Archive for Trekking Blogs

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.

Supporting SOS in Ape-ril!

Unfortunately I can’t claim praise for the ingenious pun found in today’s blog title; it seems that the Sumatran Orangutan Society have already staked their claim on it as they promoted last month’s ‘Ape-ril’ campaign, which encouraged supporters across the world to grow a beard in solidarity with our orange relatives. We actually share a huge 96.4% of our DNA with orangutans, but we are pushing them to the edge of extinction due to the boom in palm oil plantations and other agricultural expansion across Borneo and Sumatra, the only homes left now to these iconic animals that were once widespread throughout the forests of Asia. Through their Ape-ril campaign, SOS is raising awareness (and money!) to make a lasting impact on the survival of the orangutans and the conservation of their rainforest home.

I’m pleased to say that Charity Challenge has also been able to support SOS throughout April, with 3 groups going out to Indonesia to take part on our Sumatran Jungle Expedition. Because of the huge presence of the Sumatran Orangutan Society directly in the area that we trek in, we make a donation of £50 for each person on this challenge, and we’ve just had the amazing news that we were able to make a humungous donation of £1400 for our 3 April groups! SOS rely principally on donations to carry out their work, so this money will go towards the campaigns, projects and other incredible work that they are already carrying out.

Our Sumatran Jungle expedition is not just a physical challenge, but also a learning experience as the group treks through the Gunung Leuser National Park, home to hundreds of our orange friends, and learns about their plight and the conservation efforts taking place in Sumatra to try and protect these endangered animals. The Sumatran Jungle Society plays a massive part in supporting the reforestation of the national park, promoting conservation among villages and communities who depend on the Gunung Leuser National Park for their livelihoods, and helping these communities to live sustainably and without animal-human conflict. If it wasn’t for the continued effort of SOS, we would not be able to run this challenge with a clear conscience, but because of them we are able to send groups out in the knowledge that they will be contributing to the protection of the Sumatran wildlife.

I think our participants can express their thoughts better than we ever could:

“To actually see the palm oil industry moving in and hearing the chainsaws while walking in the jungle was a strong reminder that we need to stop this deforestation and destruction of the orangutans’ natural habitat. If you think life is hard when you struggle with climbs and descents – think about the orangutans that get killed every day”.

“To have the opportunity to experience an adventure like this whilst doing good, with an amazing group of people was an honour. It was tough but when we all got back to the Eco Lodge and thought about what we had done and what we had achieved, from the fundraising to the trek itself, it left you feeling incredibly proud.”

To learn more about the Sumatran Orangutan Society and their conservation efforts, go to http://orangutans-sos.org/. Or alternatively, why not take the opportunity to visit Sumatra and see for yourself! For each person on our trip we donate £50 to SOS, so you can go in the knowledge that you are not only supporting the charity of your choice, but you are also helping to give back to the people, wildlife and environments you will be seeing during your time in Indonesia.

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.

Our Challenge Leader Penny Knight shares her experience with her Great Wall Trekkers April 2013

Before even meeting my great wall trekkers, I sensed a friendly, sociable and self motivated bunch as I approached the collection of people sprawled on the floor of Terminal 3 chatting excitedly.

As we trekked along the wall, climbing up steep ledges and clambering over broken stone steps, the real life stories started to emerge.  By the end of the trek, I realised that I had been incredibly privileged to spend such a memorable time with such an inspiring group.

Margaret, Kerri and Andy Chapman were a pleasure to spend time with, although I didn’t see much of them as they disappeared over the horizon! They had trained hard together prior to the challenge, were fit and driven, never failed to smile and effortlessly worked together as a family unit.

Edel McCaul and I walked together for much of the trek and my distraction tactics to encourage Edel up the numerous steps resulted in me discovering more and more about her astonishing story.  Edel was walking in memory of her beloved Grandfather who had died of cancer.  She had always felt a close bond with him and before he passed away she had vowed to do a challenge for him that took her out her comfort zone. After a selfless act whilst a teacher had resulted in an accident which left her in a wheelchair, Edel had worked on walking and then being able to get up a flight of steps. This challenge caused her severe pain in both knees but she remained determined throughout, conquering every step of her Great Wall Challenge.

Despite a heart condition, Marie (with her trusted colleague, Edel at her side) overcame many individual challenges, resulting often in tears which were instantly followed by laughter.  Marie had a naturally upbeat and jovial nature and nothing got her down for long.

Donna Freeman was another inspirational lady who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and had major surgery and after recovering from all of that, she was then told that it had failed and that she had only 6 months to live. Instead of giving up, she put her life and family in order, ensuring that they would be looked after in her absence and sorted all the practical aspects she could.  Out of the blue, Donna received the incredible news that there had been a mistake and that she was for now cured – she vowed to live life to the full.

Abbie Ross and James Dennis were the only couple on the trek and won everyone’s hearts in no time. They were just adorable together, always watching out for each other and showing a respect and mutual admiration to be envied in any relationship. At a colourful oriental temple perched on the side of the hill below Jinshanling, James got down on one knee and proposed to a tearful but ecstatic Abbie.

The school holidays seem to have bought an influx of teachers and nurses to this group and the pre- natal and maternity crowd from Bristol Hospital were excellent value on this trip.  Claire and Kirsty although challenged by the trek remained inseparable and their unique friendship gave them a strength as well as a much needed sense of humour in order to tackle the many hurdles. Kath, Paula, Hien and Sheena all completed the challenge even throwing in some energetic dance moves and high spirits at the top watchtower!

Emily, Michelle and Zahrah knew no-one else on the trek when they started but I feel certain that some lifelong friendships will have been made during the trip.  Emily was already well travelled and despite this being uncharacteristic of the rest of her family, she is driven by her motivation to raise money for Great Ormond Street Childrens Hospital and the bear came with us as support. The hospital has asked Emily to go up in person to have photo’s done when she donates the money.

Michelle never faltered. She was physically fit, determined and always positive bringing fun to every situation.  Her and Donna will remain strong friends after this trip, I suspect. I hope her dance students appreciate her dynamic personality.

Zahrah was such a strong character and we got to spend a great deal of time together.  Backed by her class with their notes and pictures to encourage her on, Zahrah refused to miss any part of the challenge even when she found it tough.  It seemed that the more I put her under pressure, the more she raised her game and we finished the trek below Badaling at a run.

Naomi, with her infectious laugh, was a naturally caring and giving member of the group who was often more than happy to chat at a slower pace with those at the back.  She has overcome her own health issues which no-one would ever have suspected.  Nothing Naomi did was ever about herself and she was invaluable to the team.  I understand that she and Joe will also be tying the knot before long and he is a lucky man.

I hope that this exceptional group will continue to inspire others as they have done me. It has been a pleasure and a privilege.

Penny

You can also find out more about our Great Wall Discovery 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.

Dog Sledding in Sweden

After being lucky enough to join the dog sledding trip at the last minute I had no pre-conceived ideas as to what to expect, all I can say after doing it is…it was amazing!

The peace and tranquillity that you experience is second to none and the camaraderie amongst the group really made this trip a once in a lifetime experience.

After meeting the group at the airport there was the initial drama, after as one member of the group lost her passport and tickets before we even checked in! Frantically phoning the hotel to see if she had left them there the night before, she realised that she had put them in a very safe place; in the hidden compartment of her bag, of course! With two hours to spare we made the most of the last minute shopping and snack buying!

After a 2 hour flight to Stockholm, the group piled off the plane and queued up to go through the passport control, where upon Kirsty, who had previously lost her passport announced she couldn’t find it again! Drama ensued again, apart from this time it wasn’t hidden in the secret pocket! Thankfully the passport control staff and local police saved the day and were very helpful and escorted her back on to the plane where it was finally found in the pocket of the seat! Phew! It was then time for a well-deserved lunch.

Our next flight up to Kiruna, 200kms above the Arctic Circle was stress free. We were greeted by Kent and Jordana, our amazing leaders for the week, who whisked us away to our hotel in Kiruna, and after a speedy check in we headed down to the bar for our briefing and a well deserve drink. We also had to make the most of our last shower, as we would be reliant on wet wipes for the rest of the trip.

The following day we stopped off at the world famous ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi, and had a great guided tour. This hotel was the first of its kind in the world, and is re built from scratch every year using large blocks of ice cut from the Torne River, which is located next to the Ice Hotel and each block is completely unique. Artists from all over the world bid to have their designs picked for the luxury rooms which are built in their own individual style. The hotel is kept at a constant -5°C, I’m not too sure I’d want to stay there!

We then continued on to the kennels to meet our furry friends for the rest of the weeks challenge, and after a hearty lunch it was time to be kitted out in our warm weather gear and have a full safety breifing briefing on how to harness the dogs, and how to drive the sled. With Kent hurling himself on to the ground whilst being pulled along by Jordana, they finally showed us what to do if you tipped your sled over. we were hanging on his every word whilst trying not to cry with laughter, most of us failed in this task.

It was then time for us to actually put what we’d just learnt to practice, and we very slowly harnessed up all of our very excited dogs, and by the time we were finished the sound of them barking was like nothing I have ever heard before. After a final check we were off, most of us started slowly, worried about tipping over, but after about 10 minutes of getting used to the speed of the sled and figuring out how to brake, all of the worries disappeared! As far as the eye could see we were surrounded by a thick blanket of snow, which glistened in the sunshine that we were lucky enough to have all week. The pine trees popped out, to add an extra dimension to the perfect Christmassy landscape, and to top it off we occasionally had a reindeer running by…what more could you ask for.

The thing that got me the most was the complete silence, the only noises that you heard were the dogs paws pounding through the soft powder snow, the whooshing of the sled and the occasional shout if someone got distracted and fell off their sled – which happened quite a lot at the start of the trip! We got used to stopping and waiting for the person to right their sled  and then once they were up and ready and had managed to remove their snow anchor, we would trundle off again. We were only out for 25kms today which was our shortest run as we had to get back to the cabin before dark. I say cabin but what I really mean is an uninsulated traditional wooden tepee, with only a central log fire for heating. But before we could get settled in our ‘luxurious abode’ for the evening it was time to take care of the dogs. We had to unharness them, put them back in their kennels, prepare their food, clear up the poo in their kennels and then finally chop the wood for our fire that would keep us warm tonight.

We all piled into the tepee, as by this point the temperature had dropped to -25°, so it was a welcome relief to have a hot dinner waiting for us and a lit fire to warm our extremities. We all made a last minute dash for the loo which was a hut on the other side of the yard before being physically tucked into our 2 sleeping bags that we would have to use tonight. I am so glad that they provided an extra one, as I do remember waking up, I think it was with Rob’s snoring and feeling ice on my buff that was over my face for warmth. Brrrrr…

The next day after a good night sleep it was time to set off in to the wilderness and this time we weren’t coming back, well not for four days anyway! The next four days were a totally amazing experience as  we mushed over 200kms. We chopped fire wood, in fact Jamie was a demon when it came to chopping anything, however Kate did give him a run for his money when it came to chopping the dog meat. I have to say I was a pansy when it came to slopping the dog food into the bowls, so we helped each other out when there were tasks that other members of the group struggled with.

We were all gaining in confidence and even starting to run alongside our sleds to help the dogs out up the hills. I even thought it would be a good idea to hang off the back of the sled whilst trying to get a good shot of Nick’s dogs and promptly ended up face down being dragged through the snow whilst desperately trying to put the brake down. I did get the shot so it was well worth it!

Our evenings in the cabins were spent talking about what we had seen during the day and trying to outdo each other with the highlights of the day. This was until Barry came up with a corker of a story which included a flying reindeer that he had encountered. At this point we all started looking around for the illegal substances he must have taken to concoct a story like this…”a flying reindeer”, we all said in unison! The story began as Barry came around a corner, there was a reindeer standing in his path and the only place for it to go was towards him… the next thing he knew it was sitting on his sled. Sitting may have been a bit of an exaggeration but I couldn’t figure out when I came round the very same bend there was a very dazed and confused reindeer trying to figure out what had just happened! Barry was standing there, mouth ajar, also wondering what had just hit him…I think the answer in this case was a flying reindeer! Then next thing we know we are being called outside to have a look at one of the most breathtaking things I have ever seen, the natural phenomenon of the Northern lights. We had seen it the previous night, just faintly, but this was amazing and so much brighter than I had ever imagined. A real once in a life time experience. It didn’t matter that it was -25° outside – we didn’t feel the cold. I really didn’t want to go back inside but it was either that or freeze to death!

I could go on forever with other highlights – if you are sitting on the fence, what are you waiting for, sign up today! It is not the most physically demanding of our challenge portfolio but it tested me to my limits in other ways. The group of people on this trip were fabulous and it would be an absolute pleasure to travel with each and everyone of them again.

You can also find out more about the Dog Sledding Challenge by clicking here. If you have any questions on this challenge, please contact Kathryn, our Ops Manager on kathryn@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.

Diary of the Kilimanjaro Summit Climb!

Recent Kilimanjaro Trekker Shaun has kindly shared his Kilimanjaro Summit Climb diary with us, documenting the ups and downs of the mountain and his journey of a life-time! Definately worth reading if you’re heading out to the ‘Roof of Africa’ yourself!…

DAY 1 – Rainforest

Awake at 7.30 local time (4.30 uk). Buffet breakfast is ok, omelette, bacon, beans. Need to get the body fuelled for the journey ahead. We all gather at reception. Everyone appears in high spirits, especially after the antics and delays from the previous day! Trucks get loaded and off we go, it’s roughly 2-2.5 hours drive to the starting gate. When we arrive we have to start around an hours hike further back due to poor terrain! And off we go. Everything seems good so far everyone happy and chatting. Appears we have a good group for this. After a couple hours we stop for lunch and then it really kicks in! A lot of near vertical climbing up muddy and wet paths! Then it’s down a bit, up a lot, down a bit and this trend continues for a while. We spot a couple of monkeys and everyone is of the same opinion thus far : we weren’t expecting it to be this tough, especially on the first day! Then finally around 5.30pm we reach camp for the night. Dinner is at 7, was quite tasty under the circumstances and even the ginger tea seemed to hit the spot.

DAY 2 – Shira 1

Wake up call 6.30 am (3.30!), finally open eyes just after 7. Pee bottles worth there weight in gold! steves snoring not so! Pack up all our kit and head over to the breakfast tent. Some bland porridge followed by omelette and bacon and more ginger tea. Then it’s all systems go at 8am. We hike a further hour and a half through the jungle until we reach the moorland. It’s lot more of the same, up a lot, down a bit. But you can now see how high you really are. We continue the hike and stop for lunch on top of a hill around 12.30. After this we hike for around an hour before we finally see Kilimanjaro in all its glory. A lot of realisation sinks in for most at this point. The sheer magnitude of what lies ahead can now been seen visually. You wonder at this point how any one manages it! (See pics). We hike on for a further hour to camp which is 3550 metres (I skydived from a similar height!) somehow I have managed to sprain my knee so Katherine has given me a support brace and hopefully rested up will be fine in the morning. We relax for a couple hours before tea time which is much the same as the previous night. And it’s now we can see the summit of kili, there is no cloud cover around the mountain at this point.

DAY 3 – Shira 2

Start the same, up 6.30, washy washy! Pack up tent, breakfast. Few pics of kili and we set off across the moorland. After a couple hours we approach what is called the ‘cathedral’, (previously I had commented saying I could climb that today and it doesn’t look much lower than kili!, these were words I was to eat!) So we start hiking up the cathedral and I say a little prayer, we come to what seems a midway point and no one is prepared for what lies the other side! It’s just a sheer drop from height looking out over the planes, we must be some 3800 metres up and for the first time you can actually visualise it! Personally it’s wobbly legs time for me but I suck it in and stand for a photo. Then it’s kit bags off and a further hike to the top, I read my inspirational notes and look at my pictures before setting off somewhat uncertain. We ascend to quite a hight before it looks like we’re at a peak and you can see the drop either side! I stop here, that’s enough for me. The group continue a little higher for a short time then it’s all back down and a rather pleasant two hour hike  along the ridge to camp. We set our kit out in our tents, have late lunch, rest an hour then go for an hours acclimatisation hike. I believe we camp at 3840 and we head up to nearly 4000. The views today are amazing, at points we are actually in the clouds. We then engage in some brokeback photos for moral boosting and everyone is in good spirits. At dinner jackson (our trek guide/leader) says we are the craziest group he has had! from what i gather all in a good way. so far no one has been taken ill or needed treatment and i think this keeps morale high. On a personal note I seem to feel better as each day goes on. Today was rather daunting for me however actually seeing the height we were at. I have a few headaches but thinks this is due to anxiety and sun rather than altitude sickness. I also think i’m thinking about barranco wall to much and think this may prove the hardest day for me, if i make that i’m convinced i’ll reach the summit. Knee is holding out but still sore, have had it braced all day. The nights are getting much colder now.

DAY 4 – Barranco

Begin in the same way. Up 6.30, pack tent, washy washy, breakfast and ready for the off at 8. Long day today we trek from 3840 to 4600 and then back down to camp at barranco 3900. As we set off everyone appears in good spirits, other than a few headaches no real issues. After trekking for an hour or so we stop for water and toilet break, there is a rather large rock there with a make shift ladder and some of us, including me, climb it for photos. Then the first off putting sign as someone is bought back down the Mountain. It’s all uphill this morning till we reach lava tower at lunch time then pretty much downhill to camp. We are literally walking in the clouds this afternoon. The climb appears to be taking its toll now on a couple of the group, we split a little before hitting camp, most of us arrive 4pm the others 15-20 mins later. We set out our kit in our tents and head to the mess tent for tea and peanuts. We play some poker and cheat before dinner (I win poker!) The headache I’ve had all day has finally gone and discussion over dinner is very positive. By now Katherine our dr says she has usually lost members of the group by this point. We all feel positive for summit day now as we’ve now been to the start point of 4600 metres and should be fairly well acclimatised. As the clouds clear we see barranco wall, this has been my final fear but doesn’t seem so bad today. I’m growing in confidence as each day goes by and only feel slightly hindered by my headache. Again I believe this is anxiety related, it disappears as soon as I hit camp and I’m otherwise functioning very well in all areas. After dinner we play some more cards and the group bond some more. We seem to get on really well and I believe this will stand us in good stead come summit day. We share some laughs over cards and its off to bed for the night.

DAY 5 – Karanga

7am start today. The usual breakfast, washy washy etc. I’m rather nervous about what lies ahead-barranco wall, I’m sure some rock climbers would take pleasure in completing this. Some two hour hike up a cliff face gaining 300 metres in height! From 3900-4200. Starts off well and I feel ok. Didn’t manage to eat much breakfast due to anxiety so after half hour or so feel rather empty! Then I begin to look down! As we get higher you can see views from all around as we’re in a canyon, as intimidated as I am I take pictures and take in all the views. We’re 4000 metres up and you can really see it now. Fighting nearly kicks off at one point as one of our guides, George, tells porters to wait! They square up and porter is dragged back. Later find out George is a Masai warrior! So we continue up for what feels like forever, with occasional light headed ness and thoughts of thought+motion=no room for fear and after two hours we reach the top. Tremendous achievement for me and I now believe nothing can stop me from reaching the summit! We all stop for pics and high fives before heading onto camp which is some 2 hours away. Everyone seems fine and still in good spirits. After a while we can see camp, great we think until we see it’s the other side of a canyon! George leads the head of the group down his secret, quicker, safer path and we’re off, we start ascending the other side as the others appear at the ridge back on the other side. We get into camp set up tents, washy washy, tea and popcorn followed by some more cards then dinner a couple more games of cards and bed. Everyone told not to think about mountain. Crazy to think that tomorrow night we will be heading for the summit!

DAY 6 – Barafu

7am arise again followed by the usual then about 9 we head off. Last day of ascent trekking today as we reach base camp ahead of leaving for the summit tonight. Amazingly everyone is still going. This proves a tough hike though. We gain over 600 metres en route to camp. I have a funny moment at the half way stage and spaz out a bit, I pull myself together eat chocolate and off we go again. We hit camp about 12ish and its straight to inflating mattress and power kip! We’re camping above the clouds now! We have lunch about 2 we get chips which was a great surprise and boost. I’m feeling much better now and eager to get on with it. It’s been a hard week, more than I ever imagined and we’ve come so far now that failure is not an option. At 5pm it’s briefing for summit climb and dinner, the group look tired except me! I’m buzzing and ready to go! I hope it’s not all the other way around in 5 hours when it’s time to get ready and go for it!

SUMMIT NIGHT/DAY 7 – Summit (Stella point and uhuru) to Millenium Camp

We’re due to wake at 11pm but just before I’m woken by the sound of Steve shivering and complaining of stomach cramps. He’s not in a good way. The doc gives him some meds and we all go for porridge before heading for the summit. As we set off Steve is sick but soldiers on, what a trooper. All you can see are headtorches of those heading for the summit. Its cold and it gets colder the higher we go. The view is something else, I’m glad it’s nighttime to be honest. You can see the lights in Arusha and they look so far down and keep getting lower! Steve is sick again and the doc gives him more meds. The walk seems never ending. Slowly the group is spilt by pace, I find myself in the leading group with Richard and Serg being lead by alpha. We trek on at a good pace but it just feels like every time we think we’re getting somewhere its even further! We start to see people being taken back down the mountain which is a bit unsettling. It’s really cold, I have all my layers on, thermals, fleece, baselayers, trousers, shirts, jackets, coats, hat! 3 layers on my legs and 7 on my top! We try to stay positive, it’s hard, my legs are starting to cross over and I’m getting off balance a bit, I have slight stomach cramps and am tiring rapidly. Finally after some 7 hours of trekking we approach Stella point as the sun is rising, the last few hundred metres seems to  take for ever, rich is hallucinating, I’m not sure I’m gonna make it,  More people are being rushed downhill rather quickly, i go over my inspirational thoughts and pics in my head and somehow we muster up the energy to reach the summit. Alpha sorts us a ginger tea and as we try to chill for a minute then he announces its off to uhuru! Rich really isn’t feeling it but Serg gives him some meds and off we go. At 50% oxygen levels unfortunately there is no time for rest and recouperation. It take us a further hours round trip and as we get back to Stella point we’re happy to see the rest of the group have made it up. Most have suffered some form of altitude sickness but Steve is the worse and has to be rushed down with suspected HACE. Me, Serg, rich and alpha head back to camp, it’s a gruelling 3 hour trek down. I’m physically shattered and have to rest every 15 mins finally we get back to camp and I crash in my tent as steve is being taking lower to millenium camp. I miss lunch, feel awful, ache all over and feel sun stroked so I’m so happy I now have to trek to millenium camp some two hours away! Take some painkillers and push on through. Get to camp, Serg buys me a coke which is a nice touch, game of cards and dinner. Steve’s appears much better, what a legend, how he got up there like that is beyond me. We’re all tired and don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet what we’ve all accomplished today. Out of the 12 of us all made the summit at Stella point and 10 at uhuru.

DAY 8 – Mweka

Arise at 6am, yesterdays achievements still haven’t quite sunk in yet. We have breakfast and then it’s time to tip all the porters and watch there celebration song and dance before setting off for the final 4 hours of descent down to the gate. It’s quite a leisurely walk downwards from the moorland and then finally the rainforest but were all thinking the same by now, can’t it just be over, be back at the lodge, a nice shower, wholesome meal and a beer! Eventually we reach the gate, sign out and head to the village for refreshments and to be harassed by locals trying to sell us all sorts before jumping on the coach for the two hour ride back to the lodge. Everyone’s done in but happy. Great trek.
Amazing achievement and memories.

If you’ve been inspired by Shauns words, you can donate to his cause on his fundraising page here. If you’re interested in taking on the Mountain yourself, click here to find out more about our Kilimanjaro Challenges by clicking here for the Lemosho Route and here for the Rongai Route. To see the many other amazing challenges we offer, you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all Charity Challenge news, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Cycle Machu Picchu to the Amazon!

Have you ever wanted to spend time exploring the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, or the majestic Machu Picchu ruins, whilst attempting one of our toughest cycling trips then this is the challenge for you!

Your cycling challenge begins with a beautiful acclimatisation cycle along the length of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, taking in the impressive ruins of Ollantaytambo and the artisan market of Pisac.

From here you will cut through the Andes, with spectacular views of the cordillera Ausangate along the way, dropping down into the charming village of Paucartambo before a final tough climb to Tres Cruces, the last pass before the Andes begins its descent into the Amazon rainforest.

Waking early to watch the sun rise over the Amazon, you will then have the thrill of a 1,400m dirt-road descent, crossing multiple ecosystems until you reach the pristine cloud forest and set up camp

The challenge continues as we cycle deeper into the rainforest of the Manu Biosphere Reserve, home to Peru’s national bird, the Cock of the Rock, as well as toucan, monkeys, spectacled bears, giant ferns, and orchids.

Click here to sign up for this amazing challenge today the next 3 people to do so will receive £100 off their deposit!

If you want to learn more about this challenges and the many other amazing challenges we offer, you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all Charity Challenge news, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

The Rajasthan Run

After 9 days of the Golden Triangle I was eager to explore the rest of Rajasthan to check out our newly launched Rajasthan Run Challenge route: Five days covering over two and a half  marathons running through the rural heartland of Rajasthan, and through villages and towns that are alive with tradition and colour.

First stop on the Rajasthan Run Challenge: The sand dunes of the Thar desert – Jaisalmer (http://www.jaisalmer.org.uk)! The town stands on a ridge of yellowish sandstone, crowned by a fort, which contains the palace and several ornate Jain temples. Leaving Pushka we soon enter barren land, where desert trees and children sitting in the dust playing with stones line our path into the Thar Desert. Arriving Jaisalmer, we head to the rooftop restaurant of our hotel to be welcomed by the sight of the sun setting over the Fort.

The following morning, after a short transfer, we are on route for the first of the Rajasthan Runners half marathons. Covering over 20km today through the sand dunes and  beaten tracks lined with low lying shrub and gnarly cactus – this is a truly a trail runners’ paradise!

Through a tough sandy trail and we reach the half-way point, and the welcoming faces and the local goat herders. Setting eyes on the Jaisalmer Fort gives tired runners an incentive to keep going through this tough arid terrain. Drawing closer to the fort, the last leg takes the team out of the desert and through the back roads right to the door of the hotel! Exploring the Jaisalmer Fort in the afternoon took me to another world! An expansive complex of palaces and temples, riddled with narrow winding streets and home to thousands is a realm all of its own.

The second days run departs straight from the hotel and takes us back into the rolling dunes of the Thar desert, dotted with goat herders shacks and wind turbines. Today is a chance to pick up speed as the sand dunes flatten to a rockier terrain. It’s an 18km run today, as we pull through the last few km we approach a desert village, and the smiling, curios faces of children asking ‘what are you doing?’ , ‘where are you going’ and ‘why’? A strange site for them I am sure – a group of ‘strangers’ in running shorts racing through their village!

After an evening in Manvar at the beautiful Manvar Resort, (http://www.manvar.com/experience_manvar/manvar_resort.html ) located in the heart of the sand dune region of Rajasthan, very quaint and pleasant green oasis in the desert, from Narlai we transfer onto Jodphur- the blue city. Jodphur is dominated by the imposing presence of the Meherangarh fort, the stunning 15th century citadel that sits perched high above the city on top of sheer sandstone outcrop.

Starting from Narlai, we run through huge Granite boulders, through local villages, passing the smiling, inquisitive faces of the locals in their bright saris and red and pink turbans and onto a large lake, home to crocodiles, turtles and a wild variety of birds. Passing through a village we have a giggle at a cow knocking on a village door maybe asking for Chai or providing milk for Chai, who knows!!

The final leg of the day brings us back to the village of Narlai to finish at the base of the Elephant temple granite rock.Where, if runners choose, they can push yourself to run or climb the 759 steps to a magnificent view of temples peeking out of the skyline of boulders and the villages below. We sit in the shadows of the Elephant statue and absorb the surroundings, taking time out to appreciate the experience so far.

On the second days run from Narlai, we are met with an array of colour as we pass farmers with their bright red and Pink Turban and women walking their buffalo. the run winds its way through Pali District, passing through several villages,  past locals shaping iron for farming tools and over agricultural land that has remained unchanged for generations, running along sandy trails, past farmland and lakes before we find ourself’s back in the village of Narlai. Completing over two marathons so far, through the arid Thar Desert dunes to the Granite rocks of Narlai!

So with four days of running and still our final 35km leg tomorrow onto the magical Udaipur (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Udaipur ) to go, if you’re running this you’re bound to feeling burn! But the adrenaline of experiencing yet another whole new world would be a real boost! We enter the beautiful city of lakes; Udaipur. Starting form Narlai, the 20km run takes us to the Jain temples at Ranakpur (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranakpur) hidden amongst the verdant forests of the Aravalli Hills We. spend some time exploring the magnificent marble temples after a well-earned lunch. Dating back to the 15th century the main temple is a stunning piece of architectural splendour, held up by no fewer than 1444 wonderfully and individually carved pillars. Its 29 halls are spread across nearly 4000 square meters and contain some of the most breathtaking and intricate carvings imaginable. The afternoon we transfer to the hotel, Hotel Lake Pichola (http://www.lakepicholahotel.com ,Founded by the legendary Maharana Udai Singh in 1559 A.D, with beautiful view on the rooftop terrace overlooking the beautiful city palace.

The run finishes with a15km magnificent trail around the Fateh Sagar Lake, through Villages and onto the finishing line where the challenge ends with a breathtaking view of the lake, we spend the afternoon explore Udaipur, and taking a boat ride on Lake Pichola.

This is an Indian Adventure like no other a challenge for body and mind that takes you through some of the most authentic landscapes on the Indian Subcontinent.

You can also find out more about the Rajasthan Challenge by clicking here. 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.

Save The Children Saigon to Angkor Wat Cyclists ready for the challenge!

It’s amazing just what kind of colossal amounts of money can be fundraised through Charity Challenges, we were delighted to recently hear that our ‘Saigon to Angkor Wat Bike Ride’ team for Save the Children have raised a massive £53,996.27 (up by an incredible £9,0000 from last week ) and consequently are well on their way to smashing their £55,000 target! The team have worked really hard collectively to raise this money, even from this very morning one of the team was dressed as batman in the chancery lane area with a collection bucket, if you are around there and spot him throw those pounds his way!

The team have also been working hard on their training too, with only 6 sleeps left before it’s time to jump on a plane to Vietnam and face down the challenge. To prepare, they have been braving the extreme British weather to get their cycle training in. Come Rain or snow – nothing has deterred them!

All that’s left to say is a massive Good Luck to the team for Thursday! Keep up the strength and remember what it’s all about… Oh and take tons of photos too!

If you’re inspired to raise money for charity and take on your own challenge of a lifetime, visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com, and to keep up to date on all our challenge news, you can subscribe to this blog and follow us on facebook and twitter. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Charity Challenge Operations Manager Jo experiences India for the first time on our secluded ‘Dalai Lama Himalayan Trek’ challenge!

As the Operations Manager for India and Asia at Charity Challenge, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to venture into the Himalayas on trails only trodden by Charity Challenge trekkers and the local Tibetan Community. Being the Operations Manager of the Dalai Lama Himalayan Trek, I know that the Himalayas are a very sought after trekking destination, especially with the spiritual element of a visit to the home of the Dalai Lama. This popularity can sometimes make the Himalayas appear to be a crowded place, but many of our participants come back from the challenge and write to me saying how quiet and exclusive their trek was, and how much more they loved it for this reason! So I decided to head out to India and experience the tranquility for myself.

Those that don’t know much about India, apart from the overwhelming crowds of people, not to mention the usual clichés of, crazy roads  jam-packed with vehicles, tuc tucs, cows and dogs walking along the roads and pavements, and the sheer extremes of poverty and riches, may be surprised when I tell you that I felt free from the hustle and bustle of London and enveloped in the peace and tranquility of India!

I trekked our most exclusive and secluded challenge, the “Dalai Lama Himalayan Trek”, and whilst trekking in the shadows of the world’s highest peak I found myself stopping and listening to the silence and taking in the awe-inspiring scenery of alpine forests, beautiful meadows back-dropped with snow capped mountains, and small Tibetan villages hidden in the rolling hills.

If you are new to the life of Tibet and the movement into India following the Dalai Lama then you will find this challenge as fascinating as I did, as you start in Dharamsala with a ‘clockwise’ walk around the Dalai Lama’s Temple. You will learn about Tibetan Buddhism and the issues it faces today, and see how Tibet is preserved in India through the practicing of traditional Tibetan arts and crafts at the Norbulinka Institute.

I will have to apologise to you now, as after just a few days I have learnt so much and realised how little I knew about India, and I won’t feasibly be able to share with you all the amazing experiences and revelations I’ve had so far! However, I can say with certainty that if you want a challenge where you will trek the mountains with tribal Tibetan nomads and their goats, learn all about why cows are head of the household, be greeted by the friendly faces and smiles of the Tibetan/Indian people and see how you can help Charity Challenge give back to the communities of this area, then you should definitely check out our September and November 2013 departure dates for our Dalai Lama Himalayan Trek. Click here for all the info!

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Jo Warren

Ops Manager Jo’s Rajasthan Cycle Diary, Day 7 !

The final 100km cycle from Ranthambore to Jaipur via Bhanderej took us through two days of new scenery and continued surprise for how unique this cycle really is. Venturing into parts of Rajasthan where the kids are running from their schools to the side of the road shouting ‘white man’ and ‘crazy’! Tourists in these parts just do not exist.

After a night Glamping, ‘another’ early rise for our Tiger safari in Ranthambhore National Park. With only 33 Tigers in a 1334 sq km of wild jungle scrub we knew that the chance of sighting the Tigers would be an exclusive one. With one sighting in Five we had a good chance but unfortunately for us footprints were as close as we were going to get.  This however was fine for all of us as we witnessed the courting walk of two antelope and were surrounded by deer, wild Boar and the chance to cruise around in a safari truck for a few hours before putting ourselves back on the bikes.

I have to say one of the highlights of the Challenge is the food, and that includes the packed lunches. The  food is delicious and there’s lots of it, but then the calories burnt on the cycle justifies the amount you can eat. With lunch on the bus we are transferred a short distance to the start of the cycle today where our amazing support team, Matt, Vineet, Naveen, Raju, Baba (our mechanic) and Bhola are waiting for us.

We soon discover that the Safari has made us a little sluggish and its taking some time to get the legs working. After 45km of better roads than yesterday’s Sahara Cycle, we cycle into the grounds of the Maharajas Palace. With a few more aches and pains today we have some real troopers; Sue has been an inspiration to us all this week, Moyra pushing through with an earache that’s taking its toll and Kate who’s knee is progressively being a pain. Vineet is going the extra mile and offers to push Kate up the hill which she declines and so seeing as the offer is out there, I choose to take it up instead(after all why not – Kate you missed out there !!.) Tonight sees many retire to their beds fairly early in preparation for the final days Challenge and evening Celebrations.

All raring to go after a good nights’ sleep for our final days Cycle we set off and within an hour we are starting to see some different scenery. With the sight of rolling hills we are a little apprehensive that we may have to cycle one of these but soon discover that the few days we have had with hills previously, we’ve dropped our gears and pushed through it. We are however relieved to know that we are cycling between the hills and enter a lush tropical environment where the roads are quiet and palm trees line the route with monkeys and cows lurking. We suddenly feel like we are cycling through a tropical paradise for our final 10km leg to the finish line. As we regroup for our finale km cycle we hear drums and clapping and as we approach up over the hill we are welcomed by Sian and Vasante and a team of drummers at the finishing line in Jaipur.

We celebrate at lunch with some relieved it’s over, others sad its come to an end, but  all proud of  what we have accomplished this week. Feasting once again on delicious food and a well-deserved beer we relax and reflect on the week. The afternoon brings shopping for some and a snooze and freshen up for others before we come to the end of our week with our last night dinner and dance. Six days cycling and 430km has flown by leaving us with new friends and lifelong memories. What an incredible experience of India. Thank You to Sian and the team for their Support and each individual in the group for being  team players and supporting each other through the challenge including the jokers (you know who you are ) who kept spirits high and continued to hide pieces of my bicycle at each break stop. You should all be very proud of yourselves.

You can also find out more about the challenge she is embarking on – The Rajasthan Tiger Challenge! – by clicking here. 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.