27 May 2014

Elaine Elkin

Elaine Elkin - Kidneys For Life Patient.

“Let’s do a sponsored trek. Oh, and we’ll aim to finish it six months after the operation.” This was what I said just after completing a gruelling long distance hike of fifteen minutes round our local park about a week after being discharged from hospital. The operation I referred to was a kidney transplant.  

I was diagnosed with kidney disease in June 2009. Like a lot of people I was very shocked as I had never felt ill at all. Our eldest daughter, Kassie, was emigrating to Australia that same week so my husband, John, and I decided not to say anything about it.

We kept the news to ourselves and two very close friends for 15 months when Kassie came back after missing family and friends too much. We told all three children at the same time and all three offered to donate a kidney. I did not want to put any of my children through this and

To cut a long story short, on 18th November 2011 I received a kidney from Chris (in exchange for a homemade pie a month for life!).

The team at MRI were amazing from diagnosis to transplant and ongoing, so I, and John, wanted to put something back into the hospital as a big thank you for all my treatment.

So there we were planning a trek in the Lake District. We decided to do a circular mountain walk of 125 miles with a total ascent of 12180m, equivalent to nearly one and a half times Everest. Due in part to the weather and in part to my over estimation of my fitness, we actually managed 103 miles and 10668m (one and one sixth times Everest!) and 25 major peaks.

To generate sponsorship money for the trek we also arranged two fund raising events at a local café/restaurant with an auction and raffle at each. These two events plus general arm twisting(!) raised over £6,000.

What follows is an edited version of the diary we kept during our “Transplant Trek“.

Day One: Blue skies and sunshine – Grasmere to Coniston 8hrs.20m

Mountains climbed: Silver How (395m), Loughrigg (335m)

What a glorious first day! From newborn lambs and fields of bluebells, beautiful tarns and wild deer, to screaming Tornados and a lumbering Lancaster, all in beautiful warm sunshine. Grasmere from Silver How was so picturesque, views from Loughrigg, far-reaching. On to the idyllic Tarn Hows with perfect reflections of the trees in the very still water and finally, tired but thrilled with our day, we walked into Coniston. Lying in our bed at the b&b we could see our first objective for day two, the Old Man of Coniston.

Day Two: What views?!! -Coniston to Elterwater 8hrs

Mountains climbed: Old Man (803m), Swirl How (802m), Wetherlam (762m)

What a contrast! We woke up and couldn’t see the mountain out of our window and it was raining…..hard! No choice but to continue. We made good time to the top of Old Man but in spite of all our wet weather gear we were soaked to the skin. We could only see a few yards ahead of us, so made slow progress along the ridge towards Wetherlam. We had to keep moving in order to stay warm, and the only stop in 8 hours was for a very quick standing lunch. Our descent from Wetherlam was slow and tricky because of the weather and the way down was mostly on our backsides through virtual waterfalls on the crags. We arrived at the b&b wet, wet WET!

Day Three: Snow, hail, blizzard?!!- Elterwater to Wasdale Head 7hrs

Mountains climbed: None! (see weather above!)

Very tired after the epic day before but the rain seemed to be a little lighter so we set off in good heart. The sun managed to peep through the clouds, but by the time we reached the bottom of the climb to Crinkle Crags the rain was moving back in. We decided to climb the easier option of Rossett Gill and on the way up we met a guy coming off Bowfell who told us that he had not been able to stand on the top due to the wind. Bowfell was quickly binned and we climbed on up to Esk Hause, by now in high winds. By the time we got there it was snowing followed by a blizzard of hail and snow and we crouched down in a small shelter to put on extra layers and quickly eat a sandwich. Never was there a more welcome sight than Burnthwaite farm where we were to spend the night. Yet another 8 hour day with only a 10 minute stop and we were very tired.

Day Four: Back to good weather- Wasdale Head to Buttermere 6hrs 20m

Mountains climbed: None! (getting a bit repetitive don’t you think?)

Made our walk easier today as I was really feeling the effects of the three previous days. The weather was lovely and we walked over Black Sail Pass to Black Sail Hut (Youth Hostel) and had an extended lunch, meeting quite a few Cumbrian Way walkers. Incredibly, some of the walkers were out without maps or compass and two Americans were completely lost until we pointed them in the right direction. Shaking our heads in disbelief, we continued on to Buttermere through Scarth Gap with a fabulous view of the lake from on high. A lovely day, although I was more tired than I expected, but a good prawn curry and a glass of wine at the pub definitely helped.

Day Five; Windy!- Buttermere to Braithwaite 5hrs 30m

Mountains climbed: Would you believe none?! (see weather yet again!)

Woke up to what looked like another nice day and a breakfast of croissants ( a change from the usual bacon, egg and sausage). Started our climb up to Whiteless Pike and yet again the weather intervened. Three quarters of the way up we could no longer stand upright, even when digging in our walking poles for support ( we found out later that the wind was blowing at 85mph!)As the ridge after the Pike is very exposed we decided to do the lower route to Braithwaite and had to descend a fair way before climbing again towards a col over to Newlands Valley. On the way we passed several large groups of teenagers doing the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award, one of whom was carrying a rugby ball. We couldn’t help thinking of how far he would have to go if he dropped it at the top. We walked along the road to Braithwaite ( picking up a donation on the way) and about half a mile out I was yet again really tired, this time at only 2pm and after an easy day. I looked up at Skiddaw which was for the next day and realised I was running on empty and couldn’t face it. John decided that was it and we would go home the next morning and come back to complete the trek later. Amidst tears of disappointment and frustration I had to agree. We rang family and friends and everyone’s response was the same- completing a five day trek in torrential rain, hail snow and gale force winds was a real achievement and that we were right to stop and not jeopardise my health.

PART TWO (four weeks later)

Day Six: A good start- Stair to Portinscale 7hrs.30m

Mountains climbed: High Spy (653m), Maiden Moor (576m) (hurrah!)

A great day today with wonderful views on our way up to High Spy followed by a lovely ridge walk to Maiden Moor and on to Cat Bells above Derwent Water. Felt really good to be out walking in the mountains again, feeling fit and well. We made excellent progress and felt so good that when we got down to the lakeshore we just had to call in at the café for tea and an exceptionally good, huge scone!

Day Seven: Another good day-Portinscale toThrelkeld 8hrs

Mountains climbed: Carl Side (746m), Skiddaw (931m). Extras: Long Side (733m), Ullock Pike (690m)

A nice long flat walk-in to get warmed up and then the climb began. Steep and brutal to the top of Carl Side and at this point John decided it would be a good fun(?!) to add on a ridge walk to Long Side and Ullock Pike. For some strange reason I agreed to this diversion and glad that I did. It was nice to add on tops, as opposed to doing no mountains on some days, as in the first week. Back to Carl Side and onwards and upwards to Skiddaw on a steep gritty path. It was like Blackpool on the top with loads of people massed round the cairn. We left the crowds and started our descent on a very rocky, steep path….so hard on getting older knees! At the bottom we got on to the old railway line and had a good flat end to our walk. All in all, a superb day and we finished it off with great food and a couple of glasses of wine in the Horse and Farrier pub in Threlkeld and slept really well.

Day Eight: Windy but dry-Threlkeld to Patterdale 8hrs30m

Mountains climbed: Clough Head (726m), Great Dodd (857m), Stybarrow Dodd (843m), Raise (883m), Lower Man (925m), Helvellyn (950m). Extra: Catstycam (890m)

Although the day threatened rain, a cold southeasterly wind kept it away; a perfect walking day. A long climb up followed by a fantastic high ridge walk to Helvellyn. The descent of Swirral Edge was slow and careful needing to be climbed down as opposed to walking. It can be quite dangerous in high wind and rain, in fact people have died traversing this edge. Fortunately it was a good day, and at the bottom of the ridge we decide to add on Catstycam and then carried on down the mountainside to Patterdale, then a further mile and a half to our b&b for the night. In bed, lights out 9.30pm.

Day Nine; Back to the rain- Patterdale to Troutbeck 6hrs 40m

Mountains climbed: Threshthwaite Mouth (600m), Thornthwaite Crag (784m), Froswick (720m), Ill Bell (757m), Yoke (706m)

We set off in pouring rain and walked up the wild and beautiful, orchid filled Pasture Beck. to Threshthwaite Mouth. Near to the top, the skies turned an ominous black, followed by thunder and lightning and then it started to hail. We were battered by what looked like tons of frozen peas. The path we were walking on turned into a river and we were soaked (memories of the first week!) At the top the hail eased and although it was black all around we remained in the only bit of bright sky. After a quick lunch, surrounded by biting midges, we climbed up to Thornthwaite Crag. After five minutes we could see nothing and climbed instinctively to the top. We walked along the ridge in swirling cloud, revealing and concealing the tip of Froswick, and in turn, Ill Bell and Yoke. It was an ethereal experience, so very beautiful. Our descent was nice and gradual finishing off a super day’s walk.

Day Ten: Bit of everything from the sky above-Troutbeck to Grasmere

Mountains climbed: Wansfell Pike (484m),Dove Crag (792m), Hart Crag (822m), Fairfield (873m)

The cloud was very low as we started our climb to Wansfell Pike and we could hardly see our hands in front of our faces. We had a little trouble locating the top but after joint navigation with a guy who appeared out of the mist we all three gained the summit and continued our collaboration to Ambleside. The weather cleared a little and we started the ascent of Fairfield over Dove Crag and Hart Crag….. being passed on the way by two girls running, and talking at the same time!! Felt quite old at this point. The cloud lifted just long enough for us to have views from the top and as we descended to Grasmere we dropped out of the cloud and completed our trek. We did it!!!!!!!

Looking back, it was a great adventure for a new kidney, and hopefully more will follow.