Wheels on Kilimanjaro

Wheels on Kilimanjaro

Nick Haslam / Expedition Doctor

On 13th October 2014, Iain Fryatt, a 27 year old man with Friedreich’s ataxia (FRDA), made the first successful ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro (5895m) in a Mountain Trike. During the ascent he was accompanied by his family and a team of over 20 guides and porters. Nick Haslam was the doctor on the mountain – he talks us through the monumental climb.

It’s 0230 in the morning on Monday 13 October 2014. The African sky is filled with stars and at 4700m the air is surprisingly still. All the same I don’t regret packing my down jacket – it must be several degrees below freezing. As with many a summit attempt there is an atmosphere of anxiety and excitement. To be honest I never thought we would make it this far. Every one of my journal entries has been touched with the dream of reaching the top but also heavily underlined with warnings to myself not to get swept away by such desires. After all this is no ordinary expedition.

“In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” – Miguel de Cervantes

The adventure had begun with an email in June 2014. Iain Fryatt, a 27 year old man with Friedreich’s Ataxia and his family were looking for a mountain medic to support them in their attempt to climb Kilimanjaro. The Ataxia Clinic at UCL had given them the go ahead, with the proviso that they be accompanied by a doctor on the mountain. Iain’s attempt would be in a specialised mountain wheelchair (the Mountain Trike) and supported by Team Kilimanjaro, an expedition company with previous experience of wheelchair ascents.

Correspondence with the family had convinced me that this was a group I could work with even if the challenge they had proposed was radical. They clearly all respected the risks and were prepared to call it off at any point if medical complications occurred. Iain’s pre-expedition screening at UCL had been thorough, including full neuro-and neuro-urological, cardiac and speech and language assessment. Most importantly Iain had had no previous cardiac history and an echocardiogram found no evidence of cardiomyopathy or pulmonary hypertension – conditions present in many with FRDA.

Having said this Iain’s neurological impairment was severe leaving him unable to sit or stand without support and ataxic in all four limbs. He also suffered from dysarthria and intermittent urinary retention. Whether Iain’s neurological function would deteriorate with altitude was unclear and literature searches for cases of FRDA at altitude drew a blank – this was an expedition into unchartered territory.

full article at http://www.theadventuremedic.com/adventures/wheels-kilimanjaro/