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Paul's Latest Blog - Pushing my Boundaries

iCAN experiences founder Paul Nicol embarks on his own personal blog, taking the readers on his journey from diagnosis of a sight losing disease through to the present day as he makes iCAN experiences a success in the midst of tough economic times.

Hello once again to regular readers and welcome to any new readers. This week, I am going to deliver on my promise and write about my adventure on Mount Kilimanjaro. It is a long journey and as such, I may well split the story across 2 blog entries to avoid you nodding off, getting bored or to keep you hanging for about a week (delete as applicable).

So, how did it all start? Well, the company I was working for were running a pilot scheme called "EPIC" and they asked staff from the division in which I worked to submit an application to be considered for sponsorship on an EPIC challenge. 
At the launch of the "EPIC" scheme, I didn't really think much of it, it wasn't clear as to how much sponsorship was on offer and more importantly, what did I want to do. The original closing date of 31st January came and it was announced that the deadline was going to be extended. It was at this point a little flicker emerged somewhere in my head "What could I do?" I asked myself. Once again, I came up with nothing and pushed the thought to the back of my mind.

Then the deadline for "EPIC" loomed once again, the deadline was Monday 28th February. It was whilst I was laying in bed in the early hours of the morning on the Thursday before deadline that it came to me "Climb Mount Kilimanjaro", that's it, I’ll climb Mount Kilimanjaro. On the Friday, I went to work, had a chat with the owner of the scheme and floated my idea "Excellent, go for it" she said. With that, I went home to sell this barmy idea to my wife! To her credit, Emma was incredibly supportive "Urrgh are you sure?" she asked "Yep, I want to do it, can I?" "Alright, but you owe me if you win".

I'm not sure that she ever thought that I would win, but win I did! After making my pitch to the 3 directors, I secured a large chunk of sponsorship and was now committed!

I had 9 months in which to prepare for Kili which would include a lot of physical training and the purchase of a lot of equipment. My best man John Barneby was an essential help in getting me prepared, he had climbed Kilimanjaro and Mount Blanc, so he had a good idea of what I was going to be facing and he offered to be a guide for me on the training weekends in the UK. In the 9 months we climbed the UK's 3 largest peaks, Snowden, Scafell Pike and the mighty Ben Nevis. It's amazing to think how I developed over the course of the 9 months, but by the time the big day came around, I was well prepared and confident that I would be able to do it!

In between all of my training, a young chap called Karl Stevens approached me and asked if he could join me on my journey and make a documentary about my climb. Just goes to show, things happen that you would never expect and I was only too happy to have some publicity about the climb!

The climb itself was organised by a UK company called Action Challenge, they had a great team and sorted out a dedicated guide for my journey up the mountain. I was to form part of an open group which meant that there was a group of 19 people all unknown to one another prior to the flight to Africa.

The big day came around and on the 16th February I left for Africa. It was surprisingly hard to say goodbye to my wife and daughter, it was by far the longest time I had spent away from them both and I knew that communication would be difficult if not impossible! It took me all my effort not to cry, particularly leaving my daughter at home with the in-laws whilst Emma and i went to the airport. Emma was surprisingly composed, it has be known for her to cry at East enders, so I was sure that she would shed a tear at the Airport. To my astonishment she didn't, we kep the Goodbye quick and Emma left me with the group at check-in!

The journey to Africa and the hotel at the base of Kilimanjaro was trouble free and the bunch of people that I was climbing with were all really nice, fun people! Karl became my guide en-route to Africa, he was well used to this by now having joined me on the training weekends.

On arrival at the hotel, we had an hour to ourselves in which we had to sort out our kit and report in for a briefing with our Kit, bags were weighed and kit was assessed, any unnecessary items and weight had to be left behind and before we knew it, the afternoon was gone and it was time for dinner! So with some food inside us, it was an early night and early rise.

The next morning was our first day, full of excitement of the journey ahead, I met my guide Ulrmi Pronounced "Yu Lumi" and after signing in to the National park, we were off. The first day was pretty easy going, we travelled through the forests and fields, on a steady ascent for about 5 hours. We arrived at camp to find that the porters had erected all of the tents and all we had to do was make our tents our own! I had opted for my own personal tent, not sharing with anyone, this ensured my own personal private space and I must admit, I think this was a good move and not something that I would have done unless John had pointed out some of the pit-falls to sharing a tent with an unknown! My own space meant that I could spread my kit out and this was in fact essential as I seemed to spend my time packing and re-packing!

At each overnight camp spot, a mess tent was put up where we could congregate, eat dinner and relax. A very welcome addition was that we actually had sanitised portable toilet tents, which were welcome to all as no one was really looking forward to the prospect of crouching over a whole to do their business!Day 1 was pretty easy going all in all, I didn't feel overly tired, my feet weren't sore and I was ready for the next day!

Day 2 however was to be a different story, 9-10 hours walking! Day 2 actually took me by surprise and did sow doubt in my 
mind, I was thinking that if we had to do that every day, I would likely be in trouble. By the end of the day, I was about 30 minutes behind the group and thoroughly tired and grumpy! As it turned out, Day 2 was one of the harder days and with most of the days, we were not covering miles and miles of ground, it was a slow, steady ascent made all the more tricky by big bolder fields and a continuous need to concentrate on each foot fall to ensure that I was stepping on to a solid step.

What day 2 did give me was a working methodology with Ulrmi, he was getting to understand me, my impatience, the help I needed and when! He was a fantastic guide and had it not been for him, I wouldn't have made it. It really brought home the importance of having people around you that know what they are doing to make a challenge such as this a success, we can't do it all on our own, impairment or not!

Day 3 saw more climbing and at some stages some great terrain for me to step out in. At one point the rain came down and turned into Hale and then Snow! This was a real boost for me, whilst others struggled to get to grips with the terrain underfoot, it evened out the playing field for me and being the competitive person I am, I relished in the weather and feeling that I was able to cross the terrain as quick as anyone else in the party!

In the evenings at base camp, the group had gotten to know me and everyone was chipping in, guiding me around the campsite, helping me find a toilet and making me cups of tea etc. It was great, the group were all incredibly friendly and it re-enforces the fact that in general, people are kind and willing to help others. Sure, you will come across the odd person who is not like that, but in general, people are kind and caring!

Day 4 was an acclimatisation day. This meant that we walked for about 4 hours, but slept at the camp we had done the night before. This would give our bodies and head the chance to get used to being at altitude and reduce the risk of altitude sickness.

I think I am going to leave it here for now, Day 5 & 6 are all about the Summit, so I’ve probably written enough to make 
even the most avid of readers a little bored!

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All the Best,

Founder - iCAN experiences
Where possibility can become reality!