Preparing to climb Mont Kilimanjaro requires both physical and mental strength – which is something I can prepare for while living in Toronto…but preparing for high altitude is something completely different as I don’t have the luxury of flying to higher altitudes on weekends.
Why do I need to prepare for a higher altitude? Most people can ascend to 8,000ft without experiencing any major problems. However, some tend to forget that the higher to go, the less oxygen there is to breathe, which creates a problem when participating in physical activities. I’ve been told that it doesn’t matter how fit I am for the climb, it’s all about how my body reacts to the higher altitude and if I can cope with the altitude sickness.
What is altitude sickness?
“Current thinking is that hypoxia (low oxygen) in the air and blood causes the blood vessels of the brain to dilate in an attempt to get more oxygen. Something about this vasodilation causes the headache. And because there is more blood in the brain, the brain is slightly swollen. Although everyone going to high altitude has slight brain swelling, it is worse in those who develop acute mountain sickness. This swelling causes pressure on the brain as it is squeezed against the skull, and the pressure might be the cause of the symptoms.”1
What are the symptoms of altitude sickness? Headache, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, mental confusion, nosebleeds, fatigue, shortness of breath, drowsiness, insomnia, and in severe cases, fever, loss of consciousness, and retinal hemorrhaging…just to name a few. Altitude sickness can be fatal, and the tour guides leading us to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro take extreme precautions to ensure everyone on the climb is feeling ok. The trek to the top is very very slow, which helps everyone acclimatize to the higher altitude. To put into perspective, Toronto is approximately 246 feet above sea level. I need to climb to a height of 19,341 feet above sea level…and it will take me seven very slow and long days to get there.
How can I prepare for the attitude? A fire-fighter friend of mine recommended I get an Elevation Training Mask – which simulates higher altitudes (up to 18,000ft). Thanks to another friend and supporter, the mask was ordered and delivered last week. Wearing the mask while exercising will:
- Strengthen my diaphragm
- Condition my lungs by creating pulmonary resistance
- Increase surface area and elasticity in my alveoli
- Increase lung capacity and oxygen efficiency
- Increase anaerobic thresholds
Wearing the mask for the first few times feels and looks a little funny (see my photos above), but I can notice the difference in my breathing and lung capacity after a few uses. I will provide a more detailed review of the mask later on…once I have a chance to try it in the gym on the cardio machines/weight training. In the meantime, I want to continue practice the slow and steady breathing exercises at home without over exerting myself.
My airline travel to Africa has been booked! As I am on an extreme budget for this climb, I needed to book the most cost effective way to get to Tanzania…which means a lot of stopovers and layovers. I’ll be flying with KLM and here is the list of flights I’ll be taking…just one step closer to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro!
Toronto to Montreal
Montreal to Amsterdam
Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro Airport
Kilimanjaro Airport to Dar Es Salaam
Dar Es Salaam to Amsterdam (7hr layover in Amsterdam)
Amsterdam to Montreal
Montreal to Toronto
I’ve also signed up to run in the Toronto Waterfront 1/2 Marathon – which takes place less than a week after I return from the Kilimanjaro climb! Crazy? Perhaps. But I think it’ll keep me on my toes for my training during the next couple of months…and who knows…maybe being at the higher altitude will increase my performance at the race!
This past week I completed the following:
May 27 – June 2
Monday: Beach Dodgeball (1.5hrs)
Tuesday: Ran 8K and then played Beach Volleyball (~3hrs)
Wednesday: Altitude mask breathing (30mins)
Thursday: Leg muscle strengthening exercises
Saturday: Ran 8K and then completed 1hr of weight training
Sunday: Altitude mask breathing (30mins)
As of today, I have raised $2,576 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation! Many thanks to my sponsors and supporters! If you haven’t had a chance to make a donation, there is still time! I need to raise $5,500 by July! If you’re a business owner and want to make a donation-in-kind for the silent auction, please send me a message!
With much gratitude,