Back to Kilimanjaro


On a rainy day in July 2010, I was sitting on the train reading the Metro (a free London commuter paper) and I saw a large Alzheimer’s Society advertisement for Kilimanjaro. For some reason this really sparked something inside of me and I immediately signed up on a whim. Apart from hiking boots, I didn’t have one single piece of hiking, camping, exercise-related kit so I had to buy everything from scratch. The other point to mention is that I was really quite unfit and overweight. I didn’t let that put me off though and I did do a lot of hiking training for the trip. When Kilimanjaro came around, it was probably all a bit too much for me – I wasn’t used to camping, not washing for days, drinking slightly murky tasting water and being away from home comforts.


I was also carrying a bit more excess baggage than I should have been and the rest of it is pretty much a blur. I got quite bad altitude sickness and didn’t make the summit, and when I came back I was broken. For ages when people asked me about the trip and Kilimanjaro, I didn’t have a good word to say about it and now I’ve since realised it wasn’t the mountain I hated, but myself. What I did make though was huge changes to my life afterwards, which you can read about here. The shame and the disappointment kick started this love of exercise and travelling, and in that respect I am thankful, but I have unfinished business with that mountain…


So I am taking my new-found confidence having taken on Toubkal, Mont Blanc and Elbrus to go back and face Kilimanjaro again, this time for pure fun! Now I know what to expect and I am better prepared. I know that I can do it and, importantly, I can enjoy it this time. I’m also going to make the most of being there by visiting the orphanage and going on safari.

This is who I am now, and I’ve got this!…




I am climbing Kilimanjaro in August 2015 with Discover Adventure. Come and join me! x


Elbrus 2014: Why I can call myself a mountaineer

When I look back on my recent trip to Elbrus – Europe’s highest peak at 5642m and one of the seven summits – it will not only be the mountain that I remember, but the people I met there.

Yes it would have been wonderful to have had a picture perfect summit day with panoramic views, blue skies and happy faces holding mascots, but it wasn’t to be. Does it make it all the more awesome that 10 out of 13 of us reached the summit? The short answer is yes and here’s why…

I always try and do some sort of adventure holiday each year and this year was all about mountaineering after having a break last year. Being an incredibly neurotic and anxious person, naturally mountaineering scares me, but then so does meeting people in crowded places and bananas. I simply refuse to be ruled by my many fears and wanted to have one last crack at a high mountain. With barely a second thought, I had booked the holiday and paid the deposit and I was all set for my epic adventure.

Days 1 and 2

The trip started with a day in Moscow – the thought of flying in to Moscow and then not at the very least seeing Red Square seemed ridiculous so we tacked on a touristy day before heading to the mountains. Getting taxis around the city is just not feasible (the traffic was absolutely horrendous) so we bought ourselves a Metro ticket and headed towards the city centre. Once you get the hang of the metro, it’s very easy to use. The hardest part was understanding the name of the stops!


Moscow is extremely expensive so rather than wasting our money on a pretty average lunch for more than London prices, we grabbed a McDonald’s and sat in the park doing some people watching . We spent the rest of the day aimlessly wandering around Red Square taking in the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral.


Day 3

After a very early start (something of a theme for this trip!), we jumped on an internal flight to Milneralyne Vody (approx 2 hours’ from Moscow with Aeroflot), after which we were met by our guide for the week Vladimir – a very friendly and charming chap who spoke largely in broken English!

We spent a further 3 hours driving via mini bus to the small village of Terskol, our base for the next few days at the foot of the mountain. We met our first trip companions: 3 Russian girls, and the time passed quickly as we exchanged stories about our lives back in the real world. We finally arrived at our hotel (a modest, but comfortable place that would soon look like 5* luxury as the week went on) and met with the remainder of our group over dinner – a large group of German gentlemen made up of 6 friends and a father and son team.

After tasting some of the culinary ‘delights’ of Moscow (I would prefer not to discuss the disgusting cheese slice with raisins and broccoli I sampled over breakfast!), my expectations were at an all-time low, but I was pleasantly surprised by the food. Delicious homemade soup made up of vegetables and fresh herbs, followed by chicken and rice, as well as pasta courses were some of the many  dishes we had over the course of the week.

Day 4

After a hearty breakfast of fried eggs and porridge, we set off on our first acclimatisation hike, which saw us take an incredibly steep and exhausting path up towards the cable cars from the foot of the valley up to around 3000m.  I started chatting with Andreas, who is in fact a doctor and we shared our various healthcare/pharmaceutical experiences, and Alex who had come here with his father. I am so envious of people who do things like this with their parents and siblings. In fact, watch out Alex – I may adopt Heinz as my honorary dad! 😉

I must confess it had been a long while since I’d hiked anywhere (does trail running count?) and I was feeling quite exhausted after the first hill, which was a little bit demoralising.

Day 5

Another early start as we set off on our second acclimatisation hike up from the valley this time to the observatory at 3100m. This hike wasn’t quite as steep as the previous day and I found it much easier going. In the evening, Vladimir did a quick kit check and told me that my beloved La Sportiva B3 boots would not be suitable and that I’d have to hire horrible plastic boots as well as a Michelin man-style down jacket and ice axe.


I felt quite annoyed because I was sure the all this talk of ‘extreme temperatures’ was complete overkill and that he just had a deal going with the hire company. Oh how wrong we were.


Day 6

After breakfast, we headed up on the cable car and the chair lift to the infamous barrels at the Bochki camp (accommodation made out of old oil drums) at 3800m (the start of our snow-based trekking) armed with all of our kit and supplies for the week. The weather was absolutely boiling (think sahara desert with snow) and I started to worry that it would be too hot and that plastic boots were a waste of time! We did a short acclimatisation hike to get used to the hideous plastic boots up to around 4100m and returned for lunch in the the battered old caravan.


Maria our cook (a lady with more gold than white teeth!) managed to cook up some homemade soup in her make-shift kitchen. The lunch also included cheese and ham, bread and sweets to keep our energy levels up. We sat in the caravan drinking tea and listening to dreadful Russian Europop interspersed with the Cranberries until we were kicked out and the next group came along.

It is worth mentioning the toilets, or ‘the spa’ as it was later referred to, at this point. I have seen my fair share of disgusting toilets over the years (most of which have been in France), but these were probably among the worst I’ve had to endure – a smelly hole in the ground. Every time I visited the toilets I wanted to dowse my entire body in iodine.

Day 7

For the last of our acclimatisation hikes, we headed up from the barrels to just shy of the Pastuckhova rocks at around 4500m. It was a tiring day finishing at around 3pm, but the majority of the group were really keen to attempt the summit in the early hours of the following morning, which actually turned out to be perfect conditions (clear blue skies). Unfortunately, our guide suggested we instead take a rest day at the barrels.


Day 8

We had a later start as we were scheduled in to have a rest day and do some ice axe arrest and crampon training for an hour of so. Ordinarily, a rest day would be most welcome, but the lack of home comforts make the barrels an unwelcome place to spend any time. I decided to nap in the afternoon knowing full well that I was very unlikely to get any sleep that night ahead of our start in the early hours of the morning.

Day 9 – Summit day

elbrus-routeOur guide had told us that because of the predicted conditions, we would be getting the snowcat (an enormous snow plough type contraption with seats) up to 5100m (above Pashtukov rocks) and walking from there. This meant a 3am start. I was quite disappointed as I would rather have started where we left off.


The snowcat seemed like fun for the first 2 minutes, but the novelty quickly wore off when I realised I would have to hang on just to keep myself from sliding down for 10 minutes. Not the most ideal preparation for an exhausting day ahead.

As we emerged from the snowcat I realised just how cold it was, how high we were and how steep the section of the mountain was! I was breathing quite heavily for the first 5 minutes and honestly thought I couldn’t go on. I kept plodding along though for what I can only imagine was another 45 minutes and looked behind me and saw that nobody was there. In fact, one of the chaps had gone back down.  As we came over the saddle between the Eastern and Western summit and headed left for the Western summit, the cold and the wind hit me like a thousand shards of glass into my face. My face hurt, my lips hurt, my fingers hurt. In fact, given that the boots were the most uncomfortable footwear known to man, they were pretty much the only thing that didn’t hurt from the cold.

There was absolutely no respite from the biting 50+ km/h winds and every time we stopped everyone chose to preserve their fingers rather than risk taking their mittens off to eat or drink. We pushed on towards what would normally be a narrow very exposed snow path, however, the recent snowfall meant that the path had all but disappeared and we were blindly relying on the grip from our crampons and ice axes. Walking through fresh snow is exhausting at the best of times, but even more so when you are terrified of falling.

A particularly steep section of the path had a fixed rope attached and we clipped ourselves in hoping that the rope would break our fall should the worst happen. I nervously and gingerly worked my way across – by this point there was nobody immediately in front or behind me. I was shaking and terrified – I looked back and I saw Heinz a few feet away and he nodded in approval. I was doing OK.


Another flat section – phew! I cried with joy, disappointment, elation and fear. ‘What the hell kind of stupid thing am I doing?!’ I asked myself. My fingers were in agony. I felt completely alone – I couldn’t see anybody and I couldn’t talk to anyone as the wind was too strong to have a conversation, and I didn’t have the energy to shout. We rested for a while. I sat down and leaned forward and shut my eyes. I couldn’t get up – ‘Maybe I’m going to die here?’ I thought: ‘I’m too tired to get up’. ‘Get your shit together’ a voice in my head shouted and I collected myself. Vladimir came over to ask if I was OK and got my drink out of my bag for me. I took a few sips and it lifted my spirits a bit and I got up. ‘Just another 40 minutes until the summit’ he said. ‘OK 40 minutes – I can do this’.


The path towards the summit was relatively flat, but completely exposed to the winds blowing grown men off their feet. At one stage I remember standing watching as Alex stood unable to move because of the strength of the wind. Slowly but surely though we reached edge of the summit. What I can only imagine in reasonably clear conditions would take 2 minutes to walk up, seemed to take a lifetime. I had to crawl up a 3 metre slope to the summit using my ice axe and crampons as the wind was too strong to stand. I was almost there when 2 hands reached out and pulled me up. It was Rich and someone else – I don’t remember who. I had made it. I lay there exhausted for a minute and then stood up. Rich took a picture. My mouth hurt too much to smile.


This didn’t feel like the summit at all – there was no view to speak of, only snow-filled air all around us. The summit was absolutely crowded with Chinese climbers too. I just wanted to get away. I bashed my hands together to try and get the circulation back into my thumbs. They didn’t feel right and I panicked: ‘I need my thumbs for typing’ I thought.

Given that the guide said it would probably take 6 hours to reach the summit in normal conditions, we had done so in an impressive 7 hours.

We headed back down and the wind was so strong it was blowing my hood off and exposing the side of my face to the biting wind. Back at the fixed ropes, the path looked even less defined than before. I cautiously placed every footstep in the snow and made sure that my ice axe was firmly placed, but the snow was so soft it was giving away and then I fell. Only about 6 feet, but it felt like 3 times that. I dug in my ice axe and crampons and lay there. I couldn’t see or hear anything and then I saw Vladimir come over. He told me to flip over and dig in my crampons. I felt ok on my front and moved across quickly to to next section of ropes. I saw the Russian girls in front of me and then I heard some shouting in Russian. I looked over and I saw that the group of Chinese climbers were practically walking on top of us on what was arguably the most dangerous section. I felt angry as all I wanted to do was get back onto the flatter section, but we kept having to stop to let them pass us. We unclipped ourselves from the fixed rope and the guide fashioned a rope tethering us all together. I didn’t enjoy this at all – I felt like I was being pulled backwards and forwards unable to find any kind of rhythm. I just wanted to walk at my own pace. I heard Dasha cry out in terror and I felt her pain. ‘Should we really be here?’ I thought. ‘If this was the Alps you wouldn’t be allowed up’. We carried on though and it suddenly hit me how utterly freezing I was. As we arrived back at the drop off point at 5100m, Vladimir asked if anyone wanted a lift down in the snowcat. I decided that I was just too cold to carry on and took him up on his offer. This time I sat outside at the front of the snowcat hanging on for dear life with virtually nothing between me and ground beneath me. I was shivering to the core and Vladimir gave me a hug and made sure I was ok. Back at the barrels, I removed the wet clothing, added several layers and lay there in my sleeping bag for 2 hours before the rest of the group arrived back – it took 4 hours before my core temperature returned to normal. I decided to forego lunch and get some rest. By dinner time (8pm) I was back to normal though and just glad the whole thing was over. All I could think about was having a nice shower, wearing clean clothes and proper toilets. We had to wait though until the next morning. For the first time in the whole trip though I slept solidly and soundly for 5 hours!

Day 10

We took the cable car back down to relative civilisation, showered and had some lunch where copious amount of beer and vodka were consumed. I headed to market to buy some souvenirs to mark our epic adventure. Rich chose a t-shirt and I decided I was more likely to actually use a baseball cap.


For the celebratory dinner, we headed to a local restaurant to try out the traditional shashlik – Russian shish kebab – and smoke a shisha (first time for me). We all had a very early start so after only a few beers we all decided to call it a night. The trip had come to an end and we were going home.


Day 11

As we took our flight home, I felt a sense of loss that I would never see these people, who had practically been my family for the last 10 days, again. If I did see them it just wouldn’t be the same. It’s the end of an era and we’re back to normality.



Looking back now, I realise just what I had achieved and how amazing each and every one of the group were. There was absolutely no shame in feeling exhausted or turning back – the conditions were like hell on earth. One thing is for sure – we can all call ourselves true mountaineers.

I said no more summit bagging after this, but right now I feel such an amazing sense of pride that I may well go back on my word…


Reaching my full potential

Recently I’ve fallen out with running. I’ve not been making a lot of progress and I’ve been finding the long slow runs really dull. So when we arrived in Portugal for the running training camp I was at my lowest ebb. I told myself I’d taken up running too late and I’d reached my peak. I had zero expectations and was convinced that somebody would tell me that I wasn’t proper runner and that my cover would be well and truly blown.


I’m happy to report that I am now back in love with running and I’m really excited about the marathon. I’m perhaps not going to do as well as I could have done (due to inconsistent training), but I’m just going to enjoy the amazing opportunity and go back to basics.

You see what I realised last week was that I have only just started on my running journey. I’ve spent 30 years of my life being largely sedentary in nature and this is just the beginning of a long relationship with fitness and running.


The week (or 2 week) training camp is run by the fabulous coaches and experts in their field at Full Potential. You get to live, breathe and sleep running or, if you prefer, you can just go there to relax with the odd run along the cliffs thrown in – it’s entirely up to you. You stay in the Alfamar sports hotel rubbing shoulders with athletes from various olympic teams and making the most of the excellent facilities.


The hotel itself is basic, but clean, which is fine by me as I didn’t plan on spending much time in my room!


I, naturally, chose to take every opportunity to run, get some tips and advice and soak it all up like a sponge. I lived like an athlete for a week (well, apart from the giant ice creams, the pizza…) – training twice a day, listening to talks on nutrition and finding out about the best types of mobility and strength exercises to do along side running training. In between all this I got to sit by the pool in the glorious sunshine bikini-clad. It’s a hard life, but someone’s got to do it, right?

IMAG0069 We arrived on the Monday, took a walk along the gorgeous beach (literally just out the back of the hotel) and joined in on the evening recovery run where we caught up with some of the other people and the coaches, Ben and Rich. What followed was a week of track sessions where I learnt what a threshold run was, aqua jogging, a cross country race (where my Rich who ‘hates’ running came 3rd!) and one of the best long runs I’ve had in ages.


I had video analysis done, and contrary to what I previously thought, I don’t run like a crazed baboon. I just need to shorten my stride and work on some drills. With the help of Ben (my new running coach – get me), I’m determined to nail a 1:50 half marathon.


It was truly an inspiring and fun week and I learnt such a huge amount. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom:

  • For marathon training, don’t stress about the mileage and just focus on time
  • Train smart – make sure there’s a reason for every run
  • “Don’t have you best marathon run on a training run” (thanks Rich) – keep marathon training runs up to a maximum of 3 hours
  • Aqua jogging is a great way of training without the impact associated with running – you don’t need to spend a fortune on a belt either, you can just use a noodle float (probably about £5 instead of £20)
  • Forget spinning and Crossfit – instead I now have a marvellous personal trainer who does running-specific strength training with me and checks my form, something that is often lacking in classes
  • The things that need fixing with my running form mean that there is HUGE potential for me to improve and grow as a runner

Anyway, I’ll leave you with this video to give you a flavour of the experience.

Big thanks to everyone at Full Potential for making my holiday so brilliant and helping me to realise that I can achieve my running dreams. See you again in September. 


London to Paris bike ride 2014 for Anxiety UK


It’s been nearly 2 years since I last did a big charity event so I thought it was about time I did another one. This time it’s all about cycling. I just bought a bike so I might as well get some use out of it right?! I chose the London to Paris cycle ride as it will certainly be sufficiently challenging for me – I am the most wobbly and unconfident cyclist so this is not going to be easy for me by any stretch of the imagination, but it should be fun.

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I suffer with anxiety disorder hence why I’ve chosen to support Anxiety UK. I’m hoping that doing something like this will raise awareness about it and show people that you can have a mental health disorder and still be successful, happy and healthy.

Anxiety UK help support those living with anxiety disorders by providing information, support and understanding via an extensive range of services, including 1:1 therapy.

What I would love is to gather together a team of people with twitter accounts and blogs who can help spread the word so that we can fundraise as a team, get together to train and support each other, even if virtually.

More about the event

Date: 14 to 18 May 2014

Duration: 5 days

Organisers: The fabulous Discover Adventure, a great UK company who I’ve used before, organise the trip.

Pricing: You can choose two payment routes (both require a £149 deposit): you can either choose the fundraising option where you raise all the money for the trip (£1300) or you pay for the tour yourself (£650) and raise money for the charity separately (please aim to raise at least £500).

Itinerary: More information on the itinerary can be found here.

What’s included? All accommodation is included, as well as transport (by ferry and Eurostar) and all meals during the trip (except three meals – available in full itinerary). It also includes full trip support of experienced Discover Adventure leaders, drivers and mechanics.

What’s not included? It does not include personal travel insurance, three meals as specified above, transport around Paris on Day 5, a bicycle, drinks, extra food, personal items or entry to any optional tourist sites you may wish to visit.

Want to join in? So – if you would also like to join in drop me a line here and I’ll send you some information and a booking form. Alternatively, please feel free to book directly with Discover Adventure (they have lots of space) and let me know when you have done so.


Walking in the Lakes: Scafell Pike

Since taking part in the Karrimor great trail challenge, Rich and I have rather fallen in the love with the Lake District so we decided to book a last-minute long weekend and this time do some hiking rather than running.


I would like to do the 3 peaks this year – Scafell Pike (England; 978 m), Snowdon (Wales; 1085 m) and Ben Nevis (Scotland; 1344 m), but in my own time so that I can appreciate each one not for a race!


This weekend, in true summit bagger style, we crossed Scafell Pike off the list. We probably could have done it ourselves, but we decided to do a guided walk with Adventure Peaks, a specialist walking and mountaineering company based in Ambleside. It just takes the stress out of map reading (and any arguing that might ensue!) and it’s always nice to meet people. The lovely Dan was our guide for the day!


We took the route starting from Seathwaite, Borrowdale, which is the slightly longer route (9.5 miles in total), but a relatively easy walk.


The walk goes via Styhead and the Corridor Route to reach Lingmell col. As it’s a longer route, it avoids many of the crowds than the shorter tourist route, which is used for the descent.

The weather, as you’d expect in the lakes, was fairly changeable ranging from quite warm in the sun and really quite cold and windy on the summit. I’m glad I had an extra layer with me as I was really feeling the cold when we stopped for lunch.

On the way up we passed an enormous group of people making their way down who were actually on their 3rd summit of the 4-peaks challenge (crazy people!), which also includes an extra peak in Ireland – Slieve Donard (850 m).


We started out at 10am and made the summit by just after 1pm.


Rich and I on the summit – shame about the lack of views!

We then made our way back down via the tourist route, which was actually quite busy as you’d expect, although not as busy as the week before in the sunshine – these fair weather walkers eh?


Little scamble on the way down.

Things I have learned after walking in the lakes:

– Always carry a waterproof and an extra layer!

Percy pigs are obligatory on any walk!

– Wild swimming in some of the small lakes we passed on the way would be really cool

– Wild camping looks great too, although don’t drink the water! 🙂

– Kayaking is also now on the list (Dan our guide being an instructor!)

You can check out Adventure Peaks‘ guided walks calendar here.


Alpine trail running day 4: The one with the taping


So this morning I woke up and immediately thought ‘I can’t do this’ so I emailed in to quit, but a little voice in my head told me to man up and get my sh*t together. My knee has been giving me grief due to muscle fatigue causing me to roll my knee in and it’s taken a bit of a beating with the 44 challenging miles I have covered this week. Still, I’ve had it checked out and I’m all taped up and good to go for another day with no lasting damage. I just have some homework to do that involves focussing entirely on working and bulking up my left leg and doing a lot of stretching in my left leg to get the range of movement at least to the level of my right leg.

Today we ran the other part of the Mont Blanc marathon route from the finish to Argentiere. Fortunately, the weather broke so it was nice and cool (around 22 degrees) and raining, making for much easier running conditions. The route was mostly undulating, with a lot of down hill.

Total distance covered: 15km


Alpine trail running days 2 and 3: More hills and the Mont Blanc marathon route

Day 2: Chamonix – Bel lachet hut – Les Houches


At the Bel Lachat hut, with Aiguille Verte behind.

I arrived at the meeting point for the second day of trail running and was told I was going up more hills. Eek. Off we set then – immediately up a steep hill towards the Bel Lachet hut some 2000m up. Parts of path were shaded in trees and other parts were more exposed. It was extremely hot (32 degrees) as we were on the south facing side of the hill.

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 20.43.50

The snow line is unusually low this time of year so we had to traverse some sections of steep snow, which is pretty hairy in trainers! At one point we saw a professional trail runner walking too on a steep stretch, so it made me feel much less guilty for walking rather than running (more like shuffling!) on the same stretch. Having got to hut, we headed across and down to Les Houches. On the way down I started to feel a twinge in my knee. I’d already booked in a sports massage and was hoping he could help out. The massage, as always, was extremely painful, but just what I needed to loosen up my leg muscles! He’s also explained that, when I get back, I need to build on strengthening my left leg.

Here is a short video sneak peek at my trail running on day 2.

Total distance: 22km

Day 3: Chamonix to Vallorcine via the Mont Blanc marathon route


Today I was a little apprehensive. Every time I go for a 5k run at home, I feel as though I might have to stop after 1km (it doesn’t seem to get easier with time for me!). Add to that the fact that you have covered 39.2km over 2 days and have a twinge in your knee and you have a recipe for a potential freak out. Having found out the the route was going to be flatter today (there is no such thing as flat here by the way people), I decided to suck it up and get on with it.

We headed out on the Mont Blanc marathon route from Chamonix towards Vallorcine.  Whilst the hills and the views over the mountains have been stunning, this really was a pretty run. I love running past luscious green fields listening to the sound of cow bells. My favourite section was the forest path, which was lovely and clear and undulating within my comfort level (ie, not an unrelenting hill or mountain!).

My knee did start to seize up a bit at about 10km, so we stopped to dunk my knee in a crystal clear and ice cold stream.

My nose has been streaming all week and we suspect it might be hay fever (spring has arrived very late here) so I am now ratting around with hayfever drugs, pain killers, and supplements.

More hills again tomorrow. 🙂

Total distance: 16.5km