Kilimanjaro: Final preparations

With only 3 days to go, as is usual for me, I’ve stopped worrying about all the things that could go wrong and am allowing myself to start getting excited. I do all my worrying (including many sleepless nights) about such things weeks or even months before. Which is great, really, as it leaves me free to enjoy the final preparations. I’ve been very lucky with the weather in the last week, as the recent snowfalls have enabled me to get in some last minute winter practice on the hills.

I’d been planning to do Snowdon with my two regular walking friends, Ann and Ian, for months, but somehow we ran out of time and good weather possibilities (and we were all terribly busy with work deadlines) so instead, we decided to head out into the wilds of North Yorkshire last weekend, both for me to get in a good long walk in tough conditions as final practice, and for us to let our hair down a little after all our various work deadlines (I’d been doing nothing but work and go to the gym for the last couple of months, including over Christmas, and every evening and weekend too, often getting up at 5 or 6am so I could fit in a day’s work, go to a gym class, and then work again till 10 or 11pm). We headed off to the youth hostel in Ingleton (first time I’d been in a youth hostel for approximately 20 years – I must say, they’ve improved a little, though surprisingly there wasn’t any wifi), ditched our bags, and headed to the pub for a few pints (or in my case, glasses of red wine, some food and more than a few games of pool). By chance, Ian had brought a bottle of Drambuie that a friend owed me, so we proceeded to make inroads into it once back at the youth hostel. Luckily we decided to stop drinking before it got too late and before we were too much the worse for wear, but despite not being hungover in the morning, I was very dehydrated (when will I *ever* learn about dehydration?!) This was also not helped by the fact that the heating was on full blast all night (WHY? Why does anyone feel the need to turn heating on at night? That’s what duvets are for. It’s ridiculous!), and the fact that I slept terribly (partly due to the heat, partly just because I get insomnia, and it happened to strike that night). So I was tired and dehydrated the next morning when we set off, though fortified by a fantastic cooked breakfast.

We climbed Ingleborough after only two false starts (walking pole issues and then a wrong turn) and the conditions got steadily worse as we ascended. I lent Ann my Yaktrax near the start as it was quite icy, and tried out my cheapie Ice Gripper things, which actually did a good job, though not really designed for rough terrain). We decided to descend rapidly after reaching the top – the wind was howling and my whole face was numb. I was also trying out some alternative equipment, and I soon discovered that my new buff kept slipping off my face (balaclava MUCH better) and that my gloves were not nearly as warm as my mittens. Regretted not bringing said balaclava and mittens! I was noticeably slower than Ann and Ian, which surprised me a little after all the fitness, but in retrospect I think it was the combination of lack of sleep and dehydration (not helped by the fact that my hydration bladder froze on the descent). In the afternoon we climbed Whernside and were met with similar conditions, though I was even slower on the final ascent (I probably also hadn’t eaten enough lunch, and was definitely dehydrated – I realised later I didn’t go to the loo between 1pm and 9pm that night, despite drinking 2 litres of water and several cups of coffee). On the upside, I had barely tested my blood sugar all day (it was too cold to stop), but it stayed pretty much constant at a good level, apart from one hypo on the second descent, averted with a few jelly babies, and my new thermal bag worked a treat, keeping my meter toasty warm!

Despite the freezing conditions, it was a great little trip and gave me some good practice in slippery icy snowy and windy conditions. I doubt it’ll be that bad on the top of Kilimanjaro (at least, I doubt it’ll be that windy) so I feel a lot more prepared. Apart from my hands and face which got very cold, my core stayed warm throughout despite having only 3 layers on (Under Armous base layer, windproof heavy fleece jacket and a wind/waterproof jacket). We never stopped for more than a couple of minutes at a time though. Showed the advantages also of not having too many layers and getting hot and sweaty on the uphill (in the Antartic, you can actually die from getting too hot as you then freeze when the sweat dries). I did, however, wonder how long it takes to get frostbite in your hands (my fingers went numb a few times, though I managed to stop, curl them up in my gloves and rub some life back into them). The day was also much improved by the consumption of some of the remaining Drambuie when we got back to the car, which I’d had to put into my spare Thermos flask due to the cork on the original bottle breaking. I can testify that Drambuie in hot chocolate goes very well! I had a few surreptitious slugs of Drambuie on the train back to Sheffield later too 🙂 Sadly we won’t be allowed Drambuie on Kilimanjaro due to the altitude, so will have to settle for hot tea.

So, I’m now feeling very prepared, and have packed my main bag, with just a few bits and pieces to slot in. However, I’m still debating the Diamox question. More on this in my next post….

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