Archive for Trekking Blogs

Dave’s 11 Top Mountain Tips

 

 

Resident mountain expert Dave Sculthorpe has seen a peak or two in his time, having climbed to the heights of Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp and Oman. We asked him to come up with his top mountain tips to help you prepare for your next challenge.

 

 

Choose the right mountain, be realistic!
If you have never tried on a pair of walking boots, then Stok Kangri may not be the one for you. Here at Charity Challenge we’re all about being inspired, but we also want you to achieve that goal. It may be best to start with a UK challenge like our Snowdon Triple Challenge. Once you have the mountain bug then you can look at going farther and higher. Most of the best UK mountaineers cut their teeth in Scotland or Snowdonia and still keep coming back!

Choose your route and plan
Some of our challenges have different routes or seasons that you can ascend them in. Your first job is to do some research and see what will be best for you. Once signed up its time to start learning! Look at the history of the region, flora and fauna, myths, legends, language. This will heighten the experience when you get there. For me, reading about the mountaineering history of the Khumbu region made my trek to Everest Base Camp that bit more atmospheric.

Train
This is universal for any challenge. If you do not have the physical ability then the challenge will be much harder than it really needs to be! This is not to say you need to be an Olympian and everyone will still struggle at certain points. All it means is that you will not need to suffer unnecessary discomfort and you will really be able to enjoy what is all around you! We provide full training plans and advice for how best to maximise this.

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Let people know where you are going
More applicable to going out alone in the UK than one of our overseas challenges, but we have all seen 127 Hours…

Gear up
Along with training this is the one thing that can make or break a challenge. Most leaders will have seen waterproofs that aren’t water proof, soles falling off boots in the first 45 minutes, horrible blisters or just generally unusable junk. Firstly, do your homework, Don’t worry if you don’t know your boots from your Berghaus, there are plenty of reviews online, or go into a shop like Cotswold and ask the staff. Here are a few key things to look for in kit:

  1. Fit for purpose – do you need warmth, waterproof, sun protection, breathability?
  2. Good quality – Does it do what it needs to?
  3. Lightweight – You are going to carry it, so make sure you aren’t loaded more than the pack mule.
  4. Inexpensive – Kit can be expensive, but don’t always go for the most expensive kit. You can get good bargains when you know what to look for!
  5. Worn in – Try before you buy, then wear it whilst training so that you have worked out any problems. The last thing you want is for you to discover something catastrophic when you get to the mountain.

Dealing with altitude! Pace yourself
Altitude can affect anyone! It does not discriminate between how fit you are, how good your kit is or how old you are! No matter which mountain you are attempting you can bet the local guide will have a phrase that roughly translates to ‘slow down’. ‘Pole Pole’, which means ‘slowly slowly’ in Swahili, often becomes a mantra when climbing Kilimanjaro. And for good reason, the slower you go the better chance you have to let your body adjust or acclimatise. This will ultimately make the whole experience more pleasant and avoid the worst symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness).

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Hydrate
Sounds simple, but staying well hydrated will solve so many problems it is a wonder to think it’s so underrated. Whether you are in the desert and mountains of Oman, the Cairngorms or the Andes, it is so important. Being hydrated makes our body’s performance better and ultimately the challenge easier, but it also helps prevent heat illness and aids acclimatisation to altitude.
Top Tip: If you really hate drinking water try and take concentrated squash or isotonic powders to make it more interesting, or mask the taste of your water purification tablets.

Prevention and protection
You only have yourself to blame…
Mountains can be harsh environments despite the amazing scenery. UV levels are much stronger at altitude due to the sun’s rays passing through less atmosphere. This can really surprise people so you should wear high factor sun cream and lip balm with SPF protection. Similarly the weather can be tough and very changeable, so the correct kit, hydration and attitude will help you prevent everything from hypothermia to heat exhaustion depending on the environment. Don’t be scared – all of this is easily avoidable!

Enjoy the journey
This sounds simple but is important. Often, if people aren’t used to walking on uneven terrain with walking poles and with a backpack on, they spend a lot of time hunched over looking at the floor. Remember to pick your head up and take in everything that is around you. Chat to the guides and your fellow trekkers, play games and take lots of photos and videos. Remember this is what you have been building up to for months so make the most of it.

Bring a treat
Sometimes it is incredible the morale boost a little home comfort can bring. Whether this is a sachet of cuppa soup or hot chocolate, your iPod or a comfy pair of shoes for around camp. It can make the difference in reminding why you signed up and why you are pushing yourself to the limits.

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Be ready to adapt
This is true of all expeditions but especially mountain treks. Things will change, plans will go out the window and the heavens will open when you really wanted that bucket list photo. This is just what happens and if you can take this in your stride or even learn to enjoy this inevitability of expeditions, then your time will be all the better for it.

 

Now that you’ve got the tips, we bet you’re ready to bag yourself a peak! Head over and choose your challenge today.

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Our Operations Manager, Andy Baker, updates us on his recce in Nepal

It has been a difficult year for Nepal, not that you would really know this from the warm greeting that I have received from all of our different ground crews here. In the week that Prince Harry has also made a trip around some of Nepal’s cultural highlights I too have been fortunate enough to spend some time working in collaboration with our ground teams on a couple of new itineraries that Charity Challenge will be running this autumn. Our Poon Hill Himalayan Trek in the Annapurna region, and our Kathmandu Valley Cycle.

First though has been a quick re-connection with an old favourite. Everest Base Camp. Last week 13 intrepid challengers stepped off the plane in Kathmandu to begin their long ascent through the Himalayas towards the iconic Base Camp. This is the first trip that Charity Challenge have run in Nepal since the disasters of 2015 and the trails are still quiet, making it the perfect time to visit.

Our itinerary rather uniquely combines both the authentic ‘teahouse’ experience and the challenge of camping. Meals are served by our kitchen team within the dining room of a local teahouse, whilst nights are spent under canvas just off the trail. The warmth and comfort of a teahouse, combined with the incredible vistas provided by unzipping your tent in the morning to a panorama of snow capped peaks. This is a fairly unique way to run this itinerary, and judging by the group who are still currently making their way to Base Camp, a very enjoyable way to do this trek.

Nepal has faced a tough year and we are delighted to have been able to start sending groups again and give local people some much needed work. With the creation of a couple of new itineraries hopefully even more people will get to sample this fantastic country soon.

As for me, well I am back in Kathmandu putting the finishing touches to the rest of my itinerary. A few days cycling in the Kathmandu Valley, followed by a trek to Poon Hill for views stretching off across to Annapurna. Not even Prince Harry can top that!

Andy Baker
UK Operations Manager

The return of the Classic Inca Trail!

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Set your faces to excited, because after almost 10 years, our Classic Inca Trail Challenge is making a much awaited return – September 2016!

Without doubt the most famous trek in South America, The Inca trail, consists of an incredible 4 days trekking 26 miles in the footsteps of the Incas, along the route traditionally used to travel from Cusco city to Machu Picchu.
This amazing trek is coming back to our wide portfolio of challenges in September 2016!

Machu Picchu

So why did we stop trekking the Inca trail?

Up until a couple of years ago, the Inca trail had gained a very bad reputation, it was overcrowded, dirty, with unprofessional tour operators mistreating porters! Charity Challenge, did not want to be part of this, hence the decision to stop operating the Classic Inca Trail challenge for an alternative, more responsible route.

Over the past few years, the Peruvian Government has realized the importance of protecting this world cultural and historical heritage site and consequently decided to implement strict measures in order to preserve this important route:
• Limiting the number of people entering the Inca trail to 500 a day including guides, cooks, porters, etc. with Inca passes issued under the clients name using full passport details. Passes are non-refundable and non transferable.
• Group sizes should not exceed 16 participants, and they should have at least 22 porters and 2 guides.

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• Tour operators, who want to send their clients on the Inca trail, need to undertake a tough application process in which inspectors will go unannounced to the company’s premises to check the equipment (tents, tables, sleeping bags, etc.) are in a suitable condition and that they provide all their porters with all the necessary equipment to do their job. After this checking process they will be issued with a license.
• Guides need to undertake a one week course (additional to the 5 years they have already spent in university) where they learn more about evacuation techniques, how to identify symptoms of hypothermia and AMS and immediate treatment.

Copy of Inca Trail - Clouds in Haze (Sonya Bell)

• The Peruvian government also carries out unannounced audits where they ensure porters are not being forced to carry any weight above the limit imposed by them (20kgs+ 5kgs personal belongings).
• The rubbish should be recycled and carried all the back to the city for proper disposal. Only biodegradable detergents can be used on the Inca trail.
• If a tour operator is found to not comply with any of the above rules, they get fined and their license could get cancelled.
On top of these regulations, responsible tour operators are taking a step forward, doing a bit extra for their porter’s welfare and responsible operation of the Inca trail.

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So why are we re-introducing the Inca Trail?
During the time we were not operating the Classic Inca trail, we put together a beautiful alternative trek through the Lares valley, which still includes one day walking through the last section of the Inca trail, where it is not necessary to have a full team of cooks and porters to go in as you only walk for a few hours. This trek is as demanding as the Inca trail if not a bit more as it goes higher, you have the beautiful scenery of the Andes surrounding you and get to trek through local villages.

Sylvana, our operations manager for our entire South America portfolio, was born and bred in Peru and has done both treks herself on various occasions during her tour leading days! She thought it would be good to offer our participants both options as she believes each trek has “its own charm.”

 

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Sylvana – Operations Manager in her beautiful homeland – Peru!

“Some people love the remoteness of the Lares trek, the fact that they are trekking with hardly any one else apart from their support team, and the fact that they go through local villages while trekking. For others, the fact that they are walking the actual route the Inca’s did while visiting the various archaeological sites on the route, understanding the way they lived and thought at the time, seems a little bit like travelling back in time! People also have the chance to interact with their porters during the Inca trail. I strongly believe both treks are amazingly challenging and they both have enough highlights to attract different kinds of travelers.”

Denise and Fearne's Charity Trek for Breast Cancer - Day 2

What are we doing to operate this trek responsibly and minimise the impact?
As part of our ground handler’s selection process, we always look to work with trusted, reputable and responsible local operators. Amazonas Explorer, our ground handler for the Classic Inca Trail challenge in 2016, is a company who have been working in Peru for over 30 years. They currently run our Cycle Machu Picchu to the Amazon challenge, and they currently have a clean Inca Trail license.

As part of their Responsible Tourism policy they:

  • Joined the 1% for the Planet Program and currently are the only Peruvian Tour Operator who is a member.
  • They donate 1% of their turnover each year to help reforest the Lares area with native trees, where most of their porter’s villages are.
  • Pay porters more than the wage stipulated by the authorities. We pay them at the end of the trek. They do not have to come to Cusco, or wait to collect their money.

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  • Provide a large communal tent with carry mat floor for porters to sleep in, it is not the clients’ dining tent.
  • Provide their porters with plenty of good food. This is not the same menu given to the passengers, but it is nutritious, abundant and what they are used to eating. They have their own cooking facilities so do not have to wait for the clients to finish eating before they get their food.
  • Only use registered Inca trail porters (as Inca trail rules stipulate) – these have to pass several forms of ID, character reference and a letter of good health and to have attended an Inca Trail Porter Awareness course.
  • Provide accident insurance and work contracts for each period of work porters do for us. They are all freelance.
  • Amazonas Explorer holds an annual, end-of-season, and porters’ party and football tournament, amongst other good things!!
  • Our groups will only be of a maximum of 15 participants, the doctor will take place number 16.

Machu Picchu

We will only run this challenge twice in 2016, once in September and once in October and will evaluate the feedback and review for 2017!

If you want to take part in this awesome challenge, just click here!

Discover the Great Wall – Revamped!

No we haven’t painted it cream, but we have switched up our Great Wall itinerary in order to ensure it’s more challenging, more responsible and even more interesting whilst avoiding the overcrowded tourist areas to showcase the very BEST of the Great Wall!

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To those of you who have been following Charity Challenge for a while, you will know that our Great Wall itinerary is one of our oldest, but most popular, treks. In recent years we have seen many renovations and improvements to the structure of the Wall, as well as the addition of toilets, shops and other modern amenities (of dubious quality it has to be said!!). The knock on effect of these renovations has meant that certain areas of the Wall around Beijing are becoming very touristy, mainly Chinese tourists who want to see their beautiful country. It also means that some days of our current challenge have become a lot easier, with people knocking off as much as 2 hours in their completion… not ideal for a Charity Challenge!

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So for the last 6 months we have been looking into new areas of the Wall that could replace certain days in our current itinerary. This has been an exciting development and research phase, with our Senior Operations Manager, Carmel out in China this month with one of our groups, to inspect some of the amendments that we have already made.
The new areas are just as challenging, but quieter, more remote, and offer a more ‘authentic’ experience of China. So we hope you like them!!
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Huanghuacheng: The Huanghuacheng area of the Wall is new for 2015, and has replaced one of the other areas that was becoming a bit touristy. As one leader said it was like “Disneyland goes to China!” Huanghuacheng is possibly the most remote and rural part of the Wall in our new itinerary – you will find yourself scrambling up to the watchtowers across overgrown paths, crumbling, stony terrain and steep steps.

“It was totally amazing. Each day was so different in terms of scenery and terrain. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but loved every minute.”

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It has received rave reviews as ‘the most exciting day’. With many steep ascents and descents, it’s certainly a challenge but our participants are rewarded by the incredible scenery and the knowledge that you won’t see another soul!

“A truly amazing experience”

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Mutianyu: 2015 challengers are again the first to experience the change to the final day, at Mutianyu. When our 2014 groups trekked up the Heavenly Staircase to celebrate their achievement at the final watchtower, they were surprised to see another watchtower lurking on the horizon… this seemed a bit of a cop out to many of the group, who felt that there was still some of the climb left to do. They then turned around and trekked back down in the same way as they came, which, although an amazing achievement, seemed like a bit of an anticlimax. And that is alongside the rest of the tourists getting the cable car!! Now that the route up to this new watchtower has been repaired and inspected, we have been researching new ways to get there, and we are excited to be launching a complete route, which is set to be a spectacular improvement on the norm.

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The day now begins not at a busy carpark next to Subway, but at a remote village below the wall. You will trek for around 3 hours to reach the Wall itself, up a steep, narrow path amid the overgrowth, through which a watchtower looms about 200m above you in the distance. Comments from this year include ‘we’re not going up there, are we?!’… the watchtower actually represents the final climb and the pinnacle of the day, with a long (2.5 hr) trek down to the original carpark. After 3 hours of trekking amid the overgrowth, the views of the rest of the Wall stretching down in front of participants has provoked some emotional reactions… including a surprise proposal!!

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Carmel also went to discover a brand new section of the Wall in May, but has made the decision, as it stands, NOT to replace any of our current itinerary with that day, although it gives us options in the future when China becomes more and more visited by tourists.

“Life changing, after this trip I now feel there is nothing I cannot conquer. Bring on my next trip”

GreatWall8The itinerary as it stands provides an amazing overview of old and new, renovated and un-renovated, remote and touristed. We hope that this trek is one that will never get old, and to prove it here’s what they thought!

“It was an amazing adventure with an amazing team back in the UK and in China – Charity Challenge has done themselves proud again – Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”

Click here to discover the Great Wall!

 

A new generation of inspiration

We receive lots of enquiries on a daily basis, but this one stood out. It was from Faye Vanstone, a 9 year old who wanted to do something for charity. We don’t ordinarily take under 16s, so the answer was unfortunately (initially at least) “no”.

But having three sons of my own, and knowing how much they go on about when they will be able to do a Charity Challenge, it started me thinking.
Here’s what happened…

SNOWDON CHALLENGE (written by Faye Vanstone, aged 9)

My family and some of my friends have been affected by cancer. So I felt I wanted to do something for a cancer charity to help them find more ways of curing the disease.

In Year 4 at school one of our topics was Mountains and rivers. I decided I wanted to climb a Mountain and thought it would be a good idea to use this as a challenge and a way of trying to raise money for Cancer Research.

GroupI got in-touch with several charity organisations by myself and eventually one responded. That was Charity Challenge. Simon, the director of Charity Challenge, kindly said he would look at the possibility of helping me to achieve what I wanted to do to raise money for Cancer Research. Simon was so inspired by my email he planned and booked the event to climb up Snowdon! He even joined us with his two oldest sons, Benji (aged 10) and Gadi (aged 8) and their friend Jake (aged 10), and they raised money for Wateraid.

Simon also organised a professional guide, Dan, who came with two other “young people” Chloe and Ethan. My mum, step dad and Dad came with me for support while walking, with my Granny and Grandad waiting at the bottom of the mountain to congratulate us all on our return.

The Challenge walking up was the steepest parts as there was so much fog and it was so hard to see anything in front of you! In parts you couldn’t see more than a few meters in front of you. We all had a trip or a fall and wondered how long it would take (and kept askingFaye, “how much further?”) but we persisted and were all so pleased when we got to the top and had a rest and realised what we had achieved. Then the challenge of getting back down again started!!

It was hard work but all of the training paid off and we accomplished our goal. I set out to raise £400 and so far have managed to raise over £660.

Any further donations for Cancer Research can be given through my just giving page. I have been so grateful for all the money raised so far for this exceptional charity. http://www.justgiving.com/Faye-Vanstone1

Thank you so much Charity Challenge!

Faye Vanstone

Benji, Gadi and Jake were raising money for Wateraid. Here’s what they said on their fundraising page:

748 million people – roughly one in ten of the world’s population – have no choice but to get water from wherever they can, whether it’s a dirty pond or an expensive water vendor.

2.5 billion people – one in three of the world’s population – don’t have access to adequate toilet facilities.

Over 500,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. That’s over 1,400 children a day.

We (Jake Lowy, Benji Albert and Gadi Albert) don’t think that’s right and we want to try and help change that. So we are going to climb Mount Snowdon in Wales and are trying to raise as much money as we can to help WaterAid, who help provide clean water solutions for rural communities around the world.  

Please help us to help them. Thank you.  https://www.justgiving.com/snowdonforwateraid

Simon Albert

If Faye, Benji, Gadi and Jake have inspired you to do a challenge and raise money for charity, then please click here.

Kamal Bhandari, our Nepalese Challenge Leader had a secret urge to visit the Great Wall of China…

KamalKamal has been leading Charity Challenge Everest Base Camp Treks for over ten years. He has weathered some of the most rugged terrain on Earth and has never hesitated to go the extra mile for his team and those trekking with him.  Many of you reading this will have shared some memorable moments in the Himalayas with him and know how passionate he is about making the trips a wonderful experience for his clients.

We found out that a lifelong dream of Kamal’s was to visit the Great Wall of China and as he has been a truly wonderful guide and advocate of Charity Challenge over the years, we set plans in motion to try and make a trip for him as memorable…  Here’s what he has to say:

“My journey to Great Wall has been a memorable one. A dream come true. A Big THANK YOU and the credit goes to Charity Challenge for helping and sorting my trip. It really makes me proud working with them.

This trip was different from my usual treks in Nepal. It is not correct to say that it was easy compared with my trips in the Himalayas. We had to walk lots of ups and downs, half of which was natural and half renovated – some of them were killers! But I loved it.

I was given the chance from Charity Challenge to be with a trekking team from Royal Marsden Hospital of 24 trekkers. I felt lucky to be with them. Even though I was a stranger for everyone before the trip, I was never given a chance to think back. The care, love and friendly attitude of everyone made me speechless.

With nothing to worry about – altitude nor the clients, I was tension free.  I was more like aKalam in china small spoiled kid kept in middle of the toy shop. The views, walk itself, greenery, shopkeepers, locals, guides and participants are all still rolling over my head. For everything I give a BIG THUMBS UP.

On completion of the Great Wall Walk, covering 50 KM in 5 days, we advanced towards Central Beijing. Beijing was other place I always want to visit. Olympic 2008 stadium, watching aerobatics, visiting the square which could hold millions of people at once, the Forbidden  City which is renowned and famous and Temple of Heaven were all the highlights which I felt lucky to see.

I could easily make it that it was my holiday, as I felt very emotional leaving Beijing and departing with my friends, which normally does not happen with me.

Lastly, I am very grateful to CHARITY CHALLENGE and to everyone who supported me (Simon A and B, Carmel, Jo and David) to fulfill my desire to walk on the Great Wall and visit Beijing.”

Kamal we salute you! Thank you for your continued energy and experience looking after our clients in Nepal.

If Kamal’s dream has inspired you to trek on the Great Wall of China, then please click here.

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Charity Challenge hits 15: An interview with the BOSS!

CC 15y Celebrate Banner Website

June sees Charity Challenge proudly celebrating 15 years of inspirational fundraising challenges! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US! So we thought it would be nice to interview the boss, Simon Albert, about Charity Challenge’s journey over the last 15 years.

What was the inspiration behind setting up Charity Challenge?

Simon-trekkingAbout 18 years ago I signed up for one of the first challenges of their kind with about 120 other people. I saw an advert to trek Petra which was somewhere I had always wanted to go to. We trekked through Jordan and it was really quite inspirational. Then the charity asked me to climb Kilimanjaro and I did that the following year having never climbed or trekked at altitude and I managed (with some difficulty) to get to the top. There were only three people in their 20s including myself. Most of the people were more or less of my parents’ generation and I felt there wasn’t anyone who offered inspirational challenges for young people to raise money for charity.

So over the next two years I travelled with Jeremy Gane, a very respected tour operator who later became my business partner, first to Tanzania to design a trek with the Maasai through the African bush, and then to Cuba to trek the trail of Cuba’s revolution. Jeremy organising the tours and I became the tour leader with a view to take a group of around 40 people to do each challenge.

At the time I was doing a graduate training role and a very respected business person gave me some sage advice that I have never forgotten. It was that if you want to be successful at something you should do something that excites you and that you are passionate about. I realised then that I could combine my love of travel with organising events to raise money for good causes. A few months later I came up with the idea of Charity Challenge.

I discussed it with Jeremy and with his valuable input, and from my initial experience of the trips I’d been on as a client and then leader, certain elements stuck with me. The first was that we should stick to small groups which were more environmentally responsible and would give the participants a much better and more genuine experience. Secondly, the pricing should be completely transparent and include everything that could be included, and the third was to launch open challenges where anyone could go and raise money for any charity. We were the first people to do that.

That has been a fundamental part of our business over the last 15 years. The initial trips made me aware of a number of other audiences who might also be interested in these kinds of challenges. I’m proud to say that some of the first organisations that we were involved with 15 years ago are still clients today and that includes CLIC Sargent, who were the charity supported on our very first trek up one of the world’s highest active volcanoes, and the NSPCC, who did a Kilimanjaro climb and a trek with the Maasai.

How did the business develop during the early years?

The early years were tough, as with any new business. When I started the company it was me Sumatra-blog-13on my own in a box room that someone had provided me with. Jeremy was working from his own established tour operator. Although the romantic dream had been to travel the world, I was pretty much stuck in a tiny office, 13 hours a day, seven days a week – sometimes for three or four weeks without a break. But the hard work paid off and from the initial portfolio of five or six challenges we have greatly increased the number of activities that we offer, the number of countries that we go to, the number of participants that we have engaged with and the number of charities that we have raised funds for. The portfolio now includes treks, bike rides, runs, mountain climbs, dog sledding, snow shoeing, sledge hauling, white water rafting, kayaking and horse riding. We travel to the North and South Poles and every environment in between including deserts, rivers, jungles, mountains, volcanoes, oceans and rainforests.

Describe some of the highs and lows of the last decade-and-a-half

During the last 15 years we have had to deal with a multitude of unforeseen situations including bird flu, SARS, terrorist attacks, cancelled flights, strikes, tsunami, hurricanes, the Arab Spring and the eruption of an Icelandic volcano. Pretty much every significant world incident impacts on our business. As an example, the Women’s Great Walk of China in 2004 was a walk 300 women across the entire length of the Great Wall of China over a seven month period. It consisted of 24 back-to-back challenges starting in the Gobi Desert and ending at the Yellow Sea. But by group three the impact of SARS meant the government threw out all tourists and refused to let any others in. So at a moment’s notice we had to organise for hundreds of clients to do different treks of the same length but now in Peru, Thailand, Mexico, Tanzania and India. It was a massive undertaking and learning curve, but one that enabled us to respond quickly to other such incidents.

CC-IND-Shovelling-GravelIn 2004 we decided to create a new type of challenge called Community Challenge which would involve our clients going to a number of developing countries and working with local NGOs to build houses, schools and community centres. We were due to launch it in January 2005, but a few weeks earlier on Boxing Day 2004 the Asian tsunami occurred. I remember sitting in my hotel room on holiday glued, day after day, to the TV and finding it hard to comprehend the sheer scale of the devastation and the number of lives that had been lost.
We had never worked in Sri Lanka and had no ground handler or charity partner. We had never worked with the national airline but we knew that this was something where we could have a positive impact and, driven by this desire to help, we set up and launched a programme with Habitat for Humanity GB that took us to tsunami-affected communities in Sri Lanka and India in order to rebuild hundreds of houses.

I myself went on the very first group and worked with a local fisherman who was out in his boat at the time that the tsunami struck. The boat was destroyed, but he managed to get back to land –  though it took him three days to finally reunite with his wife and two young children. I worked with a team of 16 people and we helped him rebuild his house. This was one of the most powerful experiences I have had and I still have a photo of him and his family and what was left of his fishing boat, framed on my wall. It reminds me every day that we can make a difference.

In the year after the tsunami we sent more volunteers to Sri Lanka than the UN. We were personally thanked by the minister of tourism in Sri Lanka and managed to raise over £1.1million for the rebuilding process. In the years that followed the programme expanded to India, Tanzania, Nepal, South Africa, Mexico, China, Cambodia and many other countries. The majority of the participants were part of corporate teams taking part in corporate responsibility programmes or HR-led team-building challenges.

These challenges accounted for a third of our business at the time that Lehman Brothers went bust and the world became aware of the global economic downturn. We (literally) lost a third of our business. Not only did this have a drastic impact on the commercial side of Charity Challenge, but it meant that we couldn’t follow through with what was happening in many of those developing communities.

Celebrities Climb Mount Kilimanjaro For Comic Relief - Day 7Soon afterwards we were approached and appointed to organise the Comic Relief BT Red Nose Climb which involved Gary Barlow, Cheryl Cole and a host of other celebrities climbing Kilimanjaro. It was my business partner Jeremy Gane who successfully organised and escorted a team and crew of 34 participants to the top of Kilimanjaro with 100% success. This included a huge BBC crew, a team from Radio One, the celebrities, photographers, journalists, charity representatives and support crew.

I reached the summit side by side with Jeremy and when the last of the celebrities had reached the summit we hugged and Jeremy broke down in tears. The stress and workload of organising such a high profile challenge had been immense and it was a massive relief. What’s more, the trip went on to raise more than £3.32million for fighting malaria in Africa.

There have been many highs and many lows, but in the process we have helped raise over £40million for 1,670 UK, Irish and Canadian charities. I couldn’t be prouder!

What would you consider the company’s biggest achievement to date?

Over the 15 years there have been numerous achievements that I’m particularly proud about.
In 2007, after we launched our Community Challenge programme we were highly commended by the Queen’s Award for sustainable development and highly commended in the Virgin Holidays Responsible Travel Awards, which was run globally. We were the second best in the whole world for the category of Poverty Reduction.

Simon meting the Prince of Wales!Although I initially thought it was someone playing a joke on me, I received an invitation to Buckingham Palace in 2011 to celebrate 100 years of British adventure and was honoured to meet the Queen and Prince Philip, as well as a number of other members of the Royal Family and famous adventurers including Michael Palin, Bruce Parry and Ben Fogle. There was a second brush with royalty when I was introduced to Prince Charles at an event which connected business with worthwhile charitable causes.

However, the one achievement that makes me the most proud was being nominated as one of the 100 people who make Britain a happier place in the Independent on Sunday Happy List

We have been the first to introduce a number of concepts and have always driven best practice within the sector. Most recently we have been recognised in the Partners in Fundraising awards which are run by the Institute of Fundraising and voted for by the charity membership of the Institute. The awards launched in 2013 and we were voted the Best Challenge Company both in 2013 and 2014. It’s great after 15 years of hard work, developing the business and doing our best to represent the charity sector, to receive this kind of recognition.

I once had advice to only ever do business in a way that I could look back on it at the end of the year and be proud of how I handled the decisions I had made. Sometimes there could have been easier decision or more profitable options, however I have always stirred to focus on what I felt was right by the developing communities where we run our challenges, the charities we support and the individuals who take part in the challenges. After 15 years as I look back, I am very proud of where the business has come.

What direction to do you see Charity Challenge taking in the future?

It’s an incredibly exciting time as we move further into 2014 and out of a five-year economic Holi1_WC30395downturn. It has been hard for people to commit their own funds and to raising thousands of pounds for other people when throughout the UK people have been having to tighten their belts. But almost as soon as it turned to 2014 there seems to have been a massive upturn in confidence and we have just had our best first quarter in terms of the number of people booking on to challenges since the start of the recession.

We are currently reviewing our entire business by taking a step back and assessing how we operate and how we can make it a better experience for everyone involved. We hope to be launching a new and improved Community Challenge service before the summer is out. We have recruited a number of new members of staff from the charity, travel and entertainment sectors who are bringing lots of new ideas. As well as new countries and new activities, we are redesigning our website and have lots of new and exciting ideas to launch.

I hope this is a new sustained growth period for the entire charity sector and Charity Challenge intends to be at the forefront, driving innovation and best practice.
We introduced Charity Challenge in Canada two years ago and this is an area which we are continuing to develop. We launched a huge range of UK challenges in 2013 and I am pleased to say that most are selling out this year.

We have also established a number of worthwhile partnerships to be able to deliver some mass participation UK events and to restart a number of our Community Challenge school builds around the world.

And now for a few thank yous…

PeruFirst and foremost to the man who inspired me about the world of adventure travel but more specifically about the ethics of responsible travel and responsible business! Long before the buzz words of responsible business became hip, Jeremy Gane was running Gane & Marshall International in a way which looked after its staff, porters, guides and entire crew like a big family. I was privileged in the early years to travel with Jeremy to Cuba and Tanzania and to develop the first itineraries. It was this experience of the way that Jeremy did business that has given me a model that I have stuck to with Charity Challenge. Jeremy became my business partner in 1999 and has been my best friend ever since and I’m grateful for his ongoing support, guidance and very valued input.

Thanks to Simon Lester for the inspiration to do something I am passionate about. I am so pleased I followed his advice!

Thanks to Rita Eker from the One to One Foundation who gave me my first shot in the charity world. I am forever grateful.

Thanks to all of the incredible people have worked for Charity Challenge over the years and who have contributed to the ideas and operation of our expeditions.

Finally, and by no means least, a huge thank you to my wife Lianne, and to my sons Benji, Gadi and Nathan, for putting up with me. I`m privileged to love what I do, which means I find it hard to switch off at nights, weekends and holidays! I can’t wait until the boys are old enough to join us on some challenges around the world!

www.charitychallenge.com

 

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.

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 us, our on challenges@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.