Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with my CPAP machine

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with my CPAP machine

Thank you SleepNet-BreatheNet and Sanrai for going the extra mile and making my dream of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro possible.

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with my two sons Shane and Bryan has been top of my bucket list for a long time. But the odds seemed stacked against me, as I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which means I have to sleep on a CPAP machine every night to help me breathe. Without my CPAP machine my blood oxygen levels drop because I have periods when I stop breathing completely. The result is waking up feeling exhausted not to mention the detrimental effect this can have on my heart and general well-being. So I knew that I had to take my CPAP machine with me.

Having read all the negative blogs from all over the world, but mostly USA, about cold weather performance of batteries being poor and CPAP machines not being able to operate at altitudes above 3,000 meters, I was inspired by one solitary blog by a gentleman who had conquered Kilimanjaro who had OSA.

I was determined to do the same and with the 3 lithium ion batteries and my Z1 portable CPAP machine supplied by SleepNet-BreatheNet and Sanrai, I set off with my sons to climb Mount Kilimanjaro on 1st September. A pleasant gentle climb starting @ 1,640m and ending some 6 hours later at 2,850m where we overnighted. My first night to test out my Z1 and I managed some 4 hour good sleep at which time we were woken by lots of noise in the camp; a pattern going forward as sound carries very loudly on the mountain, but no problems with the CPAP.

Off the following morning on a somewhat sterner climb and decent ( climb high – sleep low) up to Shira Camp passing Lava Tower at 4,600m but descending to overnight at Shira Camp at 3,810m. Again my machine allowed me some good REM sleep for about 3-4 hours after which I switched off and allowed myself to doze through the rest of the night to conserve batteries just in case.

Day 3 and 4 we hiked pretty much along the side of the mountain ending at altitudes of 3,976m @ Barranco and 3995m @ Karanga Camps respectfully. Very strenuous hikes up and down steep ravings and gorges. By this time we were pretty exhausted and feeling it in our legs as well as the shortness of breath due to the altitude.

Sleep had gone very well and in order to conserve the batteries I had cut short the use of the CPAP during each night when my body told me I had had enough sleep and recovery.

In order to maximise the battery life during all this time, I used a “hand warmer” placed next to the battery inside a neoprene pouch which heated the battery up considerably before use as temperatures were mostly sub-zero.

Having warmed up the battery each night before use I then placed the Z1 CPAP inside my sleeping blanket next to my body to operate the CPAP and battery at temperatures significantly above those outside. It seemed to have the desired effect.

On day 5 we hiked up to  Barafu Camp, 4,673m. Effectively this was base camp for the summit climb and as the slower climber (others in my group were 20 years plus younger than me) I was to leave at 11.00 pm that evening so I need some early afternoon sleep. The Z1 had not yet been tested at above 3995m so as I was desperate for some good sleep ahead of the summit attempt. I was a little wary but true to the performance so far, the Z1 worked perfectly and I got in a good 3 hours sleep and was energised enough for my summit attempt.

Day six I manged to reach UHURU, the Summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, at around 7.50am. What a thrill!

I was limiting what I carried to help me make the climb so did not take the CPAP up to the summit but as it was only required to assist with sleep at 4,600m for the last night it had already proven its capability with not a hint of a problem.

I am not a copy writer or writer of any description, but I hope my story can in some way inspire others to chase their dreams and understand that Sleep Apnoea does not have to hold you back from doing exciting, challenging things and living life to the full. Climbing Kilimanjaro is certainly possible.

What you did not know prior to this is that I also had a double knee replacement 4 years earlier so I had the added challenge of making those 2 knees perform at lengths my surgeon would probably never recommend, just like the naysayers of CPAP’s at high altitude. But with the right attitude, planning and fortitude, almost anything is possible in this world

Your sincerely

Mike Punt (61 years young)