Over the next couple of weeks I will do my best to write up what happened to me during Kili 09. It's going to take some time to process everything that I've experienced - it's been well over a week now and I still haven't acclimatised to life back in the UK...
Day 1: June 10th, 2009
Palma and I arrive at Newcastle airport with plenty of time to spare. The main topic of conversation is - and will be for many hours to come - bag weight. We know that we are strictly limited to 15kg in our main kit bags during our stay on the mountain, and we spent much of yesterday precariously balancing trekking equipment on our bathroom scales in a desperate attempt to creep below this limit, which, if you followed the recommended kit list to the letter, is simply impossible. When we finally check our bags at the BA desk we learn that we have failed: we are both at least a kilo and a half over the magic number. What essentials will we be forced to leave behind, we wonder? What's more important, energy bars or ankle gaiters? How many wet-wipes do you really need at 18,000 feet?
As we sit in a Starbucks and contemplate the long journey ahead of us, I suddenly feel incredibly anxious. I desperately need a cigarette and I curse myself; I haven't been out of the house for more than an hour and yet here I am suffering withdrawal symptoms already. My wife slips into WH Smith to buy a pack of 20 Marlboro Lights which she then stuffs into my daysack. "You'll thank me later," she says. I bet Palma a slap-up meal that I will be the only smoker in our party and I will therefore be too embarrassed to light-up during our climb.
Before we say our final goodbyes I chat with the wife about possible death, altitude sickness, malaria, and the shame I'll have to live with if I fail in this endeavour. My step-daughter tells me that she's proud of me and I have a little cry. Thank heavens for Oakley's sunglasses.
To be honest, my mood isn't particularly great. I am plagued by self-doubt: my back is playing up, I am still on antibiotics, and I'm still smoking. I feel like I need a least another month to prepare for this trip. I just ain't ready. Thankfully, Palma's excitement is infectious and I'm carried along by it.
A couple of hours later and we are in Heathrow airport, bonding over our shared hatred of mayonnaise as we negotiate its labyrinthine terminal structure, before ambling comfortably to the Charity Challenge meeting point. Suddenly, we are surrounded by a group of strange people wearing Berghaus and Craghoppers who look vaguely familiar to us thanks to Facebook. This feels very odd indeed. Even odder is the fact that many of them are completely au fait with the contents of my luggage, having watched my YouTube packing video just a few hours ago.
After checking our bags Palma and I decide to have a bite to eat at a branch of Garfunkels, where we are attended to by a French waiter who seems to think that he's employed by the Savoy. As we scoff down our hamburgers (our last taste of Western decadence) we chat with Al Pepper, a man who exudes confidence and years of practical experience. I am immediately impressed by his tales of life in the armed forces, while Palma is drawn to the fact that his boots look brand new.
When we reach the departure gate we are reunited with Paul Albert who we originally met during the Snowdon Training Weekend in March. It's great to see him again and it doesn't take very long for him to reduce me to fits of hysterical laughter. Which is perfectly fine at this altitude. Then I introduce myself to at least a dozen of the climbers in our party by demanding quick, unrehearsed soundbites from them as I ram my camcorder into their faces. I must have looked like a right prick and they will hate me even more when they learn that the resultant footage is, in the main, unusable. In the case of Paul's on-camera revelations about his chosen charity this is probably for the best.
But as cliched as it may sound, I was immediately impressed by everyone I met in the departure lounge that night. They all seemed so self-assured and ready for anything. I have no doubts that every single one of them will make it.
Sadly, I don't travel well. Long haul flights just sap my will to live, no matter how much valium I've managed to purloin. This particular flight is a mixed bag: my in-flight entertainment system doesn't work (I am forced to watch a Kate Hudson TV Movie about weddings on an endless loop while everyone else enjoys Valkyrie or Frost/Nixon), and our take-off is delayed by more than an hour (I discover much later that this is due to some of our party being firmly ensconced in the bar) but it's also a very empty flight so at least I have a whole row of seats to myself. This means I can stretch out with William Shatner's autobiography as I curse my inability to sleep as everyone else snores around me. As I lie there, deafened by the drone of the plane's engines, I notice that my stomach is making a funny noise. And for eight solid hours I worry.
And then, as if by magic, we're in Nairobi...
Altitude: 1,661 M