Saturday, 31 December 2011


This time 12 months ago, I did a post on this very Blog, with a list I wanted to achieve through 2011. Here it is again for reference.
  • "Spend loads of quality time with my family, especially my little 3 year old lad!!
  • Climb Kilimanjaro (I'm 40 in October and the plan is to do so around that time).
  • Submit a script to the BBC writers room. From my blog, you wouldn't guess that I dabble with comedy - I know, it's not funny at all is it? For 9 years or so I've written a successful adults pantomime at my local rugby club - so successful that we've raised over £35000 for worthy causes and given nights of hilarity to more than 3000 people. So, encouraged by comments from many, I plan to write a sitcom script using an idea I've had in my head for a number of years. If it comes to nothing, I won't be too bothered, as long as I've given it my best shot.
  • More artwork. Those pencils of mine are going to be put to use. Maybe some outdoor themed pieces. Watch this space.
  • Tidy up my allotment and grow some bloody veg - rather than using it as an overflow dumping ground for my garden junk.
  • Get a 2nd hand mountain bike a ride a few trails.
  • Keep up my jogging regime.
  • Visit Scotland. I've a mate who I haven't seen for many years and I've always promised him I will visit him up in Bonnie Findochty. He also likes running so entry into a local 10k or something, followed by a wee (read enormous) swallie! Then there;s the highlands. I want to see the highlands.
  • See a cloud/temperature inversion!
  • Blog more.

 I did fairly well. Only two of the above are still outstanding. I climbed Kili (I can call it that now without fear of being struck down or spontaneously combusting), Drew a few decent sketches, grew some spuds and onions, got a bike, rode a trail or two, jogged a lot, saw an inversion (well, I saw the clouds from above on Uhuru Peak) and I Blogged quite a bit. Pretty pleased with that. It was always going to be difficult to get to Scotland in such a busy, and expensive year. And the script?! Just not had time. Still on my to-do list for the moment.
I will do the same for 2012 shortly. An Ultra is definitely on the cards, and who knows what else. More to follow. For now, I'll leave you with a 40th birthday caricature I did of a good outdoors friend of mine. Mr Mark Tony BatGoss Nicholls!

A Happy New Year to All. Have a prosperous and healthy and fresh air fuelled 2012.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Groundhog..., I mean, Boxing Day!

Each boxing day we do the same walk - Pen Y Fan from the Storey Arms. Why? Dunno. Nicholls calls it tradition, though he's only been doing it for 5 years!! Still, it's a great cobweb remover, and no two days are ever the same with the changeable British weather.

This year it was wet. Persistent light drizzle coupled with gale force winds meant moisture found its way into every nook and cranny. Still, the temperature was mild, so it was bearable. Enjoyable even.
Rather than just walk to the top and back down, we took an interesting detour down to the saddle between Cribyn and Pen Y Fan and then we skirted across the face of Pen Y Fan and ascended back up in the large gully to the far right. This was pretty much full on scrambling, although a lot of it is quite loose. With the cloud and the mist it felt pretty hardcore!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas

I've had a brilliant Christmas day with with my family and I want to wish Merry Xmas to anyone who reads this. My little 4 year old was spoilt rotten again but, as is customary, spent more time playing with the box the toy came in, than the toy itself.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Kili - Day 6

The day after sumitting could be described as an anti-climax, but we were looking forward to another day in the rainforest zone, with the enormous amount of incredible plants. I wish Dave wasn't such a plant-geek, but everyone has their faults.
We were awake early (as usual) and felt pretty refreshed after what was probably the best nights sleep we'd had on the mountain. The sky was clear and we had our final views of the snow capped volcanic cone of Kibo.

The effects of yesterday were pretty clear to see on my very swollen, sunburned face. The one thing I had forgotten in preparation for the summit was my suncream.

Dave and I with Jeremy, our waiter for the trek. What a nice guy, very little English, but easy to get along with. He thought Dave was 'very strong, very, verrry strong'.

One of the tamest ravens we'd encountered came right up close whilst we ate breakfast outside the tent.

Before we commenced our final days walking, there was the small/big matter of the tip giving ceremony. Dave and I had had many discussions about tips on the trip, not all of them in a calm and friendly manner! We'd finally decided on what we thought was a fair amount for everyone. Without warning, the porters and guides had gathered near the tents and then the fun began...

Hopefully this video gives a good account of the singing. The 'Lead' singer was a porter called Felix, who reminded me very much of the little guy in Cool Runnings! Quite a character.

Tips were then handed out to each member of the crew individually and most of them seemed pleased. We were told by the guides the following day that all the crew were very pleased with our tips, which was a nice feeling because they deserve every shilling they earn.

After that, the guides and I headed south through the remaining heather and moorland towards Mweka Hut, and then onwards to Mweka gate.
Mweka Hut Campsite appeared in no time at all. It was the best hut we'd seen. We signed in for the final time and took a photo each before cracking on.

Dave is actually half Hobbit and was the first mixed species climber to make it to the summit. We tried explaining this to the Ranger in an attempt to get it officially noted for the records,but we just received a vague look in response.

Note my severly swollen face!

The forest track down to Mweka Gate was so similar to the one leading up from Machame gate - no surprise there. The flora was similar as well but we did see some great stuff like this enormous Camphor tree

Large Cyathea manniana (treeferns to you and I)

Just before we got to the Mweka gate one of the guides pointed out monkeys in the trees above. Despite the guidebook mentioning this possibility, the guides insisted that we were lucky to see them. There was a blue monkey that was barely visible some way off, and a couple of Colobus Monkeys. The Colobus were closer yet very high up. They are arboreal and spend their whole lives in the treetops.

Arriving at Mweka Gate, we were ensconced by two hungry hordes. The first being a crowd of German Tourists, not trekkers, who were filming us as if we were Stanley Livingstone and Ranulph Fiennes. The guy with the video camera eagerly showed Dave the footage of us walking down the track, and proclaimed us to be 'great adventurers'. Obviously mixed us up with someone else? The other horde were the locals who try to sel you anything and everything with a Kilimanjaro theme. Knives, spears, masks, books, maps. You name it. We signed the final register and made our way to the minibus where the porters had stowed the gear. One 'hawker' insisted on trying to part with a Kilimanjaro book that had caught my eye and my weakness had been revealed. In the end, just before the minibus door shut, as a final gambit, he offered to swap it for my watch, an £8.99 casio jobby for running. I immediately agreed and handed him the watch for the book. A great deal I thought, it just meant that Dave and I had no way of knowing the time for the next two days! Top tip - take as many watches as you can fit on your arm when travelling to Africa. Great bargaining tools.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Kili day 5 - Summit Day

After what seemed like months and months of waiting for this day, it was here. Prior to the trip, and even during the early days of the trip, I had some doubts about getting to the top. I'm fit, determined and stubborn :), yet there was still that very tiny nagging doubt that said, 'What if?'. What if the altitude sickness gets me?

Well, waking up at 3am on 17th November, after a really poor nights sleep due to the incredibly strong wind and usual uncomfortable ground beneath the sleeping mat, I was absolutely sure I would get to the top. Each day the guides had told Dave and I that we were among the strongest walkers they'd had. Our pace was always good without going too quick. We took very few breaks (apart from to drool over plants) and we showed very few effects of altitude.

So, at 4am, off we trudged in the cold night air, buffeted by a really strong Easterly wind and we commenced the long haul up the switchbacks to Stella Point. Daniel had informed us that the walk to the summit is usually 6-8 hours dependent on the fitness and strength of the group. At the time I remember that sounding like an incredibly long time to get to the top of a peak that we could almost see in front of us. It just didn't look that far away!

As we trudged upwards, the sky behind us began to brighten over the first two hours, until at around 6am, the sun rose.

And we could see a very long way.

The going had been tough up until this point but both Dave and I walked with our heads down, silently following the feet in front, taking very few breaks. The tubes on our camelbaks had frozen so we had to stop now and again to sip water from a bottle. Ingeniously, I had covered my Sigg bottle with a spare thermal sock which made an ideal insulating layer and prevented it from freezing. It also made the water taste like my feet after 4 days of walking up an African mountain. Cheesey water anyone?

The frozen hydration tube showed just how cold it was. That had never happened to me before. Yet, strangely, I didn't feel cold at all. I actually stopped to remove my primaloft jacket from below my down jacket very early on. That left me wearing two baselayers, a thin fleece and my down jacket. This was absolutely plenty. Dave was the same, and he never once wore a pair of gloves, just relying on the pockets of his down jacket.

The sun rose further and the morning was beautiful. Every time we glanced up the steep slope in front of us, it seemed like the crater rim was still miles away. But slowly, we made progress until eventually, we could see a small rock marking Stella Point. We were nearly on the crater rim.
Up until this point I felt fine - my headache was gone - but I felt tired. The walk was tough. Really tough. It's hard to describe properly, but my legs felt okay, and my breathing was fine too, I was just drained of energy. Although there was no way in the world I was not getting to the top because of exhaustion, I felt like sitting down for a rest every ten steps or so. But we didn't, and we all made it to Stella Point after around 3 hours 55 minutes!

It's as strange name for this spot on the crater rim as there wasn't a single bottle of Belgian lager to be found. I could have murdered a pint or two. We stopped for some pictures and a 10 minute rest.

Then, the guides pointed out where Uhuru peak was. It looked so close, yet apparently took 45 minutes to get to. Dave and I were having none of that. Despite being exhausted, I had a real second wind, and the gradient was much easier from here to the summit. Plus, we had the amazing G=glaciers of the Southern Icefield to wonder at as we walked past. 30 metres of sheer ice cliff!

We walked along and became strung out. Daniel, followed by myself, and then Dave, Thomas and Aloyce. As we got closer, I slowed up as I wanted to get to the top with Dave, because we'd shared a lot over the past 5 days. Mainly leek soup and popcorn!

At 8:42am we arrived at Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro and Africa's highest point. I felt quite emotional and I shed a few tears beneath my macho wraparound shades. But then the elation set in. What a feeling. The wind was gusting, it was cold, but we had made it to the top, just like I knew we would.

Plenty of photos were taken by Daniel. I had a whole bag of things I wanted photographed at the summit...

My Pill Harriers Tour Flag (4 sheets of scribbled on A4 paper sellotaped together)...

My Welsh Flag!

A Specials Scarf - I'd seen them in Cardiff a month before and a close mate bought me a scarf and said he wanted it taken to the top of Kili. (The teeshirt I'm wearing is for the charity I walked for)

My Ieuan The Lion Fund teeshirt. Despite doing this trek for myself, for my 40th birthday, I also raised £1100+ sponsorship for a brilliant children's charity called Ieuan The Lion's Fund - - in memory of my friend's little lad who tragically passed away at the age of 13. He loved Disney and The Lion King and I thought it was so appropriate for him to be here with me, on top of Africa, looking down over the plains below! One very special reason why I couldn't fail to get to the top.

Dave left the top first as he was feeling a bit odd and probably starting to get affected by the altitude. He literally jogged off towards stella Point with Aloyce and Thomas in pursuit. I followed minutes later with Daniel. The walk back down to Stella Point seemed easy now, despite weary limbs.

But the walk down from Stella Point to Barafu was hell. Really difficult terrain, legs that kept slipping from under us, and aching knees. The cheap poles I'd brought with me finally came into their own. This was the only time I used them on the whole trip. The views, as ever, were worth the grief.

After what seemed like an age, but was probably only a couple of hours since the summit, we arrived back at Barafu to rest for an hour, before continuing to Millenium camp.

After a short rest in the tent, we were up and about and watching a Lammergeyer soaring around the valley below, avoiding divebomb attacks by the ravens.

Then, we stumbled the few miles downhill to Millenium camp where beer was on sale! Neither Dave nor I, could face one! How Ironic. Best we could manage was a can of Coke each for 3000 TShillings (about £1.20). Washing water was brought, dinner was served, and despite a large group of noisy French Canadians in the next clearing over, we both slept soundly that night after the incredible exertions of that memorable day.