‘What kit / gear do I need to climb Kilimanjaro?’

Following on from last weeks blog, ‘How fit do you have to be to climb Kilimanjaro’ I thought we’d cover another popular question ‘What kit do I need to climb Kilimanjaro?’.

mountain gearThe most common comment we hear is “but the guy in the shop said I needed……”. So what do you actually need? Well, usually a lot less than a sales man will tell you and for most people they’ll already own most of it.

There is nothing worse than being on the side of a mountain, wet, freezing, tired, grumpy and wondering why you paid some of your hard earned for the experience! But of course if you have good kit, you’re warm, dry and comfortable, then the world is a better place!

Of course you need to consider what you actually need, but first consider what you already have and how you personally react to extremes of hot and cold. Consider the environments you will visit, the time of year and the expected weather. Factor in how your kit will be carried and remember you’re climbing Kilimanjaro, not Everest!

View of the QueueAA Kilimanjaro (2)                            Everest                                                         Kilimanjaro

First things first, check out a Kilimanjaro kit list. When it comes to extremes in terms of cold, wind, rain or snow then your layers and layering is key! Good layering will allow you flexibility in terms of balancing your temperature; all trekking requires this however at altitude it’s even more important as overheating = sweating = additional fluid loss / dehydration. The idea of layers is that you can adjust your temperature and protection level to changing weather / climate. This can be done by removing or adding a layer, or simply undoing a zip whilst walking and doing it up again when you stop. There are a few layers to consider.

The outer layer is key to keeping you dry and windproof. Think about when you will wear this layer – it’s likely to be at all levels on the mountain (as it can rain at the top or bottom) so a normal waterproof coat / trousers are needed and not thick snowboarding gear as it could be 25C and raining in Moshi! Check out what outer gear you have already and check they are still waterproof. If so, good, tick them off the list and chuck them in the ‘to go’ pile. If not, and this goes for all higher priced kit, consider whether you would like to:

a) buy new (is this a one off climb? Will you get good use out of the investment?)
b) buy second hand (online auctions etc)
c) borrow from a mate
d) or hire from the likes of Expedition Kit Hire.

Next is your cosy layer, which will keep you warm! Now you may be climbing a mountain in Africa – but it‘s still freezing and normally sub zero up top. Add in some wind and snow or hail and you need to be cosy! You don’t need to spend a fortune on these layers and the majority of people will already own all of these layers. Start off with a thermal top and long johns, some trek trousers, a short sleeved t-shirt and a long sleeved one on top. Then a thin fleece with a thicker one on top and that should be adequate for most people. You may need one other mid layer when relaxing around camp if you’re not in the tents. If you really feel the cold then you may want to buy, borrow or hire a down jacket however most people don’t need this on Kilimanjaro. The coldest you’ll be is before you start walking on summit morning. The rest of the time you’ll be around camp, walking lower down were it’s warmer and when you start walking towards the summit you’ll want to remove some layers, open zips and regulate your temperature.

The summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest point in all of Africa and one of the seven-summits.

The summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest point in all of Africa and one of the seven-summits.

The final and again a critical area to consider are your extremities. A well fitted fleece hat, a scarf, thin liner gloves and thicker outer gloves, good warm trekking socks, well broken in boots, sun glasses and finally some sun cream will ensure you can continue to regulate your heat and remain comfortable in your surroundings. Do remember at altitude, just like on a plane, your feet swell. Generally boots should be a half size too big.

The pitfalls to avoid are:

  • Don’t overspend on unnecessary gear – trust the kit list not the sales man.
  • Don’t take something ‘just in case’, think about your gear, talk with your trek organiser if you have any questions and take just what you need.
  • Take a good strong duffle or pack for your gear to go in and ensure everything is in dry-bags or garden refuse sacks.
  • Bags go missing on flights more often than you think! Wear your boots on the flight and put your waterproofs in your hand luggage along with essential medicines and other items not easily replaced. Mid layers are cheaper and easier to replace.
  • Make use of all birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas etc!
  • Finally pick a really grim day at home and go test your gear! Better to do it when you can return to a cosy home and an electric kettle!

First Ever Photo of a Wild Singing Dog?

Is this the first ever photograph of a New Guinea Singing Dog in the wild?

Photo from the trail, cropped to show dog

We had word of some very exciting wildlife news at Adventure Alternative HQ recently. It was of a potential sighting (and photo capture) of one of the rarest (if not the rarest) breeds of dog in the world – the New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD).

The sighting was made by Adventure Alternative Borneo director Tom Hewitt whilst on trek in the remote Star Mountains of Western New Guinea Island. These elusive dogs have most probably never been photographed in the wild before, so this is potentially huge in the NGSD world.

Tom, who has been living and working in SE Asia for the last ten years, is now based in Sabah and Sarawak from where he runs Adventure Alternative Borneo – the company that came into existence after a chance meeting 3 years ago with Adventure Alternative founder Gavin Bate. Along with a rainforest camp called Lupa Masa next to World Heritage Mt Kinabalu Park in Sabah, Adventure Alternative is also providing assistance to new community tourism and reforestation project based around 6 Penan villages in the remote interior of Sarawak. With financial support provided by Moving Mountains Trust, Adventure Alternative’s partner charity, the villages aim to plant 15,000-20,000 new hardwood saplings per year on previously logged and burnt forest.

Every year or so, Tom leads expeditions to New Guinea, an island shared between the independent Papua New Guinea and Indonesian controlled West Papua.  New Guinea is a truly remarkable destination as these facts and figures testify:

  • It is the 2nd largest island on earth, covering 785,753 sq km.
  • Although this landmass covers less than 0.5% of the world’s surface, it is estimated to contain up to 8% of the world’s known land and sea species, with countless still unknown and waiting to be discovered.
  • In terms of size of continuous rainforest it is exceeded only by the Amazon and the Congo.
  • And whilst only 1% of the world’s population call New Guinea home, the number of native languages spoken, account for over one sixth of all languages on earth – that is over 1,100 distinct dialects!

The Main Photo in Question

The photo taken from the trail of the dog on the hillside above

The same photo again (hence the slightly low resolution)
Now cropped closely to the dog its self

The details of the Sighting

We invited Tom to offer his own account of the trip and the sighting…

A client approached me at the end of 2011 requesting a bespoke trip that was ‘beyond any usual tourist or trek route, ideally mountainous and not hot and humid’. For a long time I had been looking at Mandala Mountain on the West Papua map. It is the 2nd highest free standing peak in Oceania with very little information available about it. It seemed to fit the requirements.

At an unconfirmed 4,760 m (no one is really sure) Mandala Mountain is the highest peak in the Star Mountain range – one of the most remote and unexplored areas of the world and until 40 years ago Mandala mountain even had it’s own permanent glacier. Here the native flora and fauna species, including the secretive singing dogs have remained in virtual isolation and undisturbed for thousands of years.

The twelve day tour included myself and the client, plus a trusted cook and guide that I had used before and seven local porters and guides from the starting village, itself an expensive 1 hour chartered plane ride from the capital of West Papua, Jayapura.

At the time of the sighting we were in a dramatic, wide valley with 4,000m peaks and limestone walls with waterfalls on either side. We spent a total of 4 days camping in this valley and there was regular contact with a number of exciting animals: couscous, possums and even tree kangaroos were seen most days, as well as many unidentified ground nesting birds living in the swamp grass. One species of bird of paradise was heard in the lower forest, but not seen. There were a few highland flowers and grasses and occasional groves of an ancient cycad species – primordial in every respect.

The guide and cook were 10 minutes ahead of us on day 1 of the return the trek, they had stopped I presumed, for us to catch up. When we reached them the guide proclaimed ‘dog’. This took me quite by surprise and it took three explanations by him for me to understand. But sure enough above us on the rocky outcrop in the bush there was a dog – the guide seemed as bemused by it being there as we were. After initially being quite close to the guide, by the time we arrived it had taken position on the hillside above us; this is the position found in the photos. We watched it for around 15 minutes as it continued to watch us. It seemed as curious as we were but not particularly scared or nervous. What stood out was how healthy it looked upon closer examination with binoculars.

I had no in-depth knowledge of NGSD’s at the time of the expedition and the photos in question were merely one of a huge number taken. To my utmost regret I did not make any video footage, nor did I try to get any closer. But in the context of any trip to Papua at the time this was no stranger than other events that happen daily – such as waking up one morning to see one of the porters using a tree kangaroo as a neck scarf to keep him warm.

There have been no previous confirmed reports of Singers in that general area. This can be easily explained by the fact that it is not an area the locals would ever go to, or at least not very often. There is much better hunting in the lower forests and hills. It is also very rarely visited by any other visitors.

When we returned from the trek, I searched for more information on the Singing Dogs of Papua and realized that I had possibly the only ever photo of one in the wild. The photos have since been disseminated amongst various experts including the American based New Guinea Dog Conservation Society.

Here are some more photos that were captured on the trip:

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In 2013, Adventure Alternative will be offering the chance to climb the 3rd highest mountain in Papua, Mt Trikora, on the 100th anniversary of the first ever summit expedition. At 4,750 m Trikora is also in an area that the New Guinea Singing Dogs have been seen by the locals. The scheduled climb will either begin or end with the annual Baliem Valley tribal highlands festival – this is when all the various highlands tribes come together for a big party in Wamena. For all of the trip information, click here.

History of the New Guinea Singing Dog

The intense topography of Papua as a whole coupled with low scale political troubles in the Western side of Papua has meant that little research has been done into the existence of NGSG in the area. The dogs themselves are believed a close relative of ancient dogs that were domesticated from Asian Wolves between 10-15,000 years ago and are related to the dingo of Australia.

The first live ‘Singers’ were caught in the Eastern province of the island in the 1950s and taken to Australia – nearly all of the Singers outside Papua are now descended from these 4 dogs. More recent expeditions have failed to locate any singers, including a month long expedition to the Eastern province highlands in the mid-90s. In this case, the Singers were heard but never seen. The NGSD is considered an evolutionarily significant unit. New Guinea Singing Dogs are named for their distinctive and melodious howl, which is characterized by a sharp increase in pitch at the start and very high frequencies at the end.

The future and the ethical dilemma faced.

The latest consensus from the experts regarding the photos is that “all of the photos have been examined forensically and there is no indication that they have been tampered with or are fakes. No layering is present. We also have had these photos examined by a PHD in Tropical Biology who is currently involved in rainforest research and conservation in New Guinea and his conclusion of the photos are that the plant life is consistent with the Star Mountain Range of the New Guinea Highlands”.

There are some people that may well question why there is a need to capture a wild animal and take it from its natural habitat. We asked Tom Wendt, founder of New Guinea Singing Dog International to explain further:
There are a couple of reasons why actually capturing a Singer is important. You first need to know that the NGSD is genetically nearly identical to the AU Dingo and the first descendant of the wolf. Although it’s yet to be proven, I believe that before the end of the Ice Age (when PNG and AU were land locked) the AU and PNG Dingo/NGSD were the same being.

The first good reason follows the same theme as the Australian version. Hybridization of both versions threatens their survival in their pure form. There was a day when the NGSD lived everywhere on PNG in a pure form. It was us humans who started the decline of numbers by bringing in domestic dog breeds. The hybridized NGSD or Village Dogs are man-made. This is the main reason that the NGSD could only be found these days in the place where you found one.

Both halves of the island’s governments are in such disarray, there is virtually no interest in setting up and funding some type of sanctuary for the NGSD that would serve to keep it in it’s pure form.

The other threat to the NGSD’s survival is that the natives are known to kill and eat a ‘Singer’ before preserving it. This is especially true in the highlands as the unhybridized versions are supreme hunters. In AU most provinces encourage the hunting and elimination of Dingoes as they are a threat to livestock. The same holds true in PNG.

The goal is to have a healthy population of NGSD’s here available to go back into the wild or to a sanctuary or preserve designed to keep the Singers alive in their pure form. Until the day comes that sanctuaries can be setup in PNG to keep the Highland Wild Dog from going extinct, we are the best option for their survival. With the population here being from a very limited gene pool the fear is that inbreeding will render the captive NGSD’s defective.

The Basenji (Africa’s wild dog) went through some severe health issues years ago and actually got to the point where inbreeding defects had threatened their very survival here. It was a group of folks passionate about the breed (not the experts) who raised the funds for the expeditions that captured new bloodlines and saved the Basenji from going extinct”.

Options for following up this significant and rare sighting are still being considered. Including return expeditions subject to funding and permissions.

More Information:
YouTube video about New Guinea Singing Dogs
For updates on the story, follow us on our Facebook page.
Further photos from the expedition on the Adventure Alternative Borneo Facebook page.
In 2013, Adventure Alternative will be offering the chance to climb the 3rd highest mountain in Papua – Mt Trikora on the 100th anniversary of the first ever summit expedition. For all of the trip information, click here.

Scientific American have written a great article on the sighting, with more extensive information on the NGSD to visit, click here.

Adventure & Disabilities

The upcoming Paralympics will put the spotlight on a truly inspiring group of people.  There are over 1billion people in the world living with disabilities. As well as people with obvious physical disabilities, this group contains a wide number of people who have disabilities that would not be obvious to the observer.

London 2012 Paralympic pictograms

At Adventure Alternative, we are proud to have involved some fantastic people with disabilities on our treks and projects around the world. Although a lot of our trips involve strenuous physical activity, we believe that as many people as possible should have the opportunity to partake in these activities. We chat with our clients before their trip to try and fully understand their capabilities and accommodate their needs; we like to be prepared!

Currently climbing Mt. Elbrus with Adventure Alternative founder, Gavin Bate, we have two inspiring men – Dave Padgen and Nigel Vardy (AKA Mr. Frostbite).  Temperatures as low as -60°C on Mt. Mkinley in 1999 caused severe frostbite and claimed Nigel’s fingers, toes and nose. Two years after the accident, he was back out climbing in the Alps. Dave has Cerebral Palsy but this didn’t stop him competing in the Paralympic Games held in Atlanta and Barcelona. He is also the first Brit with Cerebral palsy to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Both Dave and Nigel celebrate their passion for adventure and ably demonstrate the potential accessibility of the mountains.

A further demonstration of the same principles, and in a similar field, can be seen in the case of mountaineer Mark Inglis. After losing both of his legs during a blizzard on Mt. Cook, New Zealand, he has gone on to achieve a number of inspiring achievements, not least winning a silver medal in the 1km time trial at the Sydney Paralympics, 2000. In 2006 Inglis became the first double amputee to summit Mt Everest.

Mark Inglis

The principles of inclusive society have now become more widely recognised than ever. A document to come out of the recent Rio+20 conference – ‘The Future we Want’ – talks about disabilities with reference to a number of topics and sectors, including ensuring accessible shelter; access to food; and incorporating people with disabilities into the green economies nation states will aspire to over the coming years. But where does tourism fit into this and what is the tourism sector doing to be more inclusive of this group? For tourism to be considered truly sustainable, it must be inclusive of people with different needs, including them in the decision-making process.

Many countries have a long way to go in the accommodation of people with disabilities. The USA and Australia are known to be particularly on-the-ball when it comes to offering facilities that enable this group to take part in travel and adventure holidays, including abseiling, kayaking, mountain biking and ice-climbing. There are also a number of NGOs who offer assistance and advice for people with disabilities, with some even offering financial assistance.

Tourism for All UK is a national charity dedicated to standards of world class tourism which are welcoming to all.”

Tourism for All offers a wealth of information to enable people to fully participate in action and leisure activities, including an extensive region-specific section on the UK.

If you have a disability or consition and would like to take part in an Adventure Alternative trek or project, please don’t hesitate to get in contact! We fully appreciate that everyone has different abilities and circumstances. We can have a chat to see what we can do to ensure that you have a meaningful and enjoyable trip. Based on your aspirations, abilities and requirements we can chat about suitable locations, environments and expeditions and hopefully together we can get you on an adventure of a lifetime!

We wish Team GB all of our luck during the Paralympics!

Nomad: A person who wanders or roves

Nomaders is a great new platform – it allows dialogue to be exchanged between travellers and locals. But these aren’t just any locals; ‘local heroes’, as they’re named by the Nomaders community, are people who want to showcase their hometown by sharing their culture, introducing travellers to activities that could never be found in the guidebook!

Local heroes aren’t satisfied with Starbucks and Subway, these are people that know the hidden gems in an area – the places that properly showcase the spirit and culture of a community. Local heroes are also often people who interact with their local community through associations, cultural groups and community initiatives.

Hey, if we just described you, maybe you could be a local hero and help to enhance the tourism experience through authentic and exciting activities!

The organisation aspires to the same message as Couchsurfing and the likes – gain unique experiences by viewing a location through the eyes of a local!

We’re really proud to be able to say that Adventure Alternative tours facilitate and encourage interaction with locals, offering a personalised and unique experience. This is especially true of our AlternativeGAP tours.

Each group is accompanied by 15 Kenyans on their gap years as part of the Moving Mountains Kenya scheme, so integration starts from the very beginning. Not only that, but the groups are joined by Kenyan aid workers who act as guides and mentors, teaching participants to engage with the communities and people who are beneficiaries of Moving Mountains Trust.

AlternativeGAPpers

The group is self-sufficient, travelling in our overland trucks and living in local situations, sometimes in tents, sometimes in homestays and sometimes in our guesthouses. This is where the trip differs from most tours – it’s the opportunity to travel at a pace of life which is slow enough to feel you have got to know the land and its people.

Fundamentally our gap trips are linked to long-term development projects which we believe reflects the integrity of the experience. The tours include homestays and work in some of our projects like children’s homes, rescue centres and our volunteer’s centres, along with experiences that highlight the flipside of life in Kenya, along with the people that make this country so special!

AlternativeGAPper teaching in school

Cycling through the Great Rift Valley and ending up camping on an extinct volcano with the Maasai people – now you can’t say that’s the average holiday experience!

Like Nomaders, AlternativeGAP Kenya tours are designed for people who have a real desire to explore a country and understand both its development needs and also appreciate its uniqueness. This will take an open mind, initiative and a sense of curiosity about the world. The next tour will run from 12th January, 2013. To find out more about these GAP trips, and other Adventure Alternative tours, visit the website.