The Beginning of the Next Adventure ~ The Journey Has Begun!

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“…by bringing myself over the edge and back, I discovered a passion to live my days fully, a conviction that will sustain me like sweet water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives.” ~  Jonathan Waterman

Earlier this week, Judi, Alan and I headed out to a little coffee shop in Cavendish Square to meet with Ronnie Muhl.  To many South African’s Ronnie Muhl is a household name. I first heard of him back in 2007 when he was climbing Everest for the second time. He was in touch with KFM, a local Cape Town radio station, and each morning he would “patch” in and give updates on his climb. I remember listening with intensely as he journeyed up the mountain and eagerly awaited news of his summit. I never dreamed one day I would be sitting having coffee with him, let alone planning to climb a mountain with him!

Ronnie Muhl on the summit of Everest.

Ronnie Muhl on the summit of Everest. Pic found here

But that is the beauty of dreams. They grow as you grow and all you have to do is believe in them. Back at the time that Ronnie Muhl was summiting Everest, I always knew without a doubt I would never do something that crazy and now I laugh as I type that. Look who’s the crazy one now…

“It’s easy to live for other people, yet it’s much more of a challenge to live for ourselves. True strength isn’t the ability to bench press 400 pounds; it’s the ability to be ourselves in a world that’s trying its best to make us something else.” ~ Jake Ducey

My reasoning behind never wanting to do a crazy thing like climb Everest was because I always said I valued my life far too much to take a chance doing something that has such a high risk of death and I was 100% ok with that decision. Since then I have been living my life and realising dreams and then last year, in 2012, I realised one of my big dreams when I successfully summit Kilimanjaro before I turned 40.  It was number 7 on my bucket list.  There is no greater feeling than realising a dream, and for me standing on top of that mountain, taking in what little air there was at the summit, is one of the highlights of my life. Better still is watching my dreams unfold and believing so much in my dreams that they just don’t have a choice but to come true. Although before Kilimanjaro I still said no ways will I climb Everest, I was quite ok with the idea of climbing up to Everest Base Camp but to go all the way to the summit was still a big no for me.

The simple cross marking the summit of Aconcagua. Pic found here.

The simple cross marking the summit of Aconcagua.

Then something changed within me. I climbed Kilimanjaro and on the morning of Friday, 13th July 2012 I successfully summited and therein the beauty of dreams, my own dreams expanded. I knew I could reach higher and a burning fire of desire was lit deep within my soul. It is something that can’t be explained, only experienced and those who have been that high up will know. As I came off the mountain I started dreaming of other mountains and began to set my sights higher, so high in fact, my dreams now include standing on the summits of all Seven Summits of the world, yes, including Everest.

I have learnt that I don’t do life small. I like living it big, the bigger the better and so my dreams have expanded and as I grow, my dreams grow with me.

“You say I started out with practically nothing, but that isn’t correct. We all start with all there is, it’s how we use it that makes things possible.” ~ Henry Ford

Now, just 3 days ago, along with two of my fellow team members, I was sitting sipping on my latte with Ronnie Muhl sitting opposite me. We were talking, planning and I was listening in awe at all I have coming towards me in the next few months, already a silly grin spreading from one side of my face to the other.

Intentions have been set and on the 5th January 2014, I along with three team mates, will be heading off to Argentina where we all set our sights and hopes on summiting what they call The Stone Sentinel, Aconcagua ~ 6962 m above sea level.

1067 m higher than my last mountain, and my 2nd of the Seven Summits.

Something that I will be saying often in the lead to our departure.

Something that I will be saying often in the lead to our departure.

The best part about this trip is that two of my amazing Kilimanjaro team mates will be joining me, Judi Kurgan and Simon Bates, along with new comer Alan Hardaker.  Ronnie informs us there is a couple from Cape Town interested in joining this trip and possibly one or two others from around the world. The ideal size of our team will be 8 – 10 but can accommodate up to 12 people.

Our route has been chosen and we will be doing the 360 Traverse.  The expedition is made via a route which is a combination between the Polish Route, the Ameghino Traverse, Upper Guanaco and the Normal Route.  It looks like we will begin with a 2 or 3 day trek through beautiful Valle de Vacas up to Plaza Argentina Base Camp.  From there we will start the ascent through the first part of the Polish Route up to Camp 1.  Then we will make the traverse of Cerro Ameghino up to Camp 2.  From there we will go to Camp 3 via the upper part of the Valle de Guanacos Route, and finally we will summit by the last part of the Normal Route.  The descent will be made via the Normal Route, taking us via Plaza de Mulas, Aconcagua’s biggest Base Camp and a great place for what we hope will be a celebration of our successful summit!

The beauty of this route, a much quieter route than the busy Normal Route, is that it will allow us to see a unique landscape, the magnificence of the Polish Glacier and the greatness of the Andes mountain range.

Sitting chatting over coffee, we listened eagerly as Ronnie regaled us with tales of the mountain. Pooping in a bag in the privacy of “around the corner” and then walking back with your prized glory tied up neatly in the bag, carried in your hand! I most certainly hope those bags are not see-through in colour! Apparently, this is a topic of many a mountain conversations! A blizzard outside your tent, best you learn how to use a “shewee” girls ~ something us girls luckily avoided having to do on Kilimanjaro! Guys certainly do have the luck of the draw here!

A blizzard overnight is not uncommon on this mountain and Ronnie told us how one morning they had to dig their way out of their tents! Pic found here.

A blizzard overnight is not uncommon on this mountain and Ronnie told us how one morning they had to dig their way out of their tents! Pic found here.

A freezing ice-cold river crossing that can at times be as deep as your waist, no problem! For a few dollars we can organise a ride on the back of a donkey all the way across! I’m liking the sound of that, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a cowgirl in the mountains and I can already picture the snaps I will be able to capture of our team going across like this!

A walk through an ice cold river or a ride on the back of a donkey?!

A walk through an ice cold river or a ride on the back of a donkey?!

Communication is good on the mountain and Ronnie, at all times, carries a satellite phone on him and is in constant communication with his team at Base Camp, getting updates on the weather and staying informed of anything our team might need to know about.  Exciting news for our team too, we have some hugely exciting things in the works ‘backstage’ in our planning.  One thing is for sure, we are certainly going big on this trip and if we get it all right, there will be some amazing things for you guys to follow as my loyal blog readers. All details will be revealed as and when things get confirmed!

At Base Camp we will be able to have a hot shower! Yes, a shower and it will be hot! This sounds like heaven already! Even if for just a moment it will be lovely to put the wet wipes aside and to emerge smelling clean and fresh! Wonder if they have some washing machines up there for our clothes too?!

Other excellent news is that Aconcagua has excellent emergency rescue services in place should they be needed and in case of emergency you will be flown out via helicopter but here’s hoping none of us will need to use this! We will also have an extensive first aid kit with us and this includes injections for oedema in the case of any of those really scary and nasty high altitude sicknesses rear their ugly head. This won’t cure you but it will buy you time (reduce swelling in the brain) to get off the mountain and get medical help.  At Base Camp we will all go through a medical test with doctors that are stationed up there. You need to receive a stamp confirming you have passed your medical to proceed higher up the mountain. Just thinking about that makes me nervous already!  As we had on Kilimanjaro, we will have our blood saturation tested daily with a pulse oximeter, but this time it will be done twice daily.  A pulse oximeter is a medical device that indirectly monitors the oxygen saturation of our blood.  I laugh as I remember how every morning we had this done on Kilimanjaro and how my heart would begin to race as my turn came up! Talk about panic that I won’t be well enough to continue! Really going to have to teach myself to calm my nerves.

Aconcagua has excellent emergency rescue services. Pic found here.

Aconcagua has excellent emergency rescue services. Pic found here.

The Kilimanjaro Ambulance. Pic by me taken on Kilimanjaro in 2012.

The Kilimanjaro Ambulance. Pic by me taken on Kilimanjaro in 2012.

Our summit day will be done in three parts. Hallelujah, we will only leave camp at 3am and not 11am like we did on Kilimanjaro! Hopefully we can get some good sleep in before the time comes to rise and reach new heights. We will head out from High Camp at 6000m to 6500m to a place called Independencia, where we will stop for a rest. This little wooden shelter is there to be used when the weather is really poor.  From what I have read and the latest photos I have seen, this hut is missing it’s roof so not much shelter from bad weather.  It is here will stop for a rest.

The little wooden hut at 6500m on Aconcagua, a hut which is used during bad weather.

The little wooden hut at 6500m on Aconcagua, a hut which is used during bad weather.

We will then move up to 6700m where we will take another rest. As you can see that it is merely 200m from our last stop and on this mountain, yet again, it will be a case of take a step, stop, breathe, take a step, stop, and breathe. From here you can see the summit, exciting huh but the soul-destroying agony for your body is that it will still take you about 3 to 4 hours to reach the actual summit from that point. Once again, looks can be very deceiving.

Walking above the clouds on Aconcagua. Pic found here.

Walking above the clouds on Aconcagua. Pic found here.

An average days walking will be around 5 – 6 hours and the first part on the mountain can be dusty, just like Kilimanjaro. Note to self, walk up front so you don’t eat your team mates dust again! It is more than likely that we will get snow, certainly from Base Camp and higher.

A long, steep walk to the summit. Pic found here.

A long, steep walk to the summit. Pic found here.

Up until Base Camp the donkeys will carry all the loads and we will only be required to carry our day packs. From Base Camp you carry your own load, this can be anywhere from 15 – 20kgs. Porters can be arranged to carry up the heavy loads from Base Camp for a fee. We are definitely looking at taking porters as high as we can to assist us with a successful summit.

There will be loads of ups and downs on the mountain (literally) going higher, sleeping lower, carrying loads up to the higher camp and coming back down to sleep. All of this will aid our acclimatisation.

A long, steep and slow walk to the summit. Pic found here.

A long, steep and slow walk to the summit. Pic found here.

We’ve been talking about this since getting off Kilimanjaro and now it’s all happening.

Best I start brushing up on my Spanish!

It’s almost time to start Walking4Air again ~ Yes, without a doubt in my mind I will be walking in memory of my best friend, Emma Walker, this time getting even closer to heaven!

I have just filled out my forms that will confirm me as part of the official team and they have been submitted.

Excited?

Beyond words!

Scared?

No more than climbing into my car each day, wondering if I will reach my destination!

Everything is a risk.

It is a risk to stay where we are in our lives just as much as it’s a risk to step into unfamiliar territory.

Another dream unfolds in the palm of my hand.

I’m so ready!

A New Adventure, A Month of Awareness and So Another Journey Begins…

347197aa735bd84cc6aa2460a7adb995The month of May is not an easy month for me as it brings reminders of two very special people that I have lost through death.  May is also the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Awareness month, which is what this post is all about. Bear with me, although this is to bring awareness of CF, it too brings news of my next big adventure and I really hope you will read to the end.

For the past 16 days my Twitter timeline and my Facebook newsfeed has been filled with activity from the various Cystic Fibrosis organisations I follow and it has been filled with stories and updates from people living with CF. It is a constant reminder to me and for the first time I fully understand something that Emma’s mom said to me one evening when we were talking. “Sometimes it’s a constant reminder and sometimes you just want to forget for a little while.” I get that now completely. Every time my timeline flashes with something new relating to CF it reminds me of what Emma had courageously endured in her life and sadly, the hardest part, it reminds me what I have lost. Often reading what others say brings tears to my eyes and I miss my best friend more than anyone could ever know. You see, Emma was my best friend who lost her battle with CF in May 1998. For those new to my blog, she inspired me to live while she was in my life and now even though she watches me from above, she continues to inspire me to live my greatest life and it is my greatest wish that one day soon we find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis.

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For 16 days I have been trying to write this blog post in order to do my bit to raise awareness for Cystic Fibrosis Awareness month. Last night as I climbed into bed I asked Emma to guide my words today as I write yet again and I know that no matter how my words come out, by the end of today I will post this piece.

Some of you may be asking, what is cystic fibrosis?

  • Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a life-threatening inherited disease.
  • It is caused by a faulty gene that controls the movement of salt and water in and out of the cells within the body.
  • Cystic Fibrosis affects the internal organs, especially the lungs and digestive system, by clogging them with thick    sticky mucus. This makes it hard to breathe and digest food.
  • There are approximately 700 people in South Africa that currently have Cystic Fibrosis.  (People in outlying/rural areas are misdiagnosed and do not have access to proper treatment.  These people (mostly children) sadly often die from malnutrition or pneumonia. (It was noted in 2009 that 70 000 people worldwide had Cystic Fibrosis)
  • When two people who carry a defective gene have a child, there is:

–  a 25% chance that the child will be born with cystic fibrosis;

–  a 50% chance that the child will not have CF, but will be a carrier;

–  a 25% chance that the child will not have CF, and will not be a carrier.

  • CF is one of the most common inherited disorders of Caucasians (whites). In South Africa 1 in 27 individuals in the White population, 1 in 50 in the Coloured population and at least 1 in 90 in the Black population carriers a CF mutation. The total is increasing as more children are correctly diagnosed, treated earlier and living much longer.

What CF is not:

  • CF is not contagious:

–  Due to the frequent coughing of children with CF, it is often thought to be contagious. The fact is every child that has CF is born with it. It is an inherited disorder.

  • CF is not caused by anything the parents did:

–  Parents often feel responsible for everything that happens to their children. It must be made clear that nothing parents do before or during pregnancy can cause CF.

  • CF does not impair intellectual ability:

–  People sometimes confuse CF with cerebral palsy (CP). Cystic Fibrosis does not involve the brain and therefore does not impair intellectual ability at all.

  • CF is not curable, at this time:

–  There is no cure for CF at this stage, although the drugs and methods to treat CF improve every day. This helps people with CF to grow up and lead active, productive lives.

There is no cure for CF, and most individuals with cystic fibrosis die young: many in their 20s and 30s from lung failure. However, with the continuous introduction of new treatments, the life expectancy of a person with CF is increasing to ages as high as 40 or 50.  Currently the life expectancy of someone living with CF is 37.

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This is something that is so close to my heart and it’s a cause I am passionate about and I will go to the ends of the earth to do what I can to help find a cure. Your support in any small way can make a big difference in the life of someone living with CF.

Here’s how you could help:

–   Simply share this blog post with your family, friends, colleagues and anyone you may know by resposting it on Facebook, Twitter or even on your blog. (Links to do this quickly and easily can be found at the bottom of this post).

–   Consider becoming an organ donor. People living with CF are given a second chance at life by those willing to donate their organs when they die. When you no longer need your organs, you could help save someone’s life after you are gone. It is a priceless gift.

–   Do a simple search on Google to find your local Cystic Fibrosis organisation to see if they are holding any events in your area that you could attend to help support them or make a donation to support those living with CF and to fund research in order for us to get another step closer to finding a cure.

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In the months coming up you are going to hear me mention Cystic Fibrosis often. With one of the Seven Summits already under my belt with a successful summit, I am prepared to climb the world to find a cure and my next adventure, currently scheduled for January 2014, will be heading out to Argentina to climb Aconcagua, one of the Seven Summits and only the 2nd highest mountain to Everest, outside of Asia. We are currently working out all the details for our trip and in June we hope to meet up with the man who will guide this epic expedition to the top of Aconcagua at 6,962m (22,841 ft). We have to wait until June because he is currently climbing Everest (he does this every now and again).  In fact, they are hoping to summit on Monday, 20th May if the weather allows. As I sit in South Africa, I excitedly watch as snippets of communication come in from the slopes of Everest and I can’t wait for my turn to push myself to new limits. We have an incredible team ready to face this epic adventure together and the most exciting part is that THREE of my Kilimanjaro team members are signed up with me for this lifetime adventure. I will be raising funds again for Cystic Fibrosis and I will be climbing this mountain in honour and in memory of my best friend, Emma.

In a small way, this is the little bit I can do to give a little something back in her memory.  I hope you will join me and my team in the months to come on an adventure of a life time as I share the excitement of training, preparing and getting ready to face this huge mountain and then finally I hope you will follow my team and I as we depart for Argentina and I continue on my epic journey to climb the world to find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis.

~ Information about CF from the KZN (in South Africa) Cystic Fibrosis Association ~

~ Thank you for taking the time to read this post, please feel free to share this far and wide and help me spread awareness for Cystic Fibrosis ~

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