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TV’s Sian Lloyd: My Kilimanjaro killer!

Created on 18/11/2010 @ 12:30
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Altitude sickness, fatigue and a rugby legend’s musical wake up calls were just some of the varied challenges that TV’s Sian Lloyd (right) endured during her perilous charity trek up Kilimanjaro earlier this month.
And as ITV filmed every step of the climb she undertook with 15 ex-captains of Wales, the local resident exclusively shares her experiences with Mynewtown.

1. What made you decide to do it?

It is the toughest thing I have ever done - brutal and extreme. 
Whilst being photographed for a Mail on Sunday potato growing competition back in the spring, the Cardiff based photographer told me that his boss, Huw Evans, was leading a team of 15 ex-captains of the Welsh rugby team up Kilimanjaro.  Huw's wife Sue had been diagnosed with lung cancer and this was an attempt to raise a 1m pounds for lung cancer research at Velindre in Cardiff. Sue has never smoked in her life.  It seemed so unfair. Also, three years ago Jonathan (Ashman) proposed to me in Amboseli Game Park in Kenya, overlooking Kilimanjaro. It was magical, with the cloud lifting from the summit of Kili as he proposed.  I vowed there and then that one day I would come back and climb Africa's highest mountain.
2. What climbing experience did you have?
I regularly walk the mountains of Mid Wales with Cader Idris being a favourite.  Kili however takes it to a different level.  It's one of the ‘Seven Summits’, the highest peaks on the seven continents.  People regularly die on the mountain.  In fact, a woman was killed by a falling boulder the week before we went out.   That unnerved us a little bit.  Also, altitude sickness can kill you if you don't come down straight away.  It's no respecter of age, sex or fitness.  The trick is to acclimatise and go slowly, or pole-pole as they say in Swahili.  It took us four-and-a-half days to get up there and a day-and-a-half to come back down. I've done charity treks before, in the Himalayas and on Mont Blanc.  Last year I climbed three Italian volcanoes in five days - Vesuvius. Stromboli and Etna.

3. What training did you put in to it?
Because I signed up for the trek quite late in the day, there wasn't much time to get really fit.  I have a basic level of fitness in any case, what with the walking in Mid Wales and the swimming I do in London.  But I was hyper aware that the rugby boys would be incredibly fit.  Michael Owen for instance, was playing for Saracens till fairly recently.  And Mike Hall (Scrum V) is phenomenally fit, being an extreme skier and able climber.  They all remain in good shape.  Bleddyn Bowen, Bob Norster and Mark Taylor are very toned, as is Rob Jones.  And of course they are geared up to deal with the mental challenge.  Kili is as much about that as the stamina.
4. Was it daunting knowing that you would be climbing with rugby players?
I've never had as much interest in any of my treks as this one with the rugby lads.  My girlfriends were green with envy. It wasn't really daunting, because we all bonded magnificently and the quips and jokes flowed non-stop.  Because our luggage got lost in the system in Nairobi, we had an extra day at our hotel in Arusha before setting off for the mountain.  This meant getting to know each other even better.  The ‘hwyl’ was marvelous!
5. Did the men doubt that you could make the top?
I did the climb with my friend Novello.  At the gala dinner on our last night, the boys admitted that the smart money was on us two girlies NOT making it to the top!  How wrong were they???
6. How tough was it?
It was the toughest thing any of us had ever done, bar none.  They say Kili can destroy you, and now I know why.  The relentless slow slog to the very top lasts around seven hours.  It’s hell.  You do it in the dark, aiming to reach the top as the sun comes up over Africa.  It’s the steepest you have ever seen, and then some.....The combination of exertion and fatigue puts you into a zombie-like trance.  It’s freezing cold, at -24C, and your water supplies have frozen, meaning you are dehydrated within an hour or so of the final push to the summit.  As you zig-zag your way to the top, you pass people vomiting and others being carried down on a stretcher.  Rob Howley summed it up by saying he would rather play the All Blacks three times in the same day than climb Kilimanjaro again! We were all so out of it by the time we got to the top; we didn't even notice the sunrise!
7. Was there a point when you thought you wouldn't make it?
Throughout the period of that final seven-hour push, I questioned whether I would make it.  The line of head torches snaking up the slope was always there, making you feel that you would NEVER make it. It was too cold to eat any of your snacks and you had no water.  You were not allowed to stop much, for fear of freezing.  Close to the very top, my balance went, as did Michael Owen's, and at one point I nearly fell asleep.

8. Any quirky stories along the way?

Lots of wonderful rugby gossip.  But what's said on tour remains on tour!
Every morning, Garin Jenkins would wake us up with a song.  Even though Novello and I were exhausted and freezing, it always made us smile.  His repertoire included musicals and Welsh hymns.  He has a fine voice and used to sing for a male voice choir.  He also had a load of cold weather clothes given to him by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, including some serious mountain kit - everything bar the goat mascot! ITV Wales filmed our trek.  The higher up the mountain you get, the more you break wind and snore.  At nightime it was like a zoo.  The rugby lads even held a ‘name that tune’ competition.  In fact, the flatulence and snoring was so bad, the ITV crew had to get up early to record the voice-overs for the programme and make sure they were well away from our camp. 

9. Rumour has it that Chris Moyles and the Red Nose lot climbed it in ‘luxury’?
They had one man tents and a chemical loo each – bliss!  They also took 10 days to do it, whilst we took three-and-a-half days to get up to the top and a day-and-a-half to get down.  The longer you take, the more you acclimatise.  I was lucky because I didn't suffer from altitude sickness.  Others in our group did.  There was a lot of diarrhoea and vomiting.  Emyr Lewis really suffered, and in fact had to come down from the mountain half way through the final push to the summit.  Scott Quinnell had problems with his knees, so very wisely decided not to do the final stretch up the semi-frozen scree to the summit.
10. What's next for you?
Something that’s a lot lower than 20,000 feet!  As Warren Gatland bluntly said: " Never again!"
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