Late one Sunday night in September, I was doing my last social media check before turning out the lights. I stumbled across a tweet from Eco-Africa Climbing (EAC) looking for women to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, on International Women’s Day in March 2018. Immediately, my heart fluttered and my eyes were wide open.
In an instant, I knew my next challenge would be this trek. Over the last 2 years, I have been chasing the World Marathon Majors, six International marathons that earn you a seventh medal when you complete them all. Berlin, London, and Chicago were done, leaving New York, Tokyo, and Boston. Without a self-imposed time limit and limited funds, I knew I would have to take a short break from training to keep my sanity. Also, both my Achilles were suffering from all the miles making it painful to walk, let alone run. Climbing to 5895 meters above sea level though would be a manageable goal to keep me fit without the same impact and strain on my body.
Working closely with EAC, they have patiently answered all of my questions over email and Facebook. I am not a camper or hiker. I don’t pee outside and I don’t even own a sleeping bag. But I saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity and set out to get as many women involved as possible. As the Happiness Personal Trainer, I am offering my tripmates a training plan, Facebook support and a discounted shopping event at Ellis Brigham in London. These areas are where my strengths lie. Getting to know each other ahead of the trip will take away some of the apprehension. Hopefully, they will have some outdoor survival tips for me.
What do we have planned?
The trek itself is seven days long. We arrive on a Friday and stay overnight in a bed and breakfast. On Saturday, we head to the Machame Route which is a 62 km route from gate to gate. With a 90% success rate, it does require some level of fitness or hiking experience. From everyone I have talked to, “pole pole” is the way to go. This is Swahili for slowly, slowly. People have said you feel like you are going ridiculously slowly, but that is the pace you want. Each day, we will hike 4-6 hours, leaving plenty of time to take in the view, eat, relax at the campsites along the way and, of course, sleep. Porters will carry 15kg of personal goods for each traveller, sleeping and dining tents, food, and even a portable toilet. On Friday, we get back to Moshi for showers and beer to celebrate our achievements. When I travel, I like to meet people who live in the local community. Although most of the trip we will be on the side of the mountain, when we return to civilization we will visit a local primary school on Saturday (where we will also make a donation, included in the trip cost) and then meet Masai women to learn about their culture. Finally, we will end the day with a swim in a hot spring and picnic.
How am I preparing?
There are so many things to figure out for this trip. I now have plane tickets, snacks, Vaseline, and ibuprofen packed. Of course, there are many other bits to put in place.
All about the gear
Move time on feet, breaking in my boots. It took a while for me to find the right pair of boots. With my Achilles issues, I was hoping to use my Salomon XA Pro GTX but these are just trail running shoes. I also have a pair of Keen Terradora mid boots but these are not insulated for the cold weather at the top. After learning how to find the right pair of shoes from Nacho at Ellis Brigham in Covent Garden, I was pleased to select Salomon Quest 4D 2 Gor-Tex boots. I am trying out a few different padded ankle braces to see if that will alleviate some of the pressure on my Achilles when I walk for a long time. As suggested by Salomon, I treated my new boots with Nikwax for extra protection against the elements.
From my research, hiking poles and gaiters are the most important kit to have after your broken in boots. Some of my friends have telescopic walking poles, which I will be borrowing. These poles help you climb up the mountain but more importantly protect your knees on the way down. Gaiters keep the scree or stones out of your shoes. I found some on Amazon for £15.
The higher we climb, the colder it will get. Luckily I love merino wool and have lots ski gear which should give me a sufficient selection of warm clothes to choose from. None of my merino socks were a suitable thickness. Medium thickness is best for this climb. It might also help protect my Achilles.
None of my rucksacks are large enough or light enough for this expedition. Each day on the trail, I need to have rain gear, a hat, gloves, snacks, and 2-3 liters of water in my rucksack, plus a camera and journal. Osprey suggested I try their new Eja 38L bag. It has a lightweight frame, an internal water pouch for my Camelbag, padded shoulder straps and it designed for a women’s physique. It only weighs 1.13 kg which will help offset everything I will put in there. The hip belt and sternum strap will help spread the burden out too. In addition, I invested in a 90L waterproof duffle bag for the porters to carry. It should keep my spare clothes nice and dry in case of rain or snow.
Vaccination and visas
I booked into a private clinic Walk-in Clinic, which gave me the luxury of an hour to discuss which vaccines and medications I needed. We also considered that I am going to Thailand and Cambodia in April. A few vaccines I decided to have as I was going to spend a lot of time on the side of a mountain. In the end, I received four jabs (typhoid, hepatitis A, rabies booster, and meningitis), two fizzy drinks to prevent cholera, and one prescription for anti-malaria tablets. Unfortunately, I am allergic to the altitude sickness medicine, which I find incredibly frustrating. After all the effort and planning, it would be a shame not to get to the top. From what I have researched, stay hydrated seems to be a key factor in limiting the headaches and nausea at high altitudes.
The visa should be the easiest part of the trip. I can buy mine for $100 in the airport when I arrive. If I had a UK passport, it would be $50.
Since October, I have been training regularly at Function360 to increase my strength and form as a runner. Remember, my goal is to run the WMM which means I am chasing down a Boston qualifying time of 3:35:00. Most of these exercises will translate well to climbing a mountain. They also are helping alleviate the pain in my Achilles with stretching and strengthening. There are exercises I do at home too and I have seen a lot of improvement in my strength and control over the last three months.
Lucky for me, there is a fitness centre in London for mountaineering. The Altitude Centre offers a screening process to see how your body will cope with altitude; fitness training specialized for climbing mountains; and a POD which can help your body get used to an environment with less oxygen. We have less than four weeks to get me into mountaineering shape. They designed a plan for me which includes weekly training sessions and visits in the POD. As I cannot take the altitude sickness medicine, I am so grateful to be able to work with the team at the Altitude Centre to give my body a warning of what is to come.
Now my flights are booked, it feels like this is really happening. I am doing what I can to calm my nerves. There isn’t much more I can do to prepare. I need to remember to enjoy the experience and accept that something might happen that I wasn’t prepared for. This is hopefully the first of many big outdoor travel adventures for me.
In case you want to learn more about the trip, all the info can be seen on my blog. Dates for the discounted shopping event will be confirmed soon. You can also out view my seven-week training plan here. Check back to the Outdoor Fitness website in mid-March for a recap of the trip- how it went, what I learned, and if I mastered peeing outside.