Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dolphin Diving in Zanzibar

Another very late Africa trip post but I want to get the last of the trip photos up before a whole new year begins.

We took a dive off the coast of Zanzibar in an area that was supposed to be too far north to sight dolphins but still a great dive site. After we completed our first dive, having seen loads of amazing colourful fish, a large family of dolphins came swimming into our area!

Our captain turned the boat and told us to get our masks and snorkels on. We dove off the side of the boat to intercept the school and got some really amazing up close experience with the grey bottlenose dolphins!

After touring the islands we stopped in Stonetown. In the days of tall sailing ships, Stonetown was a huge trading port for spices grown in the area.

The winding narrow streets are filled with people instead of cars and the huge wooden doors have large spikes embedded on them to keep the elephants from busting in for a drink of water!

We also had a completely random encounter with two people that we met on Kilimanjaro, Steffi and Daniel from Germany!

We had met these two on our very first day at the bottom of the mountain, getting prepared to climb. We ran into them again in the Ngorongoro crater on Safari just by chance at a hippo pool. Incredibly, we saw them again at the very end of our trip in Stonetown on Zanzibar!

We had a fantastic dinner together. It was an excellent way to round off the African leg of our trip!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Safari on the Serengeti

Procrastinate? Nooo not me, never! October wasn't all THAT long ago was it?

Our Safari in Tanzania (in October) took us from the base of Mount Kilimanjaro to the Ngorongoro crater and the Serengeti with a final stop at Lake Manyara. The pure abundance of wildlife was astounding.

We were extraordinarily lucky. Many visitors never see a single Cheetah, we saw two. Many people never get to spot a Leopard in a tree protecting its kill; we could have yanked the tail on one, and again, we saw two! It eventually got to the point where we would actually say "Hey, another big male lion with three or four females over there... but I'd have to use the zoom lens so... carry on."

Of the roughly 2600 photos from our Safari in Tanzania, we've managed to pair it down to a "top 100". Here's a small sample:

If you'd like to see the rest, just drop me a line and I'll send you a link to the album.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thought-controlled prosthesis

Rome, Italy | AP
"A group of European scientists said Wednesday they have successfully connected a robotic hand to an amputee, allowing him to feel sensations in the artificial limb and control it with his thoughts.

The experiment lasted a month, and scientists say it was the first time a patient has been able to make complex movements using his mind to control a biomechanic hand connected to his nervous system.

'The approach we followed is natural,' Rossini said. The patient 'didn't have to learn to use muscles that do a different job to move a prosthesis, he just had to concentrate and send to the robotic hand the same messages he used to send to his own hand.'

It will take at least two or three years before scientists try to replicate the experiment with a more long-term prosthesis, the experts said. First they need to study if the hair-thin electrodes can be kept in longer.

Read the whole article here:

Thanks for this Todd!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mobile Paris

Nothing makes for a quality post like mobile phone photos on the fly:
Cherob Statue near the Eiffel Tower.

The Tuileries.

The Louvre.

The Arc de Triumph.

The Sacre Coeur.

The Moulin Rouge.

Notre Dame Cathedral.

A view of the Seine river.

Outdoor chandeliers on Rue de Castiglione.

-- Mobile post

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Paris and the Continental Race

I'm now in Paris, France. I know, it came as a surprise to me too!

I was sent here very last minute by my company to help with a press event for a product release. We're unveiling an integration between the product I used to develop in Victoria and the product I currently help develop in Brisbane.

More importantly, this means in the last two years I've been to every single continent except Antarctica, all on a single passport! That's not all that uncommon for some of my globe trotting friends (Mel, Steve and Sean come to mind) but as I don't travel for work very often, this is big news for me!

My List
Asia: China, UAE (Dubai).
Australia: umm.. Australia.
North America: Canada.
South America: Brazil.
Zealandia: New Zealand.
Africa: Tanzania/Zanzibar.
Europe: France.

Zealandia you ask? Did I just blow your mind? No, this is not a trick to one-up my sister by getting to a "secret" continent before her... but then again, neener neener Kim! Don't worry, the score is still 5-2 in your favour.

Turns out New Zealand is not on the same continental shelf and so is not part of the continent of Australia. It is instead part of the submerged continent Zealandia which stretches from the north of New Caledonia to the south of New Zealand's subantarctic islands.

I know, it's strange, I always thought there were seven continents but here we are adding an eighth. I feel the same as I did the day Pluto stopped being a planet! I learned something new today... then my reality imploded so I got a latte.

Tonight, I'm strolling along the Seine river with a proper latte in hand in my warm wool jacket. The air is crisp and cool without being cold and I really like wearing wool jackets. Life is good, I love Paris!

You'll have to forgive the grainy iPhone camera shots taken at night.

-- Mobile post

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Today was my amp-a-versary and the last day of Legadon.

I've come a long way from that hospital bed one year ago and I couldn't have done it without the incredible support of my family, my friends and my entire recovery team.

To celebrate our year together and to thank you for participating in my recovery, I've compiled a short video along with this list:

November 2008: the surgery.
December: learned to pop-a-wheelie in my chair.
January: first one-legged indoor climb.
February: crutch-climbed Mount Coolum.
March: first prosthesis, first abseil/rappel ten days later.
April: first outdoor rock climb.
May: first single-fin SCUBA dive.
June: first ice skating attempt on prosthesis.
July: first cycling attempt on prosthesis.
August: Bridge to Brisbane 10k.
September: new socket, pack training.
October: climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
November 2009: Traded in wheelchair for snowboard...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Climbing Kilimanjaro: Part Two

I hope you enjoy this small subset of our many many photos from the climb along with a brief description of the day's hike!

Day 1: Park Gate (1400m) to Machame Camp (3000m)
Approximately 8 hours of steady hiking.

The warning signs at the bottom.

Signing in at Machame Camp, Day 1.

Day 2: Machame to Shira Camp (3840m)
Approximately 6 hours of steep trekking.

Morning shower: one for soap and one for rinsing.
First up gets the warmest, cleanest water.

Leaving Shira Camp, Day 2.

Day 3: Shira to Barranco Camp (3950m)
Approximately 6 hours of steep climbing to Lava Tower (4600m) with a dramatic descent into a valley followed by a final steep ascent into the camp.

Lava Tower, 4600m, Day 3.

Barranco Camp with Breakfast Wall looming in the background.

Day 4: Barranco to Karanga Valley Camp (4200m)
Breakfast Wall - a vertical rock face with a tiny goat track that is attempted immediately after breakfast. The view of the summit from the top of Breakfast wall is incredible. This is well and truly above the cloud line! From there, approximately 5 hours of trekking to the next camp.

Breakfast Wall goat track, Day 4.

A view of the summit from Karanaga camp, end of Day 4.

Day 5: Karanga Valley to Barafu (Summit Base Camp) (4630m)
Approximately 6 hours of steady uphill hiking along the lava ridge to the Barafu camp.

Hiking to Barafu, Day 5.

Arriving at Barafu, Day 5.
We never knew if (or when) we might be forced to turn back. As I said, each day was an accomplishment in itself so as we arrived into the next camp, we took a photo of us holding up the number of fingers of the day we'd just completed.


Very steep 8 hour climb. Arrived at Uhuru Peak Summit (5895m/ 19,340 ft)

Sunrise from the summit attempt, near Stella's point.

A view of the top, Stella's Point, the rim of the volcano!

Celebrating with some friends at the top on Uhuru peak.

Summit to Barafu (noon, Day 6, still no sleep)
A very steep 4 hour skree-slope decent.
After arriving at Barafu, rested for 1 hour while re-stocking packs.

Barafu to Mweka Camp
(still no sleep, late afternoon/evening, Day 6)

Approximately 6 hours of steep, slippery, treacherous descending on sharp rocks.

End of Day 6, Mweka base camp.

Dinner time in the mess tent.

Day 7: Mweka Camp (3110m) to Park Gate (1400m)
A final descent of about 5 hours to the park gate.

Signing out at the park gate.

Receiving our officially numbered gold certificates of success, end of Day 7.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Climbing Kilimanjaro: Part One

I think I need to tell this story in reverse, starting with the summit attempt and working backwards. It's like eating supper by starting with dessert; sometimes it's just better that way.

I should point out that there are many routes you can take to get up Mount Kilimanjaro so this account may be different than others. We chose the very challenging Machame route, a 67km, five day boot-camp for the summit attempt followed by a gruelling two day descent.

The route follows the "walk high, sleep low" principal of altitude training meaning that each day, climbers ascend to a higher altitude than they sleep at in the camps. This gives the body time to adjust to the extreme altitude and gives the climber the greatest possible chance for success.

Day five on the mountain began with a 5 to 6 hour trek from the Karanga Valley camp to the summit base camp, called Barafu. The camp is often under a blanket of snow and is always cold. Barafu means "ice" in Swahili.

After arriving at the camp, we spent some time re-organizing the gear in our packs, making sure we only had "the essentials" to minimize pack weight. We had a small bite to eat and hydrated the best we could on sore stomachs (courtesy of the altitude). Our guide told us to rest up as we'd be rising again at 11pm.

The wake-up call came quickly. It was cold. Very cold. We had a cup of tea and quietly gave the "good luck" nod or handshake to other climbers and friends we'd met along the way who were beginning their own migration up the steep slope.

Soon our turn came to set out from the dark camp. The pace was slow. Each step had to be chosen carefully in the light of our headlamps to keep from twisting an ankle or worse. One achingly slow step at a time, we were finally attempting the summit!

The ash/skree slope is a bit like walking in sand. That's difficult with a prosthetic limb due to the instability of the surface. I had to concentrate very hard on every step, making sure my footing was solid and not going to pitch or roll my body which would waste valuable energy in the recovery.

In this regard, my leg may have been an advantage. Having something to focus on occupied my mind and kept me from thinking about my lungs, the remaining distance or fatigue.

Around the 5000m mark we began passing other parties who were being forced to descend. Their attempt was over. Acute mountain sickness was a silent predator stalking the unlucky, not discriminating on age or fitness. None of us knew if it would strike us or if it did, when and how bad.

We passed by people doubled over in pain on the side of the track. Others were pleading with their guides to let them continue, though the sound of fluid in their lungs betrayed them. In some cases, mental or physical exhaustion had taken away the will to continue.

Groups of twelve, singing loudly at the start, were cut down to quiet groups of eight. Groups of eight were now groups of four. Whole teams were turning back. The further we climbed, the worse it got.

And then, sunrise.

The African sky cracked a tiny shard of red light on the horizon, warming us from the very soul. The glaciers to our left and below lit up like white beacons. We could see the top!

In that moment, we knew we were going to make it! With renewed hope, we leaned in and pushed to the top of Stella's point, the rim of the volcano. From there, it was a short 150m ascent to Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Arriving at the sign to take our victory photo was bitter sweet. We were reunited with friends we had made at the bottom of the mountain on the first day while we scanned new arrivals for the faces that were still missing.

It's difficult to describe the sheer emotion of reaching the top. Is it enough to say "we were pretty happy" and leave it at that?

Unfortunately our celebration had to be short lived. The increased risk of acute mountain sickness setting in at that altitude meant we had to begin our descent about twenty minutes after reaching the peak.

Physically and mentally exhausted, we now faced a four hour steep descent back down to Barafu camp to pack our gear, followed immediately by another six hour rocky descent to the Mweka base camp where we would finally get to sleep for the night.

Our goals shifted quickly. We had made it to the top, now we had to focus on getting down without getting injured.

On Machame, each day is more challenging than the last, including a near vertical "goat-track" climb up a sheer rock wall on day four. The climb down from the summit to our last base camp on day six was no exception.

By the time climbers attempt the summit from this route, they're physically and mentally prepared for the rigors of that very long, cold night. Just making it to the end of the each day felt like an accomplishment.