Welcome back folks. I wanted to talk about fitness today, particularly trekking and the pitfalls that can be expected, especially in mountain environments. To convey just how important this is and the kind of preparation (both mentally and physically) you might need, I also want to share just how important planning is and how to choose the right equipment. The perfect way to achieve this, is to talk a bit about my experience climbing Mount Kilimanjaro back in 2001.
Originally, I was inspired to do such a thing after noticing an unusual advertisement in Men’s Fitness magazine. There was a whole page describing and encouraging people to sign up for a charitable event, in order to raise funds for kids with mobility needs. The twist was to raise a certain amount of money through sponsorship, by getting on a plane to Tanzania in Africa and climbing the world’s highest free standing mountain: Mount Kilimanjaro.
At the time, I was a buyer for an International security company so the likeliness of receiving good sponsorships through prospective suppliers was incredibly high and turned out to be immensely fruitful. Before I knew it I was sat in a hotel in Ethopia for a night before heading to Arusha in Tanzania for a few acclimatisation treks.
The Final Ascent
It took nine days to reach the final base camp before attempting the summit, and over those nine days we frequently ascended 1000 metres and returned to sleep at progressive altitudes for further acclimatization. Over those days, various members of the group were stopping momentarily to vomit, complaining of piercing headaches. Considering this was only around the 12,000 ft mark, it was quite a concern for the k-release energy bars for immediate sugar hits and we were heading out to cover around 500 metres over an 8-hour period in temperatures that exceeded -45 degrees with windchill. As we progressed up the steep incline in single file we chanted ‘poly poly’ while a huge mountaineering veteran from the Scottish Highlands screamed rhythmic words of encouragement. One by one I felt my group members slip past me in the opposite direction as I labored forward with each step. They had been somewhere at the front of the line and had been sent back down due to serious problems with altitude sickness. Shortly after, I remember been sat in a group inside a nearby cave on the mountain face drinking tea from a flask and chowing down on one of my energy bars, shivering in the chill of the high altitude temperatures. But at least we were out of the wind. All I wanted at that moment was to be back at the camp next to a roaring fire, tucking into a steaming bowl of beef casserole.
Mind over Matter
We pressed on for a while and then it was my turn. The altitude sickness had hit me so hard three crew members and a medic made snap decision via radio communication and they called for a compression chamber.
I was told the following morning that I had got quite aggressive with the decision makers and that I forged ahead some two hours beforehand drifting in and out of consciousness. My mental commitment powered me forward but by body wasn’t having it.
In hindsight, I didn’t give anywhere near the right amount of consideration to the clothing, footwear and general trekking equipment that is essential to your success and prevention of your demise, even though at the time I thought I did. I carried water in Sigg bottles and had a video camera in my pack for Pete’s sake! The others were carrying just a few kilos and were constantly hydrating themselves through a tube that was fixed a couple of inches from their mouths. Every time I reached for my water, I was expending unnecessary energy and with an oxygen content in the atmosphere of about 10-15%, I was simply asking for trouble. I was ill prepared.
If you’re planning any kind of serous trek or climb in the near future I would strongly advise planning ahead right away. You don’t need to go out and spend a fortune either. Specialist outdoors shops are always keen to sell you top brand names, and while they look and sound good, they’re not always the right choice. I would personally suggest buying used, as it means you can buy better with the budget you have. There are plenty of second hand goods for sale online. Have a look; you’ll be amazed at the deals and the quality of the things that are available. Anyway, from me: happy trekking, and keep your wits about you. Like I said, it’s as much a mental thing as a physical one. You can trust me on that. Thanks for stopping by, until next time..