Everything I Did Away at the Young Adult Kidney Group Weekend at Mt. Cook 2023

Everything I Did Away at the Young Adult Kidney Group Weekend at Mt. Cook 2023
Young Adult Kidney Group Residential Weekend 2023 at Mount Cook Adventure Centre in Derbyshire, UK

Hello Hello!

I'm back from the one of the my most amazing weekends of the year, which is the Young Adult Kidney Group (YAKG) Residential Weekend up in Matlock! This was my first time dialysing away from home this year and what a great time I had. I'll be sure to write a separate post on all things dialysis at YAKG weekend another time but in today's post I wanted to cement the fond memories and lessons learnt(!) regarding all the activities I signed up to this weekend!

What is the Young Adult Kidney Residential Weekend?

In summary, it is a FREE residential weekend hosted by YAKG, a sub group of the Kidney Care UK charity for kidney patients (Pre-dialysis, On Dialysis, Post Transplant). It's run by the most passionate people from the kidney community (renal dieticians, nurses, doctors, volunteers) who donate their time and smiles to make the memorable weekend for young adults with kidney disease between ages 18 and 30). Oh yh...and it happens every year...and you can go every year up until age of 30. Although sneaky suspicion says you might be able to return as a volunteer!

What do you do at the YAKG Weekend?

Make Friends and Have Fun!

You'd be surprised how often I get this question from other patients and acquaintances asking about the weekend and also asking if we just sit around talking about our illnesses ad nauseum.

No. No. No... uhhh...Well maybe a little but that's totally your choice! Get a bunch of kidney patients together in a room, the first thing we do is talk about kidney disease! But it's not the scheduled agenda 😂

But listen...

The Weekend is packed with back to back activities that you sign up for such as: Indoor Rock Climbing, Outdoor Rock Climbing and Abseiling, Zip Wire, High Ropes, Low Ropes and much more! The Weekend takes place at Mt. Cook Adventure Centre in Matlock for a reason, it's less about talking therapy and educational lectures and more about giving confidence to young adults with kidney disease to participate in fun physical activities in a safe environment and make some friends along the way.

I feel like when you go through renal failure and then dialysis, you get a lot of information and medical support regarding how to keep yourself clean from infection and have good clearance on dialysis and there is not so much information on how to live your life, which includes socialising and exercise!

My personal kidney failure story has me crash landing in A&E, by which time I was already very VERY sick! I was physically weak, probably the untreated anaemia, and generally just in a lot of physical pain. But, that did change over time as I started dialysis and the toxins cleared out. However, that feeling of uneasiness of physical activity remained even when on dialysis and then it turned into a rather bad habit and lack of self confidence of just not exercising!

That all changed when I attended the YAKG weekend in 2022. I was up there on the climbing wall like pre-dialysis young adults, post-transplant young adults, heck even those with fistulas and line catheters in the neck! After the Weekend in 2022, I got back my confidence and became A LOT more physically active.

Sorry for the detour, finally we are here...

Everything I did away at the Young Adult Kidney Weekend 2023

From Day 1 (Friday 8th Sept 2023 ), during evening orientation we are encouraged to take every advantage of this fantastic weekend. This includes taking on challenges whether that is socially (making friends with strangers) or physically in the many outdoorsy activities. The YAKG lead volunteer understands that for many of us we perhaps do not have the most active lives or even socially vibrant ones either but at this weekend we are wholly encouraged to stretch out our comfort zones, to be bold and ultimately to have fun.

Firstly, we are reassured that all the Mt Cook instructors are aware of the catheters and fistulas that are so common with kidney patients, and are always on hand to help with adjusting our harnesses during activities. This was a big relief when I first went in 2022, and ever since I have been a little bit less precious about always wearing loose loose clothing. I definitely became less self conscious about the crushing my catheter during the day after having a tight harness on me!

Day 1: Saturday 9th September 2023

An annual fixture on the scheduled activities always appears to be Mt Cook Activities and KCUK Ice Breakers, which makes a lot of sense. Although, there are returning young adults each year, there are also new ones too! Both these sessions take the morning slots from 09:00 to 12:00, where we break out into pre-assigned teams to complete challenges.

Ice Breakers

The ice breakers take place in the mess hall on 3 tables with three activities to complete on rotation. Personally, I felt the challenges this year were a little weak compared to last year but in their lameness, young adults had good fun sarcastically poking fun out of them. Which is another way of breaking the ice I suppose.

Table 1: Mr. Potato Head Speed Running
This was kinda laughable. Split the table into sub-teams and put together the Potato Head toy as fast as possible over a number of attempts. They make it a competition between the sub-teams. It did bring the competitive nature out of some but a lot of side-eye glances out of others. It's all a bit of banter at the end of the day.

Table 2: Confessional Jenga !
My favourite table. There's a stack of Jenga at the centre of the table with each block having a confessional question on it. As you remove a block from the stack you answer the question. Most of the questions were either silly what if scenarios like "What Superpower do you wish you had?" or "Where to hide a giraffe from the government?" or my favourite "What Sandwich would you be?" to more existential stuff "Do you have an inner voice and what does it say?".

Table 3: Pyramid of Cards.
Right, I think this was the least favourite table for many groups. You are split into two sub groups and it's the first to make a pyramid of cards. I had enough of a indoor, loner childhood that I am actually quite decent at making pyramid cards, which made me think I would finally be able to dredge up the dusty skills to clinch a win. Oh yeah did I mention I was part of the competitive team on Mr Potato Head? Unfortunately... the pressure of making a card pyramid in front of everyone is a bit daunting and oh the table being next to a draughty open door may have been a tough challenge. I did manage to get up to 5,4,3,2 cards but no pyramid. I kinda think this challenge was a fail because it wasn't really a team effort in the end oops and I kinda left the table feeling like I could spend another few hours fixating on that challenge but also should have involved other members of my team!

Hard to let these things go...

Mt Cook Challenges

Run by the Mt Cook instructors outside in the BLISTERING HEAT, blimey it was like pushing 25 C in strong sunlight. I honestly feel like if we did these challenges in slightly cooler weather it would have been much better. I really do not do well in the heat and I was very conscious of the fluid restrictions I was facing too.

Challenge 1: Passing a Message
We stood in a straight line and had to pass a message down without speaking!

Challenge 2: See Saw
There is a giant plank of wood on a pivot. Using our weight and positioning on the board we had to try balance the see saw between our team.

Challenge 3: Bomb Defusal
They have a rigged frame with pulley system claw hook controlled by many ropes. Each person mans a rope and we work together to hook and drop 'bombs' into a crate. The ground is littered with Cans, Spike mine like objects and Batteries with hooks.

Challenge 4: Cross a Peg Wall.
This was like a climbing challenge, no harness required, where you traverse a wooden wall using metal poles in holes. This solo challenge was to get across with the least moves or least number of poles. Either traversing the wall whilst lifting poles or strategically placing poles in the holes and then making your way across.

In summary, my experience of these challenges was deeply affected by the heat. I felt really uncomfortable and probably wasn't the only one. We actually zoomed through the challenges relatively fast, mainly because there was no monkey business. We wanted to get out of the sun! By the time we got to bomb defusal, the instructors found it impressive that we were able to defuse each bomb without even talking with each other. TELEPATHIC discussion and grunts were had!

My one big regret of the weekend was the Crossing the Peg Wall. I feel like I kinda got too intimidated by the challenge and maybe the sun had something to do with it too. I really wanted to give it a go but the 3 lads who went before me were doing proper climbing or bouldering techniques?! It was so intimidating! I am not that strong I thought to myself and none of the other girls were interested either. Ah I really regretted not having a go because even though I probably couldn't have completed it like them, I probably could of done it my own way!

I think I learnt a big lesson there of always speaking up when you want to have a go and being more brave! Having more faith in myself! I took this away with me in all the other things I did that weekend. Although, I think the instructor was kinda happy no one wanted to go because it was lunch time, which was inside!

Due to the heat, I opted out of the Saturday Afternoon Session. I think I also was feeling a bit down about not taking on the the last Mt Cook Challenge and was generally just feeling like I needed a bit of down time. It didn't help that my first night on dialysis at the weekend was not the best so was happy to take a bit of a rest. I'll probably write another article about it all but I ended up in the crafting room doing some painting and colouring!

Low Ropes

By Saturday Afternoon, the weather had become much cooler and I was back outside on Low Ropes. What is Low Ropes? It's basically High Ropes but on Low Ropes. haha. It's not to everyone's tastes, it's basically a larger obstacle course maybe aimed at kids(?) but I actually had a REALLY good time. I feel like I gained back a lot of confidence and enjoyed that it was much more relaxed!

You don't have a harness but a nice hard helmet instead. It was mainly going on log courses where you're using balance and strength to traverse across logs, single rope bridges and the alike. The most daring sections were getting across suspended tyres and climbing up a rather high log ladder. I am not a fan of heights so that was a little more scary than I thought.

Luckily! There was a challenge where there were these posts with holes in and like the peg wall in the morning, you had to traverse across using poles! I was so happy! It was almost exactly the same challenge, maybe slightly easier as you didn't have to use as much hanging body weight. I definitely proved myself that I was flexible and strong enough to complete the morning challenge!

I heard a lot of people remarking the Low Ropes was a bit of a nothing activity as you can see it when you walk up to the centre, it does look like a bigger kids playground, but I think for everyone who chose it, knew what they were getting into. It's a low intensity activity that is outdoors but is fairly chill. We got through the course pretty quick and we ended the session with a mini zip wire! Which was the biggest challenge for me! Wasn't even that high up but I absolutely hate jumping off the ledge. I asked for a harness that time. I am definitely the type to casually let go half way. There's a bit of fake out at the end where as you zip down you feel sure you're gonna face plant into the log pole at the end. Thankfully... you do not.

What I took away from that session was that everyone has their own comfort zones and you don't necessarily have to exceed it every time AND not everyone has the same comfort zones. Everyone in my group, had a really fun afternoon with the instructor and it was an incredibly supportive group, we all faced different fears and had different levels of fitness and strength. Not every kidney patient is the same! I really treasured that afternoon in a way because it felt ok to just take it easy after a competitive morning. I also felt vindicated that I didn't have to take part in every extreme activity on offer and going at my own pace increased my enjoyment!

Saturday Evening Disco!

Decorations, Costumes, Lights, Loud Music, and a lot of Dancing!

Day 2: Sunday 10th September 2023

A later breakfast on the Sunday to accommodate the late night Disco! Lucky for me as I was dancing 'til Midnight. The weather, happy days, was a lot cooler on the Sunday!

Zip Wire

Nothing to wake you up than Zip Wire first thing Sunday Morning! Purposely, didn't eat much because heights are my great fear! Definitely, got worse as I got older and being on dialysis, I have remained firmly on the ground for most of it. The Zip Wire is twice the height of the building and the tallest structure around, you hear the screams and the whirr of the line zooming overhead on all the activities.

It's a bit of climb up the tower that raises the little hairs on the back of your neck. Happy to report I made it up the steps in one go, last year I took a break in the middle. Good to see my weekly exercise videos are paying off. Zip Wire is all about letting go of control. Something I clearly struggle with haha. It's an exhilarating experience that I never regret signing up for!

Via Ferrata

My second morning session was Via Ferrata, which is basically climbing across an on-site quarry wall with metal pegs in the rock whilst attached to a harness and metal guiding wire.

By far, my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE activity! It was my first time doing this activity and it was quite new to the centre, only 6 months old apparently but you couldn't tell because the instructors were really good at walking us through what to do and all the safety checks. In addition to a harness, a helmet, we also got gloves!

Firstly, I felt the most safe on this activity because you are always harnessed to the quarry wall, you are not relying on the instructor or another young adult to hold your weight like on the rock climbing activities. You are in COMPLETE control of what you do on this wall and you can go at your own pace as you traverse across. It's mainly strength and some coordination but I just loved that you are the one up there making the decisions on where to put your feet and hands as you travel across. It felt really adventurous and daring but enough man-made help that you felt safe and not overwhelmed. You can see where the metal holds, bars, staples are and you always have a general target of where to put your feet. There are even some aptly placed rock ledges and holds available too, which adds texture to the climb.

I loved that there were multiple stages to the climb, a beginners run to learn all the safety tips, an intermediate course and then an expert course which was directly above the intermediate! Careful of little rocks falling.

I knew my limit and stayed on the intermediate course and actually completed it twice. You're absolutely drenched after the climb, you're using a lot of strength and stamina. In fact I had to cling to the wall and take a break half way through the course, particularly around some of the bends. It's exhausting but rewarding too!

Sunday Afternoon:
Kidney Kitchen Masterclass with Chef Paul Ripley

I can't possibly cover the immense pleasure I had attending the cooking masterclass. Since starting dialysis, I have picked up baking and my family loves having big dinners. The masterclass was so insightful and reassuring as we watched a Michelin Star chef cook with the renal diet in mind. You'll have to wait for the next article on this one!

Sunday Evening:
Campfire + Board Games

After dinner, a campfire is lit inside one of the bushcraft huts and people roast marshmallows and eat smores! Classic Campfire stuff goes down although I can't recount personally, not my scene. I ended up walking back to the mess hall and engage in array of board games: Uno and Confessional Jenga etc.

I actually ended up connecting with other young adults who were new to the weekend in some deep meaningful chats. This is what I meant at the start, you don't go into the weekend having talking therapy and educational lectures but you just end up drifting to that subject in the downtime. I think it's really great to be honest, it's a safe and relaxed environment. People share what they are comfortable to share and you actually learn so much. Everyone faces a different journey but there are always touch points and similarities and so much to learn and empathise with. We all give each other new perspectives on what we can achieve in ourselves and what we seemingly happy to encourage in others. If we could have the self belief that we believe in our friends, we would all do so much more than we think we can.

I really treasure the YAKG residential weekend, not only do we get to participate in some wicked outdoorsy activities in a safe and supportive environment but you genuinely meet some of the best in humanity. Whether that's the volunteers, Mt cook staff or the other young adults. I left the weekend feeling so much stronger in body and mind and feeling so connected with others. It's something I look forward to every year.

Many thanks for reading this post, it was super LONG one!

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Good luck on your kidney journey !



IGA Nephropathy confirmed at 21. Crashed into End Stage Renal Failure at 23. Now, I share with the world my 3 years lived experience on Home Peritoneal Dialysis and Post Transplant Living 10/10/2023