Saturday, January 30

Cafe Latte?

Tanzanian law requires that you need an official "outfitter" (mountain guides, porters, etc) to get onto the mountain. Not only does it protect we the trekkers, but also, it gives jobs to Tanzanians. The porters carry the tents and cooking supplies (truly, the heaviest stuff). We carry everything we need between camps. Other than the food we carry during the day, the outfitter provides the food at camp. Typically this means high liquid and carbohydrate content meals. They try to offer fresh seasonal foods when possible (mango, banana, watermelon), and we always have our trusty freeze dried meals (just add water) if needed. Water is treated by boiling. I will also carry iodine and chlorine tablets... just in case. (a case of traveler's diarrhea could be expedition-ending).

In altitude, it is recommended that we drink 4-5 Liters of water per day, and eat lots of food for energy. However, a common symptom of altitude sickness is loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. ...and if you don't eat and drink, the altitude sickness gets worse, etc, etc...

Sadly, stimulants are not recommended at high altitude. So currently, I am in caffeine withdraw (better to deal with fatigue and headaches now than on the mountain). My beloved colleagues at work don't hesitate to tease and temp me with their aromatic mugs of caffeinated paradise... Yup, they're real special.

Friday, January 29

Unity in the 'Burgh

Today was our Pittsburgh Support Group Meeting. The Unity Walk consisted of a tour of our basic science PH Research facilities. Everyone loved to see the "laboratory side" of research.-- to meet the scientists who first develop new treatments-- to see the type of work we are supporting in this fundraiser.

Today celebrated the adventure...just see the picture above (Kilimanjaro a la cupcake).

Today, we raised over $3000 for Path to a Cure, which translates to 6K with the match. Woo-hoo!

Many hospital staff generously created extravagant gift baskets and donated them to our Path To a Cure Gift Basket Raffle. People volunteered to staff the Raffle table, selling tickets all week. The Support Group drew the winners today. I am humbled by the benevolence and enthusiasum of my friends and colleagues.

Here's a crazy group of loony-tunes

The Support Group had many questions about the climb. I also got a few critical suggestions that I plan to use on the mountain. One gentleman's wife with PH recently passed. He is donating her miniature (lightweight) pulse ox to our cause--so that at the summit we can document the severity of our oxygen desaturation (we anticipate our O2 sats to be in the low 80s, and heart rates to be 120-140). There was enough generosity and inspiration in that room to move a mountain... or at least, to climb one.

My 2 year-old son and his friends at daycare made these adorable African safari artwork for the Unity Walk! (the lion's mane are paper cutouts of all their little hands!)

Tuesday, January 26

Steepest Street

During my urban night hike a few days ago, we hit Canton Ave, a street with a 37 percent grade, it is debated as one of the steepest streets in the world, and it is paved with cobblestone. It is one of the Pittsburgh "Dirty Dozen," a bicycle race of the 12 steepest hills in Pittsburgh. There are neat Utube videos a cyclists attempting and just falling over. The photo on the left was in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in Jan 2005.
Here is a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about Kilimanjaro climb:

Wednesday, January 20

A Glimpse of the Journey

This video clip is a trailer for a documentary called Kilimanjaro: The Roof of Africa. It is very short, but gives you just a glimpse of some of the extraordinary sights, wilderness isolation, and varying terrains that we will encounter on the mountain.

"While seeking the freedom of the hills, we come face to face with ourselves." (Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills)

Tuesday, January 19

Jack Frost

Fog this past week with colder temperatures at night have dipped the entire Minnesota landscape in frost. It is incredibly beautiful, and reminds me that the simple beauty surrounding us can be our sustainer through thick and thin. I took this picture on the way to work this morning. Savoring - the active process of acknowledging and relishing whatever moments of beauty and joy come our way - is one way to achieve inner peace.

Monday, January 18

Road Closed

During a big snow and ice storm 2 weeks ago, I went with the local Venture Outdoors club on a 7 mile hike up some ridiculously steep Pittsburgh hills. This hill is Rialto Street, one of the steepest in the 'Burgh. Despite doing a great job treating most hills, the city actually closed this street... but that didn't stop these crazy hikers...

Let's Talk Gear

Some people have asked me, "What kind of gear do you need?" My favorite purchase, clearly, is the boots. (In the picture, my Asolo boots are in the front, and Dr. Benza's are the solid leather boots).

I had to research and purchase a variety of things. Here are some examples: sleeping bag that can keep me warm (and alive) in below 0 degrees F, trekking poles, a pack and hydration system (so you can constantly sip water), water purifier system, many pairs of smartwool socks and liners, a breathable windproof waterproof hard shell jacket with performance fleece insulating layers, hats, a balaclava (picture: "ski mask"), hiking pants (superduper stretchy for climbing), waterproof cold weather pants (also stretchy), gaiters (not the lizard, picture: 1980's leg warmers that are waterproof to keep snow and rocks out of your boots), goggles, supergood gloves with liners, insect repellent with DEET (say no to malaria), blister kits, medical kits, rope, environmentally safe toiletries, spf 45 sunblock (not much air to shield you from equatorial sunrays), and much much more.

Layering. I now am the proud owner of multiple layers of performance long underwear (wicks moisture away from your skin). Apparently, "cotton kills." Cotton absorbs moisture and holds on to it (think: bathtowel). I wore a cotton sweater on one 6 hour hike; it was soaked and I was really cold. ...Lesson learned. Since we will hike from jungle to artic, and it can be 15 degrees at night yet 60 in the day, we must use layers to temperature control ourselves. Goal is: stay dry.

This weekend I researched some geeksquad-headlamp websites before buying my own. I'm pretty excited about it and will test it out during my 7mile night hike on Thursday.

Tomorrow..... well tomorrow is the official Vaccine-day. There are many infectious risks in Tanzania... Call me pincushion.

Saturday, January 16

Everything has a purpose

About a year and a half ago at the end of a clinic visit a patient of mine - seems almost odd to say that; she and her husband seem like friends, we have walked this PAH path together for so long - gave me an unusual gift. At first sight this seemed to be a good sized rock with a cut and polished face, like an agate. It turns out that this rather heavy object is in fact Coprolite, or fossilized dinosaur dung. I hoped this was not a comment on my clinical acumen! Knowing the good and jovial nature of these refreshing folks, I thanked them for this rare object and put it in my office, where it has sat ever since. Now I have found its true purpose! Hiking up and down the 21 stories of the Gonda building for an hour after work last night, I carried a water bottle in one hand and my precious dung in the other. It made quite an effective hand weight. After carrying it up and down the stairs, I felt somewhat like the object in hand, looked somewhat like the object in hand, and was tempted to utter a four letter description derived from the object in hand, but did not - Like Jimmy Carter, I have only sinned in my heart. The picture at right shows the aftermath of repetitive dung carrying. Little did you know, my jokester friends, that your dinosaur dung would help to propel me up Kilimanjaro and further the fight to cure PAH!

Thursday, January 14

Route to the Top of a Continent

The route we chose is somewhat of a "road less traveled." It is not commonly traveled and takes a longer to reach the summit. The popular routes are 3-4 days, and 60% of people fail to reach the summit, largely due to altitude sickness. The Shira route, although more challenging, will afford us better altitude acclimatisation and therefore better odds at reaching the summit.

First we fly from the states to Amsterdam, and from there to Tanzania--24hours of great flight service... We have one day to explore the countryside before beginning our big adventure.

Approaching the mountain from the West, we start our journey by 4x4 through the jungle to reach the Shira Plateau where our trek begins. For 6 days we will hike and scramble, acclimating all the while. Essentially, we take "2 steps forward, one step back"--ascending higher during the day, then descending somewhat to camp at night, which is crucial for our bodies to adjust to the altitude. As we go higher, the temperature becomes arctic, and oxygen becomes more scarce.

On the seventh day, we hike and climb on very rugged terrain for 15 hours to reach the summit!

It then takes 2 days to get off the mountain, both due to shorter exit route and lack of need to adjust to altitude during the descent.
When we are off the mountain, i imagine we will take that desperately needed shower, eat, and catch our zzz's on a bed!

Wednesday, January 13

Training with my son Evan, the taskmaster

As I train for this climb, more so than my last, I continue to recognize how little the general public knows about this deadly disease. This one fact continues to fuel my enthusiasm to make this endevour a success. I truly appreciate all of those who have contributed thus far to our efforts. I hope that many more of our collegues and friends, as well as all those who stumble accross this site, will open up their hearts and wallets to help us combat this disease.

Many people ask me why I climb. My answer is simply, because I can. I know I can push my body and it will respond. This is not a luxury our patients have, so I am determined to climb for them. As we ascend this incredible mountain we will bring with us the determination, fortitude and plight of the thousands of patients with PH with us. We will make sure their call is heard.

Sunday, January 10

Quiet places to roam

Cross-country skiing in Quarry Hill Park was a lovely way to get in a little more exercise this weekend as we approach 6 weeks to Kilimanjaro. Despite cold weather, there is nothing like a clear blue sky and a well groomed trail to make a winter day refreshingly beautiful and relaxing. May all of you find places of peace, beauty and serenity this week. Nurture for the spirit!

Gaining Momentum

It is exhilarating, to see so many people come together for a common cause. With all the support of friends, colleagues, and patients, we are really beginning to gain momentum in this effort. Our Pittsburgh PH Support Group is hosting a Unity Walk on Jan 29. Many are donating gift baskets to raffle prior to the event. Even my son's daycare offered to have the kids make African safari artwork to decorate the Unity walk location! The daycare also is making cookbooks to sell as a fundraiser. Colleagues are having "Jeans and Purple Shirt Day" to raise money, and some are even considering an informal "Mini-Kilimanjaro contest" involving an attempt up the 18 floors at our hospital! One friend and colleague
made a Kilimanjaro Facebook acct to keep everyone participating in the events up-to-date.
Dr. Benza and I were even interviewed by a few local newspapers. Here's one article:

I am humbled by the outpouring of excitement and support. It is both staggering and inspiring--to see so many people reach out with their precious time and generous effort, to rally around the common cause of Path To A Cure. It makes my eyes leak... I am so fortunate to be witness to the inherent good being exhibited.

Wednesday, January 6

That Slushy Stuff

Chestnuts roasting? Yule log? Not I this Christmas. I went to NYC to visit my sister. So after a day of exploring the typical Manhattan tourist sites, I went to Pound Ridge Reservation in NY (with less than 2 months left, I can't miss a single weekend of hiking...even over the holidays).

When the weatherman uses the phrase "wintry mix," I usually turn into a pumpkin and proclaim to not know how to drive. Now I find myself tromping through the slushy stuff for hours on end. It was a good test of the gear... It rained and was 39 degrees at Pound Ridge, but I stayed dry. It was also a good mini-test of mental fortitude. The rain essentially disintegrated the paper map. When I got lost, I had the mental image of the map etched in my head, along with some practice with a compass, to get me back on track. I guess I surprised myself. Ultimately, trusting your logic, intuition, and your fellow hikers/climbers are essential to success.

Isn't that what our patients do? They trust us to hold the ropes, and we work together in partnership with them to get to our destination.

Friday, January 1

New Year Reflections

This week the full moon lit up my bedroom at 3:45 am as I restlessly lay awake contemplating the past year, Kilimanjaro and the year ahead. I looked at the moon through my little telescope and decided to see if I could take a decent picture of it. This involved finding my camera, trying to line up the lens with the telescope, getting the camera settings right and a bit of fiddling around. Ultimately I produced a decent image and went back to my musings.
It is the time of year for reflections and resolutions. I thought of the power of the individual to effect change, and about a major donation to our Kilimanjaro PHA fundraiser by the brother of a very special person with PAH. What a powerful expression of love! Sometimes when I become concerned about the overall direction of our world, all it takes is an individual act of love, kindness or generosity to remind me of the beauty and strength of the human spirit. Kindness and generosity are contagious. Remember Pass It Forward ? That is the spirit that will carry us through the next decade better than the last. Be kind. Be tolerant. Respect differences. Make a difference. Make your corner of the world a better place, with big or small everyday acts of kindness toward those around you. Blessings be upon you and those around you for the year ahead.