First Decision Made, and nearly another one…

So further to my indecisiveness yesterday, I actually made a decision today, or I nearly did anyway….

I decided that regardless of when this happens, I have to start walking again at some point, and so went in search of some new boots. I need some new ones that are waterproof and also Goretex lined, so they can cope with walking at 90 degrees in tropical rainforest and also on snow in the extreme cold. My current ratty old boots are great for a Sunday stroll around Dovedale, but will not be up to the challenges that I face ahead of me. I also have crap feet, and suffer badly from blisters any footwear (even flip flops!) that are even vaguely new. I therefore need to get something that I can wear in as soon as possible.

I had seen on someone else’s blog that they had chosen some Meindl Burma GTX boots to walk Kilimanjaro, and had never looked back, as it were. I had also sent an email to Henry Stedman, asking him form some recommendations on boots, and had said that “Meindl, Salomon and Berghaus” were all popular choices at the moment. Now I’ve never heard of Meindl at all, but thought as they came up twice in a row that I should find out some more. Oh and apparently they are German, and I haven’t bought anything bad from Germany ever.

I duly googled both Blacks and Snow & Rock, and finding a Blacks in nearby Oxford, toddled off there for a look. I have always liked Blacks – they seem to have such knowledgeable staff, and I was most certainly not disappointed by my experience here, in fact totally the reverse. I was treated in fact to a hugely educational (but never in an over-salesmanlike sort of way) explanation of various boots by Tim, whom I thanked for his great help. I also tried various pairs on. The ones I liked best were in fact the Meindl Burma GTX, and although I did several double takes and sharp intakes of breath at the price ( a rather hefty £175 I thank you) I decided that these would be the boots for me! I did not however buy them there and then, as I thought I might just see what the price difference was online or elsewhere first.

I also wanted to take the opportunity to see what else they had in Blacks too. I duly told Tim that he’d be “seeing a bit more of me over the coming weeks and months”, as despite the fact that I may well do some online shopping, I do really appreciate good customer service (and my pet hate is the reverse), and so he will definitely be getting the majority of my custom. I know I also need fleeces, overtrousers, daypack, rucksack, sleeping bag, head torch, socks etc. – this could be getting rather expensive!

I asked him about sleeping bags first – I think (not having done enough research yet) that it needs to be able to withstand -25 degrees or so. He said they have some nice down ones which pack up really small, and they looked great. Only draw back was the £150 price tag – yikes! I then asked him about the carry mat that I would need – apparently they are called ‘thermarest’ or something, and I admitted to not having heard of them before. Again he was tremendously helpful, and showed me a Thermarest (for the uninitiated like I was, it is basically a sort of self-inflating plastic mat), which looked great, and was going to be around £75. All of a sudden I had the thought that “I’m going to spend two grand in here and still not get everything I need”, and so I took my leave, thanked him sincerely for his time, and told him that I’d be back, which I will.

Got back home early afternoon and sat in the garden (it is Bank Holiday Monday and the sun is shining beautifully) with a bottle of three of Magners, some ice, and my Henry Stedman book. I had another very helpful email yesterday from Henry whom I had asked all sorts of questions. One of these was about which route he would recommend, and I told him what my criteria were – I wanted either the Rongai or the Machame, and he suggested either the Rongai or the Lemosho. About four hours later, the book is finished (it is outstanding – read it if you are reading this, and no I am not on commission!), and as well as being more inspired than ever, I have decided upon my route! Yes, it is the Lemosho for me, for sure. There were a number of reasons why, but it seems to me overall to offer the best mix of everything, and has a good amount of “climb high, sleep low” (which is supposed to be best for helping to prevent altitude sickness) mixed in. I check the website – there is apparently a Lemosho trip going in February – decision made!

I duly email Henry, and say that I want to do the Lemosho, and tell him that I like these new boots I have seen. It is all seemingly getting a bit closer. It is September tomorrow, and all of a sudden February does not sound very far away at all………..

So many decisions….

So having made the leap of faith to actually do this thing (what have I let myself in for? No, it is really too early to have doubts – they will all come a lot later and I am sure very strongly), there are apparently an incredible number of things to decide. I have checked out probably twenty websites to date, and the one which impresses me most so far is,  which is written/produced etc by Henry Stedman, the guy whose book I bought yesterday. The book is called “Kilimanjaro: The trekking guide to Africa’s highest mountain” (ISBN is 978-1-873756-91-1), and is riveting.

I didn’t expect booking up to be easy, but there are lots of things that you need to know before you decide to take the plunge for a certain date.

The Weather

Amongst the things you should decide upon are firstly when to go, on account of the weather. This it seems can be a bit of an obstacle. Apparently there are distinct wet and dry seasons, and Kilimanjaro apparently has its own weather systems! It is however on a massif stetching 60km long by 80km wide and is about 6km high, so this is not surprising! Apparently there are two sort of ‘monsoon’ (or very wet anyway) seasons, being October to December and March to May. This therefore influences when you might want to go, assuming that like me, you want to see as much as you can of the mountain and also not get (if you can help it) wet as hell every single day. Apparently January and February, and then June and July are the favourite (and most popular) times to climb.

Full Moons

This came slightly out of left field in my research I have to say. Not being terribly astrologically minded, I stumbled upon most websites giving out dates of full moons, and thought “WTF?”, but then it dawned upon me – it transpires that (without exception I think?) the final (1200m or so) ascent takes place at night (you start out at midnight), and so the clearer and better lit the night sky, the more you can see the path ahead of you in the darkness. Then I began wondering “why do they do the last bit at night?” – “is it because if you could see what you were actually facing you would turn back?”, and thought that maybe I should choose to do it whenever there is the opposite of a full moon – is that a new moon?

Which Route

OK, so having thought about when and then when in the month, you have to choose which route you want to take up the mountain. Yep, it’s not just a case of turning up with your $1,000 (or thereabouts) climb fee, and then trotting off towards your goal. No, there are (as far as I can tell) at least six different options, all with various names, being the Rongai, Machame, Shira, Umbwe, Lemosho and Marangu. They all appear to start from about the same height (all around 6,000ft or so), and all end up at Uhuru Peak (the pinnacle of the crater, at about 19,400 feet, or 5,985m). They are all fairly different too it seems (other than the Shira and Lemosho, which seem very similar indeed). They all have different characteristics too – whether by steepness, ruggedness, variety of eco-systems en route, busy-ness etc. Oh, and they are in different locations alotogether – like if you go from Rongai the gate is effectively in Kenya, so you want to fly to Naorobi in the first place. Which one to take? Oh, and when you have chosen your route it seems that you can have a six day route, a seven day route or more. How much time do I need to acclimatise?

Which travel company to go with?

This seems hard to decide also. The choice is split into broadly two categories – you can choose a local operator in Tanzania, or one in your country of departure (England in my case). You will (almost certainly) have more to fall back on if things go wrong by choosing an operator in your local country, but they are going to be considerably more expensive. For your climb fees, it seems that you are  broadly speaking talking about roughly $1,000 (it seems that the dollar rules in Tanzania) if you book with a local guide, or (a minimum of) $2,000+ if you book in the UK. I have seen some companies charging $5,000 or so. Am I going to get a better trip up the mountain if I book here before I go? No idea! Then when you have chosen from which country you want your company to come from then there are seemingly hundreds to choose from!

What else?

So the above need to be decided upon even before you can tell someone “I am going to Kilimanjaro”, or otherwise you aren’t going anywhere at all. And all of the above are before you decide which airline to take to get you to Tanzania (there are no international flights travelling very close by it seems, so transfers are in order and some of them get there very late). Should you then take a day to acclimatise when you get there? Should you go and stay in Moshi or Arusha first? Should you book into a cheap hotel or a more expensive one when you arrive? (They seem to range literally from $5 a night to $1,000 a night).

The above are all very much before you have to make a whole lot more decisions – I have just looked at the kit lists, which are split into “essential”, “recommended”, “useful” etc., and realised that I have nothing at all of the items that I need (what the heck is a Thermarest for pity’s sake? How will I decide what boots to buy? How do I decide how many camera batteries to take to strap to my legs to stop them freezing? Then there are the vaccinations, then there is the fitness regime (“when to start”, “how extensive”), then do I take a camera and a separate video camera (if so, what sort works at -25?) etc etc.

My head, as is probably yours reading this, is simply spinning. I used to be indecisive, now I’m not so sure! The thing is, if these things weren’t all seemingly fairly critical to whether you make it up there in one piece or not, it wouldn’t be half as difficult, but the fact is, they are – they matter. This is going to be a “once in a lifetime experience”, and I don’t want to get things wrong now, or they can never be made right again. Am I worrying too much? Probably. Can I make a decision yet on any of the above? Not at all – need help!

Why am I doing this?

This is probably the crucial thing to understand here, or for me it is. I have had a long trawl on the internet today and looked at a lot of people’s blogs on doing Kilimanjaro (I had no idea just how popular climbing Kilimanjaro was, or indeed how many blogs there are), and (for me) I can almost without exception (OK, I only read a thousand of them:)) not find out why people get to make the decision they did. I mean, let’s face it, for most people, whether or not they actually think “if Chris Moyles can do it so can I”, it is not going to get them to part with several thousand pounds, and put themselves through a lot of abject misery just to prove a point, is it?

Also, lots of these blogs seem to start with “so here is my brother and I on the way to Tanzania, about to embark on the trip of a lifetime…..” or “My training starts with lots of horrible trips to the doctor/dentist/therapist/Milletts etc….”. But why on earth did you decide to do it? I, at least want to know!!

The thing is, I am sure that lots of people watched Comic Relief for example, and thought, “yeah, that Gary Barlow couldn’t walk for toffee , I can do that”, or otherwise have a few too many glasses of the vino one night, and think (or say out loud, even worse) “I am going to do that”. But I am sure that most of them, even if they are taken seriously by the people that they have said it to, will stop and decide against it when they know what it involves, how much it costs, or what the risks are. I read a good section in Henry Stedman’s book* today (of which massive amounts more later), which may well stop most sensible people in their tracks once they have done some research. Excerpts from the section read as follows:

“…Almost one in four people who climb up Kilimanjaro fail to make the crater….sadly as I write this in early 2006, three American climbers have just died in a rockslide near the summit….like all big mountains it’s very adept at killing off the unprepared, the unwary, or just the plain unlucky……..the fact that the Masai call the mountain the “House of God’ seems entirely appropriate, given the number of people who meet their maker every year on Kili’s slopes.”

Now bear in mind that these words are written in a book which is actually encouraging you to climb the mountain, and yet a lot of people will read those (hugely responsible, thank you Henry) words and say “nahhh, not on your nellie” or words to that effect, and good for them if they do. Some people however will not get to read (and they should) Henry’s brilliant book, and may otherwise miss the real threats that are present. They should all take seriously however lots of other things which they will no doubt (like I have) read on the internet and elsewhere, which are apparently all real and present dangers, like the horrible AMS (“Acute Mountain Sickness”, or Altitude Sickness”); the risk of other ailments like malaria (although at the bottom only, not on the mountain apparently); and the fact that the temperature on the final night will be -25 degrees etc. etc.

Let’s just add to the above, the fact that you have to walk at least 80km to get to the mountain and back; the fact that you will be crapping for a week in a filthy shed through a hole over the edge of a cliff; that it will cost you the same amount of money as you could buy a small car for; that it will take up a very sizeable portion of your annual holiday to do it; and that you are going to what appears to be a dirty, impoverished country where theft is apparently rife (sorry Tanzania, I am ignorant here, OK). Oh, and you need to do eight weeks pretty extensive gym training beforehand apparently – I have never been in a gym since I was at school some ninety billion years ago. I’m 45 years old!! Right, you get the drift – so what is it all about then?

Well let me just say that I sit here now (the date is August 29, 2009) and I have today filled my head with all of the things above, I have watched internet footage of people vomiting with AMS, read of people going blind at the summit etc. I also joined a UK walking forum, and asked for advice/help on going to Kilimanjaro – I hoped it would be an exciting prospect for the members there, and I might get some good pointers. The one post I got back following my request was from a guy who had been there and tried to climb Kili, but had got really severe dysentry, and had spent five weeks in a hellhole of a hospital instead. He wished me well, nonetheless. Thanks!

So (despite the above) all I want to do is climb Kilimanjaro. It sits in front of my eyes like cataracts. In fact reading all of the bad stuff just makes me want to do it more. I wish I was going tomorrow, really I do. WHY? AM I MAD?

I think two things in particular drive me in my thought process. Firstly, and this is going to sound really strange, but bear with me here: I got ‘called’. Sorry, but I did.

It didn’t come to me one night and appear from within a big cloud, which parted and said “Chris, you must climb Kilimanjaro….”, but I got called regardless. It happened a few years ago, and I don’t know why or at what specific point it happened. Maybe I watched too much Monty Python as a kid (actually I did, I always liked the sketch about the queen who had false wooden teeth from Augsburg, and who used to take her dead dog for a scrape around the garden each day……) or something. Anyway, it has then gnawed away at me in my subconscious for a couple of years, but it has been there all the time, sitting there like a recalcitrant voice in my head, never giving up until I submitted to it. Weird? I agree with you.

Secondly, I read a magazine article last weekend which gave this thing legs – this was my epiphany, as it were. Now I have always really admired (that is an understatement) Muhammad Ali, and saw an article on him coming to Britain this week for a tour to see underprivileged kids etc. I then went and read one of the websites dedicated to him (don’t know why I went there, see the ‘calling’ bit above perhaps, but I have never seen a Muhammad Ali website previously). The first quote I saw from him was “a man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” That was it – BINGO! Don’t ask me why the two things are inextricably linked, but they were. Muhammad Ali – you have a lot to answer for!

Now reading again the second point above makes it sound like all a bit mid-life crisis stuff. Those who know me well are probably reading this now and actually guffawing (and agreeing) at me saying that, for reasons I won’t go into here, although I suppose I am 45, and will admit to buying a convertible Porsche recently….

Anyway, the point is, I really really really want to do this. It is something that I know over the coming weeks and months that I will regret at points, and perhaps even deny, but here it is. In fact this is the point of this big splurge here, and my thought processes right now – the very reasons why I came to make the decision. There are others too. Trigger points, if you like. One, a friend (more ex-work colleague really, but I think of her as friend and also as an inspiration) called Michelle (Michelle, I know, or think I know if you get to read this one day, that you won’t mind me mentioning you here) did the San Francisco marathon in the summer. She did so not because she is particularly adept at running (in fact she totally isn’t, sorry again Michelle), but because she wanted to go and raise some money for Cancer Research in honour of her brother Pat, who died tragically last year from the disease. She went and succeeded, and I admire her for it so much.

Next, I wanted to do something good for charity too, and I haven’t yet decided how to do it, but I will. I will admit here publically that I thought of raising a lot of money that would help in part to pay for my trip – I dispelled that (through massive guilt) though as quickly as it arrived – when I find out how to raise the money efficiently here (which will be cancer also, for my mum, who died of cancer too) then I promise that every single penny raised will get to the charity. In fact the only way I will raise money is by having a link to a third party site, where people can make donations directly. I don’t want to even see any of it, and anyway, I understand that that is the most efficient way for gift aid to get collected by the charity itself, so increasing the money earned by them.

OK, so this is getting stupidly long, and it is a blog, and not a dissertation. It may all not even fit on the page. It may send everyone who reads it off to sleep, or otherwise logging off before they get half way through. So be it – there endeth my first ever blog thing – there will be lots more to come…..

Day One!

This is going to be a lot of work, in every sense. I told myself yesterday that I would start a blog to post (at least for my own records) what happened during the whole process. Problem no. 1 – I have no idea how to create a blog! I post onto (which happens to be my favourite website as I am a bit of a home cinema fan) in their “General Chat” section to ask where on earth to start, and thanks to the recommendations of some people who I don’t know (but thanks to them now (Lawrenzinin, Cas398 and Leej) I have this blog on

So this is effectively post number 1 – more shortly to tell you how I got to make this decision, a bit more about me, and how I am going to go about choosing someone to take me to the roof of Africa!

Kilimanjaro Awaits

So this place will map everything that I do for my trip to Kilimanjaro, which I only just thought of. It is not even booked yet, and so I don’t even know know if I’m going – but you’ve got to start somewhere right?