Melissa Kite

Real life | 12 November 2011

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What I know about mountaineering you could write on the front of a postage stamp. But I’m willing to bet Sir Edmund Hillary did not have bright pink, ergonomic insoles in his boots called ‘Superfeet’.

I have. I was sold them along with vast amounts of other gear I’m fairly sure must be extraneous by the people at the intrepid outdoorsy store where I went to kit myself out for Kilimanjaro.

I’m afraid of intrepid outdoorsy stores. They are full of long-haired, weather-beaten extreme para-snow boarders called Brad who look as if they would quite happily lop a finger off if it was frostbitten or just for a laugh to pass an idle hour if the après-ski wasn’t exciting enough. I am not intrepid. I don’t know why I agreed to trudge up Kilimanjaro, or Kili as everyone intrepid seems to call it.

By the time you read this I will hopefully be halfway up. I say hopefully, not entirely because I want to climb a mountain, or because I don’t want to embarrass myself too much now so many people have kindly sponsored me, or because I would like to raise a bit of money for the street children.

I have to admit it, my motives are not completely altruistic now. One of my main incentives is wanting to use all the gadgets I’ve been sold. It really isn’t my fault. I blame Brad. I had no idea that ‘mountaineering’ — I put that in inverted commas because I’m telling myself it’s really just a long walk, slightly uphill — involved quite so many bits and bobs.

It turns out that there are so many expensive, complicated gadgets you need to take with you to get up a mountain you can’t possibly get them all up the mountain, even if you buy the biggest rucksack, with all the latest gadgetry for carrying gadgets. This is the Catch-22 of mountaineering. If you buy all the kit you are apparently supposed to have to prevent yourself perishing, you cannot possibly walk anywhere without perishing.

Weirdly, absolutely everything cost £100. The specially designed, ‘hydration compatible’ day pack was £100, the collapsible walking poles were £100, the waterproof trousers were £100. Everything was £100: the ski glasses, the fleece, the trekking trousers, the trekking anorak, the Gortex mittens, the special pair of fleecy, thermal, waterproof slip-on shoes whose only but vital purpose appears to be to get you from your tent to your toilet arrangement in the night without having to put your boots on. I thought horse-riding kit was extravagant. This is ridiculous.

If my friend Ingrid hadn’t given me half the items she had left over from her Kili climb I would have been looking at a second mortgage.

‘Yes,’ said the effortlessly cool, long-haired Brad who spent hours assembling myriad bits of clutter which he heaped up on the cash desk, ‘it is an expensive hobby but the kit lasts a long time.’

I don’t want it to last a long time. I want it to last until Sunday. Because after that I never intend to walk anywhere, least of all uphill, again.

To make matters worse, all the kit is so complex I can’t work out how to use it. Even the backpack is defeating me. It is called a ‘Mutant 38’ and according to the instruction leaflet (a bag with an instruction leaflet makes me nervous just looking at it) apparently features a ‘removable foam framesheet/tri-fold bivy pad’.

If I knew what any of those words apart from ‘removable’ and ‘foam’ meant I would be in with a chance, but I don’t. There is also a ‘suspension system’. I’m hoping that’s the handle but I can’t be sure.

In addition, it has an ‘ice-pick holster’, ‘bungee tie-offs’ and a ‘gorilla grip reinforcement’. I swear, if it turns out that I need any of those things I am going to sue the person who persuaded me to go on this trip.

The backpack is not so advanced however that it is waterproof enough not to need a separate cover to make it totally waterproof. ‘So you’re not that smart, are you?’ I snarled at it as I was packing it. I couldn’t get inside it for a few hours, naturally, as the locking pull-strap wiped the floor with me.

But all that was as nothing compared to trying to work out how to attach my compacted sleeping bag bag to my rucksack. There are about 50 possible straps which might do the job and I have been wrestling with them all morning.

I can’t help thinking Sir Edmund probably didn’t have any of this clobber. Try as I might, I can’t imagine him putting a pair of pink insoles in his boots, or answering the call of nature in a pair of furry Gortex slippers.