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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.

4. The Power of a Challenging Goal

So, it is now the Spring of 2014 and Jonathan and I are going to Kilimanjaro. Well, we think we are. I have told a fair few people I am going, and Jonathan has started to tell people as well. But there is a great deal of difference between saying we are going and actually going!snow - ski

Sometimes people say things, and just don’t mean them. For example, Bob and Bono were singing about there being No Snow in Africa this Christmas time in 1985 (and one or two times since!). Now, as they are intelligent folks, I am sure that they know that there is a high likelihood of snow in Africa this Christmas time, and most Christmas times. In Morocco, for example, there are ski resorts. Ethiopia has mountains that receives snowfalls. And it even snows in some places close to the Equator. In Tanzania for example – on top of Mount Kilimanjaro . . .

In fact, students of English Literature may be aware of an Ernest Hemmingway short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”. I’ll have to put that into my rucksack when I go.

However, I think we can forgive Bob and company for taking this artistic licence, as they were raising money for such a good cause.

Back to the point. Some people say things that they mean at the time, but just don’t follow through on them. I come across this all the time with some of the youngsters in my life. “I am going to start dieting and lose 3 stone” is a fairly common refrain. And within a couple of days it becomes “Can I have a packet of crisps please?”

Sometimes this is because the goal set is too big. I have to encourage them to think in smaller terms. Why not have a week without crisps, rather than such a vague or long-term goal as “I am going to diet”? Reward for achievement of these smaller goals (but NOT with a packet of crisps!).

However, sometimes the goals set are too small-scale. Whilst easier to achieve, they can be too easy, and therefore not be seen as such a challenge. Sometimes we need to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals, as the business-writers Jim Collins and Jerry Porras put it in their book Built to Last. These are goals that set the juices flowing. These are the goals that get you up in the morning.

For me, this was the case. For years I had been getting up early two or three times a week to go for a run. Sometimes this was easy, but sometimes (e.g. rain, wind, cold, laziness etc.) were reasons to remain in bed. I run half marathons, and they had been a good reason for me to do the running. However, having the goal of climbing Kilimanjaro was a much more compelling reason to get up. I have now had more runs this year than I ever have, and the average run is a lot longer now that it has been in the past. This would NOT have happened without Kilimanjaro.

So, Lesson No. Four – thinks about goals. Small, short-term goals may be appropriate and useful sometimes. And at other times the power of a challenging goal can really work wonders.

3. Gaining momentum – gathering a team

1 Prop 1 - Old Kent Road

human pyramidThe goal – to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. The deadline – January 2015. The means – go with a party of likeminded people, probably all raising money for a charity. The motivation – achievement. And not wanting to wimp out now that I had told people I was going to do it!

So much was known about the trip. However, I wanted to make it easier on myself by having someone to join me on the journey. Someone to share in the fun. Or probably more importantly, someone to spur me on when the going gets tough.

For all sorts of excellent reasons, my wife Christine did not want to come with me. So, who would be mad enough to join me on this exploit?

I asked a number of people, and like Christine they had excellent reasons to thank me for the offer and to politely turn me down. No worries. If no-one came with me, I would still be going.

And then a chance meeting with an old school pal. I see Jonathan a few times a year, and we do ‘have form’. Back in the early Eighties we had a couple of walking holidays together. We have tackled the treacherous paths of The Lake District (i.e. the safe bits by the lakes rather than the high bits near the mountains), and the wilderness that IS Dartmoor. Oh yes – Youth Hostelling didn’t get tougher than this! Well it didn’t for us, anyway. After that, we went our own separate ways, but stayed in touch over the years with the occasional meeting. In fact, my last adventure with Jonathan was in the summer of 2012, when we set ourselves the challenge of going around London in 24 hours, collecting photographs of all of the places represented on the Monopoly board. That was a fun rush around London, but the Kilimanjaro challenge would be in an all-together different league.

I mentioned to Jonathan that I was going to Kilimanjaro and was looking for company. Encouraging, his first reaction was not “well good luck on that one”. Not an instant jump for joy from him, but not a decline either. He said that he would think about it. And think he did. (Jonathan is good at thinking). But after a short time he called me to say that he would take up the challenge.

And didn’t that make me feel a whole lot better! I had someone to go with. Someone to plan with. Someone to hold me to account if I thought of backing out.

And I also had a following. Jonathan took on much of the planning for the trip. And some of the folks who could not come with me wanted to help in other ways. My friend Teresa would end up putting in hours of work, making jams and potting plants to sell to raise money for charities related to the trip. Others offered help in other ways, such as offers of food and equipment. More of them offered advice, or put me in touch with others who had made the trip.

So, rather than becoming a solo effort, I had a team to back me up. And that is my Lesson No. Three. The task is so much easier if you can Get a Team. When I do make it to the top of Kilimanjaro I will have a LOT of people to thank!

Join me next week to find out why there WILL be snow in Africa this Christmas time, despite what Bob and co may say!

2. Back on track. Public Commitment

Early January 2014. The usual assortment of mail. Much of it asking for money from me. Most of it ending in the bin after a brief glance. But for some reason, my attention was caught by one of the charity letters I received. Amongst the requests for money there was a request for people to join in on some of the charity’s activities. A marathon. A long-distance bike ride. A climb of Kilimanjaro . . .

Kilimanjaro. Africa’s highest mountain. The biggest free standing mountain in the world. Majestic in the coastal plains of Northern Tanzania.

And that was it. Back came the memories of that talk long ago, given by a conqueror of Everest. Back came the thoughts of me going on an adventure. Back came Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones, cracking his bull whip and shooting the big swordsman with the very sharp-looking scimitar. Here was a chance to do all of those things and be all of those things (well, without the whip and the gun). And here was the chance to raise a not-insignificant sum of money for a very worthwhile charity. I was smitten.

First hurdle was to get the trip signed off by Christine, without whose support the trip would never have been possible. And what is so wonderful about her support is that it is something that she really does not want me to do. But she appreciates that it is something I really want to do, and in this she supports me. What a star she is!

The second action was to make good my earlier mistake of keeping this dream private. And I had the chance soon after. I was delivering a training programme to a group of managers and one of the topics was on coaching methods. One suggested practice in coaching is to get the person being coached to commit to action. And the more public the declaration, the more likely they are to follow through. So, in January 2014 I declared to a group of some 15 managers that in a year’s time I would be climbing Kilimanjaro. And that was it. It was out there. Chances were I would be seeing some of these people again on future training events. And chances were that at least some of them would remember and ask me how it was going, or if I had done it. So from that point, there was no turning back.

So, Lesson No. Two from my Kilimanjaro journey. Make it public. It you are going to do something, tell people that you are going to do it. That way you immediately set up a group of people who will hold you to account. Make a public commitment – and you are more likely to make it happen.

Look out for my next post when I gain momentum by gaining further support.