It seems that more and more of Cayman’s residents are taking on challenging tasks to raise awareness and money for local charities.
From multi-marathoner Derek Haines to endurance athlete Kerri Kanuga, there are those who are pushing themselves to the limits for a cause.
One of the latest members to join the club is Martyn Bould, who climbed Mt. Kiliminjaro in August, 2019.
This once-in-a-lifetime experience was the culmination of a months-long journey of preparation, one which Bould chose to dedicate to the Cayman Islands Red Cross and its disaster preparedness and response programme.
The Red Cross chatted with Bould after his adventure to see how he had fared and what he took away from the experience.
Mt. Kilimanjaro was the highest peak you’ve climbed so far. What was the preparation for that like?
My wife Vivian and I had previously climbed Himalayan mountain peaks in Bhutan, and Mt. Sopris in Colorado, but this was indeed the tallest peak I’ve attempted – 19,341 feet. Since it is not a technical climb, it became apparent that the major challenge would be breathing at such a high altitude, so the key to a successful climb was to train myself to breathe properly.
I was fortunate enough to undergo a special programme called Oxygen Advantage, which was based on Buteyko’s method and developed further by Patrick McKeown. This training programme [covers] a lot more than just ‘deep yoga breath’; rather, it is a targeted method for those living at sea level to enhance their performance and themselves to breathing at high altitudes from before they set foot on the mountain.
In the four-and-a-half months of training prior to the climb, I saw my body levels oxygen test go from 20 – the normal number for someone living at sea level – to 45, and my ability to hold my breath went from 20 paces to 90 paces.
This made a tremendous difference throughout the climb. When you reach certain altitudes, you run the risk of getting altitude sickness, which can manifest in nausea, loss of appetite, terrible headache, and a drop in body oxygen. During the climb, our guides measured our pulse and oxygen level twice a day. If our stats dropped below a certain level, we had to go back to base camp.
At 73 years old, in a climbing group of mostly 25-40-year-olds, I was the only person who didn’t need to take altitude sickness medication. I made sure to drink at least four litres of water a day, as advised by our guides, and I was fine.
What are some other steps you took to ensure your journey was a safe and successful one?
Having the right equipment was key. When I signed up for the climb, the organising company sent us a list of recommended equipment that assisted [with] the climb tremendously: a mattress that you can blow up using its own little bag; self-wicking clothing to keep you warm and dry; a water bottle that doesn’t freeze when turned upside down, to name a few. The bags couldn’t weigh more than 20 kilograms and every item had to be an essential one. Back in London, before the flight to Tanzania, we must have packed and repacked half a dozen times. Everything was packed in plastic and was clearly marked. I had a mental list of what items were in each bag and where exactly in the bag they were placed. This proved to be invaluable, particularly late at night, after a long day of climbing, when you’re in a dark tent and searching for an item of clothing with a flashlight. This system was also helpful throughout the day, with the changes in temperature or the sun, which forced you to quickly store away your gloves or reach for a wide-brimmed hat.
Tell us some more about the experience.
We had a diverse group of 13 climbers from Scotland, Ireland, India, Canada, the United States and me from the Cayman Islands. The trek takes 10 days: eight days to climb up to the summit and two for the descent. The climb, which includes three volcanic peaks, passes through five distinct environmental regions: the cultivated zone, the rainforest, the heather/moorland zone, the alpine desert, and the arctic zone. We were accompanied by six guides, two fantastic cooks and 38 porters, which together made our camp – complete with a proper mess hall – at each stop. They tested our oxygen levels daily and encouraged us to pull through when things got rough. Each of them was from the Chagga tribe, which inhabits the land at the base of Kilimanjaro, and they spoke Chagga, Swahili and some English.
Our days would begin at around 5:30am with breakfast, and we were climbing by 7. We’d retire for bed every night by 8pm in our mummy-style sleeping bags, which kept us warm but which I also found a bit claustrophobic.
The climb to the summit began on the sixth day … or, should I say, night. Dinner was, as usual, at 5:30pm and we were in bed by 7. However, on this night, we were awoken at 10:30pm, and had our ‘breakfast’ at 11pm. We all looked like Pillsbury Doughboys, due to the huge amount of clothes we were wearing. Starting uphill out of base camp, we could see people in front and behind wearing headlamps, looking like a string of fairy lights at Christmas. It was bitterly cold and difficult to move [thanks to the number] of layers we were wearing, and we soon had to stop to strip some of them off.
As we zigzagged up the mountain, our eight guides encouraged us to keep climbing, and on each turn, the wind was biting cold and almost threatened to blow us off the face of the mountain. During the seven-and-a-half-hour climb to the summit, there were many times when I felt like giving up. It was a very hard climb over large rocks and slippery scree. What helped to keep me going was slow, deep breathing; all my training using the principles of the Oxygen Advantage programme; my commitment to raising funds for the Cayman Islands Red Cross; and Vivian’s welcome home party on Monday. How would the latter two events look if I didn’t make it to the top? When we finally did make it to the peak, we took celebratory photos and immediately turned around to start the descent. This was almost more difficult than the ascent, as the sandy scree and dust made it very easy to lose your balance. Two days of climbing downhill later, we made it back to base camp and to the true luxury of a hot shower and sleep in a real bed.
You chose to dedicate your climb to Kilimanjaro’s peak to the Cayman Islands Red Cross. What inspired you to launch the Climb for Red Campaign?
I knew I wanted to dedicate my climb to a good cause because otherwise it would have felt very selfish of me [to climb just for myself]. What made me focus on the Red Cross was seeing firsthand the Red Cross’s work on the ground following Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands. There was just so much destruction: people’s homes, belongings and entire lives were thrown everywhere. There was no water, electricity, or IT; mosquitoes were everywhere … it was all very traumatic.
My personal exposure to the conditions and challenges following a hurricane, and seeing the work on the ground that the Red Cross does led me to want to support it. Locally, the CIRC does a lot of work; not just in disaster relief following a hurricane, but also in building resilient communities and empowering families and individuals by emphasising the importance of hurricane preparedness.
The Climb for Red Campaign set out to raise awareness about the importance of preparedness by drawing parallels to my personal journey of climbing to the peak of the mountain. Every year before hurricane season begins, the CIRC sets out to prepare the community and households for a hurricane by advising them to stock up on emergency items and equipment; have an organised storage system to be able to easily access these supplies; make a family emergency plan; and more. I used the same way of thinking to approach this climbing challenge. I took the time to assess the challenges that could arise, and prepared accordingly ahead of time, mentally, physically, and in terms of supplies. This not only gave me the tools I needed to succeed, but also the confidence in knowing that I would.
You recently spoke to about 30 grade 8 students about your mountain climbing experience. What message or lessons would you like them to take away from your journey?
Sometimes we are faced with challenges that we either rush into without preparation, or we shy away from because they seem too complicated. Success boils down to understanding the project you’re about to take on; research it and prepare for it. Be responsible for your actions and for planning your way to success. It is just like climbing Mt. Kilimajaro: it is not without its risks. Approximately 25,000 climbers attempt it each year, and unfortunately 10 climbers die climbing up the mountain. So, being responsible, meticulous and prepared could be a matter of life or death – whether on the mountain peaks or during a hurricane.
| Martyn Bould raised $10,000 for the Cayman Islands Red Cross thanks to his Climb for Red Campaign. He is now in the process of deciding on his next challenge.