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I’ve Rolled The Rover Over… Over…

On the weekend where we celebrate 100 years of the Royal Corps Of Signals, I reflect on the 10% of that time I served among her ranks.

Remembrance Day 2019

We crouched in silence in the shadows, in the darkness on the remote ridge above a small country village. Soon the sound we were hoping for started to grow louder as a helicopter approached. This was our lift home and a rare commodity in these parts. As the helicopter made it’s final descent towards us we were blasted in the powerful downdraft from the rotars. I lost my balance and fell over. Then my backpack blew away down the hill. I got up and chased down the hill after it. Suddenly everyone was scattering in all directions and the helicopter promptly lifted off and disappeared. The area my backpack and I were heading towards was mined. The irony is that the mines were there to protect us. This was one of my final actions in the Signals. I think they were glad to be rid of me.

I’m at the back in the centre. Back when I had black hair and weighed a lot less. Trade Training Catterick Garrison 1985

I didn’t join the Signals. I joined the Royal Corps of Transport but after just 5 hours behind the wheel of a vehicle I was banned from ever driving anything and shipped out to the Signals in Catterick Garrison. There was a recommendation to issue me a truck as a weapon of mass destruction.

There were only a few times I found myself facing disciplinary action and they were all for losing things. My ID Card and my Arms Card and then there was the time on exercise when, in the space of 5 minutes, I lost everything except the clothes I stood up in.

I’d been lying in a shell scrape in the woods in the dark. A truck pulled up and we were all told to take our backpacks and load them into it. I decided to leave what’s called my fighting order, or webbing, in the shell scrape. This was against the rules but I figured no one would notice in the dark. On my way towards the truck I heard someone else being screamed at for doing the same so I put my backpack down and headed back to my shell scrape to get my webbing. I couldn’t find my shell scrape. I went back for my backpack but couldn’t find it either. In the end up the entire Platoon had to search the woods for my gear.

I’m front row far right. On exercise in Catterick 1986

As to driving, although I was banned, it didn’t stop me. In Northern Ireland we had been working all night and the guy I was working with was driving tired so he asked if I was able to drive. I said yes though still a learner. We swapped seats and he went to sleep. A short time later he was awoken by me screaming, “How do I f’ng slow down?!” as we screamed towards an Army Checkpoint. I don’t think he was able to sleep for about a month after that.

Then there was the time I did the shower run on Exercise in Norway. This time I did manage to stop but the Rover skidded and nudged the corner of the shower tent. As terrified people ran for their lives I had created the worst possible scenario. Wet naked soldiers running about in the snow in the Arctic.

I also crashed a 2 Man Sailing Boat on Lake Chimsee in Germany (West Germany at that time). Due to my inexperience at sailing I’d been told to drop my sails and row into the harbour. Instead I went in under full sail at very high speed from the centre of the lake. The last thing I saw before impact with the harbour wall was a wee guy screaming, “Achtung!” at me and waving frantically. The impact launched several of his paddle boats right out of the water.

I’ll just finish with a story I’m often reminded of when I meet the guys I served with at 7 Sigs in West Germany. I had been training for a Boxing Competition at the time which involved about 6 weeks of constant training and significant dieting. The OC Squadron decided to give the team a pep talk in the last few hours before the competition but I was absent. As soon as I had got off the scales from the final weigh in I made a B-Line for downtown and was in a local Schnel Imbis cramming in some Gyros and Chips before the fight.

Gyros and Chips gave me a mean left hook. 7 Sigs Boxing Competition, Herford, West Germany, 1988

I wish all the best to everyone who’s served past and present. The very nature of the job meant there were dark times and scary times but there were so many good times. I count my decade in the Signals as one of the best of my life and those who served with me as family. I’m proud to have served even if it was possibly a safer place after I left.

Sergeant’s Mess RAF Brize Norton 1992

Click here to see other posts and videos about my imaginary girlfriend, how I managed to fall out of the window whilst Self Isolating and the giant vagina I thought I’d found in The Louvre.

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Adventure Beer Life and Wellbeing Mental Health Recovery Running Travel Trekking Weight Loss

Worth Your Weight In Gold

Learning to carry your excess weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it.

I looked across at the summit of Everest glowing in the newly risen sun and caught my breath. From my vantage point, just over 6,000m above sea level, high on the Mera Glacier, I was seeing the world as only Gods and Elite Mountaineers tend to see it. I am neither God nor Elite Mountaineer. In fact I am quite overweight. But I have long since learnt that the realms of adventure and incredible achievement are there for anyone regardless of your weight. You just have to know how to carry yourself into them.

Everest in the sunrise from the Mera Glacier, Mera Peak, Oct 2017

Body Mass Index (BMI)

My Body Mass Index (BMI) has been in the obese category for the past 20 years. I’ve tried every weigh loss plan on the planet, resolved to change my life every January 1st and obsessed over everything I’ve put in my mouth for years. The only lasting loss seemed to be my happiness.

Click on the image below to learn more about Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of your body weight in relation to your height. The above image is from the NHS Website where you can find out more about BMI

Amazing At Any Weight

I’d often thought about the person I’d become once that excess weight was gone. Confident, sexy, fit, healthy and jogging through life. Yet it seemed like an impossible dream because I kept trying to lose the weight but never managed. Somehow I realized that I can run that Marathon, swim across the sea or climb in the mountains. I don’t have to lose weight to be that person. I’d been that person all along and just didn’t realize it.

The power of that realization was incredible and lead me into adventures and achievements I had never thought possible. I’ve listed some of the high points in that journey below. Everything on that list was achieved whilst my BMI has been between 37 and 40 (Well within the obese range for an adult male).

Click on the links in the list to find out more about the events listed.

  • Summited 54 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft)
  • Completed 3 trips to the Himalayas reaching Everest Base Camp and a height of 6,140m on Mera Peak
  • Reached Stella Point (5,685m) on Kilimanjaro
Stella Point, Kilimanjaro Sep 2018
  • Reached the highest point in North Africa. Summit of Mt Toubkal (4,167m) in the Atlas Mountains
  • Completed the Trossachs Plod, 31 miles across country in Scotland in 14 hours.
  • Completed the Great Glencoe Challenge (26.2 miles across rough terrain from Glencoe to Fort William in Scotland) twice in under 12 hours (11:22 and 11:52)
Top of the Devil’s Staircase in Glencoe, Great Glencoe Challenge, Jul 2017
  • Completed a cumulative Channel Swim over 12 weeks in a swimming pool three times (max distance swum 1.75 miles in one swim)
  • Swum a mile in the open water in the Mersey in Liverpool, UK
Open Water Swimathon. Mersey, Liverpool UK, Sep 2017
  • Jog Scotland Jog Leader for 2 years, completed the Great Scottish Run Half Marathon twice and the Men’s Health 10k four times.
Great Scottish Run, Glasgow, Sep 2007

You don’t have to put the achievement of your dreams off until the weight comes off. My story is evidence of that and, by telling it over a series of blog posts, I am going to use it as a framework of practical tips to help anyone who wants to follow a similar path.

Breaking Down The Barriers

  • First we’ll discuss humility, knowing your limits and setting achievable goals. There’s no point in watching an 8 stone athlete on Youtube telling you how to run a sub 3:30:00 Marathon. You’re just watching someone you’ll never be telling you how to do something you know is impossible. It’s the guy in the mirror, not the guy on the telly who’s going to do this stuff and I assure you, you can do a Marathon!
  • Next is to look at the physical aspects of carrying your weight. I suffer from High Blood Pressure, have pulled many muscles and often have lower back pain. I’ve taken it all onto the roads, into the water and the mountains. We will look at stretches, warm ups and easy physical steps to deal with these problems. It will be fun!
  • It can be difficult turning up at the start of a run or meeting the team for a trek for the first time when you know you don’t ‘look the part’ and you think everyone is looking at you. This post will talk about finding the magic inside of you and believing in it despite the looks, comments and events going on around you.

Starting Your Adventure

Start of The Great Glencoe Challenge, Glencoe Jul 2016

After reading the preceding articles you may have discovered your inner warrior and have limbered up, stretched off and be rearing to go and do something amazing. This being the case, there are three articles you can choose from to get you started. Read them all, find the one that fires you up the most and let’s go!

  • How to get started towards your first Marathon, Half, 10K or 5K. It’s not so much as going for a run where every walk’s a fail. In the early days it’s about going for a walk where every jog’s a bonus.
  • Getting into the water. Whether completing one of the distances in Swimathon, completing a cumulative Channel Swim over a period of time or heading into the open water, there’s organizations, events and holidays which you can enjoy.
  • The call to the mountains. Many of the mountains in Scotland have terrain or stretches which compares closely to the treks and climbs on some of the highest mountains in the world. Then there’s The Lakes in England, and Snowdonia in Wales. The initial call for me was the call to Everest but there’s many Treks in Nepal, Kilimanjaro and Toubkal in Africa and many more around the world. This post will cover the main practical aspects to get you started. I have also written a series of Mountaineering articles which you can start to follow here.

It’s Still Good To Lose Weight

I will always continue to try and lose weight. Even a 5% loss of bodyweight can have tremendous benefits to health.

Click on the image below to see 15 benefits of losing 5% of your bodyweight.

15 things that losing 5% of your body weight can do for you. Taken from WebMD

The fact remains however that many of the health issues and mental challenges associated with being overweight can be managed or overcome. Click here to read my next post where we’ll start on the journey by looking at knowing your limits and setting realistic goals. I hope you stay with me through this journey.

Great Glencoe Challenge 2017
Guides and Porters (and Will and Clair) dinging the Kilimanjaro Song, Kilimanjaro 2018

If you would like to discuss writing or music for any project or event, please feel free to contact me with the details here.

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Adventure Life and Wellbeing Mountaineering Travel Trekking

The Turning Point

The Day I Turned Around And Started To Climb

For those of us who climb hills and mountains the notion of turning around often conjures images of failure to summit, near success or unplanned descent for reasons of safety. For me, there was one particular turn around which was actually the start of some amazing adventures. Over 50 Munro’s (Mountains over 3,000ft) in Scotland and trips to the Himalayas, Kilimanjaro and the High Atlas Mountains. And all because I turned around one day on the outskirts of the small Scottish Highland Town of Kinlochleven and started to climb the route we had just descended.

Glencoe To Kinlochleven

Route from Glencoe to Devil’s Staircase along the west Highland Way (Credit Walkhighland)

We had parked the car in Glencoe with a plan to ascent the Devil’s Staircase, a relatively steep climb of around 1,800ft, and then descend the 4 miles or so along the West Highland Way into Kinlochleven. After a break for lunch, we would turn around and walk back the route we had come, back to Glencoe and the car.

Ascending the Devil’s Staircase looking across to Glen Etive

Winter Conditions

Despite the season being early spring, we hadn’t climbed too high before we reached the snowline. With snow and ice along much of the route, the going was tough and slow. Another feature of winter climbing also came into play where clothing and equipment were frequently changed to accommodate the terrain and the weather. I was quite inexperienced on the hills at that time and pretty much had enough by the time we reached Kinlochleven.

Crampons. Just some of the equipment and clothing that gats frequently put on and off during winter climbing

I sat, eating my sandwich mulling a very generous offer my brother had made. I could go into town and find a bar while he walked the 7 miles back to Glencoe, got the car and came to pick me up. I decided that was a good plan and I’d head into town as soon as we finished lunch.

Change Of Heart

Then I changed my mind. There was nothing noble or positive that made me change my mind. I just wasn’t too keen on facing the boredom of sitting in a pub. There was also an over riding sense of failure in going into town. I somehow knew that if I walked off the route that day, I wouldn’t be walking onto any other routes any time soon.

We were training for the Great Glencoe Challenge later in the summer. 26.2 miles from Glencoe to Fort William across rough mountainous terrain in 12 hours or less. I was also thinking of doing the Everest Base Camp Trek later in the year and I wasn’t getting any younger. There was just too much at stake to throw the towel in then.

We finished lunch, turned round and started the long climb out of Kinlochleven back towards Glencoe. It was then that the magic started to happen and a spell was cast which has bound me to the mountains ever since.

Falling In Love

First was the realization that I could do this no matter how much I had doubted myself before. We climbed steadily higher but, though tired, I was still going.

Looking across to the Mamores from above Kinlochleven on the return route.

A few miles along the track and we stepped off the forest trail into the open moorland of the hills between Kinlochleven and Glencoe. Soon we were skirting streams which were frozen solid and walking into the snowline. As we put our crampons on and headed on up, there was a sense of adventure.

My Brother, Abel approaching the top of the Devil’s Staircase from Kinlochleven

As we rested at the top of the Devil’s Staircase with the car in sight below us, the beauty of the world around us was breath-taking. The sun was setting over Glencoe and the snow clad mountains along her flanks were glowing pink in the setting sun. Across the Glen from where we sat was the mighty, stunning, Buachaille, one of Scotland’s most famous and beautiful mountains situated at the entrance to Glencoe.

That moment outside Kinlochleven was a definite turning point in my life. Even as I crossed the mountains and descended into the town on the outward path, the mountains were a foreign, tough and scary place for me. Walking among them was a nice idea but the reality sucked. Yet, after facing the fear of those first steps back into the mountains on the return journey, quite unexpectedly, I fell in love with them.

Sunset over the top of the Devil’s Staircase
My Kilimanjaro Climb
Another Turning Point In My Life
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Adventure Life and Wellbeing Mountaineering Travel Trekking

Turning Back

High on Ben Nevis, tantalisingly close to the summit in the middle of the night, we had to make a painful decision. But now I’m here to tell the tale and live to climb another day.

We sat silent in the fast disappearing darkness as the dawn spread over the world thousands of feet below us. It had been a logical place for a rest. The start of the Zig zags on the ascent towards the summit ridge of Ben Nevis along the Mountain Path. Despite the sub zero temperatures of the pre dawn high on the mountain we were comfortable enough in our winter clothing. But still, too much was wrong and we had to make the call and start our descent. For sure Ben Nevis would still be there. By descending now we were giving ourselves the best chance of coming back to try again another day. A moment of pain and regret as we glanced up at the summit ridge now tantalizingly close in the morning sky and then we started back down towards the Red Burn and the plateau she cuts through.

Taking a rest at the start of the snowline in the small hours of the morning. Ben Nevis May 2018

Vital Skill

Both my brother and I are relatively experienced in the mountains. Looking ahead towards an attempt I would be making on Kilimanjaro later in the year, our aim was to complete an overnight ascent of Ben Nevis in preparation for the summit bid on Kilimanjaro. What we ended up practicing was some endurance techniques and knowing when the best thing to do is turn back. The latter may sound simple but it’s arguably the most vital skill any mountaineer has to perfect.

Man Flu

It was nothing more complex or dangerous than a common cold that caused the problems but we’d taken that common cold into an environment where it could contribute to conditions far more deadly.

Scottish Weather

“The weather was being typically Scottish”

I knew I was far from my best within the first 600ft of the ascent. We climbed into the darkness from the Ben Nevis Centre to a small bench that sits at a bend in the path as it winds it’s way up the mountain towards a gully. I slumped on the bench already starting to feel exhausted, sweating profusely and dehydrated. The weather was being typically Scottish and contrary. Hot and clammy one minute, jacket off, smir and rain the next, jacket on, and my moral was sinking the more we climbed as we headed towards the steep ascent of the gully.

The Climb To Half Way

“We agreed to head up to the top of the gully and the plateau where the track crosses the Red Burn and turn back there.”

Progress was slow, stop, start as I tried to raise my morale and we climbed higher with a steep drop into the burn cascading far below in the darkness. We could see the campsite of Glen Nevis as an Island of light far below. During one of our rests in the gully came the first conversation about turning back. Despite frequent drinks from my camel pack I was still dehydrated and feeling quite weak. I was still up for the challenge and ate what I could of a Snickers bar to see if some sugar would boost me on. We agreed to head up to the top of the gully and the plateau where the track crosses the Red Burn and turn back there.

As it happened the Mountain Trail had undergone significant repairs since the last time either of us had been on it and the going up the side of the gully was much easier than either of us expected We were soon walking across the plateau towards the Red Burn. Reaching here raised my morale tremendously and I started to think we might make the top. Even despite the slight incline and easy walking on the plateau however I was starting to feel exhausted. Lack of sleep, my cold and the consequent dehydration were taking their toll.

We took another rest just before crossing the Red Burn to prepare for the ascent we knew would soon follow. I was unable to quench my thirst, very much in need of energy but, as a result of the dehydration, felt sick and unable to eat anything. Things were getting worse. “If only I had some dextrose tablets.” I said to my brother. He laughed and produced a pack from his pocket. Small tablets, dextrose are nothing but sugar and energy but they are small enough to eat even when you feel sick. I had 2 of them.

Snowline At The Red Burn

It was late spring but there can be snow high on Ben Nevis all year round. Where the Mountain Trail crosses the Red Burn, we’d started to reach the snow line. Around 3am we were into sub zero temperatures and so we changed into our winter jackets and headed across the Red Burn towards the Zig Zags.

Seeing how regularly I was eating the Dextrose Tablets my brother was worried. He reminded me that we had already done fantastic and to remember not to push too hard. We agreed to head on up but if I didn’t feel any better we could turn round at any time. As we started to climb the Zig Zags I started to feel increasingly dizzy in addition to the nausea. I called for a quick rest to drop my pulse and then headed slowly on to round the first bend in the Zig Zags. Climbing slowly on up the second part, we reached a point where the path became notably eroded and I called for a second stop. Even sitting I could feel the dizziness and my brother looked on concerned as I crunched on yet another Dextrose Tablet.

Turning Round at The Zig Zags

“If I passed out then my brother would be left trying to deal with 18 stone of limp body thousands of feet up on Ben Nevis in the middle of the night.”

Looking at the practical situation there was little chance of anything other than further decline. The coffee in my flask, which could provide essential core heat in the sub zero temperatures, was untouched. I felt way too sick. Sources of energy such as chocolate and a sandwich I had packed were untouched for the same reason. Due to my nausea my intake of water was becoming more like sips and neither it nor the Dextrose Tablets were bringing any improvement.

Then I considered the possibilities. If I was sick then, already dehydrated, my condition would deteriorate rapidly and significantly. If I passed out then my brother would be left trying to deal with 18 stone of limp body thousands of feet up on Ben Nevis in the middle of the night. Worst still, however remote the possibility, was the chance of entering into the deadly cycle of exhaustion and hypothermia. In freezing conditions exhaustion aids the onset of hypothermia which in turn increases the exhaustion. Ultimately exhaustion makes progress impossible and hypothermia kills you.

“Sorry Bro,” I said. “I’m going to have to call it.”

“Head back down?” He asked.

“Yep. Think it’s best.” I said.

My Brother – Abel McBride – back down at the Half Way Plateau as the sun starts to rise. Ben Nevis, May 2018

Valuable Lessons Learnt

“There was no regret about not making the summit”

He was glad I’d called it a day. He was trying not to make the decision for me but, looking at my condition, he had been getting close. He was full of encouragement reminding me how far we’d got. As we descended he was constantly checking everything was ok. Back down in the gully around 5am we met the first of the morning ascenders and soon we were passing the unbroken queue of trekkers that is the working day on Ben Nevis. We were back at camp around 7am. I climbed into my tent and drifted off to sleep reflecting on a night well spent. There was no regret about not making the summit considering the beauty of the surroundings, the sense of achievement at what we did cover and the valuable lessons learnt.

Back down to climb another day just above Glen Nevis. Ben Nevis, May 2018
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Adventure Life and Wellbeing Mountaineering Pictures Travel Trekking

When A Dream Becomes Real

When I was really young I used to climb the stairs and say I was climbing a mountain. Later, when the snow landed, I’d sometimes stand on the hills in Queens Park in the South Side of Glasgow and pretend I was high on the snow covered mountains. Shortly after sunrise on 29th October 2017 I had to admit that I couldn’t keep pushing for the summit of Mera Peak and turned back to start my descent. I took the picture below capturing Everest and some of the highest mountains in the world glowing in the sunrise. At 20,446ft (6,140m) it’s the highest picture I’ve ever taken and, standing in the snow high up in the Himalayas, it captured a moment of my actual dreams.

Everest in the distance from 20,446ft (6140m) AMS Mera Peak Trek 2017 The highest and one of the most beautiful pictures I have taken.
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Adventure Life and Wellbeing Mountaineering Trekking

Summit Night – Kilimanjaro

“How do you feel?” My Guide asked as I sat hunched in the darkness panting heavily.

“Absolutely…. exhausted.” I gasped back at him between pants.

“Are you sick or do you have a headache?”

“No… Just…. exhausted.”

We were sitting at a moment of truth high up on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. If my Guide told me to go down, I’d turn round. If he asked me if I think I should go down I’d turn round and start heading down.

“No headache, no sick, you can still go on.” He said. “We are so close to Stella Point now. Just keep walking and follow me and I’ll get you to your dream.”

That was how close the call was and that was the logic which made me wearily haul myself back onto my feet and stagger another agonizing few feet up into the darkness. 

Leaving Barafu Camp

Barafu Camp – Kilimanjaro Sep 2018

My journey had started about 9 hours earlier and close to 4,000ft lower down the mountain where our tents nestled among an inhospitable pile of rocks on a steep slope at Barafu Camp. At 9:30pm I sat in the Mess Tent decked out in all my winter gear reluctantly forcing down a ‘breakfast’ of porridge, coffee and biscuits. Myself and one other, a lady from our group, were the slow walkers and were heading out an hour ahead of the main summit party in order to get the most time and best chance of summitting.

I stepped out into the rocks, knowing there was a steep rocky climb of about 100ft just to get up to the Reception of the Campsite and get started. The adrenaline was pumping and I wanted the nervous, sleepless waiting to be over. My guide asked if I was ready, I said I was and we were off. I launched myself into the climb and was soon bounding through the Campsite heading for the next pitch. Another steep and rocky climb would take us onto a plateau 1,000ft above the Campsite where others were camping by virtue of special permits they had purchased. 

Soon after we started, I heard the lady who had also left early shouting into the darkness for me to wait up. I had given her some electrolytes and some words of encouragement in the Mess Tent but no need to wait up for her now. She had a Guide and a Porter to look after her. For days, they’d had to take an arm each to guide her over the rocky pitches. If I had waited for her, we’d both been off the climb before long. As my own guide and I started across the plateau towards the higher camp, we were joined by the other Guide and Porter. My friend had already turned back.

Biscuits At 17,000ft

We started at around 15,000ft above Mean Sea Level, I’d hardly noticed as we passed through 16,000ft and as we took one of our regular short breaks at 17,000ft I was feeling great. By all accounts our pace was encouraging and the night was still and clear. There are always hundreds of trekkers ascending through the night on this route on Kilimanjaro (Lemosho Route) but most of them had only just set out and I could see their lines of headtorches steep and far below me as they headed up into the darkness.

I resolved to get to 18,000ft as easily as the rest of the ascent so far and cause an upset by reaching Stella Point (The first point on the rim of the volcano that is Kilimanjaro) in a very fast time.

Storm At 18,000ft

As things turned out, Stella Point is not at 18,000ft but almost 1,000ft higher. What I did find at 18,000ft was that I was moving incredibly slow, that every step was complete exhaustion and a ferocious wind was tearing across the mountain chilling the temperature well below the ambient -20C. The lines of walkers ascending the mountain were now trudging wearily past me. 

My Guide had fallen and broken his wrist. We tried to strap him up in a sling using bandages from my First Aid Kit but it hadn’t helped too much and he had to turn round. He went down to pick up one of the other trekkers from the Main Group who we had been told had also turned around. I headed on up with a Porter who turned out to have the strength of an ox and the patience of a saint. A replacement Guide was heading up to us from the main party and would be with us in due course. 

Switchbacks

I joined the lines of climbers heading up a steep and seemingly endless slope of loose scree through a series of zig zags (Switch backs as the locals called it) but the altitude was starting to get to me for sure. I was becoming less aware of where I was and, more to the point, where I was going. At the end of each traverse of the slope, where the others turned back on themselves and traversed back across the slope, I kept wandering off into the rocks where I would lose my balance, stagger about and need to sit down. The climb across the rocks to get back onto the slopes with the others was confusing and completely exhausting.

The Porter who was with me kept hauling my arm to bring me back on course and telling me we were almost at Stella Point. All the while I knew that even a descent of 100ft and my head and my breathing would start to clear. It was whilst sitting wondering if I should, or could, continue that our replacement guide arrived. He soon established that I was fit enough and close enough to Stella Point to continue. And so we pushed on up ending a very long night on the long, steep slope at the top of Kilimanjaro’s rim.

Sunrise Far Above The Plains Of Tanzania

With the rising of the sun my breath was taken away for a whole new, and much more positive, reason. The slopes around the rim of the volcano, towering back cliffs rising above and around me with huge patches of ice, looked spectacular. Far, far below, the Plains of Tanzania spread out forever. Everything in the beautiful, silent pink glow of the early morning.

Meeting Above The Clouds

A short distance further along the track I took another rest in a small rocky inlet watching the world walking past me towards the top as I gingerly sipped at my water feeling too exhausted and sick to take on anything more substantial. Among the countless climbers passing me, the main party from my own tour who had left for the summit an hour after me soon came into view.

“Mr McBride. How are you?” Called Abraham, our Main Guide, as he saw me.

“Absolutely exhausted!” I replied.

“Remember tiredness is not an illness.” He beamed, “See you at the top.”

His character and his comments caused a broad smile to spread across my face and at that, one of the girls from the group came over and gave me a huge hug. This mountain was a turning point in her life as we had discussed on the way up while she had battled through the emerging effects of the altitude. She sobbed into my shoulder overcome with emotion and in that moment I felt like somehow I was helping and it felt great.

Stella Point – 18,885ft

Group Photo at Stella Point with Kandoo Adventures – Kilimanjaro Sep 2018

For the next hour we labored on up the slope. The Main Group were ahead of me but never got too far and I could always see them. By this stage the Porter who was with me was pushing my back or my hips just to keep me upright every time we moved off. I guess I didn’t look too good on that final ascent, That Porter was a hero and there was no way I would have got up without him. At last the wooden slats of the sign for Stella Point were there in front of me among crowds of excited climbers.

The main group from my tour were already sat in a line to the side of the sign for Stella Point and I collapsed in a heap beside them. We congratulated each other, shook hands, hugged and patted each others backs. It was a bright sunny day now around 6am local time. My last action with the group that morning was to stand among them posing at the Stella Point sign. Stella Point – 18,885ft above Mean Sea Level.

Turning Back

Abraham pulled me to the side, explained what an amazing achievement it was to get to Stella Point and suggested that I start back down the mountain rather than heading on up to the highest point at Uhuru Peak. I could see Uhuru Peak along the rim just above us. It didn’t look too far but I was exhausted. 

Abraham was asking if I agreed with his suggestion to turn back. It would have been foolish not to and would have put either him or his team under more pressure. I wasn’t really ascending under my own steam by that time anyway. I could only have reached Uhuru peak if they carried me and they had enough to carry without my 250lb frame on top. Reluctantly I agreed to head back down.

The Descent

We soon descended into the loose steep scree past the line of weary walkers still making the climb. My guide bobbing up and down gently and gliding down the slope as he ‘scree skied’ through the loose rocks. Me behind him staggering about and hanging onto my trekking poles with legs like water feeling a world of pain below my waist. I could see the campsite looking something like a million miles below us. Sadly I realised even that was the high camp about 1,000ft above our campsite at Barafu.

I was soon sweltering under the African Sun as we plodded on into the bright morning. We stopped, de-layered and plodded on. Eventually, completely exhausted, I found myself clambering down through the rocks from the high campsite down to Barafu. I crawled into my tent at 11:45am and slumped into an exhausted sleep. I’d been on the go for 14 hours into extreme altitude and both hot and cold extremes of weather. I’d climbed 4,000ft and descended 4,000ft. 

When the others arrived back at camp some 3 hours later, there was time for some hot chocolate and lunch before we continued our descent along a gruelling 9 mile dried riverbed to Mweka Camp a further 5,000ft below Barafu. 

Reflecting

Stella point with Uhuru Peak over my right shoulder – Kilimanjaro Sep 2018

Back in civilization and tagging a safari into the holiday, I had time to reflect. At first there was a sense of relief. No more climbing, an hotel room instead of a tent and cold beer once more. Then there was the feeling of achievement at reaching the top of the highest free standing mountain in the world. Well the rim of the volcano at least. Then the doubt and disappointment that I could never say I just reached the top. 

Not simply, “I climbed Kilimanjaro.” but always then the story which qualified what I’d actually done. “…I got to the rim…. I got to the top but just not the very top…” These notes I have written here. That is my full story of Kilimanjaro. it was amazing and I am proud of what I did.

Sunset on the Serengeti
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Adventure Life and Wellbeing Mountaineering Trekking

The Call To The Mountains

Sean Himalayas
Annapurna Range in the Himalaya’s in Nepal. Poon Hill Trek Nov 2015

I see the road to the top of a mountain as the pathway to peace. But it’s not about how high I climb or how fast. How many I’ve bagged this year. It’s about the beauty around me in a place that was here a million years ago and the realisation that to find peace is not to fight mortality but more to embrace eternity.

Categories
Adventure Life and Wellbeing Pictures Travel Trekking

OMG It’s AMAZING!

You never forget your first cloud inversion

All I could see in the darkness of the woods in pre-dawn was the head torch of my pal bobbing about as she jogged up the track towards me. “Look at that!” She screamed excitedly. She was actually jumping as she ran so she could see over the bushes at the view. She was pointing over my shoulder to the sunrise she had clearly seen before I did. When I turned to see it, I knew exactly what she was so excited about.

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Kiltepan. Above the clouds and below the rising sun

God looking down on the world

If you think about God looking down on the world, you might imagine something like this. Mountain tops bathed in the pink and orange of the newly rising sun poking through a carpet of clouds which completely covered the valley below.

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Golden sunrise

I took the selfies

Sure, I took the selfies and posed for the photos like a hundred times on this trip. But not before the scene took my breath away, caught my heart and left me with a moment which will be with me forever.

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Moments which last forever

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