Summit climb.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last night was the worst sleep in the world. With the summit climb tonight I was desperate to wake up today feeling rested. No such luck, although at least I can’t see how rough I look on account of the condensation on my mirror from utterly freezing temperatures last night.

I’m tired and packing my rucksack is hard work with the breathlessness, everything just feels like so much effort, I haven’t even bother trying to pack my sleeping mat into my bag today. Thankfully Francis is always on hand to sort it all out for me.

I’m wearing an extra layer as we walk, the temperature has dropped and it’s windy today. It’s definately woolly hat and gloves weather. There are no bushes at all as we walk closer to Kibo, but thankfully lots of big rocks act as great toilet stops – we are drinking as much water as we can this afternoon in a bid to be as hydrated as possible for this evening. We are walking through the night to reach the summit and its going to be very cold we are unlikely to be drinking much.

I’m concerned about Jenn today, she looks ill and is visibly struggling. She is tired and sick, not eating properly and I’m worried about her. Rest of the team are tired but in good spirits, although most of us are anxious about summit night – there is a real element of just wanting to get it done now.

I have had a thumping headache all day and I’m starting to feel faint, it’s getting worse the higher we go/closer we get to Kibo – but I know it’s just the altitude and I know I just need to get on with it.

On arrival at Kibo camp lunch is the first step and then the priority is to rest, which is difficult with all the hustle and bustle. Kibo is, of course, a hive of activity with those that had just come down from the summit and of course those that are going to be climbing tonight. It’s like trying to get some peace and quiet at a festival, its actually a relief when at 10.30pm we are called for tea and biscuits.

I feel a bit like the Michelin woman wearing 3 layers on my legs, summit socks and 6 layers on my torso plus my balaclava and hat.

Kirsty’s final words before we leave the mess tent to climb to the summit are very clear….look out for each other. She is going to be watching us carefully, as will the 4 guides that are coming with us (so a 2:1 ratio of climbers to support staff) – but if anyone starts behaving out of character, can’t remember the names of their loved ones or starts wobbling/stumbling in a drunken manner we must seek immediate attention. We were now in the realms of serious mountain sickness and a very real threat of water on the brain or lungs.

Summit climb

At 11.45 and in single file, team Sparks start the summit ascent. Pitch black with only the light from the stars and our headtorches lighting the way, we are starting to walk.
Something I am finding hard is the isolation, it’s windy and dark and I am very short of breath – talking is difficult and so after days of being together suddenly I feel like I am climbing alone. I don’t like it!!! To keep ‘the voices of negativity or fear’ at bay I have been planning blog posts and trips I am going to take with my children when I get home in my mind, I am also spending time thinking of all the people who helped me get to this point on the mountain – when it feels really hard I try to feel all the virtual hands of my friends on my backside helping to push me up. I remember all the kind words and all the support I’ve had – I even try counting to 100 over and over again to keep my brain busy – anything to make sure that my mind is working as it should.

I am so tired that I can’t find the energy to get the snacks out my pocket, do up my coat or press play on my iPod. Big warning signs looking back!! Thankfully Kirsty and Nicole are on hand to help, at one point Nicole is practically feeding me and Kirsty doing up my jacket – my hands are so cold they don’t seem to work properly…..but in our line we keep walking…..and walking… feels like it’s never-ending.

The only way that I can possibly describe the summit climb, is to ask you to imagine walking 7 hours up a 5 mile high sand dune with tired legs, in the wind and in a temperature of -14. Not really being able to see where you are going or have a firm footing. Then add in the altitude and then imagine climbing over rocks for the last hour to get to the summit.

We have all had drugs administered, although only one of us can claim to have had an injection in the backside. Some are physically sick and we have all (I’m sure) thought about throwing in the towel at one point or another.

The sun coming up is a beautiful moment – I can see the summit about 50 metres above me. I’m sitting on a rock crying. I can see the summit but have no idea how I am going to find the energy to get there. I have never felt so exhausted, I have literally taken 2 steps and had to stop, then muster up the energy to take the next 2 steps. It’s soul-destroying.

Getting to the top literally took every ounce of character, strength and determination I had.

On reflection:

When I spoke to people about what I was looking forward to the most about climbing Kilimanjaro, it was reaching the top. I had visions of tears of joy, maybe a little jig, celebrations with my team mates and definitely taking in the view…………the reality was I sobbed like a baby at the sheer relief that the climbing was over, I didn’t have the energy to dance or look out at the awesome views below me and just collapsed on a rock to gather my breath. It was just impossible to take it in. I will be forever grateful to Hilary Thomas for giving me the mother of all hugs at this point. Thank God it was over, I think summit night was possibly the worst night of my life……but I did it….I reached Gilmans Point.

We now had the option to walk to Uhuru, the other summit, another 2 hours away.

I tried to get there, but I didn’t make it, I had to turn back – I so, so wanted a picture at that summit too but I just didn’t have anything left to give.

I was absolutely gutted.

It was an amazing feeling to descent and feel the headache and sickness lessen, some energy start to return and my body start to warm up as we very quickly dropped the 1000 metres to Kibo.

I cried a lot because (stupidly) whilst I’d reached the summit of Kilimanjaro I hadn’t been able to get to Uhuru. In my mind I’d failed. Kirsty sought me out, she’d returned to camp before the rest of the team and was keen to make sure I was ok. She told me I had been suffering with mountain sickness, it was bad luck – there was nothing I could have done. I remember quietly asking whether my mental strength had let me down, whether I could have pushed myself further, she told me it was my mental strength that got me to the top – there were times she thought I wasn’t going to make it.

I’ve never reached ‘my limit’ before, but that day I did.

It took me a few days to come to terms with not reaching both summits, in my life there have been very few goals I have not been able to achieve when I put my mind to it.

And what was originally distress, upset and a failure in my mind made way for a real sense of achievement, clarity, balance and calm.

I stood at the summit of the worlds highest freestanding mountain!!! How on earth could a mind even as crazy as mine put that in a box marked ‘failure’.

So, much more to say…..but I’ll save that for my next ‘deep and meaningful’ post! I learnt a lot and I’m keen to share it with you!!!

Until next time,
S 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Kilimanjaro diary – almost there!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today we are walking 5-6 hours to Mawenzi Tarn Camp, which sits at 4300 metres. Mawenzi is the name of the peak that sits opposite Kilimanjaro, and tarn means lake – and the lake provides all the water for our camp (its boiled and then filtered of course!)

It’s a beautiful day, its hot and the sun is beating down on us. The views are tremendous and its incredible to see the huts at Kibo, base camp, and we can even make out the sandy track that we will be taking up to the summit tomorrow night. This is rare, normally at this height it’s very cloudy so we are exceptionally lucky with the weather. Kirsty has climbed the mountain 7 times and this is the first time she has seen this view.

Lunch today was at camp and we spent the afternoon doing an acclimatization walk – basically walking 200 metres up a steep scree incline and then down again. This was to help our bodies deal with the altitude, by going up significantly and them sleeping at a lower level we would help lessen the effects of being at this height. I think it was also to give us a taste of what summit night would be like, although we didn’t know this at the time. At this point none of the team are suffering with any serious signs of altitude sickness although a few of us have bad headaches, me included. It’s horrible to feel the pressure increase in your head as you climb, like someone is squeezing your skull, but wonderful to feel it go again as you drop altitude, I’m taking lots of painkillers to deal with it.

The walking was fine but breathing is laboured. When we stopped at the top I know I am not the only one of the team that had a bit of a minor freak out at being so high up and the effort it took to get there– and tomorrow we are going to climb up the equivalent of this acclimatization walk 13 times to get to the summit.

Our post dinner team briefing was serious. Tomorrow tonight we are climbing to the top of the mountain and Kirsty is now starting to get us mentally prepared for what we are about to face. She is confident that we are all going to make it – but has given us a good talking to about resting, eating and drinking enough and the signs of altitude sickness to look out for. The eating and drinking bit is easy enough, but most the team have hardly slept since arriving on the mountain. This is normal when you are not used to altitude – its frustrating to just lie awake most the night, but at least my body is resting. At least I don’t have any aches, pains or blisters – thank goodness I did so much training in preparation!

So tomorrow we leave camp, as normal, at 7.30am. We walk until we arrive at Kibo at about 2pm and have lunch. We rest/sleep until we have dinner, at approx 6pm, and then rest/sleep again until we are woken at 10.30pm. We then start our summit climb at 11.30pm. I don’t mind admitting at this stage I’m feeling pretty anxious.

So, I’m actually writing my diary tonight in my (well, Peter Golds) lovely warm fleece liner and sleeping bag. I’m wearing thermals and a hat, and of course a headtorch. Its bloody cold tonight. I’m also sleeping with my phone, camera and iPod in my sleeping bag as the altitude is having a terrible effect on battery life, keeping all my devices warm at night is helping. I’m scared about the summit climb, but not half as scared as I am about not being able to use my phone to update everyone with my whereabouts on – I know lots of people are tracking my progress, but especially my poor Mum who is worried sick about me being away – I’m so looking forward to sending the ‘I did it text’ from the top tomorrow (God willing!)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kilimanjaro Diary, day 2 on the mountain – Kinky Camp

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had no idea at this stage that getting up after a terrible nights sleep was going to be the norm. I put last nights rubbish recharge down to a combination of first night excitement, sleeping on a rocky incline and Dave snoring (loudly) in the tent next door. His loving wife of 20 + years was also getting fed up with his snoring and little did Dave know that she would shortly be ‘leaving him’ to bunk in with a better tent mate, in the form of Fiona –anyway, that’s another story.

The deal is that we get woken up by our porters with a bowl of warm water for washing, and a cup of tea at 06.30. My porter is called Francis, and he seems to amazingly be around whenever I need him or my bag – he looks a bit like the butler out of the Fresh Prince of Bel-air and I have to fight the urge to call him Jeffery instead. We have 30 minutes before breakfast and wrestling with my sleeping bag and sleeping mat to get them into their bags and then into my rucksack pretty much takes up all my getting ready time.

Breakfast is a surprise hearty affair, porridge and fruit followed by omelette and sausages and more tea – then before we know it we are walking again with Gardi setting a steady pace.

We are climbing 1000 metres today, way over the recommended daily increase of 300 metres per day, and whilst yesterday we found it hard to walk so slowly we are starting to notice the effects of the altitude. Our breathing is more laboured and I’m starting to suffer with headaches. This is all very normal, its reassuring to hear everyone panting as much as I am. Our 5 minute breaks are very much welcomed each hour and as this stage of the trek our conversation is pretty much centred around snacks and going to the toilet. We are all amazed how frequently we need to go, this is a combination of taking Diamox (a controversial drug that can be used against the effects of altitude and we were recommended to take by Kirsty) and of course drinking a huge volume of water.

As we walked along Fiona, who has spent a lot of time in Africa, was pointing out the buffalo and elephant droppings. They come up the mountain at night and spent their days much lower – I vocalised how lovely it would be to bump into either/or….before Fiona put me straight and then I spent the rest of the morning praying we didn’t bump into them.

Lunch was awesome. A mini camp had been set up ahead of us and an incredible 3 course meal was waiting, the table in the sun covered in table-cloth was a beautiful sight after 4 hours walking. I was also heard commenting on the luxury toilets at this camp, and then marvelled how quickly one’s standard change. What I should have said is that these toilets had a tiled floor and a lock on the door.

Today was the first day that we encountered a group we had christened ‘the posh people’ – so named on the basis that they brought their own toilet with them and all appeared to change their clothes before they ate. Whilst they were English, our 2 groups couldn’t be more different – reminded me a bit of the good life in a funny kind of way, or could have been that one of the ladies sounded a bit like Margo.

The afternoon walking felt a bit harder and after playing some memory games along the way to pass the time, we finally arrived at camp. It’s not officially called Kinky camp, of course, and there’s nothing kinky about it (unless you have a thing for exceptionally grim toilets) it begins with K and neither Nicole nor I could remember the proper name and it sounded a bit like kinky – so the name stuck.

There was a hilarious moment yesterday before we started our trek. Kirsty and Nicole suddenly realised that someone at Sparks Head Office had populated some of the columns on the personal information sheet about the team incorrectly, and that despite their earlier belief that it was – today was NOT Rupinders birthday. (His birthday is in April?) This was going to be embarrassing on the basis they had requested a birthday cake – which the catering team had lovingly created and cooked. On a mountain, this is no mean feat. So after dinner, we sang a happy birthday to and celebrated Nicole’s birthday which had been the previous week. It was incredible to watch Mike, George and the boys bring a lit birthday cake into the mess tent and for us all to be united in song. The cake was a delicious treat and we laughed all trip about the birthday that never was. I wonder what happened to the card they bought him?!

It’s a bit colder tonight so I’m sleeping in my thermals. I’ve started to avoid drinking too much after 4pm as its just grossly inconvenient to have to get out my sleeping bag, into my walking boots, out the tent and then walk slowly/pant all the way to the toilet and back……..oh the practicalities and joys of mountain life!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Diary entry 2 – finally standing on Kilimanjaro!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When I left my hotel room in Tanzania on Saturday morning, I had 3 bags with me to bring downstairs to the lobby.

1. My rucksack full of all the kit and clothes I would need on the mountain for the next 6 days which had to weigh less than 12kg and was a devil to pack, which would be put into the back of a jeep.
2. My day sack which would stay with me, that contained the essentials I needed to carry myself (the capability to carry 3 litres of water, snacks, suntan lotion, hat, wet weather gear etc) and
3. The bag of things I didn’t need that would be put into the hotel storage – this bag contained my shampoo, conditioner and shower gel amongst other things!! 6 days without any real washing facilities was really going to add to the experience!

Leaving normal life behind as we piled into the 2 jeeps waiting to take us to the mountain, we only really had 5 things to worry about from this point onwards.

1. Consume as much food as possible. At altitude we would be burning an insane amount of calories.
2. Drink 5-6 litres of water per day. Staying hydrated would stand us in good stead against the effects of being at altitude.
3. Use antibacterial hand gel obsessively. There are no real washing facilities on the mountain, so illness could spread through the team rapidly. So for that reason we did not share ‘unwrapped food’ (think peanuts on a pub bar and all the nasties in them, then magnify by the effects of altitude and germ multiplication at high temperatures!)
4. Watch out for the signs of altitude sickness within ourselves and each other. (More about this later!!)
5. Watch out for mountain lions. This was one of Kirsty’s jokes….I think.

There was some admin to do at ‘the gate’ of the Rongai route, Kirsty had to check that the porters were not exceeding a weight limit in terms of what they were carrying and check the extensive first aid kit whilst the rest of us signed into the register. The local authorities keep a track of each group climbing the mountain – which was a sober reminder of the potential danger of climbing.

Seeing Kilimanjaro for the first time was incredible, stepping foot on it was emotional. I had a few tears in my eyes as we started walking.

I remember thinking in my head ‘…. are we seriously walking this slowly?!’ as our guide Gardi set the pace. It’s harder than you might think to walk at such a slow pace and became even more comical when our team of 30 porters start passing us, carrying tables on their heads, rucksack and all the other essentials for our camp ahead.

The standard conversation between us and the porters went like this:-

Them: ‘Jambo!’ (hello!)
Us: ‘Jambo’ initially before you learn to respond with ‘Mambo’ which is considered more polite and then prompts a response of ‘pou’ (cool!) normally followed by ‘poli poli’ which basically means slowly, slowly – tread carefully!

We were walking through vivid and luscious green rainforest at this stage, uphill of course. There were a few huts in the fields and there was much excitement at seeing some monkeys. There was lots of laughter and chat and the time passed quickly, although this 4 hour walk was certainly a gentle introduce to life on the mountain.

The rule was walk for an hour and then stop for 5-10 minutes, with all the water we were drinking regular toilet stops were required – and we needed time to refuel with snacks and take in the stunning views.

I promise I won’t continually go on about toilets, but to give you an idea, the toilet experience at this level of the mountain was a very small wooden shed with a muddy (I think it was mud anyway!) floor with a hole in the ground. They are called long drops and I am sure you can work out why. They are, of course, never cleaned out and so they are both messy and smelly. You are not allowed to leave any rubbish of any description on the mountain, which is why you are told to take nappy sacks and loo roll or babywipes with you wherever you go – and always have a bottle of antibacterial gel in your pocket.

When we arrived at Simba camp our tents had already been put up. Taking advantage of the daylight we got our bedding ready and started to get into the routine of camp life.

As the sun went down and the temperature dropped, the headtorches and down jackets came out and we ate dinner in the comfort of the mess tent. From memory the menu that night was an amazing spiced butternut soup to start, deep-fried curried fish with rice and vegetables, followed by fruit.

The dinner table would also become the setting for our team talk and briefing from Kirsty, the team doctor.

Tomorrow we would have a 6.30am wake up call and after breakfast had an 8 hour walking day ahead of us with lunch mid way.

Climbing into bed it was hard not to smile, my first night sleeping on the mountain.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Kilimanjaro diary – first entry, introducing team Sparks.

The first time that team Sparks met in full was at Heathrow Airport, on Thursday 3 February 2011.

The Devon brigade of Dave, Hilary, Tracey, Nicole, Jenn and myself had travelled up to the airport on a minibus and of course knew each other fairly well having spent time together training and fundraising. Most of us had met Rupinder on our December training weekend in Snowdonia, there was definitely some excitement and apprehension about meeting Fiona (who lives in Hertfordshire and was a late addition to the group, time and distance were both factors in not being able to meet before this point) and of course Kirsty – our doctor and team leader – and us all being together for the first time.

On the basis my next few blog posts talk a lot about these guys – here is a quick summary…

Photo, L-R Hilary, Rupinder, Dave, Tracey, me and Nicole
Front – Jenn and Fiona

Kirsty Watson
Kirsty is an A&E doctor who has a passion for rock climbing and mountains, and specialises in the study of altitude. She has climbed Kilimanjaro 8 times. These trips for her are ‘holiday’
She has a wicked sense of humour and is as cool as a cucumber.
Kirsty is in her thirties, although I’m not exactly sure how old she is as she fills in the ‘age column’ on every form and register going through Kenya and Tanzania with a different number. Somewhere between 33-39 I think. She lives with a cagefighter. Blonde, brainy, beauty with a scary enthusiasm to get her scalpel out.

Nicole Rolfe
Our regional Sparks fundraiser, my newest closest friend and room-mate. Possibly the kindest girl you are ever likely to meet and permanently happy. Has climbed mountains, jumped out of planes and done far more in her 28 years than you could ever guess. Loves her parents and the great outdoors. Would definitely give you her last Rolo. Has an incredible knowledge of musical acts and the only person I know that can faint one minute, and be singing the next. Is worth 25 cows, if any Tanzania single men fancy snapping her up/buying her.

David Thomas
It was Dave that roped me into climbing Kilimanjaro, and I will always be grateful to him for that. Dave is going to climb the 7 highest trekable peaks in the world, I applaud him and also think he is slightly nuts.
Kind hearted and good to the absolute core. IT genius who is a great husband, father, business man and friend. Made us all laugh coming out of his tent with his silk sleeping bag liner tucked into the back of his trousers, and made us all go a little bit soppy as he told the story of how he met Hilary. His favourite resting position is front first across a rock in a ‘beached whale’ stylie. A great man, proud to call him my friend.

Hilary Thomas
Married to Dave. Gives the best hugs in the world and has a bag of magic homeopathic potions for every occasion – which earned her a gold medal in our award ceremony for ‘drug dealing’. Walks way faster than most normal people. Has a great singing voice. I will forever laugh at the impromptu interview Hilary did on the side of the mountain for a Korean man, and her spelling out her name phonetically. For any avoidance of doubt it’s – Hilll-aarrrrr-reeeeee. It’s no surprise Dave snapped her up, Hilary is a wonderful woman.

Jennifer Riach
Possibly the most determined lady I’ve ever met, has an awesome ability to walk up mountains with her eyes closed. Obsessed with colour co-ordination and, of course, her iPhone. Has an extraordinary knack of getting signal where most other mere mortals fail. Had a marriage proposal on the mountain, which we never got to the bottom of. Won the award for first ‘number 2’ on the mountain….

Rupinder Cheema
Top bloke. Positive, funny and late for everything. Loves his family, works hard and I suspect has a whole list of work achievements we know nothing about because he is also incredibly modest. Almost missed out on the mountain experience by not getting in the jeep, and was almost left behind. How he managed to wear white on the mountain, and keep those T shirts white is beyond me. He should be the face of Daz for sure. One of my funniest moments of the trip was in the Masai market when a stall holder seriously asked him if I was his sister……

Tracey Grinstead
Under-estimate this woman your peril. She may look like an attractive mother of 2, but I suspect she is half robot. The only girl who didn’t seem to suffer with the altitude sickness and practically sprung up the mountain. Has the patience of a saint. Kind and lovely. Loves her husband, kids and cats. I get the feeling her house lost its soul and fell to pieces when she was away, definitely someone who holds things and people together. Makes breakfast in bed every day for her girls. Big hearted Mum who just gets on with it.

Fiona Mackay
I think Fiona and I come from the same gene pool. An adventurer who manages to lower the tone of every conversation and seems to have 3 primary topics of conversation – which we refer to as the 3 S’s. Sex, snacks and toilet habits. Made me laugh loads. A cordon bleu cook that’s also managed a game reserve and travelled extensively, there is nothing this girl can’t do. I could listen to her stories for hours. Should also hold an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for biscuit eating.

So, here we all were heading off to Nairobi airport on the 7pm flight.

After checking in our bags and heading through security, which is always a bit of an ordeal, I was stopped for a random full body scan.

I think the staff were taken back by my enthusiasm for this ‘new experience’ which I demonstrated by skipping down the hall to the security area and being very animated with my ‘where do you want me?!’ style of questioning – I wondered whether I looked like I was concealing something and that’s why I had been chosen?! After removing my belt, shoes, jewellery and scarf again, I had to stand in a lunge style position with both arms above my head whilst I was scanned – both sides. It was painless of course. The staff declined my request to take a picture for me on my iPhone so that I could tweet it. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to see the scan pictures but would have looked like a ‘white blob’ according to the guy that was in charge of the machinery.

The flight was uneventful, Kenya Airlines were fantastic. Great food, fabulous films and lots of leg room as it was not a full flight. After 8 hours we arrived in Nairobi.

It took an eternity getting through passport control as there were a number of forms to complete on arrival. We needed to buy a visa to allow us to pass through Kenya into Tanzania. Passing through passport control was painfully slow and involved having finger prints taken and trying to avoid paying more than the publicised fee of 10 US dollars. It’s not a nice feeling to arrive in a country and your first experience is being taken advantage of.

Whilst waiting for the full complement of team members to get through passport control I changed into flip-flops and got my sunglasses out. Such an amazing feeling to walk out of the airport doors to our transport and to feel the sun beating on my back.

A 6 hour journey lay ahead on some of the bumpiest roads I have ever travelled on – but we were well on our way to starting the adventure of a lifetime. Excitement at this stage definately building…..

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

1 sleep to go…..destination Kilimanjaro!

This time tomorrow I will be well on my way to the airport! The good luck messages and phone calls are starting to flood in from my online and offline friends and family. I’m starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by my pending adventure and with the love and support that I can feel around me. I even have the offer of some virtual hands on my backside (thanks Gary, Jane and Betty!) when I need them for that final push to the summit. The fundraising total is ever rising, close to £4000 raised for Sparks Childrens Charity and it feels like an emotional time……only literally hours away from the adventure of a lifetime starting.

The Sparks team’s trip to climb Kilimanjaro has been well publicised and the hype has been growing for months – you’d have to have been living in a cave to escape the fact that this trip is happening.

I’m not great at being the centre of attention or taking compliments – I never have been – although I think I probably hide it quite well. So I struggle a little bit to accept it when people say things like ‘I’m in awe of what you are doing’ or ‘you inspire me’ because I guess I don’t feel worthy of such praise.

With that in mind you won’t be surprised to hear that this post started life in a ‘You will all soon realise I’m nothing special’ stylie, or that I feel like a girl ‘wearing her Mum’s shoes’

When I signed up to climb this mountain I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, but trying to distract myself from something that hurt…..and then, somewhere along the line it became the most amazing experience of my life, children aside of course.

This challenge has been like a voyage of self discovery. I know that sounds really cheesy, but it truly has been. I have found a new body, new confidence, a new inner strength – but most significantly I have found new friendships and through them – well, actually through most of you that are reading this…..I found out that actually I’m alright. I must be. I wouldn’t have the support, backing, messages of support and have raised as much money as I have if I wasnt. I can’t believe I had to sign up to climb the highest mountain in the world to find that out.

So in the midst of writing an ‘I’m not worthy’ blog the penny has finally dropped. Hallelujah. Out of the breakdown came the breakthrough.

I’m not incredible and I don’t always get it right. There are things in my past that I’d rather you didn’t know about me. Actually, I dont imagine I am any different to most of you, aside from the fact that one day I decided I fancied climbing a mountain and I signed on the line.

So, I’m going to climb this mountain – I leave tomorrow. I’m going to enjoy every step and I’m going to (hopefully!!!) stand on the top and cry my eyes out at reaching my goal. I think its going to be the most amazing experience and I bet I come back different somehow. It will be interesting to see how this experience changes me and the direction I choose for myself.

Thank you, from the heart. Thank you for being part of my journey. Thank you for the emotional and financial support, the cards, the gifts and most of all for being my friends.

My bag is packed and I have a small list of things that I need to do tomorrow. The stress from earlier in the week has pretty much evaporated, my eye has cleared up, the amazing Dave at Unity5 has retrieved the data from my MacBook and Lukasz has spent ages updating my iPod with the new music I recently downloaded. My work handover is almost down and actually……I think I’m ready!

Tonight is dinner with my parents and my children – and then a night watching Star Wars eating ice-cream with my Son. Big cuddles with the kids, 1 more sleep and I am off.

Can’t wait to tell you all about it when I get back.

Much love Sarah 🙂

ps. It was -37 at the top of Kilimanjaro last week.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

3 sleeps to go…..

Firstly, an apology. I had every intention of blogging every day in the lead up to my trip but the last few days have passed in a bit of a daze. I have had packing to deal with, an eye infection and the death of my beloved MacBook – all of which have been pretty traumatic in one way or another!

The eye infection has zapped my energy over the weekend and has left me unable to wear contacts. Someone today told me I looked studious…..stupid is possibly closer to the truth. Note to self, sometimes you need to wear your ’emergency glasses’ and its probably worth investing in a pair that are more flattering.

It is with my words from a previous blog ‘Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance’ ringing in my ears that I admit I hadn’t backed up my MacBook, despite a similar episode with my hardrive 2 years ago. Clearly the ‘once bitten twice shy’ gene is missing from me. To loose my iTunes library 3 days prior to my trip, having spent all weekend downloading new albums that I hadn’t uploaded to my iPod, and with a trip that will see me travelling for 16 hours to get to our hotel a few days away has me in a state of utter panic.

I get the feeling I may have lost some of my readers at this point, possibly gone off to google ‘external hardrives’. Seriously, if you haven’t backed up your primary pc/mac….do it…(from someone who has lost everything twice….doh…)

Anyway……to bring you up to speed. It’s 3 sleeps until I leave the UK heading to Tanzania to climb the highest freestanding mountain in the world.

I have all my kit. The only pressing task is to get all my kit into my rucksack. Sarah vs The Rucksack part 2 (Sarah fights back) is starting this evening.

I have followed the kit list to the letter and unlike most other trips, I have not overpacked or added any extra ‘essentials’ – the problem is that all our sleeping bags and liners need to be inside the main rucksack which doesnt leave as much room as is needed for the other essential kit. I am having to be a bit creative with my packing which is why my water bottle contains my underwear, snacks are inside pockets, my handluggage is full of rolled up clothes and I will be wearing lots of layers on the flight. There is little point in taking a bigger rucksack to be honest, as we are only allowed to take 12kg up the mountain.

I am at that ‘pre -dventure’ stage of just wanting to leave. The build up has become almost too much to cope with, it just feels that for every day I am in the UK its another day where I could catch a cold, twist my ankle or something else that could happen to stop me going. I can’t believe that after 7 months of training, fundraising and planning that my trip is 3 days away – and now I just want to go – although I am dreading the journey. 9 hours on the flight followed by a 7 hour coach journey to take us to our hotel which will see us spending our last ‘comfy’ night in a bed before setting off on our trek up Kilimanjaro.

So for now my time now is being spent with final preparations and spending time with my children, family and friends. I also spend a fair bit of time worrying – but who wouldn’t when faced with this kind of adventure I guess?

Team Sparks leave Exeter at 11am on Thursday. I am so excited I could either burst into tears or maybe just burst. For now, I shall love you and leave as I have a rucksack to wrestle with!

Until tomorrow……Sarah 🙂

Ps. Speed dating on Thursday night was an absolute hoot. I was terrified about whether it would go smoothly, whether everyone would turn up and what I was going to say to a room full of eager singletons. I need not have worried 31 people rocked up and it was a marvellous night. There have already been some subsequent dates arranged as a result and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. £270 raised for charity and I’ve created some sparks in the process.

Pps. ‘Where is Sarah?’ – Those clever boys at Unity5 have created an iPhone application where you can track my whereabouts – infact, it’s already up and running! It’s awesome! I’ll be sending texts on my trip which will update this website – – so you can see where I am, what altitude I am at and read my text updates.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

8 days to go….tasting success!

Food is never far from my mind.

I will be eating one meal and pretty much be planning the next one. I love great food,
fabulous ingredients that are cooked well – I love cooking and I love eating.

I am a healthy size 12 and I eat a balanced diet most the time and I absolutely don’t diet. That’s not because I have never needed to, its because I like eating too much and frankly I would rather run another 6 miler to burn off the food I’ve consumed than deprive myself in the first place. Nicole, fellow Kilimanjaro
trekker and Sparks representative, and I were having this very conversation over coffee earlier in the week, one of the predominant reasons we both exercise is so that we can remain slim whilst eating whatever we like.

On one of our first dates, my ex-husband took me for a meal out at a plush local restaurant. He
had finished eating his meal and was watching me finish mine. Infact he kept looking at me….staring even….when I asked what he was looking at – he replied that his Mum and his previous girlfriend always let him finish their meals as they had small appetites……I laughed, boy he had a shock coming if that’s what
he was used to! (Incidently, I also like to point out that he also said I was the only girl he’d ever gone out with that didn’t have a moustache……looking at the people he’s dated after me, I reckon I still hold that title too 😉 )

So, yesterday I went to the local supermarket to buy snacks. I needed to buy a full range of foods
that would motivate me to keep going up the mountain, deliver energy, take away the dusty taste from my mouth, replace the salts I’m sweating out and potentially replace any rough meals I might be served. Nicole reported that the evening meals were excellent last time she trekked, but the pack lunches were a bit ropey – so I need to be prepared!

I will be on the mountain for 6 days. I think I may have overdone it….what do you reckon?!

I have a sweet tooth and to be honest if anything is going to motivate me up a mountain in those final stages, its likely to be edible.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

9 days to go, 9 things I’ve learnt, so far….

I haven’t done anything hugely impressive today in terms of Kilimanjaro preparation, but I’ve been reflecting a lot on my experience so far. I thought I might share some of what I’ve learnt!

1. Whatever the question, exercise is the answer.
Look, I’m no expert but I know that when I exercise I can eat what I like, I have a glow about me and my skin is clear, my weight is kept in check effortlessly, I am in a permanent good mood and can pretty much deal with whatever life throws at me. When I don’t exercise I feel -and look! – exactly the opposite. Aside from actually having to get up and do it (at times!) there is no negative to exercising..

2. Your body always has the final word.
If you don’t respect your body it will come back and bite you – your body is the only home you have…so take care of it! Eat well, sleep well, drink lots of water and moderate your alcohol intake. You’re an idiot if you think you can abuse yourself and there will be no consequences. I have had 2 periods of illness in the last 6 months that knocked me off my feet and affected my training because I didn’t take care of myself and didn’t listen to my body. That won’t be happening again….!

3. You get what you pay for.
When it comes to the important things in life like chocolate, walking boots/mountain climbing kit, cars, houses or the recruitment of staff (sorry, couldn’t resist putting that last comment in) you really do get what you pay for. Understand what you need and spend whatever you have to in order to be ‘fit for purpose’. No-one wants to be up a mountain in temperatures as low as -30 wishing they were more comfortable.

4. You can’t go wrong with eyelash extensions.
Especially if someone will be taking pictures, I’m being serious…..!

5. Sometimes you just have to shut up and get on with it.
I have lost track of the amount of times that my personal trainer has set me a goal that I believe is impossible. I’ve sulked, cried and sworn at times in order to avoid something I don’t want to do……nothing works on Pete, I’ve tried everything!!! He’s made me work out my comfort zone, it hurts, but it feels amazing afterwards. My experience is that you can always do more than you think, your mind gives in before your body. Sometimes you just have to shut up and get on with it.

6. People are amazing
I have received so much help, love, kindness and support from both old and new friends…it’s blown me away. I’m not sure how I didn’t realise, or fully appreciate, the online and offline community around until now.

7. Don’t always be guided by other people.
Everyone has an opinion on everything, sometimes you just have to go with your own gut instinct. Your fear, and other people’s, can hold you back.

8. Out of a breakdown comes a break through
It’s hard to embrace the bad times but they are very often the platform for the next big thing in your life. Get through the rough patches believing that there are greater powers at work and you are heading in the direction of something amazing. Easy to say I appreciate, but in my experience it’s true.

9. Standing on top of a mountain is a great place to be
I don’t actually know this just yet, but I’m pretty sure it will be the most incredible (and cold) place in the world. Standing on top of Kilimanjaro as the sun comes up I think might just take some beating……I shall report back on that…!

Until tomorrow.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

10 days to go……where’s Sarah?!!

It’s not every day that someone offers to make you an iPhone application! I had a call on Friday from one of the geeks the Directors my good friends at Unity 5, the team there have been so impressed with my fundraising for Sparks and my forthcoming adventure that they offered to make me an application that could track my progress up Kilimanjaro!


Using web and GPS technologies the plan is that I will be able to send a text message that will update a ‘Where’s Sarah?!!’ website, plot my location on a map and feature my message. It will also update my twitter account.

Cool eh!

There will be no getting away from me! Sorry to anyone that thought they would get a break from the mountain talk when I actually left the country to fly to Tanzania next week!!

I am assuming it will be a bit ‘Google Maps-esque’ and you’ll be able to zoom in on a map of sorts and read and see things like this…..

Plotted Location: Kilimanjaro airport
Message: Just landed, I’m here – boy it’s hot!


Plotted Location: 18,500 ft up Mount Kilimanjaro
Message: It’s -15 and I’m tired from walking for hours. Cant wait to reach the summit, nearly there!

The Unity 5 team have set themselves quite a task, with only 10 days until I go they really will be coding against the clock. I shall keep you posted on their progress and look forward to introducing you to the ‘Where’s Sarah?!!” site very soon.

Big note to self: Remember to turn off the application on your return to the UK…or else inadvertent updates could well be looking like this.

Location: Number 9 Bar
Saturday night 8pm
Message: Celebratory Wine going down nicely, great to be back after my adventure!

Location: Q Club
Saturday night 11.45pm
Message: I think there is something wrong with these shoes, I keep loosing my balance?

Location: Ali’s Kebab House
Sunday morning 02.00
Message: knnewlkn jkldfoij sk ;wihebnh hhtoi

Look forward to catching up with you tomorrow!
S 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment