days before the climb to trek up a smaller mountain near to Kilimanjaro, along with a couple of days of safari.

The excitement of the booking over – the hard work began. We had to work on:

  • Getting fit – especially by having some hill walks (at the least) and other exercise
  • Acquiring the right clothes and equipment – getting used to them all
  • Arranging vaccinations and visas
  • Starting to make plans for fund-raising (yes, charities will still benefit from our efforts)

More like planning for an expedition than planning for a holiday. Lots to get right before we stepped onto the mountain.

And it will be this careful preparation, from booking the right trip, with the right company, and preparing both ourselves and our kit and equipment that will see us to the top of the mountain.

In juggling, the experts tell us it is not so much the catch of the ball that is important as the throw. If the throw is in the right place the hand will automatically move to catch the ball. I think it will be similar with climbing: if the preparation is right, the execution of the climb will be that much easier (although by no means a doddle).

Lesson No. 5 for aspiring climbers – or for that matter aspiring anythings (!) – fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.