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.......

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"