Friday, 26 December 2008

Antibiotics and inhalers for Christmas...

So Ross seemed to get over his vomiting bug only to come down with a chesty cough, which made him vomit... We saw a doctor on 23rd and got some antibiotics to combat a bacterial infection but he was not in great form and still was not feeding very well.

On Christmas morning he was really chesty, with laboured breathing, really shallow and wheezy. We called NHS 24 and got sent straight to the A&E department of the local hospital. There the doctor siad it's likely a viral infection (which antibiotics dont work on) and gave him some inhaler which eased his breathing straight away. He suggested keeping him in for monitoring but we've had our fill of hospital wards this year and agreed that we could monitor him just as well at home.

OnBoxing Day morning he seems a bit better although he did vomit up all his medication. We've been giving him the inhaler regularly and following 2 massive poos (last one was 6 days ago...) he seems much better this afternoon.

Fin, on the other hand, has had a fantastic Christmas!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Merry Christmas!!!

Move went well, although the first night in or new house saw both boys very sick!
Fin was up vomiting all night but seemed to get over it with the help of lots of cartoons on Saturday morning. Ross on the other hand is into his 4th day of sickness but seems to be a bit better today. He's been not keeping much down and we got the doctor to check him out yesterday in case he was getting dehydrated. Our biggest concern has been getting is medication to stay down long enough to be absorbed.
Anyway, he's hopefully over the worst and we can now focus on full-scale Christmas celebrations! Click below to see our Christmas routine featuring Fin and Ross...

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Back in UK

Eurostar back to UK this afternoon. Only planning on speaking English for the coming weeks (years). Kids all over the place with different beds / houses / countries so sleeping a bit of a premium this week. Training non existent.

Not sure what Rich is on about below...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Karl the illiterate...

His hair is obviously using his brain to fuel its growth. I didn't know there was a comedian in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The dangers of relying on the spill chicken...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Rich the comedian...

I neglect to get a hair cut for a few weeks and he starts on me...he's been trying to perfect his Red Hot Chilli Peppers look for years!!!

The real reason Karl is moving back...

It is great that Karl is moving back to the UK - it is all very well speaking on the phone and offering lots of support, but with him being only a few hours away, we can see them more and help lots more. Also makes the sneaky weekends away to the hills less of an expedition to organise. I have picked out a route on Stob Dearg, Curved Ridge (see below), which will give us both a good work out. I did my back in (again) a few weeks ago and consequently the running has dropped right off. Bad news all round.

It is great news that we know Ross can see - Kirsty reckoned it was obvious when she went out at the end of November, but it is fantastic to have it confirmed. Another small step away from the abyss. Anyway, back to the real reason Karl is returning to the UK. Despite his best efforts, and those of Clair, he has not developed his French enough to be able to get a barber to understand him...

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Ross can see!!!

We took Ross to see the eye specialist today, and he is very sure that Ross can see! He'll need glasses but it's great to know that he can see us - great news for Christmas...

Friday, 12 December 2008

End of the expat era...

So the moving men arrive on Monday and by the end of next week we'll be surrounded by boxes in our temporary house in near London.

We decided to move back to UK after giving it a go here in France, but given everything that's going on with Ross, we decided several weeks ago that we need to be back in UK in order to make everything just a wee bit easier, to be a bit closer to friends and family, to ensure Ross gets everything he needs, and to make sure we get the help required to keep us sane.

My employers Unilever have been fantastic; they have been very sensitive to our personal situation, and have gone beyond the normal expectations to make our move back as easy as possible. I've worked for them for over 12 years and how they have managed our changing circumstance confirms that they are without a doubt the best company in the world to work for.

Rich and I have also planned some training for Mont Blanc. At the end of January he plans on getting me up this - Buachaille Etive Mor at the top of Glencoe in Scotland. I think some jogging either side of Christmas dinner may be required.

Ross has been pretty content when awake the past week or so - we're hoping it may be a turning point in that he may be becoming a bit less agitated. He has also slept until 5am a few nights recently - a vast improvement on 3am...

We're off to see a specialist eye doctor tomorrow - apparently he'll be able to tell us if Ross is seeing anything or not so we're keeping our fingers crossed for some good news. Will let you know.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Fancy dress parties and fundraising...

So this was something quite normal, and we were doing it! Kids fancy dress party for Halloween, and we all managed to go, and stay for the duration!

Fin was a spider, and Ross was a pumpkin, obviously. At least until his laxative kicked in, after which he had to get changed into a monkey outfit...
Good time had by all, and shows us that it can be done. Next stop Christmas parties...

By the way, the fund-raising for NSE continues! My cousin Julie's husband Rory and Dave, a good friend from when I worked in Bedford, have both signed-up to run the London Marathon in April 2009 in order to raise money for the NSE. Plus, a group of slightly crazy kite-surfers, including my brother William, are planning a sponsored crossing of the Irish Sea in order to raise money for the NSE, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the RNLI, all fantastic charities.
The money raised for NSE will be used to fund research into epilepsy and, you never know, may lead to a breakthrough which will help Ross. The link to Dave's fundraising webpage is and I know the other 2 are being finalised, so I'll send them out as soon as they're ready.
An amazing effort from all these guys and I look forward to Ross thanking each of them personally when they finish.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Great to see Rich back on the Blog. I feel like I have completely monopolised it since Ross was born, but it was set-up to record our journey from deciding to climb Mont Blanc up until when we actually do it, and what’s happened over the past few months is now completely intertwined with that. As Rich mentioned the coming months will be tough, especially for Rich and Kirsty with the 10th anniversary of Archie’s death. Christmas will be very different for us this year; I think we’ll be comparing it to what it could have been, but at the same time we know we have to make the most of it.

We had another consultation with the doctors in Necker Children’s Hospital yesterday. For some reason it seemed to be more positive than the previous ones, but I think that was more to do with having a different, more enthusiastic and optimistic doctor, rather than due to any breakthrough with understanding Ross’s condition, as overall Ross’s condition in much the same as it has been for the past few months. I must admit though, despite the fact my French is pretty good now, I really struggled to understand a lot of things the doctor was saying – I think it’s just that I don’t have the energy available…

The doctor was very pleased to see that Ross has now been seizure free since he started the steroids back at the beginning of July. The team there honestly were not expecting them to control the seizures at all. Anyway, they are controlling them for now and we are extremely thankful for that. Last week’s EEG results show that his brain activity is still completely erratic, although again we are pleased to see that it has not gotten any worse.
We still don’t think Ross can see anything (although we need to see a specialist opthalmist for confirmation), but we do find that sometimes we can soothe him now so hopefully that means he is aware of us on some level. But he is having a terrible time with lots of wind after his bottles and constipation due to the cocktail of drugs he has to have (cue even more drugs to counteract the effects of other drugs!!!). This results in him being very agitated a lot of the time he is awake and us getting not a lot of sleep. I know all babies wake at night a lot of the time, but there’s normally an end in sight…

So all in all, still very tough, tiring and frustrating. Fin is our little angel though and is keeping us going.

Quick update on the training; I have been for 2 runs in the past fortnight, including one where I got lost in a hilly forest in the Black Forest during a work trip. Definitely not enough to get me fit enough to climb Mont Blanc, but there’s plenty of time, isn’t there? Plus there’s the Wii… I see Rich think’s he’s Rocky; maybe we’ll get the gloves on some night and see who’s left standing. Charity boxing anyone?

By the way, assuming you’re starting to think about Christmas already, why not buy your Christmas cards and help a great cause at the same time by clicking on this link NSE Christmas Cards.

And finally, many of you will know that I’m a bit of a rugby fan, and as such I was touched by the story of Daniel James, especially when I read Brian Moore’s article which he wrote for the Telegraph; to read the article, and come to your own conclusions on it, click on this link Telegraph.

Friday, 24 October 2008

'Tis the season...almost

The nights are drawing in, the glass is falling and there's a storm a-brewing. Winter is on its way and with it (hopefully) snow, ice, coldness and general brrrrr. Let's hope for a good season so I can give Karl another taste of winter climbing, complete with hot aches, chapped lips and wind burn. Lovely.

There is another feeling that this time of year brings - particularly when the clocks go back. My body is conditioned to associate this change in season with Archie's death. He died on the 14th of the November 1998, a day that also coincided with a light dusting of snow. Hence I can get a bit miserable at this time of year - it is not Seasonal Affective Disorder, but is nonetheless a bit sad. 

This time round of course it will be 10 years, which is a long time and feels like it should be some sort of milestone. It doesn't stop hurting, but luckily for us, the time has been filled with plenty of moments of joy, courtesy of Kirsty, the children, family and friends which combine to make the periods of hurt less frequent. Without this, time would indeed play heavily on me.

We have been to see Karl and Clair, Ross and Fin in Paris a few times, Kirsty and Maddy have another "girl's only" trip booked in November and we hope to see them this side of the water before Xmas. The house next door to ours was up for sale a while ago but I couldn't convince them to buy it - something about Nottingham's reputation for gun crime, I think...either that or Karl doesn't want to share the Wii Fit. I feel like I'm in Rocky IV - he's got all the technology of Ivan Drago, while I am out running up and down hills in the cold. I seem to remember Rocky gave Drago a good shoeing...

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

No convulsions, but no development either...

So here we are mid October and Ross is already 5 months old. Thanks to the combination of anti-epilepsy drugs and steroids he's getting every day, he has now not had a seizure for 3 and a half months which is great, but as he gets older and bigger it's becoming more and more obvious that he's not really developing mentally.
His eye patterns are random and he doesn't respond to us, which is extremely hard, he has no sleep pattern, his feeding is a bit erratic and he now pretty well hates getting his many syringe-fulls of medicine (3 times a day...)

Summer being finished he picked up another cough - cue another rushed trip to see the doctor, antibiotics etc. I wonder how many times we'll have to do that this winter? Me being back to work makes it even more difficult, especially for my wife, but it at least gives us some sort of normal weekly pattern.
And whilst the medical care Ross has received in hospital in France has been great, we now see a huge gap between the help we know we'd get in UK and what's available in France. You don't see many disabled kids around where we live for some reason...

We've a few hospital trips coming up, next week for another EEG to monitor Ross's electrical brain activity, and one the following week with his doctor at Necker. Hoping for some (any) good news!

We have had some ups too, Fin singing for Ross (see video above), Fin's 3rd birthday party was great, and then we had one night off when we left my parents with the boys and a mountain of drugs for Ross, and we headed to London on the Eurostar for the National Society for Epilepsy annual fundraising ball. We were joined by some of our great friends in London and whilst parts of the evening we found emotional and difficult, it was great to see everyone, and to do our bit (including some ridiculous bidding in the auction) towards the NSE raising £75k that night. Thanks Max Clifford for your support and encouragement!
Rich has been frantically jogging/cycling apparently and we're looking at options to get some mountain training in over the winter. Easier said than done. At least I'll keep up those late night training sessions on our new Wii Fit...that's bound get me up Mont Blanc!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

"What do you mean you're going back to work Dad?"

1st September saw me back to work and Fin starting nursery school (30 x 3 year olds, one teacher, all in French...) all in one week. Quite a shock to the system and a change from the little routine we'd got ourselves into, but we need to have some sort of normality in our lives and that means work and school.

Ross continues to grow - he's pretty much filling 3-6 month clothes now - but his movements are still random and his eyes don't fix on us at all. He seems to like the baby massage which we were shown how to do by a friend in NI, and he loves his baths where he just chills out. We need to find more stuff he likes...

Amazing sums of money being donated on where over £8200 (plus £1500 Gift Aid) has been raised to the National Society for Epilepsy on top of the £5150 raised for CLIC Sargent. I hate to single out anyone who has sponsored us, but we really must say a huge thank you to Simon, Emma, Darcey and Dillon for their very kind gesture of asking guests at Dillon's Christening to make a donation of sponsorship rather than buying presents - over £600 raised! Also to Clair's Auntie Anna who raised money by hosting a Virgin Vie party (whatever that is - I'm sure there was wine involved...). Thanks also to Simon N and Joao C for your very generous sponsorship.

Trying to stay optimistic - those of you that are praying for Ross, please keep doing so.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Summer tour of wet UK (and first chest infection scare...)

At the beginning of August we met Rich and his family when they came to stay around Paris. It was great to see them and we're all looking forward to actually doing the trip we planned together for this year at some stage next summer.
Ross then spent the past 2 weeks with us staying with our families in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It did stop raining a few times...

During this time our families got to spend some quality time with Ross, but going hand in hand with being in contact with lots of people goes the increased risk of infection due to Ross's immune system being reduced due to the steroid treatment. As a result we did spend some time with doctors and in hospital, but that was a 'blip' on an otherwise enjoyable trip, including one sunny day on Portsteward Strand beach!
My fitness training has been a bit erratic but having seen the total amount on increase to over £13,000 including Gift Aid I'm determined that Rich and I will climb Mont Blanc during summer 2009.

The total has been increased dramatically thanks to £1100 raised by my Auntie Kathleen from her 60th birthday donations and £325 raised by my future sister in law Leanne and her friend Julie from their own half-marathon efforts. A huge thank you to them!!!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Welcome to Holland

Ross will be 3 months old this week, 3 months in which so much has happened, and yet in Ross's little world so little is happening. The combination of anti-epileptic drugs and steroids seem to still be keeping his convulsions under control which is great, but at the same time it's becoming more obvious that he is not developing mentally.

We went for another EEG scan of his brain activity last week and as soon as we saw the patterns on the screen we knew his brain activity was not improving. The doctors confirmed this and acually suprised us somewhat by talking more about how to ensure Ross's limbs don't cease up etc as they now don't expect him to develop mentally. This is obviously not what we were wanting to hear, but it's amazing to think that we've got to the stage now that we can hear such terrible news and remain calm...

Our friends and family are being incredibly supportive, but at the same time are struggling to understand how we feel. We find that these words written in 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley based on her own experiences sum it all up very well.


I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Little progress...

The past 2 weeks have passed in a bit of a blur. We've been giving Ross his drugs, feeding him and keeping him comfortable. Still no more convulsions, which is great, but during our last hospital appointment the doctors were concerned to see Ross's movements when he was awake. They confirmed what we had suspected following his last EEG, that his brain activity is not normal and that his brain is not developing.

When he is asleep you could swear there is nothing wrong with him, but awake it's obvious that something is wrong. We still have no confirmed diagnosis beyond a rare type of epilepsy and it may be that we never get a diagnosis.

It's been difficult, especially as Ross isn't responding to anything he sees and so is not responding to us. Fin continues to be great and is a very doting big brother, and we're trying to have as normal a summer as possible.

We should have been heading down to Chamonix tomorrow for our family holiday and for Rich and I to climb Mont Blanc, but obviously that has all changed. Rich and his family will be coming to Paris for a few days at the end of July and then, thanks to the doctors giving us an ok for Ross to travel, we're taking him to visit our families in UK.

We continue to hope to see some positive progress...

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

More drugs, but less convulsions...

So 2 weeks today since we got to bring Ross home which means he's been getting steroids, on top of the anti epileptic drugs, plus lots of vitamins and ant-acid to counteract some of the side effects, for 14 days now. 14 days of 9 different drugs, 3 times a day.

The good news is that he seems to be responding to something; following a few days of the steroid treatment we noticed that the number of convulsions, which had been sitting about 10-15 per day reduced to almost zero. In addition his general condition seemed to improve; his skin which had been bad with eczema cleared up and he become more like a normal baby.
The doctors had warned us that the steroids would likely make Ross hungry, that he would put on weight and that he would become agitated, especially in the second week of treatment. As a result we have been very confused about what could still be movements linked to seizures still happening in Ross's brain and what is just normal reaction to the steroids. The main thing we've been waiting on this week was another EEG yesterday; it showed that Ross's brain activity was still very abnormal, but that it was 'less bad' than the previous EEGs. Good news? Who knows...we really seem to be in a wait-and-see situation with respect to Ross's future development. Another appointment in Necker next week so maybe we'll know more after that? In the meantime it's great that Ross is settled and that as he's at home we get to spend some time with Fin. I'm off to Great Ormond Street on Friday to meet the best expert there to see if they can help. Unilever have also kindly agreed to let me have some leave for July and August so I'll use that time to try to understand Ross's condition better and we'll try to get into some sort of routine that means that we can manage as a family once I do go back to work come September.

The response to the fund-raising has been amazing; almost £5000 including gift aid raised in the past 5 weeks for the National Society for Epilepsy. Plus I know of several events being organised to raise more. Thank you, thank you, thank you...

By the way, after 7 weeks without any training, I've managed a few 15 minute jogs in the last few days; it's amazing how quickly your fitness disappears (might be something to do with the endless supply of chocolate being delivered by concerned relatives...)

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Home at last!

After 2 further few weeks of trying different anti-epilepsy drugs at different dosages, Ross's convulsions continue and a further EEG test this week showed that his brain activity is still abnormal. As a result the doctors do not seem very optimistic about being able to eliminate Ross's convulsions, or his chances of developing normally. As a further attempt to treat Ross they proposed to try a course of steroids on top of the anti-epilepsy drugs, which will be hard on Ross's body, but given there is a chance it may help we have to try it. This was obviously not what we wanted to hear, but the good news is that we can manage this treatment from home, returning Ross to the hospital a few times for monitoring, so on the evening of Wednesday 18th June we brought Ross home. Fin was over the moon...
Since Wednesday we have been giving Ross his 9 different medications 3 times a day and looking after him as best we can. We're still hoping for positive news when Ross has his next EEG in 2 weeks time.

The response so far to our fundraising for the National Society for Epilepsy has been staggering and quite overwhelming; including Gift Aid we already have over £4000 for the NSE (on top of the almost £5000 for CLIC Sargent); thank you very much to those of you who have donated via our Archies Mountain website. I also cannot thank enough those of you who have sent us emails or text messages of support - these mean so much to Clair and I.
For now, now that we have Ross back home, we will concentrate on trying to get some normality back into our lives.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008


11th May 2008 - Ross David Donnan born weighing 8lbs. All well.

13th May 2008 - Ross was transferred to intensive care in a specialist neo-natal hospital after suffering convulsions. His brain activity was found to be irregular and he was given convulsion controlling drugs. These knocked him out for most of a week but unfortunately when the level of drugs in his system reduced the convulsions returned. An MRI scan showed no brain damage (initial hypothesis) but repeated EEGs showed continuing abnormal brain activity so doctors started to suspect a metabolic disorder.

26th May 2008 - Ross was transferred to the neurological ward in Necker Hospital for Sick Children in Paris where different convulsion controlling drugs and vitamins treatments were started. A rare type of epilepsy is suspected but numerous tests and drug trials are required to confirm which type. After peaking between 80-100 convulsions per day, the drugs at least started to reduce the number of convulsions. 3rd June 2008 - Ross is still in hospital and is having 5-15 convulsions per day, although in between these he at least now sleeps, feeds and poos like a normal newborn. There is still no diagnosis beyond a rare form of epilepsy, so we still have no idea when we'll get Ross home or what his development will be like.

I have agreed with Rich to delay our Mont Blanc attempt until Summer 2009 and to raise some sponsorship for The National Society for Epilepsy. Visit our website and follow the links to donate. Please give generously, and also feel free direct any family, friends and colleagues who you think would be willing to sponsor us to our website.
Thank you very much to everyone who has sent us messages of support - they really do keep us going.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Thankfully one of us knows what we're doing...

As you can see below, Rich is an old hand at all this stuff and is taking everything into consideration. Good job as I'm not sure my Duke of Edinburgh award expeditions plus the trips we did in Scotland and Wales really qualify me fully for this, but I trust Rich completely to get both of us up and down safely.

As you can see in Rich's note below, even experienced people can perish on Mont Blanc, so we really will trying to complete this successfully whilst taking the least amount of risks possible.
- Objective number one is to get back down the hill safely
- Objective number two is to get to the summit

Jogging has been going ok, although I must admit it can be a bit dull - where's that rush of endorphines everyone talks about? I did a good run a few weeks ago in Edinburgh with my mates Bungee (his wedding day!) and Kit (ex military); that little jaunt up and around Arthur's Seat was a bit faster, steeper and longer than my normal runs, but it was good to know that I could keep up with these two. I plan to start doing longer runs from now on, but then again, baby is due to arrive today (no movement yet...) so I am concerned about being able to keep running whilst still working full time and on little sleep - I'll find a way.

Money is coming in steadily - we're nearing on £3500 already and I've still to put the word out in Northern Ireland - that's the next job...

Route selection...

With just over two months to go until we set off to the Alps, most of the technical training done (we will do some glacier travel work when we get there) and the focus shifting to stamina in the training, it is time to have a proper look at our acclimatisation schedule and route selection.

One of the mysteries of physiology is the large differences that are seen between individuals in their ability to cope with the reduced oxygen levels experienced above around 2,500m. Simply being fit is no guarantee that someone will cope well at altitude and there is currently no way of prediciting who will have difficulties and who will not. The only guaranteed way of finding out is to go up there. However, with the risk of altitude sickness, this mustn't be rushed, so a gradual programme of height gain is required.

Given that Karl has never been to altitude before (I have been to 4,200m with no ill effects), we need to start gently. Our first trip will be up the Albert Premier hut (at 2,700m) to stay the night. We will walk in from Le Tour, at 1,400m, allowing us to acclimatise psychologically to the scale of the place - this walk is only just over 3km long but gains the height of Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain, in that distance. It should sort our legs out! The following day we will climb Aiguille du Tour, at 3,500m, before descending back to Le Tour. This should give us some clues as to Karl's reaction to altitude, as well as to our overall level of fitness, and help in our acclimatisation.

After a few day's rest we will take an early morning cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi ski station at 3,800m. We will spend all day up high and sleep in the Cosmiques hut at around 3,600m. Sleeping at altitude is a great way of letting your body get used to the thinner air, without making too many demands on it. From here we will have a look at our route up. As Karl did very well in the training - not being psyched out by the exposed positions and being competant with ice axes, ropes, harnesses etc. - it should be possible to follow the route in the picture below.

1. Cosmiques hut (3,613m) - leave at 1am

2. Mont Blanc du Tacul (4,248m) around 3.30am

3. Mont Maudit (4,465m) around 5am

4. Mont Blanc (4,9810m) around 8am

Return the same way, catching a cable car back down to the valley floor for mid afternoon.

If the weather, our legs or our lungs are not ready for a summit bid, we will try and do Mont Blanc du Tacul in order to get more altitude in, before returning to the valley floor and resting for a few more days and trying again. We have 2 weeks to do this in, but the longer we take, the less time we will spend with our families - something we are not that keen on!

As I write this, a British climber has been killed on La Tour Ronde (on the other side of the mountain to this picture). An experienced climber who slipped and fell, this acts as a salutory reminder that, no matter how many people say Mont Blanc is easy, all mountians are potential killers - knowing this allows us to understand the risks and make informed decisions. If we are not sure, we won't push it.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Training in North Wales

Karl here - spent the first weekend in April walking, scrambling and climbing in North Wales with Rich, in the sun and the snow! I'll let Rich try to spell all the place names correctly in his bit below; needless to say, I spent the whole time in Wales wondering where all the vowels had gone.

We had a late arrival at the hostel where we were staying thanks to some spurious excuse from my favourite budget airline and after a few hours sleep headed round the valley thanks to Eric the toothless bus driver and up the steep side of Tryfan.

The weather was very changeable but when it cleared the views were great. Some expert

scrambling (always maintain 3 touch-points they said; I reckon 70-80% full body contact with the rocks is more efficient) and before we knew it we were at the peak.

Along the ridge and down the far side stopping for lunch by a lake before heading round the Snowdon Horseshoe. On Rich's

advice, we ducked out of a bit of ridge-walking in pretty gusty winds, but still made it round and up Snowdon, over the ridges beyond the peak and back round again to the valley floor and the hostel.

A pretty full-on day's walking and my legs were pretty burst by the end of it...

The overnight hail and covering of snow forced a change of plan on Sunday morning and we headed out to do some proper climbing.

This was my first real rock-climb and I was pretty pleased with myself that I made it up (again making use of hands, feet, knees, shoulders, stomach etc) and down the 'easy' walk-off route (overhanging abseil...).

An awesome pizza in Pete's Eats on the way back to Liverpool to start my epic budget airline journey home (cancelled flight, no apology, 40 hours and 2 nights in a dodgy hotel later - I did ask them if they'd make a donation in return for me not slating them on the website, but no response, was Easyjet).

Fitness is now the main training, so if you're in St Germain en Laye forest in the coming weeks, and you see a sweaty, wheezing jogger, offer some words of encouragement. The target has been set and I have had an idea of what will be expected, at least without the altitude. To tackle that (and maybe even generate some additional PR) I'm planning on being the first person to climb Mont Blanc with the use of oxygen...just don't tell Rich.

The donations seem to be adding up, and we haven't really told many people about our website yet - if you've stumbled across and are inspired to make a donation, no matter how small, please go ahead and do so. Please also feel free to forward our website address to your friends and family if you think they'd be interested.

Next stop for me is the world of no sleep, with new baby arriving early May - ideal preparation for an ascent of Mont Blanc...

Snowdonia in April...

The second of our weekends away started in typically complicated fashion - a meeting in London until 5pm, a crowded train home to Nottingham, drive home for tea and to pack the car, a phone call from Karl to say his plane is delayed, another call to say he is boarding (What! I'm 2 hours drive from the airport!), a rather hasty dash across the A50 and M6 to Liverpool airport (mmm, Runcorn, what a place), avoiding the racing fans arriving for the Grand National the following day, another hasty dash along the A55 to Llanberis to get to the

Pen-y-Pass youth hostel for 12:45am to find the door code we were given didn't seem to work. Staring down the barrel of a night in the car, I gave it a good tug and open sesame - Karl was obviously being a bit weak...

A reasonable night in the dorm saw us tucking into a big fry up and working out how to get round to Ogwen, leaving the car behind. As if by magic, at 8:45 the S6 bus hoved into view and through a combination of body language interpretation, wise nodding and smiling, we got two tickets to Capel Curig. I think the driver had forgotten to put his teeth in. From Capel we stuck out a thumb and the first car round the corner was a lad up from Birmingham who fancied taking his dog for a walk up in the Glyders - we know this because he stopped and in we jumped - good man! He dropped us in the large lay-by at the foot of the Milestone Buttress shortly after 9am and we were ready to start on hill number one, my favourite British mountain, Tryfan. I first did it when I was about 15 with my Dad and mate John and have loved it ever since.

The initial pull up from the road is pretty steep and got our lungs working - it was fresh, dry but a bit cloudy, and as we climbed I wondered whether we would be lucky and have a clear view - a strong northerly wind was keeping the clouds moving and I kept my fingers crossed. The higher you go up Tryfan, the less grass / heather there is and the more rock and soon we were picking a line up through the rock buttresses that loomed above us. One of the great things about Tryfan is that I never seem to go the same way twice - you can avoid a lot of the difficulties or set yourself a challenge by taking a more interesting line. The hard bits never last that long but give you a real sense of exploration. Karl's first taste of tricky scrambling looked like ending in a tie but I think he sneaked a win on points - judicious use of the knee securing him the first of a series of victories!

As we moved up, the rocks started to be covered in a thin layer of ice and some small rime ice growths. The wind was fairly strong but the summit was clear of cloud more often that not and I was becoming more optimistic of having a good view from the top. I was starting doubt however that we would be able to complete the traditional jump between the 2 stones on the summit, Adam and Eve.

I had done it on my first trip and I was keenfor Karl to become a 'Man of Tryfan', but the closer we got, the more it was clear that it wouldn't be prudent to try it. Icy rocks and a strong wind are not a good combination when jumping across rocks 6 feet in the air on the top of a very exposed mountain...

Descending to the south west, pausing only to say hello to Spencer, a friend of mine I used to work with and was out enjoying the conditions (small world!), we reached the col and moved up the classic scramble of Bristly Ridge. This dark looking gully brings the climber out high on the NE shoulder of Glyder Fach (hill number 2) and gives you a great sense of exposure. The climbing is not sustained but is in a great position - unfortunately, the cloud had descended again, meaning we couldn't see much. It all added to the sense of adventure and when we suddenly found ourselves on the summit plateau, I felt a sense of shame it couldn't have gone on for longer.

We passed the summit (where has the OSBM gone?), the cantilever stone and Castell y Gwynt (Castle of the winds) and dropped down to the col between Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr. The intention was to turn south and drop all the way down to Pen-y-Pass so we could then go on to the Snowdon Horseshoe. It is not a descent I can recommend, being very wet underfoot, steep and covered in heather-bound boulders - ideal for disappearing into an unseen hole and twisting as ankle. It is also quite a long way down to Llyn Cwmffynnon and entailed crossing a river - regular readers will know I do not have a distinguished track record in this area, but this time at least I stayed dry. We had lunch by the lake in a delightful spot that would be great on a hot summer's day with the kids, before dropping the rest of the way to the youth hostel.

We refuelled on cake and water and set off up the Pyg track at about ten past two. The wind seemed to be getting stronger and was very gusty and as we got to the point where the path splits, between Crib Goch and the Pyg track, we started up to Crib Goch but after a few hundred metres I was not happy with the conditions. I knew the rocks on this very steep and exposed mountain would be icy and the Northerly winds would be trying to blowing us off the knife-edge ridge, as most of the time you are on the South side of the ridge. Given this, we decided to not risk it and traversed across back to the Pyg track. A disappointment, as Crib Goch is one of the finest ridge scrambles anywhere, but it will be there another day - and so will we.

A rather dull trudge up the Pyg track was enlivened by the fabulous views of the summit - covered in snow and ice, no cloud and occasionally bright sunshine. In fact, when the sun came out on the upper reaches of the path, where we sheltered from the wind, it was very warm. We passed all the day trippers coming back down, many of them in jeans and trainers which never ceases to amaze me, until we reached the col at Bwlch Glas. From here we were a short but windy trip up to the summit (number 3), currently undergoing a massive redevelopment for the tourists, and timed our appearance on the summit so that we had it to ourselves. One of the finest places in Britain, it is said on a clear day you can see 4 kingdoms - the kingdoms of Wales, of England, of the Isle of Man and of Heaven. We could certainly see the coast of Pembrokeshire, a good hundred miles or so south. I grimmaced in a T-shirt (it was a very cold wind!) and we set off down, south-east toward Lliwedd at a little before 5pm.

We dropped height quickly and got a good view of the crags on the north side of this impressive hill, where legend has it King Arthur's knights wait for his return in a cave somewhere. My intention the next day was to do one of the easy long rock climbs so wanted Karl to see where we would be climbing the next day. As we toiled up to the summit, the odd pangs of cramp setting in, the pace slowed and we both started to get tired. It feels like you are not getting anywhere on Lliwedd, but the twin summits suddenly appear (number 4) and we had a great view of the Crib Goch ridge, the stragglers coming down the miner's and Pyg track before setting off down to the valley floor. The miner's track provided some relief for our knees and thighs but not the balls of my feet which were on fire! We arrived back at the hostel for around 6:45pm - around 18km covered, 1600m climbed and nearly 9 hours on the hill. A good parallel for the sort of thing we will need to do in the Alps. Only at altitude.

Once back in the hostel, somewhat stiff in the legs and nursing sore feet, we showered, changed and set off in search of dinner. The famous Pen y Gyrd hotel doesn’t do bar meals in the evening, presumably to keep the riff raff like us out – and in case that didn’t work, the officious manner of the lady behind the bar certainly did - we dwelled long enough only to read some of the famous climbers and explorers who had signed the ceiling before heading off to Cobden’s in Capel Curig. Unfortunately the back bar was closed, so we nabbed a table in the main bar and ordered a couple of massive burgers. It wasn’t a formal competition, but Karl left more chips than me because he is a wuss and overdid it on the garlic mushrooms.

We limped / rolled back to the car, absolutely stuffed and drove back to Pen y Pass in the heaviest hail storm I have ever seen – rather disconcerting when driving a Skoda Fabia. We had a beer or two in the bar, made it to 10pm and made our excuses, going to bed worrying how the legs would feel the next day…

The answer came at 7am the next day when one of the other occupants of the dorm awoke, looked out the window and said ‘Snow’. Oh. Wasn’t expecting that. Getting gingerly out of bed to find the lower half of my body had survived the night, I checked on conditions and found there was a think layer of hail / snow that made conditions underfoot very icy. These conditions, the serious nature of Lliwedd and the relative inexperience of Karl meant that this was probably not the best place to go. I decided instead we should go round to the Idwal slabs and do something less committing.

We packed up and arrived in the Ogwen car park in beautiful sunshine, conditions that made the gentle walk in to Cwm Idwal feel very relaxing. As we approached the crag, I was disappointed to see someone had beaten us to it and was approaching the first belay on the classic easy line, Ordinary Route. I thought briefly about trying something harder, but conditions took a turn for the worse – a snow storm swept up the valley from the north and before long we were in a blizzard. This was going to be fun!

Ordinary Route is not technically difficult and as the party ahead of us moved up, we started climbing. The rock was very wet and in places held a reasonable amount of snow, making the whole thing feel quite adventurous. A tricky step at the beginning of pitch two led to an open groove, where I caught up with the couple ahead of us. The leader was taking his time and I waited, chatting to the second (a lady from Kenilworth, but she didn’t know my friends who live there) who was on her third trip on outdoor rock. She was doing alright, but wasn’t really prepared for the conditions – small rock boots and no socks!

Eventually they moved up and I brought Karl up a few more pitches, all the time being chased by a party of three who were moving very quickly. The top of the route peters out somewhat, leaving us with an exposed and exciting scramble while we looked for the descent. We found the couple ahead of us still roped up and looking for the descent, while an RAF rescue helicopter that was presumably on an exercise in the valley came and had a look at us. I think he was just showing off.

We found what looked like the descent, but as it was covered in snow it looked quite serious so we set up an abseil rope. The group of three behind us had caught up and agreed to throw the rope down after us, which was great as pulling abseil ropes down always runs the risk of it jamming. Karl went first and as he reached the lip and looked nervously down, I shouted a few words of encouragement – something like ‘Come on, get down there’ I think. He eventually did, and I set off after him, to discover the lip was in fact an overhang, explaining Karl’s hesitation. It was a little entertaining I have to admit. The long scramble back down past Suicide Wall was done in reasonably heavy snow, so by the time we reached the rucksacks at the bottom of the crag, they had a good covering on them. We stowed the gear and set off back to the car.

On the walk out the storm cleared, the sun came out and we had a fabulous view of Cwm Idwal, Tryfan and the Ogwen valley, crisp and white. We were back in the car for 1:30pm, plenty of time for the traditional stop off at Pete’s Eats in Llanberis. Pete’s has got bigger since I was last there but the hot chocolate is still great, as was Karl’s pizza. My chilli was odd, as it didn’t come with anything, which was strange and a disappointment – I could have done with a massive infusion of carbohydrate. We set off back to the airport and, bar the enormous queue of traffic caused by an unnecessary (as far as we could tell) coning off of one lane, the journey back was much more relaxing than the journey out. I dropped Karl off at Liverpool airport and set off home, interrupted only by a traffic jam on the M6 and Karl phoning me to say his flight had been cancelled and the next one wasn’t until Tuesday. Bloody Easyjet. What a bunch of jokers. I arrived home safely after 7pm, tired but happy to be back where I belong – among my family.

Next time we meet will be in the Alps and Karl will have another baby – I can’t wait for either…

Monday, 24 March 2008

Rich again...

An Easter break in Cornwall, visiting parents and dipping tootsies in the sea, saw me try a couple of runs but there is something wrong with the roads down there - they all seem to be very steep! I really noticed it in my legs and didn't get anywhere near as far as I had wanted to. Add into that the choco-fest that is Easter and suddenly the 2 weeks until we go to Wales doesn't look long enough. I hope Karl is feeling as fat and unfit as me or I could be in for a shoeing...

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Well, I seem to have recovered from the stomach bug and 2 of the lost 4lbs have gone back on, which is still a victory as I see it. Put another short run in at a decent pace and it was okay, but it seems each time brings a new ache - this time in the arch of my right foot. Luckily, some really bad storms have hit the UK and running looks rather unattractive. So I shall break out the bike and turbo trainer and sit on that for an hour. It's a great way of getting your heart rate up and down, only it can get a bit dull - but that's what iPods are for, right?

Started pushing the website now (thanks James at KentLyons) and the money has started to come in. Two things have struck me. First, we are doing this for real - this is real money, that people are really giving (and therefore going without) that is really going to help children and families like us. Second, people's capacity for kindness and generosity is, as far as I can tell, bottomless. I am deeply humbled by their commitment and I hope that they know it...

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Karl here...

Not been into much exercise since I hung up my rugby boots as Ireland had overlooked me for selection, but given the impending challenge I’d been jogging a few times every week since Christmas so was pretty sure I’d cope ok during the first of 2 planned training weekends prior to attempting Mont Blanc. 22nd Feb I flew in from Paris and met Rich and his friend Nick before heading up to Bridge of Orchy, where we were staying in a bunk-house.

After a very interrupted night’s sleep, between the frog-chorus snoring and the rain on the window, then a huge Scottish fry-up, we got our gear on and headed out into the horizontal rain. We hadn’t gone very far on the very wet, boggy ground before it became clear my boots had lost whatever waterproofness they ever had – to be honest they looked more like trainers next to Rich and Nicks’ professional kit. The low cloud meant we couldn’t see to far ahead but Rich had his map out and led us up to Coire an Dothaidh. We were aiming for the summit of Beinn Dorain but the weather was awful so we decided to head over the saddle in search of some snow for some winter-skills training.

We saw some deer and an arctic hare on the way up, plus Nick rescued a sheep which was stuck in a bog; all grateful distractions from the rain constantly hitting your face. We found a slope with some snow and spent some time practicing stopping with the ice axe if you fall, and walking in crampons, before heading back down over the saddle and down towards the valley floor. The highlight of the morning for me was watching Rich demonstrating how to jump a stream and ending up in the fast flowing water to his waist; shame I didn’t have a video camera as Jeremy Beadle would have loved it…

We then headed to the climbing wall in Kinlochleven where Rich taught us some basic climbing skills, after which we watched Ireland beat Scotland in the Six Nations. Headed back to Bridge of Orchy for a massive serving of haggis whilst watching England beat France (in a bar full of Frenchmen…)

After another night of snoring, this time enhanced by some pretty strange aromas in the room, and another big fry-up we headed north to Glencoe and started walking up towards Coire nan Lochan on The Three Sisters. The rain had stopped and I was finding that my new mountain boots purchased in Kinlochleven were a great investment. As we reached the Coire, above the snowline, the cloud came in and snow started swirling around. We found a bit of cliff and Rich set-up some ropes for Nick and I to do some climbing – scrambling might be a better name for it.

After some food we got the crampons and ice-axes out and headed up a gully just to the east of the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan. When the angle got to about 45 degrees, Rich got the ropes out and we roped up, belaying each other up the rest of the gully. It took 4 belays to reach the summit ridge, the gully getting steeper up to about 70 degrees just below the summit. I’m glad we were doing this now in Feb rather than closer to July when we go to Mont Blanc as after some of the belay ascents, where you’re moving each hand and foot in turn to try to stay secure on the steep snow and ice, I was pretty knackered.

The rate that the weather can change up there is amazing, one minute it’s clear enough to see all the way to Ben Nevis, the next it’s a complete blizzard. It was 4pm when we were on the summit ridge at 1080m and we needed to get off the hill before dark. We headed down the ridge and across a snowfield back down to the Coire. We made good time heading down the track back towards the road, pausing to appreciate the amazing scenery and beautiful evening glow on the rocks across the valley, and were back in the car for 6pm, tired and smelly but very happy with a good day’s work.

All in all, I felt really good at the end of it, with a few creaky joints and knowledge that I need to get fitter. Bring on our next trip to North Wales in April!

Couple of 5 mile runs last weekend were pretty hard work, and I’m struggling to find time during the week. Might have to get a personal trainer…
Done a few gentle runs to see what effect the weekend away has had - the first one hurt like hell but the second was much better. Then succumbed to the stomach bug that has gone through the family and have lost 4 pounds overnight. There goes any hope of running in the next few days - mind you, if I weigh less, will I go faster? Perhaps some Lucozade will help...

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Rich here...
Started running again in the New Year, being very wary of the dodgy achilles tendon in my right ankle. Felt a bit stiff (must be my age!) as the miles built up but as our first trip away got closer, the number of runs decreased as the distance increased. With a week or two to go, a hilly 8 miles was taking an hour and felt pretty good - although my ankle is a definite concern!

Also started to review gear - I need two of everything, so started borrowing as much as I can from mates (thanks Julian!) and buying things that I think I'll end up reusing. Getting a bit fed up with Ebay as people keep out bidding me but ends up being just as cheap for brand new gear a lot of the time! Not sure how they do that but they seem to be really cheap. Had a problem with helmets but found a great place at where I could hire some very cheaply. Good stuff.

A trip to Glencoe was planned and travel ended up being nicely complicated. A lift to East Midlands airport with a friend and his wife, fly to Edinburgh, hire a car, wait for Karl to arrive from Paris with his wife and son, squash everyone and everything into the car (thanks goodness we got an upgrade - thanks, drop them off at Falkirk and drive to the Bridge of Orchy (via legendary fish and chip shop in Callendar, complete with Hungarian waitresses). Packing climbing gear for a flight is always a challenge, especially on the budget airlines. 20kg and 1 bag in the hold proved impossible, so paid to have 2 bags in the hold and put anything that was heavy but blunt in my carry-on luggage (and put my mountain boots on!). Ended up spot on 20kg in the hold but was nearly thwarted as Nick tried to take his crampons through security and onto the plane. They said no.

The weather as we drove up the A82 was grim - windy and squally showers, which in the dark on unfamiliar roads in a hire car is always fun. 'Nevermind' on the CD player though and we made it alive, despite my driving. The Bridge of Orchy Hotel ( has an excellent bunk house next to it, complete with drying room and is in the middle of nowhere. A good choice, as the next morning we were on the hill for 8:30am, heading east up to the col between Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh in the driving rain and gusting winds, pausing only to haul a stranded sheep out of a bog.

Once in the lee slightly south of the col, we found a decent patch of snow on which to practice ice axe arrests. Before going anywhere serious or steep, I had to have confidence that Karl could get himself out of trouble as quickly and easily as he could get himself into trouble! Once you overcome the initial alien feeling of deliberately throwing yourself down a snow slope, it is actually fairly easy - you just have to keep a cool head. Karl got it no problem, although found out why so many winter climbers wear salopettes as his topped filled up with snow! A quick look at crampons and two things became obvious - firstly, Karl needed a decent pair of boots and second, he needed to get step in crampons. Other than that, our first piece of learning was a success. Being thoroughly wet from the rain, we returned to the hotel, pausing only to watch me fall in a small but surprisingly fast flowing river. What a nimble footed mountain goat I am.

In the afternoon, we drove up to Kinlochleven to the indoor climbing centre The Ice Factor ( A well equipped shop solved Karl's boot problem, the harnesses came out and we got on the walls. Being able to put on a harness, tie in safely and belay well is mandatory for Karl so we practiced for a few hours, which also allowed Karl to discover the muscles on the inside of the forearms, just below the elbow. Not ones non-climbers use very often, so to find them aching suddenly was a bit of a shock. Luckily it didn't affect his ability to hold a pint while we watched Ireland beat Scotland in the 6 Nations in the bar.

A return to the hotel and another cold one was waiting for us while we ordered haggis and mash and settled in to watch the France - England match. Weirdly enough the bar filled with Frenchmen and as the best haggis I have ever had disappeared, it became clear they were on a canoing trip. Fortunately the English pack wore the French down and a late try from the new scrum half Wigglesworth sealed the victory. Phew. An early-ish night and a night of unheard snoring followed...

Up and on the road for 8:30 on Sunday morning and the wind seemed to have dropped a bit, the lashing rain had eased and the temperature had dropped - all good signs. We parked next to the helipad in Glencoe and started up the steep pull into Coire nan Lochan. Karl's new boots didn't seem to be causing any problems, but his lungs did - a pack full of climbing gear and a steep path is guaranteed to get you puffing. An hour and 40 minutes later and we were on level ground at the head of the Coire.

From there we had a great view of the summit crags of Stob Coire nan Lochan, the day's objective. We found a small buttress and set up a fixed rope so the boys could get used to the feeling of climbing wearing all their winter gear over rocks covered in snow, ice, dirt and heather - a bit different from the nice colour-coordinated holds of the indoor centre! A quick abseil with a prusik safety ensured that if things got gnarly on the steeper ground, we could back off in relative safety.

Then we had a bite to eat and set off for the bottom of one of the gullies that leads to the summit. The ground got steeper, the snow turned to some great nevee and we roped up by a small rock outcrop. Having seen the discomfort moving on rock had caused, I picked a line that stayed on the snow and ran out a couple of rope lengths. Karl belayed admirably and Nick followed on, clearly enjoying himself. As we approached the summit we were hit by some fairly nasty swirling winds, but they only lasted a few minutes and after four pitches (including one unpleasant belay off two axe placements when the rope wasn't long enough to reach a rock outcrop) we pulled over the steep (about 70 degrees) top of the gully and looked back at the journey we had made. It was a little after 4pm, we had the place virtually to ourselves and the view was something else.

Moving East, we descended over broken ground, taking great care over our foot placements as most accidents happen on the descent, until we could turn North and rapidly descend the long and easy snow slopes that took us back the Corie floor, which we reached around 5pm. Stowing the climbing gear, we slipped our headtorches into our pockets (just in case) and stomped off to the valley, reaching the car at 6pm, just as the light started to fail. A drive back to Falkirk to drop Karl off and a night in a Premier Inn saw us dropping the hire car off early the next day and a delayed flight back to East Midlands. My wife picked us up and I was at my desk working away before I knew what was happening. Blimey.