Come join me in my misadventures at altitude!

I'll be blogging about all sorts of shenanigans from my everyday life.
From mountains to running.........
From tales at altitude to fundraising............

Places I explore and places I love from all over the world.

I hope you enjoy reading.......

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Rainbows, mountains, gin & pies!

It's late September and I'm finally back in the Lake District. I hop off the train in Penrith at teatime and hear a big wolf whistle. I look up and it's Nicola (@lilacswizzle). A big sparkly grin on her face, this is the start of our adventure!
We set off to Wasdale and pull into the NT campsite just as dusk hits. Nicola informs me that she changed tents at the last minute and borrowed a bigger one. One she's never seen or pitched before. We don't have much light and its starting to rain so we quickly set about pitching. Luckily for us outdoorsy girls the tent is up in record time and we move in! Nicola is super organised and makes cosy beds, hangs a glitter ball and Cath Kidston bunting and unpacks our kitchen and groceries. I'm super impressed. I take on the role of 'man' and get out my maps and compass and hurry her to the pub!

By now it's torrential rain as we don our waterproofs and head torches and set off on the mile walk to the Wasdale Head Inn.
Wasdale is quite literally the end of the road. Encapsulated in the stunning western fells, it's what dreams are made of. I'm completely and utterly in love with the place. I have @justin_norman to thank for this. He was the person who first introduced me to Lakeland. He was (and still is) my mentor, coach and inspiration. No-one knows or understands mountains and geology quite like Justin! He taught me all about Wainwright. Taught me how to read maps, tried to teach me navigation on ScaFell Pike summit and annoyingly introduced me to expensive brands of mountain gear that I now have to have, yet can't afford.

Nicola and I are decked (and drenched) head to toe in The North Face tonight. We earlier had a 'gush and Ooooh' fest as we unpacked our bags and compared all our 'designer' mountain gear. Nic Nac has a white Nupste body warmer and pink North Face Base Camp bag that I'm jealous of. I plot to steal both during the night and blame it on the squirrels.

We arrive at the pub and order two pints of Great Gable and the magnificent cheeseboard for two. We plop our maps out and try to plan a route of at least 5 summits for tomorrow. We get chatting to a group of cheeky lads doing their Mountain Leadership course. They are Wildcamping nearby but not in a hurry to leave and head out into the pounding rain and wind. So we all get very drunk and stay until closing time!!!
Nic Nac and I stumble back to our tent eventually. Nicola has a bottle of red stashed in her rucksack that we drink on the way back!
I don't really remember passing out in my sleeping bag. I remember waking at 4am and seeing Nicola asleep on her back with her head torch still on. A beam of light shooting into the sky like the Luxor in Vegas. This makes me chuckle.....then pass out just like Grandpa Simpson.

And then morning comes.
We emerge blearily eyed and realise we still don't have a route. "Ah fuck it" I say. "Lets just do Great Gable and take it from there". We glug coke and then spot a big police 4x4 pulling into the campsite! People stare but not us! Because we know that it's Mark (@west_lakes_adv) the Wasdale bobby and he's come to deliver us hot cheese pies from Gosforth. Pies so famous they sell out by 9am. We charge over to him and thank him for delivering us the best breakfast ever. Written in biro on the paper bag containing the pie is the word COP. "Oh how cool. They write cop because of your job".
Im politely informed that it actually stands for Cheese Onion Pie. Ok.
We chat briefly about crime in the area (there is none) and then it's time to set off. Mark reassures us that he will be watching MRT closely today. Cheers Mark!

Nicola takes care of catering whilst I pack maps, compass, whistle, survival bag etc. I reassure Nicola that should she get trapped under a rock then she is not to panic. I have the 'King' of Swiss Army knives on me and I'll have her limb off in no time at all. She doesn't look impressed.

We set off from Wasdale Head and slowly make our way up Great Gable taking the Gavel Neese path. It's a beautiful day and not a cloud in sight. We have the mountain much to ourselves as ramblers head to the Scafells on this gorgeous morning.
We spy little dung beetles and are super impressed by just how bright purple they are. We decide that we'd really like an eyeshadow in dung beetle purple and add it to our ever growing list of things to do.

There's no rush today. We take our time, we take in the views. We gasp, we sigh. We breathe in the mountain. We frequently get goose bumps. We often spin around with our faces in the sky and scream "I love life! I love mountains. I love just being here!" It's all rather perfect.
We glance at the map and realise we don't have a clue where we are.
"How are your mountain navigation skills?" I casually ask Nicola.
"I don't have any" she nonchalantly tell me.
"But you've done winter skills in Scotland. You also did a navigation course....." I remind her.
"Aye, but I didn't really pay attention ".


Ok. Lets improvise. Justin always told me to seek out evidence of human traffic so I do this and after 15 mins or so I'm convinced we are heading in the right direction.
We traverse around White Napes before passing Beck Head and beginning our final ascent to the summit.
It's a terrific, cheeky, little scramble. Nicola is an ace scrambler and takes the lead flying up there. I follow behind in awe at how cool she looks showing no fear. I decide that today I'll face my demons and try and regain the confidence I lost via a series of stupid falls.
We make it to the summit where there are several hikers already here. We crack jokes very loudly "Wow! I can't believe we're finally on ScaFell Pike". People look at us oddly and show signs of pity.
We find a spot by the summit cairn and settle down to eat our lunch.
Nicola isn't impressed with mine. I ordered corned beef today. The poor love had to shop in aisles of the supermarket that she's never been down before! Lunch is fab. Our Nicola knows how to put together a fab feast.

Next stop is Green Gable so we start the steep descent off and pass over Windy Gap and onto Wainwright number two of the day.
Again we are largely alone except for a few groups of climbers and ramblers. The sun is still shining and views of the Ennerdale Forest and Haystacks are breathtaking.
We are still not 100% on our navigation but we're in the right place for now so we'll take it one step at a time! Literally.
I'm having a wonderful day. I'm in magnificent company. Nicola is funny, smart, bright, witty, kind and simply beautiful. She's one of the most kind hearted people I've ever met. She's endured some terrible blows in life, yet here she is still smiling and still embracing life, giving more than she ever takes.

Base Brown is our next fell. Another one of those deceptive ones where you think you'll do it really quickly but the reality is much, much different.
We pass Mitchell Cove and its a fairly straightforward path to the summit cairn. However, it's one of those fells that has several false summits. Just when you think you're look up and see another cairn, a wee bit higher, a wee bit further.
We stop for a bit and decide what to do next. A look at the map tells us that we can bag three more but only if we're nifty and quick. I've already upped my pace and sped up just by watching Nicola. I feel like I'm back to my old self and it feels great.
We retrace our steps off Base Brown and do something that you really shouldn't do. We decide that it will be quicker to reach Brandreth if we come off the path and head due west to Gillercombe Head.
This is a mistake. Apart from being steeper than we thought its also boggy, soggy marshland that not even the sheep are entertaining. So it's back on the path and finally heading North to Brandreth. It's a lovely sweeping fell and very easy. We chat lots and lots and laugh ourselves silly.
We know we don't have much light left as we bag summit 4 of the day. But Grey Knotts IS within reach and we are so close. Tired? yes! but can we manage just one more? Bossy me decides yes and we are off!!!!

We continue north to reach the summit and then something really beautiful happens. Just like on New Year's Day when I had Whin Rigg to myself and it began to snow....we are now faced with the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen.
If we'd decided to turn back we would have missed this eternally stunning sight. We stand in silence. We cry a bit. We've both lost people we shouldn't have far too young. Nicola her husband and me my son.
We close our eyes and for just a few special moments we are with Colin and baby Micky again.
We flop down and take out the hip flask full of brandy.
Engraved into the silver are the words
"The stars are shining like rebel diamonds cut out of the sun, when you read my mind".
How apt. No words are spoken we swig and smile. Big cheesy grins. Happiness hugs us and its time to head back.
It's a straightforward route off. Albeit a long one. We chat to some Dutch wildcampers looking for a suitable tarn to pitch up next to. Our toes ache and our rucksacks are ready to come off! It's been a long old day. But there's always the pub at the end!
Tonight we are off to the Santon Bridge to meet Ian and Eric (@wasdalewarren and @stridingedge)

We flop in dirty and tired. Our lovely companions make sure we have pints of Jennings and crisps. Eric introduces us to Nell the dog and we quiz him about his late friend, the one and only Alfred Wainwright. I fess up to the boys that I've still not brushed up on my navigation skills since our last meeting in Pointy Corner. Ooopsy.
It's an inspiring end to a magical day.
We head back to the campsite where Nic Nac cooks us a scrumptious feast of dips and yummy chorizo pasta. I sup wine and we giggle and laugh and reminisce. We sip gin and tonic from china Cath Kidston mugs and finish our perfect day with a gigantic hug. We don our matching pjs and snuggle down in our sleeping bags for the night.
Goodnight xxxxx

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Cyclothon 2012 Brands Hatch

I bought a bike in 2011. A really cool Marin mountain bike. It cost £1000 in the sale and I'm still in shock that its worth more than my car (a crappy Renault Scenic decorated in biscuit crumbs, sweetie wrappers and sticky fingerprints).

I like my bike lots. I'm not particularly great on it but that doesn't matter. Enjoyment is what counts, so when David Ward (@secureward) asks me to be part of his Cyclothon team and raise money for SANDS in memory of his precious daughter Abigail, I jump at the chance.
I'm a late comer to the team so I know I need to start training and raising funds pronto. Fortunately the good people of Twitter and Facebook dig deep in their pockets and along with family and friends I manage to exceed my £500 target and raise £607.50!!! Thank you!

Cyclothon is at Brands Hatch. It's a twelve hour relay around the 2.5 mile circuit in teams of six. I've never been to Brands Hatch before (even though I'm just 20 minutes away) or even really watched it on telly, so to prepare for the course I have an awesome plan. Oh yes!

A few weeks before Cyclothon I head to Gay Pride in Brighton. There on the pier I head to the arcade. I locate my personal trainer very quickly. He's a Nintendo/Sega something-or-other-racing-simulator-game. £1 a go I set aside five quids worth of training. I select Brands Hatch and I'm off in my racing car getting a feel for the course.
Now this is possibly where I may have a lawsuit. You see, as I raced around that circuit I didn't see one hill. Not one fucking hill. Brands Hatch was flat and this pleased me enormously. I quit my training at £3 and headed to the pub.

Then the big day arrives. Sep 13th.
I arrive nice and early at 6am and I'm totally amazed at how big and exciting the place is. There's a real buzz and vibe about the place. It oozes adrenaline and there's not a motor car in sight.
I head down to the pits and find the Abigail's Footsteps team. Everyone is super friendly and equally shitting themselves. There are some real hardcore teams here. We know we can't compete with them but we don't care because we've raised near on £15,000!
I ask the other girls about their training.
Allison (@allison_b24) has done lots including a London to Paris cycle. She's raring to go and seems undaunted by the size of the track and the speed of the specialised bikes zooming past in training. Jo (@angelwhirljo) is on a par with me so that's a relief.
I stare over at my bike and its missing something. It's missing my naughty, cheeky two year old boy on the back. We usually cycle together and I'm wondering how I'll manage today without the wee ginger nutter slapping my back and shouting "MUUUUMMMMEEEEEE Whoooaaa".

It's now briefing time! Lots of safety stuff and I learn what all the flags mean. Which is handy for Sunday afternoons in F1 season.
We also learn that we are the first people to be on the track since the Paralympics the week before. How cool?
We scoff down breakfast, register, grab our fab goody bags and don our Abigail's Footsteps cycle tops. Then it's time to go!

I'm feeling a bit out of my depth. If it was running or climbing I'd be fine. I'd kinda know what to expect. But this is all knew to me. I can't even fathom my gears out.
And then I'm off. I zoom out of the pits. It's busy and I try not to crash. The day is warm and sunny and I feel so happy and blessed to be here.....
And then a bloody great hill! HILL?Hill? There were NO hills on my training omachine in Brighton. Who put these hills here? I zoom down the first one. My bike hits 29.7 miles per hour. I scream a blood curdling scream and I think I even close my eyes. And then it's uphill. Fucking uphill.
I've still not mastered my gears so as I peddle like I'm in a hardcore spin class it suddenly strikes me that I'm still stationary. My bike gives up and slowly falls to the ground with me on it. My legs are still peddling, my helmet down over my eyes I resemble a dying stag beetle on its back. No-one comes to help me sob sob.
So I drag my bike up. Inspect my greasy cut leg and realise that my chain has come off. I think back to the 70's and 80's. How did I used to fit my chain on my Chopper and then Grifter back then? Hhhmmmm. Anyhoo I manage it (sort of. It makes a weird clicky noise though) and I'm off again. Yet MORE hills. It seems Brands Hatch is nothing but hills. As I curse and sweat I pen a letter in my head..... "Dear Nintendo/Sega thingy people. You have screwed me over. You've ruined my life. I hate you".

Before long I've completed my first leg and I'm off my bike.
I take bike over the the 'fix it pit' and have it serviced by Gary's Bikes of Bristol. He fixes my chain, informs me I have a male saddle and adjusts it as best he can for me.
I grab a quickie massage, a drink and then it's my turn again.
Our team are doing brilliantly. There's 29 of us in total. I'm making new friends and thoroughly enjoying myself. The hospitality is second to none and the catering is never ending and oh so yummy. All organised by VU Ltd (@victorubogu).
Sadly the day passes too quickly. I'm thrilled by the tremendous support we have all received and if it wasn't for my bruised and battered 'private parts' I would want to carry on and cycle another 12hrs!
So it's off to get changed and head to the awards dinner! I stuff my plate with every imaginable food because I heard that's what real athletes do after such strenuous events. I meet Carl who rode continuously for 12 hours for us in the solo event. He's pretty amazing and is just back from The Himalayas and Mount Everest.
And then it's time to say goodbye!
I drive home in the dark full of funny, inspiring and warm memories.

"In memory of baby Abigail Ward. Born asleep just like my precious son Micky Docherty before her. Sweet dreams Angels, play softly in heaven together" xxx

Monday, 13 August 2012

Understanding and compassion. It's not hard is it?

The news has recently broken that Gary Barlows baby daughter has been born 'still'. The details are still not fully known as I write this but it is believed his wife was 37 weeks pregnant, just three weeks from her due date.
Last night Gary performed at the closing ceremony of The Olympic Games. As a bereaved mummy myself, did I look at his performance with distaste? Of course not. This was history. He is a musician. An artist. It was natural for him to perform and I imagine his family gave him their blessing.

The comedian Jason Manford commented on his blog that he too thought Gary was brave to do this.
Hours later his blog had been hit with over 300 comments. Comment number four caught his eye and prompted a response from the comedian.
Please read on. Well done Jason. It's a brilliant and warming response. Thank you.


"Okay, last one. And I actually went from hating this guy to just thinking, maybe he just wrote something without thinking and is now, quite rightfully, getting it in the neck.

Person D writes:
“It's not quite the same as losing a child who's actually lived properly though, so why are people making out like it is? If the kid was like 5 years old it'd be 100x worse!”

Yes, read it again, someone did, not only think this, but also wrote it down online. I mean, where does this end? So you love a child more the older it gets? When is the cut off point? What are the maths behind it? Do we love our ten year olds twice as much as our 5 year olds? When they reach twenty does our adoration double again?

From the follow up posts of Person D I can see that he is neither a father, nor a lover of children but still, what a very odd, inhumane and heartless thing to think and write. I suppose it goes back to the argument of when does life begin? I personally think it begins when you and your partner decide that you want this child. And that is when love starts too. I mean it’s obvious that for a mother, the bonding process starts sooner than for a father. The mother goes through all the emotions, the cravings, the pains, the sickness, the worry, she feels the kicks, the pressure on her bladder, her swollen feet, her baby brain, her body changing, her mind changing, the nesting, the tears and the laughs that come during the 38 weeks. She is the one who can’t get comfortable in the night, who is cold when everyone else is hot and hot when everyone else is cold, who is trying not to waddle, who is still doing too much when she should be resting, who is doing her pelvic floor exercises and who just wants a healthy baby at the end of it.
But the Dad is bonding too all this while. He is scared, he is worried, both for his baby and his wife. From the moment his wife comes in with the ClearBlue, he is on it. He is thinking about the extra mouth that needs feeding, he is wondering where he is going to get the energy from to go through it all again, he is wondering how long he can afford to take off work, he is worried for his wife, he wants to keep her happy, but she’s crying and throwing up and keeps leaving the key in the door, and he comes home from work and she’s up some step ladders, 7 months pregnant putting up some curtains and he shouts, scared that he could lose them both at any moment. He goes to the hospital with her, he hears the heartbeat and his eyes fill with tears, partly with relief but also with ultimate pride, that this woman has done this for him, has given her body, and mind and maybe even her career so that they can, together, bring a child into the world.
He rubs her feet, he makes her tea, he does his job and then comes home to look after his family, he holds her hair whilst she is sick, and he tells her that she doesn’t look fat even though she obviously does because there’s a baby in her womb! He kisses her tummy while she sleeps and he sings songs to this huge bump with his baby inside. And all the time he worries. About the future. Will he be a good Dad, will the child be healthy, will he do the right things and set good examples, will he be as good as his Dad and will the child love him as much as he loves the child.
And together the future parents plan. They paint rooms, Blue or Pink, or keep it neutral because they want the surprise on the day. They buy cots, and clothes, and bedding and nappies and cotton wool balls and one time he’s out and he sees an outfit that says “Been inside for 9 months” and he buys it because it makes him smile, and he knows his wife will smile too. They go to the hospital and they see the baby on the screen and they hold each other’s hand and smile and he tells her how brilliant she is and she says she couldn’t do it without him.
They discuss names and she makes lists, they buy a buggy and a car seat and then the big day comes, and she shouts him from the other room, or calls him at work and says ‘it’s happening’. And even though he’s prepared, even though the bag has been packed for weeks and he’s worked the quickest four routes to the hospital, his mind goes blank and he doesn’t know where he is for a minute. Then she helps him, they do it together.
They get to the hospital, they’re way too early but the contractions have started, and they will go on for the next few hours. She can’t get comfortable, she walks, she sits, she kneels, she perches. He paces and he watches, and he rubs her back and he holds her hand. The contractions get closer, the midwife tells them both that the baby is on the way and then they’re off, after 9 months of waiting they’re finally going to get to meet their new baby. He gets dressed up like George Clooney in ER, and she smiles even though she is in the most pain she has ever been in her life. They go in together, the excitement is tearing through his body, as the pain tears through hers.

And then the moment comes, they’re both waiting to find out if they’ve had a little boy or girl. They’re waiting to find out who they need to look after for the rest of their lives, who will one day look after them when they can no longer. They’re waiting, hoping, praying that this little tiny helpless human being, will keep them awake for the next few months, will cry in the night and will need changing every 5 minutes. They wait for the cry and for the midwives and doctors to turn to them and say “here’s your baby guys, well done......"
And then, nothing.
Nothing. For the longest time. Nothing.

But then, Person D, it's not quite the same as losing a child who's actually lived properly, is it?"

Ok!! Karen here again. That piece of writing moved me. I hope it moved you too.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Goodbye Kenya

As I write this Virgin Atlantic are winding down their services to Nairobi and the route will be ending. This is sad news indeed. Kenya is a country that I have grown to love. The people are probably the kindest, most humble people I've met. Their faith in God coupled with strong values and high morals make them truly beautiful people to be around. I've made some good friendships over the years. I love reading their status updates on Facebook. So different to the usual boring ones we are all accustomed to! I've been blown away and inspired by Julio Mwangi, an incredible runner whose marathon PB is just 2 hrs 14 minutes. I watch in awe as he trains hard, works hard and raises a young family in the Masai Mara. His dedication to his faith sees him through every time.

I've had some incredible times in Kenya and met people that have changed my life and humbled me. People like Brandon, a Canadian working with the charity Me To We in conjunction with Free The Children. People who tirelessly give and never take back. I've been fortunate enough to do several safaris in Kenya too. One of the best days happened completely by accident. I couldn't sleep so hailed a taxi and headed off to the elephant and rhino orphanage. I took blankets and SMA Gold baby milk with me as I'd heard they relish these donations. That is where I met Eric. We got chatting and before I knew it I was being whisked away to Kenyas national park for a one on one tour. I came up close and personal with a giraffe. So close that it leaned down and licked my face! "He likes you" said Eric.

But perhaps my most incredible memory to date will be the time I climbed Mount Kenya. Africa's second highest mountain at 17,000 feet. She's not congested like Kilimanjaro and for the four days and four nights that we climbed we didn't see a single other climber. We drank from streams, crossed the equator and saw sights that will stay with me a lifetime. I shared my tent with two Masai warriors and felt strangely protected as each night bush babies and buffalo tried to get into our tent. We detoured and scaled Mount Mugi, swam in Lake Ellis and marvelled at the beauty of the mountain. On summit day we were split into three teams. Fast, medium and slow. It was a thrill to be in fast group as I'd only had a Caesarian six months earlier and wasn't confident about my fitness. But I did it!!! Summit was incredible. We saw Mt Kili off in the distance. We took the Chogoria route and although a little tougher was definitely worth it! As usual getting off the mountain terrified me! I descended the first few thousand feet on my arse!
As we celebrated with Tusker beer and cries of Jamba Jamba I knew that I loved this country.
I hope that one day I can return and bring my children. Show them the incredible wildlife. Immerse them in the culture, visit one of the many orphanages crying out for donations. Give them a different perspective on life. So until then.....farewell Kenya. Im going to really miss you.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Mount Fuji, Japan

Today is July 27th 2012 and I'm alone in New York City. I was dreading today. It's the first time I've ever been alone on my late sons anniversary but it's been ok. Today I have felt blessed. Texts, calls, emails, tweets etc have poured in all day from very special people. People that know me well and those that don't, but more importantly people that have big hearts and who care.
This got me reflecting on how I have spent other "July 27ths" over the last 11 years and below is a piece I wrote back in 2009 after my boys eighth anniversary. Nothing has ever topped this 'July 27th'!
It's also strange that 2009 anniversary was all about raising money for a bereavement suite and here I now in 2012 raising money for another suite.
So here it is. I hope you enjoy reading it xxx

Boarding our flight to Tokyo in July 2009, I finally breathed a sigh of relief. For over six months I had been planning and organising a sponsored climb of Mount Fuji, Japan‟s highest mountain. Getting a team of 18 out to Japan to trek Fuji to mark the anniversary of my sons birth and death was no easy feat, so finally as we took our seats in preparation for the 13 hour flight, things finally came together.
Once we arrived in Japan, we managed to catch a few hours sleep before setting off for Fuji before nightfall. Climbing gear loaded onto our luxury coach (we had a chandelier and karaoke machine!), 18 buzzing trekkers of various abilities took their seats as we pulled away from the little town of Narita and into the late Japanese afternoon.
As Fuji appeared on the horizon we were able to at last register the enormity of what we had taken on. She loomed above Japan‟s sky line, dominating everything around her. Small snow caps remained as she ascended into the clouds and suddenly we all felt very, very small.
We geared up at the foot just as dusk joined us. We checked our lights, wished each other luck and set off up the climbers path and into the night. Just ahead of us a group of Japanese girls were walking, their little lights twinkling in the moonlight. As they walked they sang a beautiful Japanese lullaby. I wished that my Japanese was better and I could have translated, it was simply magical and suddenly our trek took on a spiritual meaning.
Fuji is 13,000ft and most of the scrambling takes place from 9,000ft onwards so we knew this trek was going to be long and laborious. We also knew that Japan boasted the world‟s most spectacular sunrise, hence why the rising sun appears on their national flag. We had been told that sunrise would occur at approx 4.30am, so we knew that there was no time for rest. At the stroke of midnight it would be July 27th, my sons 8th birthday and I was determined to see sunrise from the top of Fuji.
But the trek was not easy! If anything those first few thousand feet were the toughest. Even the fittest of the group turned a darker shade of purple as we reunited at each station. The drinks and energy snacks were being consumed fast and a few climbers began to doubt if they could even do it. But we ploughed on and before long we had passed 9,000ft and the tough stuff had begun.
Ironically (as I am air-crew), I‟m actually scared of heights. So my little motto was "don‟t look down‟. Thank goodness it was a night climb as I was unable to see the true heights we were scaling. Sometimes the path neared dangerously close to the edge and I would have to
stop, regain my balance, and make mental notes to myself before I could continue.
It soon became apparent how high we were when the rain, sleet and snow began pounding us.
The temperature suddenly dropped to below zero and the wind picked up. Fuji may be beautiful, but she is also cruel to her climbers. I made the mistake of removing my gloves only to find it was near impossible to put them back on again. My fingers began to swell and my once large gloves now looked like baby gloves. It took three people to pull my climbing gloves back on for me.
It was also at this stage that we lost climbers. Two suffered altitude sickness and one an injury. They had taken rest in one of the many wooden huts at the stations manned by rangers, so we were able to carry on in the safe knowledge that they were okay.
I checked my watch just as we were approaching midnight. I couldn‟t believe how quick time was going. Then I remembered how tired I was and how my legs ached!
As Fuji became steeper and the rocks became bigger I actually began to find it getting easier. I was nearing the top and the adrenaline was amazing. I battled against the elements and actually felt stronger than I ever had. I had battled through so much more eight years ago. If I could do that and come through the other side a better and stronger person, then Fuji would not beat me. She would be my friend and we would share a personal bond.
The last 1000ft were terrific. I felt quite sick at times, but never enough to stop. I saw people turning back who simply could not make another step and others crouching and trying to avoid the weather. I became quite scared at several points in the last 500 ft. It just got so steep and felt so dangerous that I needed to summon up every bit of courage I had to go on and tackle the next rock. And then suddenly, as if by magic, there seemed to be nothing else ahead of me. I climbed the last few rocks and it became more than apparent that this was the summit!
What amazed me the most was how much of a little buzzing town up here it was! There was a large rest hut, hot coffee, noodles and dozens of rangers and climbers waiting for the sunrise. I checked my watch, it was 3.59 am. Seven climbers were missing. I willed them to make it for sunrise which would be happening very soon.
Four made it but sadly three didn‟t.
Then at 4.23am the sunrise happened. It was quite unlike anything I had ever seen before. The sun broke through the clouds and lit up Fuji with all her might. It was as if someone had scattered fairy dust all over us. We also felt as high as the sun and the sound of cheers and cries of delight from the other climbers is something that I shall remember for the rest of my life. I have also never felt close to my son. Not even when I am at his grave, have I ever felt as close to him as I did at that moment. I quite literally wanted it to last for ever.Our little team gathered for hugs and pats on the back. We took photos, congratulated each other and set about actually getting down from the mountain! Nothing could have prepared me for how hard this part would be. I did the first few thousand feet with some of the other climbers but then soon found myself on my own for the last four hours. We took a different route down (a much easier one) and it was just splendid and uplifting to see the mountain and its wildlife come to life on a glorious summer morning. I also clearly remember the pain too. The arches of my feet were on fire and I couldn't feel my lower back. I also looked like I had been to war. As I neared the bottom and crossed paths with climbers setting off for a daytime climb I drew some very strange glances.The base camp at Fuji was alive and busy as I neared it. I spotted some of our climbers slumped on a grassy bank devouring oranges and fresh water. I don't think we even spoke. Just slumped together and unloaded our climbing gear.
After three more hours the team had reunited and we boarded our coach to head home. Alas the karaoke machine was never used.
After a hot bath, I crawled into my bed and fell asleep within minutes...I didn‟t even make dinner that night, but chose to go back to sleep. But I soon made up for that over the next few days.
As any bereaved parent will tell you, you never, ever forget and marking special days is just as important as celebrating other anniversaries with our living relatives.
The money we raised paid for a bereavement suite to be opened in the same hospital where Micky had died.
So a huge thank you to everyone that sponsored us and to those that put up with me in the run up to the climb. Not to mention the brave climbers who managed to keep smiling and even clap after they had heard me sing (very badly) at karaoke, River Deep Mountain High in a Tokyo bar!

"Won't you look down upon me Jesus
You've got to help me make a stand
You've just got to see me through another day
My body's aching and my time is at hand
And I won't make it any other way

Oh, I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again

Been walking my mind to an easy time my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows it'll turn your head around
Well, there's hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground"........................

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

One door closes as another one opens....

I haven't blogged for a while as I haven't really had many adventures to blog about. Edinburgh Marathon was going to be my next chapter but even I found that too cringe worthy to write about (projectile vomiting at mile 16 and then being almost beat by a large bear are moments that I'd rather forget, albeit rather funny).
So what am I going to blog this time?
Well I write this on a very special day.

Eleven years ago today I was a 29 year old expecting her first child. I was nine months pregnant and the excitement of being a mum was and is something that you really can't put into words. Being a mum is paramount to me. I've wanted children my entire life. I've worked with kids in many different jobs. I love kids and being given the chance to nurture, love and care for my own is the biggest blessing of them all.
Back in July 2001 England was, believe it or not, experiencing a heat wave. My poor feet were like giant loaves of bread, swollen beyond all recognition. But I was healthy. And my baby boy growing inside me was healthy too. The day started well; boyfriend was in a fab mood as Celtic had beat Sunderland the night before in a friendly. He kissed my tummy and set off for work at building site in West London.
I pottered around, tidied the nursery, packed and repacked my bag......
But by lunchtime it was all over.
The details are still a blur.
Phoning my boyfriend and telling him I was going to the hospital, the pains, the sonographer, the look on her face as she told me that my baby had died. I remember my nose bleeding and gushing down my face. I remember screaming for them to do an emergency Caesarian. I remember them pinning me down. I remember them sedating me. I don't remember much more.
Labour continued into the night, all of the next day, all through that night too. The heat in the delivery room too stifling to breathe at times. I heard babies crying all night. I heard babies taking their first precious gasps of air. I heard whoops of joy. I heard mobile phones ringing. I heard dads outside my window calling relatives. I pushed hard throughout the night and into the early morning of July 27th. It was a tough labour. My body wasn't coping well. I was exhausted and emotionally near collapse, but finally at 9am I gave birth to my first child. He was tall and lean and weighed 7lb 2oz. Little patches of red hair and huge rosebud lips. The midwives placed him straight onto my chest for skin on skin contact. And then it hit me. The silence was deafening. There was no noise from our room, no hustle and bustle and clicking of cameras. The staff tidied up quietly around us and gave us precious time alone.

But this was a busy London hospital and they needed the room so where was I to go? This next bit is really important and I'll explain why at the end.
I was allowed to keep my son with me until nightfall when he would have to go to the mortuary. The staff needed somewhere to put us but had nowhere. Well they did sort of have somewhere and were clearly embarrassed at offering us this room. It was a disused ward in the old part of the hospital. A dark corridor with no electricity. Doctors used the rooms (which had no en suite) to sleep in between duties. And so we were led there. We sat in the room as evening drew in hugging and cradling our son. We managed to get some electricity about 7pm, but by then we were beyond caring. We were different. Our baby had died. Someone had given us membership to a club that we didn't want to be part of but were given no choice.

Seven days later on August 3rd it was time to bury our baby. We had been granted visits at the mortuary everyday. That was important to us. Important that family and close friends could hold him, tell him how much they loved him.
His daddy wrapped him in a Celtic flag and gently whispered "you'll never walk alone" and then it was time to say goodbye.
The grief was immeasurable. I discovered just what the true meaning of a broken heart was. It was standing in the rain at 2am outside locked cemetery gates knowing that your baby was inside when he should have been at home. I channelled my grief into something positive. I found the most amazing charity SANDS and quickly became a committee member of Surrey SANDS. We were a strong committee and so embarked on ten years of fundraising, raising awareness, lecturing at study days and the icing on the cake....opening a bereavement suite in the very same hospital where my son had died. I found positives in everything that I did. So I couldn't take my son to the park, but we could run half marathons together! And we certainly did.
As I embarked on this journey of discovery it became apparent that I was travelling alone. My boyfriend (who was now my husband) had been left behind and was struggling to find ways to cope with his own grief by trying to permanently put on a brave face.
More children didn't come easy for us Each time we celebrated another positive test result our joy was later dashed by devastating miscarriages. And then one day my body just gave up. It refused to conceive and after two years I too had given up. But a meeting with a consultant who wanted to operate on me asap saw all that change and in June 2005 our daughter Kiera was born. She was joined by Erin in December 07 and then finally our son Kellen in July 10. A red haired little boy just like his brother. Sadly the marriage didn't survive but we remain on good terms.
And then I met a friend on Twitter!
His name was David and just like me he too had experienced the same terrible loss. We began chatting via tweets and realised that we were local to each other. David was passionate about making a change, especially within hospitals and so set up a charity in memory of his precious daughter Abigail. Stillborn at 41 weeks.
So here we are in 2012! David is putting the finishing touches to setting up the charity Abigail's Footsteps and I am delighted to say that I have been invited along as a trustee and to be one of the team. I thought my fundraising days were over last year as we saw in my sons 10th anniversary but here I am now, on his eleventh anniversary, working with an exciting and incredible new charity.
Abigail's Footsteps will focus on providing bereavement suites in hospitals so that other parents don't experience the alienation and bewilderment as we did. Rooms will accommodate family members, be private and above all calm, in what will inevitably be the families darkest time.
So please support David, myself and the team in our quest to make a difference. 17 babies die a day in the UK.
This is a statistic that sees no sign of decreasing.
So another door has opened for me. Another chance to make a difference and remember a little boy who I only got to keep for a week but who made me realise the love I had to give was immeasurable.

In memory of
27th July 2001

"When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip -to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” ” Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around… and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills… and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely hings …about Holland"

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Six Wainwrights in a day.

Saturday 3rd March 2012
Ambleside, Lake District.

A short drive takes us to Dunmail Raise where we park up, gear up and head out.
The plan is to bag six summits today. It's a fairly miserable day, it's claggy and raining and at times rather windy. So we start with summit number one.....
Seat Sandal.
We set off via Raise Beck heading east towards Grisedale Tarn. It's a steady and fairly easy trek. The fresh clean air, the gushing stream and the sound of silence soon mend my weary body and in no time I'm feeling 'normal' again.

At 2415 ft, Seat Sandal is a comfortable fell to begin on. The air is wet and some of the rock slippy. Sheep laze around with not much 'get up and go' today. It's probably the weather. We reach the summit cairn fairly quickly (about 90 minutes) and in no time at all we are off to bag Wainwright number two....
I've never really given Fairfield much thought. When mapping, planning and dreaming, my thoughts often run away with western fells so therefore Fairfield never seems to make that list.
But never underestimate those fells you know little about! That's what I have cruelly learnt.
We drop down into Grisedale Hause enroute to Fairfield. As usual I adopt my geriatric approach to descent and wobble about on the pre-historic boulders deciding which foot to place where, a bit like a game of Twister. I spy Davie look at his watch and I know he must be thinking that maybe planning six summits in a day with me wasnt feasible afterall. He's polite and doesn't comment, but instead waits patiently for me to catch up.
We start the ascent to Fairfield summit.
Now I've climbed steeper, much steeper hills and mountains, but somehow the adrenaline just kicks in and you forget about the burning muscles and aching limbs. However there wasn't much adrenaline happening on Fairfield, but there was a LOT of burning and aching going on. Davie is ahead, barely breaking a sweat, but as he's an ultra runner and fell runner I'm not surprised. It's only when he hears my wincing and groaning that he stops and sees me somewhat struggling.
"It hurts", I moan. "I have to squat for a's just too burny for me".
So I adopt the 'piss in the woods' position and squat on the side of the fell hoping that this will somehow ease the pain and make me fighting fit again. It doesn't. If anything it makes my poor legs hurt more. I look to Davie for sympathy or even just five minutes of respite, but he's already set off walking again and laughs "feel the burn baby".
"Feel the burn baby? Feel this Leki pole up your arse" I mutter under my breath as I struggle on, resembling a battered troll.
I try to work out why I suddenly feel so unfit. Was it all the cheese I ate last weekend? I decide not to beat myself up too much about this as we approach the summit and I flop down and pose for a photo sitting on the cairn, too lazy to stand up for it.
A quickie sandwhich break of 10 mins and then its time to make my zimmer frame descent off. As I stand and choose which rocks to hop onto Davie (bravely) raises the subject of whether or not we will make all six summits "cos we're a wee bit slow".
"I can't go any faster" I retort. "it's not possible. I'll fall and die".
He then decides to show me how fell runners do it. He starts running down the steep path and within a few seconds has disappeared into the clag.
Seriously. How the heck do they do that?
I used to be fairly ok with descent but exactly one year ago today I had a small skid/fall on a descent and then watched a friend fall moments later whilst we were climbing down from Mount Kenya summit. We were at about 16,700 ft and trying to climb down a particularly hairy and sheer vertical rock face. It was only about 12ft but the drop either side and below was quite terrifying to view. As Ella lost her footing below me she tumbled backwards onto a small ledge, pulled even further backwards by her backpack she came within a few feet of a certain death fall. Or at least that's how it looked and felt from where I was clinging on for dear life (and the screams from other climbers around us told me I wasn't over reacting). Next stop for Ella would have been a glacier several thousand feet below. I remember suddenly needing to be sick followed by masses of tears. Jeez I sobbed like a big baby. Giant tears laced with exhaustion and emotion.
But Ella just looked up at me and flashed a big old smile and shouted "I'm ok folks!"
*As I spend my 1 year Kenya summit anniversary in The Lakes, Ella is back summiting Kenya again. When I return home I have a message from her saying......
"So! As I lay on that mountain with my foot dangling off I thought of you a LOT....That f***ing scree slope got me!!! I genuinely thought of you heaps in those few hours. I even remember you flashing through my mind in the helicopter xxxx"
I'm pleased to report that Ella and her foot have undergone surgery and are both back in the UK now.

I then thought that doing the National Three Peaks may bring me up to speed again and get my confidence back, but a ten boulder bounce/tumble on ScaFell Pike descent (which saw me end up on crutches, lose every toenail and be on penicillin for two months) made things worse and robbed what little confidence I did have.

Luckily for me from now on the route is all grassy banks, polished rock steps and gravel paths.
The walk to....
St Sunday Crag.....
is a delightful one. Sweeping, lush landscape and even the sun has made an appearance! It's much busier than the other fells as walkers approach from all directions.
We come in via Cofa Pike. We take the traverse path rather than scrambling over. Scrambling would have been more fun but we are pushed for hours of daylight after setting off late at 10am.
Thankfully the skies are clearing and we are starting to get the magnificent views of Lakeland today.
After a quick summit stop we retrace our steps off St Sunday Crag and head to our next Wainwright....
Dollywaggon Pike.
As we pass Grisedale Tarn again (before starting on the zig zag track to the summit) the weather changes yet again! This time it's nasty, rude and viscous hailstones.
The little bastards pelt me from behind and my bum takes a beating. Davie is unaffected by the hailstones and doesn't see what all the fuss is about; But Davie is walking right in front of me and my poor body is acting as his shield.
"Does it hurt?" he shouts
I don't answer.
"I dare you to turn around and put your face into them" he quips.
Now don't ask me why I did this...not even I'm quite sure why I did, but I did. The result wasn't pretty. Best edit out what I said. Words too explicit for most.
A brief photo shoot at Dollywaggon Pike summit and we're off to fell number five....
Nethermost Pike.
We walk across the ridge to Nethermost Pike. It's a lovely easy route with splendid views and reveals many large patches of snow. The wind has really picked up and I'm forced to focus on balance rather than views!
I'm rather concerned about my beloved bobble hat blowing away. My little girls bought it for me for the grand sum of £2 to "keep mummy's ears warm on the mountains". It holds great value to me and I'd rather lose all of my expensive gadgets and gear before this sacred bobble hat. I pull it down hard around my ears and snuggle it under my hood. Hopefully that should do the trick.
We've now made up lots of time thanks to there being no big bouldery descents. I prove that I can be pretty nippy on the fells when I need to be and even break into a little run.
So now I guess its only right that I add Fell Runner to my Twitter bio.

The summit of Nethermost Pike is not visible from the path and lies off to the east. We line ourselves up with it via GPS and once in the right spot we set off up the grassy bank to reach the summit. It is perched precariously close to a knife edge drop which as always makes me slightly queasy.
Five down and one to go which leads us nicely on to...
With stunning views of the famous Striding Edge we approach our summit trig point from the south. Helvellyn is just like all the photos I've poured over and dangerous cornices of snow still sit on her eastern crest. She's our highest point today (3117ft) and lakelands 3rd. It's a great way to end what has been a terrific day. A day of fell walking taking in six eastern summits covering approximately 10 miles.
The thought of food and ale beckons a speedy descent down Birkside Gill. We are overtaken only by mountain bikers.
We reach the road shortly before 6pm as darkness drifts in. Perfect timing to end a perfect day.