Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Remember me, Mr Hann?

My old geography teacher, Mr Hann, always said I had an altitude problem. In just over a year we'll see if he was right
Kilimanjaro, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, stretches 5,895 metres/19,710 feet above the Tanzanian plains. At that height your oxygen intake is less than 50% of what it would be standing in Godalming High Street on a Saturday morning...before or after the monthly haircut
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the posh name for the affliction. AMS is not a respecter of fitness level, age, race or football team. It sounds quite likely that it will affect all of The Kili 5 and our larger Explore group to varying degrees during the trek
Symptoms? Headaches, initially mild and then fiercer as the trek progresses through Kili's zones, throwing up and, worst of all, oedemas. Left winger for Panathanaikos? No - a potentially fatal cerebral or pulmonary condition, respectively fluid accumulations around the brain and in the lungs
Solution? Only one, if you come over all oedemal: bugger off back down the mountain. Pretty damned pronto. If you play the hero and carry on towards the summit, you will die, Meester Bond
Avoidance? Possibly. Eat heartily whenever offered anything by anyone. For once don't worry about the calorie count or your waistband - the more the better and enjoy the feeding frenzy while you can, like a Weightwatcher given the keys to the larder. And drink heavily. Every few minutes. Water the beer for the return to Moshi
Diamox is a possible way to combat AMS, but it poses a bit of a dilemma. According to Henry Stedman in his excellent Trailblazer book Kilimanjaro, Diamox is a wonder drug that acidifies the blood, stimulates breathing, allowing a greater amount of oxygen to enter the bloodstream
But it does have side effects and could cause an allergic reaction. I've already got plenty of those, thanks, and could do without an interesting new one while a few thousand feet up an African mountain, with an oedema for company. And if you take it preemptively but still suffer from extreme AMS, then the medical guide will have one less option to try out. On balance Henry favours taking a supply with you and swallowing Diamox as a last resort if the AMS symptoms are extreme. Sounds like fun, eh?
One good thing about this altitude thing: the slower you take the ascent, the more likely you are to mitigate the effects. As I wrote in an earlier article fit or fat? this is a sound reason not to overtrain during the next 12 months. And Neph#1 Steve, with the exuberance of 21 year old youth, is more at risk from sprinting up Kili too energetically. See...I knew there had to be one advantage to being an old fart
I'm sure our tour leaders and guides will help moderate our pace too. Apparently pole pole is the incessant Swahili mantra intoned to slow us down, like an African metronome on Temazepam
Our chosen trail, the Machame route, might be tougher than the traditionally popular Marangu option, but it does moderate the altitude gain a little by spending an extra day on the mountain. But even if you make it as far as Summit Day that last climb sounds plain brutal. A bit like coming to the end of a marathon, only to be told that you've just got to jog a further 10k before you can wrap that embarrassing silver foil overcoat around your limp body
Starting from Barafu camp at 4,600m the final slog will kick off at midnight, in seriously freezing temperatures and canary-like, with head torch strapped to your balaclava-encased northern extremity
We'll inch our way towards Kibo, the highest of the 3 volcanic peaks, combatting altitude, scree, ice and fear in equal measure. Some of us will hopefully make it to Stella Point at 5,795m and then around the crater rim to Uhuru Peak, at 5,895m the true summit and pinnacle of Africa
Perversely, the few that make it that far will only be able to spend fleeting moments savouring success and, frozen digits crossed, clear views of the sun rising over Tanzania several miles below. After all that pain the altitude dictates a note to your body: I've given you a glimpse of my beauty but if you outstay your welcome I'm afraid I'll have to kill you
Then it's a helter-skelter harem scarem scree-sliding sprint back down, resting overnight at Mweka Camp at 3,100m
So in One Amazing Day, you're faced with 1,300m of chilling, darkened slippery near-vertical ascent followed by a vertiginous drop of 2,800m. On the move for 14-16 hours. Let's not call it a holiday any more, Mrs M
And by the way, Gill - Mrs M - has suffered for years from congestion (nasally as well as M25ally) and sinus problems, probably caused by a burst eardrum earlier in life. So much so that going up the escalator in Army & Navy in Guildford is a bit of a trauma....I'm not absolutely sure yet how she's going to cope with that final charge up Kili but fair play for even agreeing to the challenge. I'll let her tell you in her own words about that congestion stuff and what her master plan is to overcome it. And the Raynaud's disease, of course
Anyway, time to get back on the fitness trail and work on the VO2MAX, I reckon...and find out if Mr Hann is still alive, just in case I manage to prove him wrong
It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed
Theodore Roosevelt


Post a Comment

<< Home