Back to Kilimanjaro

DSCF0092

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.

DSCF0100

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…

294304_10150874559520711_25162225_n

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!…

IMG_0174

 

———————————————————————————————–

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

sian

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.

IMG_1397

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!

IMG_1401

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!

IMAG0387

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

IMG_1418

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).

IMG_1419

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

IMG_1420

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?

IMAG0401

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.

sian

The forgotten exercise – walking

photo-85

So many people are all about running, sweating like a b*tch in the gym, and working out until they collapse, that walking – something so simple and so good for you – often gets overlooked as an exercise. I love to hike, feel the wind on my face, smile and nod at passers by and gaze at the views. There are so many pretty places to walk in the UK and you don’t need to be super fit to do it either.

photo-84

On Sunday I went for a hike around the Surrey hills to test out my map reading and navigation skills. We did a nice brisk 12k walk over varied terrain – some road, some flat and some hilly trails, through forest and fields.

photo-83

With all the running I’ve been doing lately it’s nice to spend some time appreciating the scenery at a slower pace.

photo-81

So here are my tips for hiking in the UK:

  • Find a group: walking isn’t just for oldies, there are lots of companies offering walks. I often do the 17-mile walks offered by Trek Hire UK on Saturdays starting in the beautiful village of Shere. I’ve met some of my best friends doing this walk. At £15 it’s a great way of meeting people and a good value day out. For more information, visit the Trek Hire UK website here.

photo-82

  • Always carry a waterproof coat: The weather can be quite unpredictable in the UK, so always carry a rain coat just in case. Something like this Rab Women’s Momentum jacket is ideal to stash away in your rucksack. Available for £130 from Cotswold Outdoor.
  • Wear decent walking boots or approach shoes: Trainers aren’t going to cut if in rainy and wet conditions, and to prevent ankle roll, decent walking boots are a must! Look to spend at least £110 on a decent pair. Something like these Scarpa Mythos GTX boots would be ideal for walking in the UK. Available for £130 from Cotswold Outdoor.
  • Carry plenty of water: Lots of people think ‘I’m walking in the UK, they’ll be a shop nearby and I won’t sweat much so don’t need much water’ – think again! Always be prepared and carry at least a litre for a day’s walk.
  • Take a packed lunch: Unless your route convenes at a pub at lunch time (if so, good work – I like your style!), then take plenty of snacks and a packed lunch with you. I love Eat Natural bars and pistachios.
  • A decent hiking rucksack with hip support: I swear by my Deuter rucksack. It has travelled everywhere with me, from Kilimanjaro to Mont Blanc and is still going strong. LD mountain centre sell this women’s Deuter Spectro bag for £84.99.
  • An extra hoody or fleece: In the cooler months, not so much now, I carry an extra layer just in case it cools down, especially towards the afternoon/evening.
  • In my bag: I always carry sunglasses, sun hat/cap, pain killers, camera, phone, sun block, tissues and nappy sacks, and my purse.

photo-86

Get walking people!

sian

Mont Blanc Adventures

Although I dropped off the radar last year, I was still out and about doing lots of things. I had originally booked Mont Blanc earlier in 2012 and was really looking forward to it, but my circumstances half way through the year changed and I even considered cancelling the trip as it was way down on my list of priorities – I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind for it. Fortunately, I didn’t cancel as it was a fantastic trip that I would recommend to any budding mountaineers out there. Getting there

View of Lake Geneva from the train

View of Lake Geneva from the train

I wasn’t the most organised person having only booked my flights 3 days before departure – luckily flights to Geneva are dirt cheap on EasyJet all year round. I also opted for ‘winging it’ as my way of getting from the airport to Chamonix. Having established that a taxi from Geneva airport to Chamonix would cost me 300 Euros (ouch) I opted for the train. Swiss trains are fantastic – always on time and the guards are very helpful telling you where to change. The only problem with this plan was the fact that I had to change three times (meaning waiting around for connections). I didn’t mind too much though as the views of lake Geneva are fantastic and to me it was all part of the adventure. I was due to meet the group in Chamonix at 2pm, but because of the train shenanigans I was late. I boarded the last train on my epic adventure – the Mont Blanc Express (‘Express’ in the loosest sense of the word as it was not fast by any stretch of the imagination) for more fantastic views. Here I met an American and an Aussie living and working in Geneva who were both climbing Mont Blanc. We exchanged adventure stories and having waved goodbye to my new Mont Blanc BFFs, I met with Kingsley from Icicle. He had kindly agreed to come and meet me off the train to take me up to the meet the group in the hut for our acclimatisation walk up Mount Le Buet.

View from the Mont Blanc Express

View from the Mont Blanc Express

Acclimatisation weekend IMG_0649 After a 45-minute ‘trail run’ (Kingsley is like a gazelle!), I met with the group in the mountain hut and later found out that they had done the same ‘walk’ in 2.5 hours! It was great to meet some people from the group. Three of us were in the Mont Blanc group, and one was doing a mountain skills course. The mountain hut as always was basic but boy was the hot chocolate good! After a restless sleep we started our hike up Mount Le Buet. It was a relatively easy hike, but I did start to feel the altitude just before the top (3100m).

Summit of Mount Le Buet

Summit of Mount Le Buet

After walking back the way we came the day before, we got the bus to the Icicle offices and found out our itinerary, got all our our hire kit sorted out, and got some much-needed rest. If you do decide to climb Mont Blanc, then I think the acclimatisation weekend is well worth doing as, aside from the obvious acclimatisation benefits, it’s always good to meet the people you might be climbing with and get to know them a bit. IMG_0650 Day 1: Mer du Glace – Basic mountain skills training

Ladders down to Mer du Glace

Ladders down to Mer du Glace

We met for breakfast in the Icicle offices and met with 2 of the guides for our training day to get us used to walking with crampons, climbing and being roped. We took the cable car up to the glacier and it soon became apparent that getting down to it would involve lots of climbing down high ladders. I’m not great with heights at all, but weirdly this didn’t seem to bother and I took it all in my stride. After a bit of a walk, we put our crampons on. I have use crampons before and they take a bit of getting used to. First stop was learning to walk properly in them, running up slopes, and climbing backwards down a wall. This was all great for gaining trust in your equipment as well as learning to be safe.

Train on the way to Mer du Glace

Train on the way to Mer du Glace

I loved the ice climbing though, although I stupidly wore my thin gloves and lost the feeling in my fingers for a while! I will definitely have a go at that again. Day 2: Climbing the Cosmique Arete On day 2, we all split up into groups of 2 and met with our guides. The point of this day was to get us doing a bit of climbing and our guide chose the Cosmique Arete (3842m). I’d heard stories about the infamous ridge that you are met with as you leave the cable car station so I was really nervous. Well, all I can say is the ridge is there, it is pretty narrow (about 0.5m wide) with a sheer 1000m drop either side, but I felt quite secure being roped to the guide and my crampons. If you thought that was hard though, then you’d shudder at the thought of the next bit of rock climbing. I’ll leave you with this video so you can see just how tough that was! Day 3: Tete Rousse hut On day 3, I was told that I would be going up for the summit attempt. This involved getting the train, hiking up to the Tete Rousse mountain hut and then a challenging 2-3 hour scramble up to the Gouter mountain hut. Unfortunately, there were 40 mile/hour winds so we ended up staying in the Tete Rousse hut for an extra night. This would mean a very long summit day.

Mont Blanc

View from the Tete Rouse hut

Day 4: Gouter hut and our ascent of Mont Blanc We started out with head torches at 6am for our 1000m scramble from the Tete Rousse hut to the Gouter Hut. I really struggled with this. I think it was a combination of me being not a great climber, tiredness and also the altitude. I was exhausted by the time we got to the Gouter hut. We stopped for 45 minutes, got a hot chocolate and then started the long 6-hour summit attempt. Walking from the Gouter hut to the summit I found a little bit dull. It was just walking on a massive expanse of white. After the excitement of the Aiguille du Midid scramble, I found it a bit of a let down. I think this may well have been the main reason why I didn’t make it to the summit (200m off). I didn’t have the desire to get there and I let the tiredness get the better of me. I think if I do it again I will choose a more technically challenging route that is slightly more enjoyable rather than a long monotonous slog. Day 5: The long climb down Sometimes when you reach the summit of mountains in all the excitement you forget that you have to climb all the way down again. I often wish I could teleport myself down. Granted, climbing down is much, much easier than climbing up a mountain, but I was absolutely desperate for a shower and a cold beer at that point. We managed to walk down from the Gouter hut to the train station in about 3 hours, jump on the train and then a kind local randomly gave us a lift to the Icicle offices. The verdict

Mont Blanc 2012

Mont Blanc 2012

I would recommend that anyone at least visits Chamonix and goes out walking. It’s such a beautiful place and there are so many alpine walks that you can do. I am definitely going back to Chamonix again this year and signing up for the Icicle trail running course. If I do attempt Mont Blanc again I’d like to either do another route or perhaps learn to climb it myself (Icicle also run a course for this). Above all, I think I’d love to do it again with friends as it’s the sort of thing that you need a bit of moral support with.

Massive bruises on my leg!

Massive bruises on my leg!

One thing I haven’t done after this trip is beat myself up about not reaching the summit and I refuse to do so. I managed to overcome my fears, learn some great new skills and have a blast scrambling, that the summit walk was insignificant. I achieved far more than I ever thought I would and for that I am extremely proud. Overall, I give it a 9/10 for views, 5/10 for price as Chamonix is very expensive and the lift passes are pricey, and 9/10 for Icicle who were really helpful, friendly and certainly knew their stuff. a007c75d012c7a1da55050eafbe4a19c6

The future is bright

Dolomites, Italy 2012

So where have I been all this time you are thinking, right? Well, 2012 for me was a fantastic year filled with excitement, travelling, visiting 4 new places (2 new countries), setting up my own business, achieving some amazing dreams (climbing, completing a marathon etc), having lots of fun (seeing Chemical brothers in Italy, Prodigy at the Brixton Academy and drunken nights out), but it was also filled with heartache and great change. Fortunately I am now back on my feet and I feel positive that my life will be even better than it was before.

Mont Blanc 2012 – View from the mountain hut

I am back on the blog and will fill you in on my climbing adventures, including Mont Blanc, Mount Teide and the Dolomites, but for now I want to start looking at my goals for 2013:

– Blog more – I love blogging and sharing stories and tips, but I’ve lacked motivation and passion lately and now that it’s back I want to share again.

– Run more – running has taken a back seat latterly in 2012 and I want to change that in 2013. I’m planning on signing up for a trail running camp in the Alps in September so I need to prepare for that. I still have the Brighton Marathon in April so training for that is starting this week.

– Do more fun things – I want 2013 to be a year of visiting the theatre more, attending more gigs, and going out with friends.

– Travel more – places we plan on going this year are Romania and the carpathian mountains (booked), Crete to relax and do some hiking (booked), Budapest (not yet booked), and Chamonix for trail running course (not yet booked).

– Get involved in more charity work – I’d like to go to Africa this year and help out an HIV/AIDS charity.

Mont Blanc 2012

Mont Blanc 2012

So what have you got planned for 2013?

a007c75d012c7a1da55050eafbe4a19c6

What makes me intrepid?

Image

Me (bottom left) on the ridge before the summit. I am terrified of heights so this really was tough for me!

I’ve entered a competition to win a trip anywhere in the world. Until fairly recently, I’d hardly really been anywhere just because I’ve never, ever had the money to do so. I left university and desperately needed to find a job to pay off my debts then those debts were replaced with mortgage. Don’t get me wrong I know I am terribly lucky to have my own home, but it doesn’t leave much time or money to travel, and I refuse to put things on credit cards. 

Image

Me climbing Kilimanjaro in September 2011.

Two years ago completely out of the blue I signed up to climb Kilimanjaro as I just wanted to actually say I’d done something with my miserable life. It didn’t go the way I’d planned and I didn’t really enjoy it. To be honest I came back an emotional wreck. I’d hit rock bottom and it was a tough time, but it was good for me because without that I never would have got fit, lost weight, grown in confidence and started to enjoy my life again.

I didn’t want to give up on the whole hiking and mountaineering thing – I wanted to try again and see if it was just the fact that I was unfit that made me hate it the last time or if it really was that mountain climbing wasn’t for me.

In January, I signed up to climb Mount Toubkal (4167m) in Morocco with my friend’s company Trek Hire UK. I knew some of the people on the trek and knew they would support me if I was really having a hard time.

Everything seemed so much easier this time though and I had so much fun. I think this is partly mental but also partly physical. I was able to enjoy it more as I wasn’t exhausted all the time!

Image

Final ascent – it took 4 hours of wading through deep snow and steep ascent to reach the summit, but we made it!

Now I know that I can do anything I put my mind to – I may not be the best person at hiking or climbing, but I know I’ll be the best that I can be!

Image

Me on the summit of Mount Toubkal.

If my story has inspired you do something intrepid, then please vote for me here. Life is far too short so enjoy it!

Here is the video of my trip if you want to find out more:

What makes you intrepid?

Image

Run Forrest! Run!

© Caroline Janssens 2012

Where there is a will, there is a way.  Always.

Last September, I successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.  It is high, very high (5895m).  It was hard, very hard.  I trained for it, not too much, not too little, just enough for my feet, legs and body never to hurt on the way up.  What was hard was the altitude, the headaches, the walking hours, the sleepless nights and for that, there is no training, you just have to go with it.  I had always wanted to climb that mountain.  I had some experience with trekking and camping at high altitude which I built very gradually (skiing in the Alps, hiking in Austria, hiking Los Picos de Europa in Spain, trekking along the Inca trail in Peru, climbing Mount Toubkal in Morocco, etc.).  On each of these occasions my body responded well to high altitude.  Mount Kilimanjaro was therefore simply the obvious next step in altitude and level of challenge.  I was confident I could do it.  I had purposely chosen that challenge as a pretext to raise money for a charity that is close to my heart and that surely helped building the mental strength I needed to get to the top.  I enjoyed every single minute of the entire trek, even the eight hours of the summit night.  I felt a level of focus and contentment that I had never felt before.  I can’t express what I felt up there but that gave me the wings to get to the top. 

And then there was Sian, my training and trekking buddy.  She had never been to Africa and she had never set a foot on a mountain.  She had simply read an advertising about the challenge in a paper, gave little thoughts about it and signed up for it.  She trained as hard as I did (and probably even harder) but she did not make it to the top.  She got altitude sickness from day 2 and never managed to recover.  It was heart-breaking to see my training buddy not being able to make it.  There was nothing I could do to make her feel better and, selfishly, I was so focus on my own challenge.  She was immensely gutted but failing the ascent did not stop her.  To the contrary.  When she got back to the UK she pulled herself together and in the space of 6 months she run a couple of half marathons, she successfully climbed Mount Toubkal (4167m), and completed her very first full marathon!!!  I was blown away.  I am not a quitter myself, but it is great to see how she regained confidence and focus.  With Midula, another training buddy who climbed the Kili pretty much at the same time as we did, they set up a motivational fitness blog ( https://dashing-divas.com/ ) where they share their experience as newly runner, climbers and fitness divas!  Check it out, it is entertaining.

Where there is a will, there is a way.  Always.  But rather than being impulsive I like to do things gradually, I like to listen to my body, know where I stand and it works for me.  So my next step in the climbing venture is to spend 6 weeks in the Himalayas next September/October!  Travel buddies are welcome; email me if you’re interested.

Next week, I’ll tell you about Playtime, a Belgian band I discovered recently.  Bye for now.