Charity Challenge attend launch of BS8848

Last week the Operations Team at Charity Challenge all ventured down to the Royal Geographic Society for the launch event  of the revised standard BS8848, the British Standard for organising and managing adventurous activities outside the UK.

Originally launched in 2007 the standard was the first standard of its kind in the UK to help adventure activity providers to run safer adventurous trips outside of the UK. The revised standard, launched yesterday, has now stripped away much of the complexity of the original standard to create a more streamlined and useable set of guidelines. It was very pleasing to hear that many of the comments made regarding the original standard had been taken on-board and Charity Challenge are fully supportive of the new standard.

In 2013 Charity Challenge launched its own safety management system called Challenge Safe. We are extremely proud of this comprehensive in-house safety management system and we have already introduced many changes to the way we operate on the ground based on these far reaching safety guidelines and minimum standards. The revised BS8848 provides a set of guidelines that demonstrate best practice. However it is not within the remit of this standard to offer guidance as to how to conform to these guidelines. What Challenge Safe offers is a system for implementing these guidelines so that there is a real change in safety standards. The operations team will be taking a close look at the revised BS8848 and going through our challenges trip by trip to look into how compliance with this new standard will work alongside Challenge Safe to make our challenges even safer. BS8848 is designed to represent the minimum standard required for managing risk in adventurous travel overseas. From Charity Challenge’s point of view we want to make sure that we are not only adhering to these minimum standards but that, through Challenge Safe, we continue to lead the way in being the foremost challenge company when it comes to our participants’ safety.

The real challenge lies in making sure that documents such as BS8848 and Challenge Safe are being adhered to on the ground. To this end both Andy and Carmel from the Operations Team will be delivering training in Tanzania and Peru over the coming months aimed at educating our ground teams on the use of these safety documents.

Jo’s adventure cycling through majestic Burma

Bizarrely the thing I have noticed most since I’ve been cycling in Burma is you just don’t sweat! Maybe I’m used to the humidity of a jungle environment but Burma is barren and the heat is dry!

The temperature is 37 degrees and, and after being transferred out of Mandalay to a small town on the outskirts, we begun our Burma Cycle challenge. I have now been cycling for a couple of hours in the heat. I imagined that the pagodas would be hidden away, but to my surprise it’s not very long before I spot one! And then another and another, and finally the most magnificent temple as the icing on the cake!  While we were in Mandalay we had the pleasure of coming across a street where the gold umbrellas of a Stupa (a Buddhist monument) are hand chiseled and crafted into this striking piece of art that is so common on Burmese temples. Watching it be transformed from a solid lump of metal to the beautiful artwork that we see is incredible.

The second thing I notice in Burma is the astounding kindness and genuineness of the people. They are always willing to help where they can. We hear calls of “Min guh la ba” (Hello!) from all ages as we pass. I’ve been cycling for 30 minutes before I notice that my handlebar frame is slightly off centre, so we stop to fix it and before long we have a team of mechanics by our side. Older men are squatting to help support our bike, their hands holding up the frames and wheels, while the children’s intrigued eyes are watching my guide, Zaw Lin, at work. These are, I have to say, the nicest people I have met so far!

Today we are on route to Bagan to find something that’s a little off the beaten track, and we stumble across a village with locals making incense and pots. The village roads (a.k.a. dirt trails) prove to be a little sandy, making cycling tricky, but the warmth from the villagers is just what we came here for. We get stuck behind a herd of goats and their master, which is picture perfect. Turning a corner we see a magnificent temple so out of place in this tiny village. Yet this is Burma so not out of place at all!
Our detour comes to an end and we are back on the road heading to Bagan, where we are picked up for a two hour boat ride up the river with an entrance view of the temples of Bagan. What a reward for a long hot dusty cycle. Later that evening we take our bikes to cycle the temples and watch the sunset! If cycling in Burma always had these rewards at the end, then the challenge will be a breeze!

We depart Bagan for Mount Popa, where our gently undulating terrain turns to a few short steeper climbs. However, the good news is that for every uphill there is a wonderful downhill! I soon start cursing those mountain bike wheels as they stick to the tar road and, despite building up a fair speed, don’t get me anywhere near close to even starting the next hill! So I drop my gears and slowly but surely start the climb as the sun is so kindly showing its intensity once again. Wishing I had trained for hilly terrain I am feeling that burn when a group of kids pop out waving and shouting hello. This helps to spur me on, and on passing them I see my shaded resting point where a cold glass of water and a good body stretch is waiting for me.

It’s been a tough climb today to Mount Popa but once again the reward is always there. After climbing 770 steps up to the temple I can see what I’ve achieved, as my cycle route meanders off into the distance!

For more information on our Cycle Burma, please click here. If you have any questions on this challenge, please contact us on info@charitychallenge.com. To see more information about the array of amazing challenges we have, please visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, please subscribe to this blog. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Changes to liquids in hand baggage (UK/EU)

Due to the development of Liquid Explosive Detection Systems (LEDs), the European Commission has revised the requirements for the screening of liquids, aerosols & gels.

The restrictions to liquids, aerosols & gels carried in hand baggage continue, i.e. containers will still need to include less than 100ml and be contained within the one litre plastic bag.

The new rules broadly sees changes to the treatment of additional liquids not carried in the one litre bag. Starting 31 January 2014, the following liquids presented for screening at UK & EU airports, must be subjected to LEDs if carried outside of the one litre plastic bag:

• Duty free items in ICAO standard Security Tamper Evident Bags

• Medicine

• Baby food/other dietary requirements

This applies to both transferring and direct customers.

Key benefits:

Customers can now take Duty Free liquids purchased from any airport (including non-EU airports) or onboard through UK security screening points, even if taken landside, provided items are in a Security Tamper Evident Bag, with the receipt sealed inside the bag at the time of purchase.

If transferring customers buy any Duty Free liquids onboard, cabin crew will ensure that items are sealed in a Security Tamper Evident Bag. Security Search points will reseal these items in a new Security Tamper Evident Bag, where necessary.

Please note:

• All liquids, aerosols & gels must be presented separately from other hand baggage items at security screening points.

• The tasting/testing of liquids, aerosols & gels on the skin will no longer be recognised as a method of screening. Liquid medicines carried outside of the one litre bag still require a doctor’s note or prescription.

• The use of LEDs, especially alarm resolution, may require the breaking of cellophane wrapping and de-packing of the item. Some airports may use equipment that requires the bottle to be opened, however London Heathrow will not test in this manner.

• Within the UK, liquids in the one litre bag may also be subjected to LEDS.

• For airports outside of the EU and UK, existing policies continue.

Source: British Airways

Charity Challenge recognised as Best Special/Challenge Events Partner for the second year running!

We’ve done it again! Charity Challenge has picked up the award for the Best Challenge Events Partner for the second year in a row at the 2014 Institute of Fundraising Partners in Fundraising Awards.

The award ceremony took place on Tuesday night and we are delighted and incredibly proud to have won this fantastic award again.

Charity Challenge have been in the industry for over 14 years now and have helped thousands of people achieve their personal goal whilst raising over £40m for more than 1500 UK, Irish and Canadian registered charities.

Simon Albert, Managing Director said “We have stuck by our founding principles of delivering exceptional service to our charity and corporate clients, and to your supporters / our participants who undertake the challenges.  It’s their lives and your reputation in our hands and we do all we can to deliver the highest standards of due diligence, health and safety planning and implementation, and to provide an incredible and memorable experience. Thank you to everyone who voted for us and we hope to continue delivering outstanding challenges to the sector in 2014 and beyond.”
We would like to take this opportunity and thank all of our charity partners and challenge participants for their business, and for their continued feedback which allows us to look at new ways to constantly improve what we do.

For more information on Charity Challenge, please visit us at www.charitychallenge.com

Win a Mini IPad, Kindle HD Fire, Samsung Camera and lots more!

Happy New Year!

To celebrate 15 years of organising Charity Challenges, we are doing a fantastic January Gadget Give-Away!

From Monday (06 Jan) to the end of the month, we will be giving away amazing gadgets EVERY DAY to someone booking on to an overseas challenge!

It’s simple to enter, just make a booking and we will enter you into our prize draw for that day! Prizes on offer include:

Jacqueline Peckham  – Samsung Camcorder
Amanda Sturges – Google Nexus
Mark Gardner – Kindle HD Fire
Anthony Wild – Samsung Camcorder
Jacqueline Jackson – Kindle HD Fire
Nicole Ramsay – Google Nexus
Fiona Rogers – Samsung Camera
Christine Saladas – I Pod Nano
Katie Hazelwood – Samsung Camera
Andrew Kouroushi – Samsung Camera
Samantha Webber-Cadby – I Pod Nano
James Fry – Kindle HD Fire
Martain Miller – Samsung Camcorder
Ahmed Khan – Google Nexus
Gerard McManus – Kindle HD Fire
Nicole Valentine – Mini I Pad
Hilary Lamb – Samsung Camera
Panjaruthnam Govender – Samsung Camcorder
Valerie Smith – Samsung Camera
Colin Cork – I Pod Nano
Janet Brown – i Pod Nano
Angela Rowlands – Google Nexus
Emma-Jane Adam – Samsung Camcorder
Simon Donaldson – I Pod Nano
Aoibhne O’Neill – Kindle HD Fire
Victoria Kennell – Mini I Pad

Congratulations to all of you!

Attend one of our free information evenings in January and find out what a Charity Challenge is all about!

Come and find out what our challenges are all about and hear how you can take part in a ‘once in a life time opportunity’. This is your opportunity to find out about our challenges, the way we work and why we are different to other companies in the market and meet some of the Charity Challenge team before you book on a challenge.

The information evening will be held on the following days:

•    Wed 22 January 2014 at 7.30pm – “High altitude challenges” at The Altitude Centre (Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu, Everest Base Camp, Avenue of the Volcanoes, Dalai Lama Himalayan Trek, High Atlas Trek and Atlas Mountain Bike)

•    Thu 23 January 2014 at 7.30pm  – “Other challenges” at a London venue at The Altitude Centre. (Great Wall of China Trek, Sahara Desert Trek, Icelandic Lava Trek, Sumatran Jungle Trek, Trek/Cycle Burma, Dog Sledding, Rajasthan Cycle Challenge, Cuba Trek / Bike)

The following information will be covered:

•    Information on our portfolio of challenges
•    Support you will receive from Charity Challenge
•    Fundraising
•    Fitness training
•    Other pre-expedition preparation
•    Buy/hiring kit for the challenge
•    How to book and why to book with Charity Challenge
•    Discounts on the night
•    Q&A session

Places are limited on both evenings, so if this sounds like something you’re interested in, then book your place now! Please email Firdous@charitychallenge.com with the date of the evening you would like to attend, the number of people attending (anyone interested in booking a challenge is most welcome) with their name and email address and also the name of the challenge you are interested in.

We look forward to meeting you in the New Year and hopefully helping you to achieve your personal goal and raise vital funds for a charity close to your heart.

Our Charity trekkers tie the knot on the Great Wall of China

Abbie Ross was not expecting the charity trek on the Great wall of China in April 2013 to be such a memorable experience in more ways than one when she signed up to fundraise for Stroke Association with her boyfriend James Dennis. Departing the 6th April 2013 a group of 18 led by Penny Knight embark on the 9 day challenge on the Great Wall Discovery Challenge…

This is what Abbie has to say about her experience of a lifetime with an unexpected surprise like no other…….

Going to China was a dream trek and unforgettable experience in more ways than one for us this April!

On our third day after hours of trekking the magnificent great wall at Jinshangling Great Wall, our legs were killing and we were all looking forward to a good meal and a hot shower.
We all made our way down the mountain side chattering amongst ourselves and full of good spirit after another successful and challenging day.

Very unaware of another life changing event about to take place I persuaded James to sit with me beneath a traditional oriental pavilion and have some pictures.

The moment James pulled a box out of his favourite pair of trekking socks (Clean and in the pocket of his rucksack!!) and went down on one knee was the best moment ever-  further more when he popped the big question and all the amazing friends we made let out a huge cheer was so amazing!
We will always hold this trek and our group close to our hearts and can’t wait for a Charity challenge honey moon!!

Charity Challenge would like to congratulate Abbie and Congratulations to James on their Engagement. We would also like to Congratulate all our trekkers on their amazing dedication to the charities they support and the challenges they overcome and complete.

For more information on our Great Wall Discovery, please click here. If you have any questions on this challenge, please contact us on info@charitychallenge.com. To see more information about the array of amazing challenges we have, please visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, please subscribe to this blog. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Charity Challenge launch Challenge Safe

As one of the world’s leading operators of fundraising challenges, Charity Challenge considers the welfare and safety of all its participants, staff and crew to be a top priority and has one of the most advanced and thorough safety management systems in the industry.

People can be injured or die in accidents or succumb to illness when travelling overseas, just as they can at home. It is important to keep this issue in context, although for our groups we have a Goal Zero policy; it is our primary objective to prevent any incident of injury, illness or fatality at all costs.

In 2013, we decided to consolidate all the years of existing knowledge, learning and experience gained from our own staff and from our colleagues overseas and collate it all into one tailored and unique safety management manual called Challenge Safe, complete with its own brand and logo. This manual brings together existing processes and formalises the ethos, objectives and procedures we use to manage company welfare and safety. It aims to provide a quantifiable approach to managing risk and sets out a process for auditing all aspects of our operation and consequently identifies a strategy over the coming years for rolling out these procedures, consequently further improving our standard of safety management by means of a set of practical and achievable objectives.

We took the decision that despite local and national regulations, there remains a distinct lack of any international agreed standards of safety and this can place our participants at risk in destinations where these standards may be lower than those enjoyed in their own country. Our aim is to work closely with our suppliers to raise the profile of safety based on the legal norms of their country of operation, so that real improvements can be made.

Challenge Safe determines that all aspects of our operation are fully risk assessed and control measures put in place using a series of standard operating procedures. For example, with our accommodation, we aim to follow good practice guidance that in essence will limit the potential for a fire incident to occur, restrict the spread of smoke and fire in a fire situation and ensure all occupants can be evacuated quickly and safely. Similarly, we are developing other standard operating procedures including ones for vehicles, vessels, camping, trekking, cycling, water based activities, horse-riding – it is our objective that for all activities undertaken on our challenges, there will be a standard operating procedure.

One important function of Challenge Safe is to ensure that all personnel across the business as well as those of our overseas suppliers and crew, are fully aware of their responsibilities and the procedures set out for the discharge of those responsibilities.
Challenge Safe sets out the terms on which we buy from our suppliers and aims to provide appropriate safety information to our participants before and after the purchase of their challenge from us. We encourage participants and empower our leaders and crew overseas to feedback to us on all safety related matters and it is vital to follow up on these to ensure any preventable safety failures are avoided.

Challenge Safe impacts on everything that we do for our groups to reduce the risk of injury, illness or death whilst travelling with us. The programme is an investment which will, over a period of time, ensure that we raise the standard of safety for our groups and subsequently the quality of our challenges, whilst mitigating any potential claim or compensation.

In China we say Ni Hao

Emotional goodbyes at terminal 5; Mums, Dads and friends not lucky enough to be coming with us. Ten hours on a plane is long enough to send anyone doolally, but British airways do their best to ease the pain. We stumble off the plane at 2am London time like zombies, heading for a new adventure. Stomachs are tense, eyes are bleary, minds are jittery. All soon put at ease by our local guides, Jason and Ming; no, sorry, ‘Tony’.

We learn that ‘in china we say Ni Hao’. ‘Ni Hao Jason’; ‘Ni Hao Tony’.

Head straight to Beijing Olympic park for a warm-up walk. Lots of familiar buildings, bird’s nest and water cube, plus a new tower under construction which apparently will be Beijing’s highest tea house. Yet, as always in China, it seems that we are the attraction – the Chinese delight in our presence; waving, smiling and shyly taking opportunities to say hello. The only ones not interested are the kids, fiercely coddled by their mothers and forever scowling.

The weather is muggy, and you can’t help but wonder if this is the result of rapid, coal fired in-dustrialisation. A quick lunch at a nearby restaurant where everyone falls asleep in their soup, and then onto the bus for the journey out of Beijing. Suicidal traffic manoeuvres are glimpsed through heavy eyelids, though our driver, Master Jung (for ‘he has the skills of a shaolin master’) seems to have it all under control. His wrath is reserved for fools who dawdle in his lane in their blinged up BMW’s as he sticks religiously to the speed limit, flashing his lights at them repeatedly.

‘Impression lodge’ has a warm welcome, though favourable impressions are reserved until after dinner, which is an excellent buffet (they even throw in some chips to spoil us). We celebrate Tamara’s birthday, there is cake, drunken Chinese businessmen proposing toasts, and a round of beers outside to finish us off. Day one complete!

‘Black Dragon Pools…and the steps begin!!’

It’s a jolly morning; everyone is eager for their first day’s trekking and glad of a proper sleep. Most eager and jolly is Dave, who managed to drink 10 beers last night; can’t work out if he’s jolly or still drunk, but that’s just Dave; a happy chappy to say the least :-) Master Jung navigates a short ride to Black Dragon Pools, the location for today’s trek. A lot of construction in and around the road, it seems the farmers in this area have found a new crop – tourists.

Jason has the mic for the journey, and we practice our new mandarin phrases – ‘Ding ding hao’ (very very good) rolls off the tongue with ease, the rest are quickly forgotten.

The Black Dragon Pools consist of a series of gorgeous natural pools and waterfalls in a gorge in the shadow of the great wall. This stunning natural wonder has been ‘enhanced’ by all the extras that Chinese tourists seem to want – giant rubby duckies, zorb balls, the latest hits blaring out of speakers hidden in rocks and numerous signs telling us what and what not to do. We ascend the steps at a decent pace, stopping to regroup occasionally and exchange pleasantries with local tourists, before reaching the temple at the top, whereupon we pass through a locked gate into an area marked ‘no visitors’. It soon becomes apparent that this sign is here as there isn’t really a path, and we scramble up quite a steep slope through overgrown jungle, the theme tune to Indiana Jones ringing in our ears. No drama though, and we soon reach a tarmac road where the going is a lot easier. No one seems quite sure why this road has been built, we only see one car on it during the next hour, which turns around and comes back to get a better look at us – there are also ominous big brother style cameras watching precisely nothing, well, except us. First views of the great wall – there’s an ancient watchtower overhead on a small hill with faint outlines of old wall snaking out along the ridgeline. We leave the road to scramble up to the watchtower and are rewarded with magnificent views down to the valley below; you can just make out the entrance to black dragon pools where we started many hours ago, and a river valley with fertile fields either side. There is a Chinese character carved into the field next to the river, which apparently says’ beautiful Great Wall’, though our guesses vary from ‘silly foreigners go home’ to ‘McDonalds next exit’. The scramble down from the watchtower makes the ascent seem like a doddle, as we hack our way through the jungle on a very indistinct track, following the path of the wall as it makes its way down the mountain. Sometimes we walk on sections of the old wall, which are very narrow in places and have rather alarming drop-offs on either side. You often lose sight of the person in front of you through the overgrowth and the silences are broken by blood-curdling screams – fortunately these are the result of an encounter with a nasty looking spider or centipede rather than anyone falling off the edge.

After 90 rather tense minutes we reach the bottom where Master Jung awaits us with the comfort of the bus. Back at impression lodge the staff out-do themselves, providing an excellent BBQ and a plentiful supply of cold beers to calm our nerves and reward our 1st day efforts. The night ends around a campfire in the courtyard, beers are flowing and the obligatory sounds of Gangnam style are on repeat. There may have even been a dance-off but hopefully that’s one video of this trip that will never see the light of day.

Day 2 done and dusted, an eventful and memorable introduction to the unpredictable nature of china and the spectacular scenery that awaits us on the great wall.

THE GREAT WALL

And so to the highlight of the trip, The Great Wall itself. There are still a few remnants of another boozy night but we set off in good spirits and jump on the bus to the sounds of Auld Lang Syne, which Impression Lodge have been playing on repeat for the past hour, perhaps to hurry us on our way, though Jason claims the Chinese version means ‘friends forever’; either way, we are sad to leave Impression behind as they have looked after us excellently and we will stay friends forever, at least in memory.

We reach the Gubeiko gateway, our entrance to the wall, and enjoy an enthusiastic warm up by Georgia and Elicia . Then the trekking begins, and it is a hot quick march up to the wall, which is not restored in this area and provides some exhilarating moments when you walk along narrow, crum-bling sections with drop-offs on either side. Those not wearing brown trousers soon are. Still, the views are absolutely magnificent as the wall snakes along endless mountains into the distance. This is the picture postcard image of the wall, the one google images offers you, the National Geo-graphic special, the money-shot. The haze has burnt off and it promises to be a hot and sunny day. We reach a restored section of the wall where the going is easier and the old watchtowers are re-stored to some of their former glory – they offer a welcome respite from the sun and we stop to lunch in one of them. Then the real fun begins as we have to meander off the wall and around a military base – this area is totally closed to the public so we take small village paths through corn fields and along ridges parallel to the wall. The scramble back up to the wall is slightly hairy as we negotiate a vertigo inducing narrow ledge with the wall on one side and nothing on the other – there’s only one way to fall and it doesn’t look pretty. Of course this is the moment Dr Fox chooses to call live from Magic FM for an interview with Denise, and I find myself running along the ledge with the phone in one hand and some-ones bag in the other. Being the pros that we are the interview is pulled off without a hitch and Denise is live on the radio from the Great Wall – a moment to remember. After climbing back onto the wall we proceed along a nicely restored section for another hour before reaching our destination for the night, Jinshanling. The Jinshanling Lodge is a large ramshackle place with lots of little courtyards which appear to be straight out of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’. We have a good feed at dinner although it doesn’t have the intimacy of Impression Lodge, toasts by drunken Chinese businessmen are swapped for toasts by other tour groups. After dinner Jason teaches us to write our names in Mandarin and threatens that there will be a test on this tomorrow night, which no-one is looking forward too. We then visit the paper-cutting family for a demonstration of this ancient Chinese art and everyone is suitably impressed to part with a few quid for a souvenir to take home. An early night tonight as it’s been a long hot day, even Dave lays off on the beers.

JINSHANLING LOOP

Another beautiful morning; not a cloud in the sky, just the ever present wall looming picturesquely overhead. Warm up duties today are performed in the shadow of the wall by the ever enthusiastic Dave; highlights include the funky chicken and pretend you’re a cow – perhaps not the most physiologically sound warm up, but very entertaining nonetheless. Being suitably enthused we send a group “Get Well Julie!” Message to Dave’s wife back home, who was meant to join us on the trek
this week but has stayed at home for more chemotherapy – just one of the many sad yet inspiring stories that have brought the group here and gelled them all together for this challenge.

We climb up to the wall and begin the now familiar pattern up ascending seemingly never-ending stairs and counting down watch-towers. Today’s total is 15 towers, which we can see snaking off over the mountains into the horizon. The sun is beating down and it is tough going on some sections, but if you can manage 100 odd stairs in one sitting, then you can manage this. And everyone here can manage 100 stairs, certainly when they are as driven towards fundraising for their charities as this lot. We reach the 15h tower and stop for a well deserved packed lunch – those of us who still have energy to burn decide to negotiate 3 final towers towards the closed off Simitai section of the Great Wall. This is a section of the wall that is closed off due to renovation and these towers are really hard to access so it is up to the fittest members of the group to take up the challenge for us – step forward Catherine and Clare who return after 30mins without even breaking a sweat.

We re-group and head down to the bus where the ever vigilant Master Jung awaits us to take us 2hours to our nights’ accommodation. We pass through a brand new town with mock European style townhouses, Dutch windmills, massive lake side villas and a huge egg shaped ho-tel/conference centre under construction. It all seems a bit bizarre to say the least, particularly when I learn that this massive building project throwing up a huge cloud of dust and pollutants is taking place here as it’s an area with ‘good air’.

Our lodge for the night is called Fairyland and has a large number of buildings dotted around a river in a gorge – quite a pretty setting. We explore the riverside decking which doubles as a bar, one of the restaurants where the food is decent and plentiful, and then on to the karaoke bar where the winners of the ‘write your name in Mandarin’ challenge are rewarded with a Charity Challenge buff and the losers are made into a karaoke team and perform a rather cringe worthy version of Fernando. Still, not as embarrassing as my version of Old Macdonald which warmed everyone up, but that’s another story…

HEAVENLY STAIRWAY

Today we tackle the most tourist friendly section of the wall at Mutianyu, and the much anticipated Heavenly Stairway. It lives up to expectation with loads of stalls selling souvenirs ranging from Obama t-shirts to cuddly pandas to chopsticks; we run the gauntlet and manage to hold on to all our cash as we have a mission to accomplish. There is a cable car leading up to the wall here, and a toboggan run leading down from it, but as usual we’re doing things the hard way, with nearly 1000 steps to ascend before we even reach the wall. Once on the wall it’s relatively easy going, and there are lots of tourists dressed accordingly in flip flops and skirts – we stamp our authority as hardcore trekkers with our walking poles and our boots. The path undulates along a few towers before the dreaded Heavenly Stairway comes into view – this is a continuous section of 300-400 steps leading straight up the mountain, seemingly into the heavens. It’s a steep climb and a challenge for all, but by this stage we’re old pros and we ascend with comparative ease to the sweating masses. At the top we have a round of high fives and a group photo, before heading back down, some of us braving the swaying cable car, others opting to rely on their own pistons. Our reward for the day’s efforts is a footlong Subway and a decent coffee before we jump on the bus and head to a jade factory to see what it’s all about…Well it appears the jade factory was all about making money – incredibly they had one piece on sale for $61,000, which not even Alan could afford. Still, a few trinkets were bought by a few of us and the tour made for an interesting diversion. We then made out way to our hotel for the night, Juyonngang Lodge, where the staff were rather mean and but the rooms were rather good so we forgave them for it. Jason scared us all at dinner with the briefing for tomorrow, which is apparently his least favourite day of the trek and involves a constant ascent. Sounds ominous.

BADALING

Badaling Badaling Bada-ling; it rolls off the tongue rather nicely don’t you think. Well, Badaling Old Section is the location for today’s trek, the final section of our adventure on the Great Wall. First, we have to find it, for the mists have closed in and it’s hard to see more than 20metres. Still, Master Jung has the skills and the instincts necessary for any bus driver, and finds his way to the wall (in all honesty, it’s very well signposted, even in English).

We stop for our tree planting ceremony, inspired by Chris Edwards, who’s planting a tree in memory of her late husband, Mick. 13 of us think this sounds like a nice idea, so we also opt to partake, some of us choosing to commemorate a loved one, some of us looking towards the future, such as Steph and Chris, our honeymooners. The mists are still swirling around us and it makes for an evocative and reflective atmosphere, very fitting.

Tree planting done and photos taken we make our way to the wall, for the beginning of our last ascent. Unfortunately Jason wasn’t fibbing, and we climb steadily for the duration of the morning. There are still mists all around and it’s easy to lose sight of the people in front of you as you naturally separate into small groups of similar ability. There is the sound of shouting and beating drums coming up from below which is easy to imagine is the sound of armies advancing on our wall, though Jason assures its office workers on a day out.

The mists clear as we ascend higher and the sun warms up and it turns into a beautiful last day on the wall. In these remote mountains the wall is not restored and it is easy to transport your imagination back centuries to when it was built. You can’t help wonder if all this effort was completely pointless; there’s no-one here to defend now, how many people must there have been when it was constructed millennia ago?! Still, it makes for very pretty trekking, and the deteriorated sections make a decent challenge for the final day’s trek. We reach the top at about midday to an enthusiastic series of high fives and a few emotional hugs and kisses – it’s been an incredible jour-ney for some of us to get this far, and I don’t have the prose to sum it up sufficiently, you’ll have to come yourself next year instead ;-)

For more information on our Great Wall Discovery, please click here. If you have any questions on this challenge, please contact Jo, our Ops Manager on jo@charitychallenge.com. To see more information about the array of amazing challenges we have, please visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, please subscribe to this blog. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Deep in the Sumatran Jungle! By Challenge Leader Penny Knight

5th September and I’m on my way to London Heathrow with Angela the UK Doctor and 13 participants for our Sumatra Jungle Challenge. Some of the group were already there over three hours before take-off… excited and ready for the challenge ahead. We arrive the morning of the 6th to Kuala Namu and were met there by Murad and Kinol our guides and transferred to the lush Jungle village of Bukit Lawang.

Orang-utan Feeding Platform:

On arrival we were greeted by a group of village boys who kindly carried our heavy bags to the lodge over a swing bridge. The lodge provided welcome drinks and rooms were allocated. The group were surprised how comfortable these were, despite only cold showers. A thunderstorm at 5pm took out the electricity for several hours. We were tired so an early night to bed before we embark on our Jungle adventure tomorrow.

I woke to two cockroaches, a cockerel crowing, a large spider, incredible jungle sounds, two geckos and the call to prayer! The walk started over the bridge and through the village to the Orangutan feeding Platform. There are now well over 200 orangutans in this area. The macaques walked next to us on the paths and just above our heads which amazed everyone as they were much closer than everyone had expecting. The day was dry, warm and humid after heavy rain in the night.

At the platform, we saw one mother and baby. Everyone loved it. The walk back through the Jungle was three hours and on route, we saw a male wild orang-utan which came close and onto the ground. Later another baby orang-utan, previously rehabilitated was feeding high above us. We saw sunbear claw marks in the tree trunks and some very curious bugs. Everyone was in high spirits.

On the route back, we passed the rubber trees being tapped and saw coco trees growing.  The Thomas Leaf monkeys came very near and were friendly.  We headed off in the afternoon to the bat cave, a lovely walk on paths through a garden, past an orphanage to house children from the 2003 floods that devastated Bukit Lawang.

A flash flood hit Bukit Lawang on 2 November 2003. Described by witnesses as a tidal wave, the water was approximately 20 metres high, as it came crashing down the hills, wiping out everything in its path. The disaster, which was the result of illegal logging, destroyed the local tourist resorts and had a devastating impact to the local tourism industry. Around 400 houses, 3 mosques, 8 bridges, 280 kiosks and food stalls, 35 inns and guest houses were destroyed by the flood, and 239 people (5 of them tourists) were killed and around 1,400 locals lost their homes .After eight months of rebuilding, Bukit Lawang was re-opened again in July 2004.

We head into the Jungle….

Departure day for the 5 day trek into Gunug Lesuer National Park. Following an early breakfast we did some warm up exercises in the lodge to the amusement of the staff. After group photos, with very high morale we set off. We saw hornbills, three lively orang-utans playing overhead and many insects. Lunch was wrapped in a greaseproof paper parcel and included rice, egg, salad and pineapple. Several slipped and slid during the day but nothing serious and no injuries to my relief. The rain started at 3pm and was torrential. The final part of the walk was into camp by a river via a steep slope with roots and stones and a short wade through the stream water in already wet boots. Camp was set up and dry with a fire burning and hot tea ready.

Evening entertainment with the guides and porters was fantastic and this was a highlight of the trip. After a briefing and dinner of Indonesian chips, curry, sambal tofu, chicken, peanuts and rice, we all sang and were challenged by the tricks and brain teasers before our first night of sleeping in the Sumatran Jungle.

Morning after our first night in the jungle.

At 0630, two porters were pointing into the trees – a curious orang-utan had come to check us out and woken the guides by dropping branches on the cook tent! As well as this a pig tailed macaque also appeared but not so far away. These are more like baboons and very aggressive. Club sandwiches filled with omelette, tomato and cheese and durian fruit filled us all up ready for the day.

We left camp one at 9am and struggled up a very steep and muddy hill but spirits were high. There was a ridge at the top and a clearer path and through breaks in the trees we could see the jungle canopy below. A female orang-utan with a small baby clinging to her came close to us and we were able to watch her for some time. Just before lunch, we crossed paths with the other group who had seen a monitor lizard and crowned Cathy and Norman King/Queen of the Jungle.

At the top of the next hill/mountain ridge, we heard gibbons calling which was not unusual here but when the gibbon appeared above our heads it was the rare black gibbon and the guides had only ever seen one before themselves! There are reportedly only 20 in the area. The adult with two youngsters entertained us by posing for the camera and coming close. She had a beautiful face like a teddy bear! When we had to continue, she followed us in the branches overhead. At lunch, the three gibbons continued to play in the nearby branches and watch us eating our noodles and egg.

The route then headed downhill and the guides set up a rope for pax to descend. A short paddle through shallow waters to Camp Two by 4pm – no rain as yet today! Tea and a stunning plunge pool awaited. After washing in the pool, dinner including potato cakes and hot chocolate which we could eat outside, we had jungle stories and found frogs. Bats flew over us during the evening briefing and all headed for bed by 9pm when a thunderstorm and heavy rain started.

It had rained all night but it didn’t deter the orang-utan who came to visit us for breakfast! She appeared on the overhanging branches on the other side of the river to the camp. She had a teenager and a baby with her. After an hour she got less happy with our presence and moved fast to swing over the branches to our side of the river and very near to our sleeping tarp. The guides moved quickly to put themselves between us and the orang-utan but she was easily persuaded by some noises to move off. Pancakes with banana and lime were a popular breakfast. The rain eased off and we climbed another steep hill behind camp covered in a clay like mud, now saturated. After a 3 hour climb, we were rewarded with passion fruit and oranges. We briefly met the other group again who were on good form. Many people slipped on the next descent but remained in good humour.

The raging rivers…..

At the river, it suddenly started to rain very heavily at 1400 and the guides were quick to move the group upstream, conscious that the river levels would rise fast. The journey to camp then took 40 minutes. Initially this was a wade at shin height. We had to cross the river three times to remain in the shallowest water. We then all realised we hadn’t had lunch so “dunch” soon arrived and we watched the now raging river and logs floating down it. Stories and songs followed by candle light and more tricks and games which was great fun and by 9 another early night all were in bed and the rain had stopped.

Aches and pains had set in today. Left camp to start another steep climb – stiff calves soon eased off and we reached the top in a couple of hours for a fruit break. We saw a hornbill and an eagle, fungus, a black squirrel, a skink and a sweet smelling blossom which apparently keeps away bad spirits. At the highest point we could see for miles eastwards over the primary rainforest and to Bukit Lawang. The descent was challenging again but the group have remained enthusiastic and positive throughout. The sun was out when we reached the stony beach and much reduced river for a final 20 minute wade up to Camp 4 and to meet the other group.. A large fire was lit and we all swam and washed in the river. The other group arrived 40 minutes later and Noodle soup for lunch was served on the beach and everyone relaxed and exchanged stories in the sun.

Dinner included tree fern picked from the rainforest and served with chilli and garlic. As some wanted an early night and headed into their tarp, they were bitten by fire ants. There were hundreds and Kinol evacuated the tent. The guides used salt and insect repellent to finally get rid of them all after an hour. It did give an opportunity for Eddy’s stories and brown sugar and ginger tea.

Final days trek back to the Eco lodge

It was a dry morning so breakfast was back on the beach with pancakes and chocolate sprinkles. There was a great atmosphere and banter. We waded upstream for our route out of camp and left the river and went across the rubber plantations.  When we crossed the river for the last time, Murad was there to greet us. Away from the shelter of the jungle, the sun was very hot and it was much more humid. The finish banner was up at the lodge and we had photos and hugs.

The comfort of a bed…..

I was woken by Norman who had a scorpion in his room! I called security and they removed it . . . after photos! It was a later start today and we left at 0930 after breakfast for the Tree Replanting project. We came to Batu Kapal or Ship Cave after an hour. It was a beautiful setting with stunning views of the rainforest and the Landak River (which means porcupine.). We were met by Deywe and Yessi who live there and work for the Dutch owner (who lives in Surrey.)

We planted mahogany and mindy trees and some pax dedicated their trees to loved ones. The sun was hot and it was a lovely morning which all enjoyed. We were finished by lunch which we had in the lodge at the Tree replanting site, of wonderful local foods including pandan leaf sweets. The clouds were gathering so we went on only a short walk to see the Ship Cave The cave had once been inhabited and looks like a galleon but is very shallow – more of an overhang than a cave. Photos and goodbyes before we left to walk back via the orphanage – Kinder te Huis housing the children of those killed in the big flood. Everyone bought souvenirs, some made by the children. There was a warm welcome and drinks.

All met at 6pm to go for the Celebratory Dinner at a restaurant just over the bridge. It had room for all the guides, porters and us. It was a good meal and was followed by speeches, awards and the singing accompanied by guitars. It was a fantastic evening and great end to the challenge.

Testimonials & tips from the participants for future challengers:

•    The guides and their backup team were absolutely brilliant- they went above and beyond to ensure we were kept safe and secure in the jungle. Every single one of them had this positive energy and everything was done with a smile and so polite. Kate Hughes

•    It has been an amazing journey. Every day, every minute, every second brought something different. To have been part of this I feel like the most privileged person to have ever walked this planet. Orang utans, creepy crawlies, leeches? All part of the experience. Shirley Butler

•    Yes. It was a great to spend a couple of nights at the Ego Lodge before setting out into the jungle. Penny suggested that we pack our back packs exactly as we were intending for the challenge on the day we went to see the Orangutan’s and the Bat cave. This was an excellent opportunity to see how we managed with the weight we would be carrying. I ditched taking my sleeping bag ( just used my liner-which was fine) and got rid other none essentials. Carrying all your own gear was what made this challenge extreme rather than just tough. The trek itself exceeded all my expectations and although it was really hard the support from both your fellow like minded trekkers and guides made all the effort worthwhile. And when we reached camp each night the food was brilliant and the campsites were better than i imagined they would be like. And the evening entertainment from the guides was fantastic, full of fun and laughter to the point of crying.

•    Make sure you prepare yourself physically for the challenge both upper and lower body. Get used to carrying a large heavy rucksack when out trekking to get used to it. Really think about what is essential to go in your trekking sack and pack it a few times before you go. The smaller and lighter everything can be the better- particularly the weight and correct type of the rucksack itself, the sleeping bag ( one season only+/or liner),small compact mat that can go inside your bag. The rugsack probably needs to be minimum of 40 litres. River shoes essential- don’t think really needed the seal socks. Dry bags essential.

•    Another incredible challenge which once again exceeded my expectations. The sights and sounds of the jungle will remain with me forever. But it’s the toughness of the challenge and testing your own ability to succeed that’s important to me. And this you achieve with like minded inspirational people who with the support of the guides and porters unite as one team to overcome obstacles along the way to achieving the challenge and making new lifelong friends. And knowing that when you get home you are already looking for your next challenge.

You can also find out more about our Sumatra Jungle Challenge by clicking here. If you have any questions on this challenge, please contact Jo, our Ops Manager on jo@charitychallenge.com. To see more information about the array of amazing challenges we have, please visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, please subscribe to this blog. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.