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The ice-capped, dormant volcano that is Mount Kilimanjaro rises nearly 6km from the surrounding plains to a peak of 5892m. Kilimanjaro is a National Park, and a World Heritage Site. It is also Africa's highest mountain and the world's tallest freestanding massif.

The mountain was formed two to three million years ago and has three main peaks. The highest peak is the distinctive snow-capped dome of Kibo with the highest point, Uhuru Peak, on the crater's southwestern rim. Just over 10 kilometres to the east of Kibo, connected by a broad lava saddle, is the lesser peak of Mawenzi, all that remains of a volcanic cone that lost its eastern rim in a gigantic explosion. The oldest peak is Shira Cone, on the west side of the mountain, which has mostly collapsed, leaving a spectacular lava plug.

For many visitors, the prospect of scaling the mountain is as exciting as it is daunting. The fact no technical climbing skills are required means Kilimanjaro has acquired something of an easy reputation. This is not the case. It is a major physical challenge with the high altitude presenting the biggest problems. Almost everybody suffers headaches and exhaustion on summit day. Being physically fit is not necessarily a passport for success (though it obviously helps). Lack of preparation and lack of time on the mountain means less than a third of the 30,000 people who attempt the climb each year make it all the way to Uhuru Peak.

Air gets thinner the higher you go. On the summit of Kilimanjaro, a lungful contains only half the oxygen you would inhale at sea level. Given enough time, the human body can adapt to an oxygen-scarce environment by producing more red blood cells. But, without weeks to acclimatise, almost everyone climbing Kili will experience the effects of high altitude, known as altitude (or mountain) sickness: these include shortness of breath, light-headedness, headaches, nausea, insomnia and, naturally enough, exhaustion.

For a number of years we have worked with a number of UK-based charities with strong links in the Kilimanjaro Region of Tanzania. North Tyneside Hospital works closely with KCMC Hospital in Moshi and many schools in the North East are linked with schools, both in the Moshi area and to rural schools located on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. This involvement means we can help people, who might be climbing the mountain to raise money for charity, direct their fund-raising efforts directly into the local area.

We are fortunate to be able to call on the services of Ponteland Medical Group, who also have strong links with East Africa, for medical assistance and advice for the trip, in particular Dr Mark McCaldin. Mark began his career as a doctor in the British Army and has personal experience of climbing Kilimanjaro and supporting expeditions on the mountain. He is also a recognised authority on expedition medicine and, as a member of the teaching faculty for Expedition Medicine UK Ltd, is regularly involved in training doctors on the specifics of expedition medical care.