Dec 22, 2016

Holiday Traditions: Cogne Ice Climbing Festival - December 16 - 18, 2016

Christmas is a time of traditions – traditional foods, traditional songs, traditional stockings hung by the fire… For me (as well as about 80 others!), the Christmas season is marked by another tradition - an annual migration to the Aosta Valley – to Cogne, Italy – for the Cogne Ice Opening celebration. 

Spearheading this annual event is no easy task – fluctuations in weather, coordinating ice-themed movies and gathering an array of inspirational speakers, and promoting the event (in 4 languages!) is a challenge in itself! For the fifth consecutive year, professional ice climbers Matthias Scherer, Tanja and Heike Schmitt met the challenge with gusto. Leveraging their creativity, huge talents and a contagious passion for the many disciplines of climbing, an array of nationalities from Finland to Canada to Holland to England took the opportunity to embrace and refine ice climbing, mixed climbing and dry-tooling skills.

The festival, one of the first key social events of the winter in Cogne, is an opportunity to learn, have fun, meet new people and share experiences. The event is sponsored by Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, La Sportiva, Petzl, and Sterling Rope, who are all on-hand to answer questions, sharpen tools and ensure that even if you were to show up in a pair of Bermuda shorts you could be fully kitted out, cramponed up and climbing up a frozen waterfall in about 10 minutes. 

The first sip of hot mulled-wine (Italian style) in the bar at the ‘Apero’ on Friday evening indicated that the festival had well and truly begun – the atmosphere was already buzzing and a growing group of participants were chatting about the options available given this seasons already mixed conditions. This is my fourth consecutive year attending the festival. One of the highlights for me is seeing so many familiar faces – many met whilst hanging off the ice last year!

Early on Saturday morning, under a clear crisp sky and temperatures hovering well below zero, participants broke out into their climbing groups, led under the watchful eyes of guides from Italy, France, Switzerland and Poland. Led by our guides Heike and Isabelle, our group began the trek up to the ridgeline to a route which would not only challenge us but also provide a safe learning ground for new skills. The trek was invigorating and proved to be a wonderful opportunity to warm up our muscles whilst meeting new people and sharing previous climbing (and life!) experiences. 

Isabelle Santoire and Heike Schmitt shared their experience and insights with us. There was a strong focus on safety and skills balanced in equal measure with a sense of fun. 

About 5 hours later, the laughs, pumped arms, tingling toes and rosy cheeks were evidence of our brilliant day out. I learned and practised new techniques and certainly gave my arms a workout. By around 3pm with chilled fingers and toes we all began to head down to the bar for liquid refreshments and the opportunity to share stories with other groups coming back from their own adventures.

That evening we headed into the quaint town of Cogne for an ‘All about the Ice’ movie night. With bellies full of Italy’s finest pizza, we sat back in the theatre to be inspired… and were not disappointed. With presentations from athletes and films from extreme climbers including Rudi Hauser, as well as the inspirational Heike and Tanja Schmitt and Matthias Scherer we quickly realised the tremendous dedication, passion and commitment required in climbing – or any sport for that matter. 

Sunday presented us with an equally stunning blue-sky and crisp clear conditions. Under the watchful eye of  our guides for the day, Nicholas and also Jon Bracey, we headed up to a more advanced route. I was a bit nervous as the degree of difficulty was a significant step up from the previous day but aided by a solid top rope and a group of supportive ‘cheerleaders’ it was a perfect training ground. You don’t feel ego here and it quickly became clear that I was in the company of some very experienced climbers, yet the set-up had something for all levels.  We jumped in when somebody needed a belay, encouragements were shouted, and we learned from each other. It was clear from the outset that the routes tested our abilities and we all came away from the day with a tremendous sense of satisfaction and a desire to continue pushing ourselves to the next level. 

It was a brilliant weekend. Piling into my Swiss Air flight back to London that evening I’d already begun planning my next trip to Cogne as well as additional winter adventures. 

The annual Cogne Ice Festival welcomes people of all abilities and tailors the sessions around your level of experience and what you want to get out of it. If you're intrigued by the sport of ice climbing and want to have a go, there are a number of options available:

  1. Try it out at one of the UK’s indoor walls: Vertical Chill in Ellis Brigham Covent Garden, (London) or Ice Factor (Europe’s biggest indoor ice climbing wall) in Fort William, Scotland
  2. Check out to learn ice climbing in small groups
  3. Sign up for an introductory course in the Alps or in Scotland. Rijukan, Norway is very popular for ice climbing too
  4. Hire a private guide, such as Heike Schmitt, Jonathan Bracey, or Isabelle Santoire (all based between Chamonix, France and Cogne, Italy) to show you the ropes for a day or two. For an action packed weekend, combine this with a skiing trip in the Alps!

Huge thanks to Matthias, Tanja, and Heike for organising the event, for your creativity and for sharing your passion with us..! Thanks also to the event sponsors Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, Petzl, La Sportiva, Sterling Rope and to all the guides involved for supporting the festival and helping to open up this icy world... See you next year!!

Nov 2, 2016

FINALIST...! Moving Mountains Shortlisted for Promax UK Awards

Moving Mountains Shortlisted for Promax UK Awards

By Phil Mahony, 2nd of November 2016 for London:DC

The London:DC team is proud to announce our documentary - Moving Mountains - has been selected as one of five finalists in the PROMAX UK short film festival sponsored by Amazon Video.

Shot by Bafta award winning cinematographer Huw Walters, Moving Mountains is a powerful first hand account of London based financial consultant Heather Geluk, who was in Nepal last year attempting back to back 8000m+ ascents when the infamous earthquakes struck. It explores the notions of adventure, disaster, resilience and the enduring qualities of human spirit...

Nov 1, 2016

Article Feature: This Girl Definitely Can. Extreme Adventurer Heather Geluk

Style Altitude: The online ski and snowboard magazine for mountain news, ski and snowboard gear reviews, style views and features with an edge (or two). Park, piste and powder. Off piste, backcountry, slackcountry. Live Mountain Webcam AND Winter Ski Blog. For skiers and snowboarders written by riders for riders,#doitinstyle


Caught in the Nepal earthquake while nearly 6000m up a mountain was the second most terrifying moment of her already quite adventurous life. But THE most terrifying was experiencing the second earthquake while she was in the city of Bhaktapur a month later. Heather Geluk helped tackle the 'mountain' of devastation and is now ambassador for Sherpa Adventure Gear as well as being Change Management Communications Consultant for PwC. This girl not only can when it comes to extreme mountain adventures but she is also an inspiration to women AND men embracing the Sherpa sense of balance in life...

Huge thanks to Style Altitude for the interview... You can find the full interview here:

Oct 23, 2016

A Fleeting Sunrise in the Annapurnas of Nepal

Our brief had been to get pictures of, ‘big mountain views’ – but all Lakpa Rita Sherpa, John and I could see was a dense bank of clouds which had culminated to produce a steady drizzle. The view from Sarangkot's perhaps optimistically named ‘Sunrise Point’ wasn’t looking too promising that Saturday afternoon. A local guest house owner who promised us the ‘Best Organic Coffee on this side of the Himalayas’ (look out Wholefoods) suggested that we pray for good weather… And pray is what we did.

Sarangkot, the stepping-stone for a trek around the Annapurna Circuit, was my own personal introduction to Nepal and trekking over 16 years ago. Today I was in Sarangkot with some esteemed company – fellow Sherpa Adventure Gear athlete Lakpa Rita Sherpa (17 summits of Everest to his name, along with numerous other notable peaks and recipient of countless accolades for his achievements in the mountains), and award winning National Geographic photographer John Burcham, on assignment for global outdoor brand, Sherpa Adventure Gear.

Despite the dismal weather that Saturday and an even less promising forecast for the Sunday, we agreed to meet in the hotel lobby the following morning for a 6am sunrise – weather permitting.  Plan B was a 6am organic coffee in the rain – better known as ‘kit testing’.

As we drove up the winding road to ‘Sunrise Point’ the following morning I took a sharp intake of breath as we rounded a final hairpin bend....

Despite my many return trips to Nepal, I continue to be left awestruck by the jaw-dropping magnificence of the landscapes – layers upon layers of majestic snow capped peaks, their individual beauty peeled back and their characters tantalisingly revealed by the warmth of the rising sun.  

From the first time I saw it, one of my favourite mountains is Machapuchare. This iconic peak, also known as ‘Fishtail Mountain’ - aptly named because of its twin peaks and notched summit – dominates the panorama. At 6,993m / 22,943 feet it’s considerably lower than Mt. Everest, but this mountain is in illustrious company – legendary peaks such as Annapurna and Manaslu, both in the “8,000-meter club,” are not far away. The difference is that Machapuchare, and its isolated summit is considered sacred. It’s believed to be the home of the Hindu god Shiva. Officially (there are reports of attempts in the 1980s), Machapuchare has never been summited, making its ethereal heights one of the least-visited places on Earth. 

We spent 2 days trekking and taking countless photographs along a small section of trail and never tired of our view of Machapuchare and the fleeting views of the Annapurna range. We regularly found ourselves pausing from our laughter, looking up from our cameras and coffees and staring, mesmerised and breathless, as the ever-changing landscape revealed itself. 

My experiences in Nepal – both on this trip and previous journeys – are most eloquently described using not my words but rather those from author and naturalist John Muir, in his essay ‘The Mountains of California” 

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” 

Jul 31, 2016

Wellbeing of Women Team Kilimanjaro Reunited - Mount Toubkal Weekend Adventure Fix

About 4 years ago I began to organise annual climbs of Kilimanjaro with friends and colleagues to raise money for the women's health charity, Wellbeing of Women. These climbs have not only raised over 100,000gbp for the charity, they've also led me to meet a huge number of incredibly inspiring men and women who I now call friends.

As we were descending from the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro earlier this year, there was a general consensus among the team, based on our collective successes on the mountain, that we would have to do another adventure together - something short, achievable and ideally in the summer. It didn't take much convincing to get the team signed up to climb Mt. Toubkal,  (4167m) and the highest peak in North Africa... 

Fast forward a few months and I found myself, bleary eyed, on an early EasyJet flight to Marrakesch loaded with a small backpack, and eagerly looking forward to the adventure ahead.

I climbed Toubkal in the summer of 2011 and again in 2012 - so it had been a few years since my last visit. What I love about this little adventure-fix is the sense of satisfaction that you get on Monday morning when you’re sitting back in the office and people ask what you did over the weekend…. apart from go to Morocco and climb a 4000m mountain..! Perhaps it’s because both the geography is so different from ours but the weekend break genuinely feels like a week long holiday.

From the colourful souks of Marrakech, with their vendors of spices, carpets and bright leather goods, to the pretty stone-built villages of the Berber people, I was very much looking forward to sharing the experience of climbing in Morocco at its most authentic and getting in a healthy dose of exercise at the same time. As the pilot announced that it was a balmy 38 degrees in Marrakech we began to mentally prepare to bask in the sunshine and enjoy our cheeky escape.

The morning was spent wandering around the city, losing ourselves in the hustle and bustle of the markets and exchanging pleasantries with the vendors actively selling their wares under the blazing sun. It was scorchingly hot and we sought the shade offered by shops to take respite from the heat. The tourist trade was in full swing as we bright leather goods and carpets drew us into a maze of streets leading us ever further away from the heart of the city.

That night, with our team all assembled from various flights throughout the day, we all met for a mouth watering Moroccan dinner - delicious tangines, olives, teas - on the roof of a local restaurant with the most spectacular views of the city.

Day 1: Drive to Imlil and trek to the Neltner Refuge below Toubkal

After an especially carb-loaded breakfast, we set off on a spectacular 1.5 hour drive southwards out of the city with the peaks of the Atlas Mountains ahead of us to the start point of our trek. We stopped at the bazaar town of Asni, where we took a quick walk through the market and was absolutely overwhelmed by the plethora of vibrant colors of the wide array of fruits and vegetables being sold by the locals – onions, aubergines, apples, oranges, melons of every size, shape and color, nectarines, grapes, lemons, limes, plums… and on and on and on. Leaving Asni, we turned off of the main road and began the stunning climb into trail. 

Little had changed since my last visit. As we began the climb up the first gradual hill as the sun beat down overhead I spent some time in quiet reflection thinking of the year gone by and the many challenges that the future holds in the months ahead – work, expeditions, family, friends…. The sun was soon replaced by thick and rather ominous looking clouds. Sure enough, the heavens opened just as we passed the village and holy shrine of Sidi Chamharouch (2310m) which is surrounded by rocky peaks. A huge white-painted boulder marks the spot where, legend has it, a holy man lies entombed.

We had a delicious lunch made up of some fresh vegetables and then set off again for a steady climb of about 3 hours to reach the Neltner Refuge (3207m) where we would spend the night. Operated by the Club Alpin Francais (CAF) this hut was only completed in 2000 and has been designed to (loosely) resemble a Berber fortified dwelling. The hut sleeps around 80 people in dormitory accommodation. The refuge is a very basic mountain hut but it does have bathrooms and showers, plus a couple of large dining areas and a lounge with an open fire. 

After a fantastic dinner our guide gave us a thorough briefing on the history and geography of Morocco. It was a great overview and certainly provided me with a greater appreciation of the history and geography of the country and its people. In true mountian form, by the time 9pm rolled around my eyes were drooping and my sleeping bag beckoned..!

Day 2: Ascent of Mount Toubkal
After a 5am breakfast, we set off on the steep-ish ascent of Toubkal. Our route zig-zagged eastwards, directly above the hut across scree and boulders, before passing between two rocky guardian peaks to reach a high corrie. The temperature was mild and a comfortable 10 degrees. We continued upwards across more scree, with the views becoming more expansive as we reached the ridge-line which dropped off steeply to the east. At 8.30am, we arrived at the distinctive metal and brightly spray-painted tripod which marks Toubkal’s summit. At 4167m, you can definitely notice breathlessness due to the altitude but it was a feeling that I was more than familiar with and was happy that my body quickly remembered how to adapt.

No matter how many times I stand on the summit of a hill or peak or cross over a high mountain pass, I can’t help but feel a great sense of awe, satisfaction and feeling of freedom. As I tried to absorb the breathtaking views of the peaks of the High Atlas away to the north-east and of the Anti Atlas (Jebel Sirwa prominent) and the Sahara to the south I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have had the opportunity to be part of these adventures and experience the hospitality of such an old and traditional culture.

We began our 2300m descent back to Imlil and back to Marrakech. Reaching the hotel at 6pm I must admit, I was absolutely exhausted and struggled to keep my eyes open. A lovely roof-top dinner closed the evening where we reflected on the fantastic weekend and looked forward to future adventures and travels. 

Jun 13, 2016

Article Feature: Sidetracked Magazine: "It's Not About The Summit"

Absolutely thrilled to have been able to share my 'mountaineering journey' with a broader audience and extremely honoured to have it published in Sidetracked Magazine... Many thanks to everyone who has been part of the journey and the people you meet along the way...

Article written by Tarquin Cooper // Heather Geluk
Photography by Alex Buisse & Huw Walters

‘I went into the “brace-brace” position. I put my hands over my head and prepared to die. I’d always wondered if I’d die in the mountains and hoped that, if I did, it wouldn’t hurt. At that point I thought, f**k me, this is going to hurt. I looked over and the glacier was moving like a frozen tsunami of ice. After the longest minute of my life I realised I’d survived. I crawled to Lhakpa, we grabbed each other’s shoulders. Pumped full of adrenaline we screamed, “We’re alive, we’re alive”.’
For the full article please read here:

May 1, 2016

Fin de Saison. Where one season closes, another begins...

It’s May 1st . I’m sat in front of a roaring fire in Chamonix, sipping a healthy glass of red wine. This weekend marks the ‘Fin de Saison’ meaning that ski-season is unofficially over and many of the lifts around Chamonix are now closed until the late autumn snows return.  

Sitting here I can’t help but reflect on ‘fin de saison’.  A year ago today, I was still ‘stuck’ somewhere on the Nepal - Tibet border. We had just begun our evacuation off of Mount Shishapangma following the Nepal earthquake and it was the start of several very intense weeks in Kathmandu and an emotional year for me both personally and professionally.  

Since those rather tumultuous few weeks, I returned to a job which both challenges and inspires, I’ve met wonderful people – many of which I’m now fortunate to call friends. I’ve worked on fascinating projects both inside and outside of work, travelled to new countries, shared new experiences, climbed a few more mountains (real and proverbial)… I’ve moved, changed roles, taken on more responsibility in life. Friends have passed away and new life has been brought into the world.  I’ve returned to Nepal on several occasions, followed my heart more faithfully than my head. 

More crucially, I’ve had the opportunity to ‘heal’ and ‘grow’ and take some time out to reflect on this crazy thing called life. Many people say that this is normal following an experience of rapid and unexpected change – so I’m going with it. I just thought it was part of ‘growing up’… I remember that my Dad used to have a coffee mug that read, ‘Middle age is when a broad mind and a narrow waist exchange places’. Maybe this is what’s next?

So, where are we, ‘one year on’ at ‘fin de saison’; how has this story come full circle, and what have I learned?  Well, I’ve already mentioned I’m in Chamonix, sat in front of a fire on a long overdue holiday. I went alpine climbing yesterday for the first time in ages and it was amazing. Whilst the UK basks in 1st May sunshine, here in Chamonix huge snowflakes fall outside.  My guide Jon led a fun 5-pitch route called La Pepite - a fantastic choice given the morning started in sunshine and ended in snow bearing clouds. 

On the second pitch I found myself wedged between a rock and a hard place (literally!) with my ice-axes scraping against the cold granite desperate to find even a hint of a crack from which I could ‘hang’ my trembling frame. As adrenaline pulsed through me, I felt well and truly alive. It was the most alive I’ve felt in a long time… a shame really as life is so bloody short. But it was a wonderful reminder of how important it is to do more than merely ‘exist’ on this crazy journey called life.

It’s so easy to ‘exist’. What I have learned this year is that sometimes ‘existing’ is all that we can do. I’ve learned to be happy in the moment but, like climbing, know when you need to make that big ‘reach’ up to make the next move – even if it’s hard and even if it’s only a few precious centimetres. Those precious few centimetres here and there do add up. 

This year I’ve learned that reaching out and taking someone's hand to get to that next move is the beginning of a journey. At other times, it is allowing another to take yours. The ‘push’ or ‘pull’ from a climbing partner – or family, friends, colleagues - all those people you meet along the way -  who provide help and support in getting to where you’re truly meant to be. Sometimes it’s pretty and sometimes it’s not (in my case yesterday, my unelegant moves on the second pitch).  But there’s comfort in the self-belief that you will get there and you have the support system around you to ensure that you won’t ever fail… Even if the route that takes you there isn’t necessarily the one you thought would and even if sometimes it takes longer than you expect.

Another thing that I have learned over this past year is that it's worth lingering on the journey for a while before getting to the destination. In the past I have rushed from one project to the next, from one expedition to another without taking much more than a moment to reflect. My journey over the past year has been quite different. It’s involved some lingering in unexpected places and at unexpected times - and I’m not sure yet whether I’ve actually reached the destination…but I’m ok with that.  In that lingering, I’ve learned more about myself and the world around me than I ever dreamed possible. I also know that in lingering I’m taking each day one step at a time, and doing my best to appreciate, learn from, and savour every single oxygen filled moment. Because life is so damn short – it would be a waste not to.

So, how did yesterday’s climb end and what about ‘fin de saison’? Well, I’m pleased to report that I did finish the 5 pitches thanks to Jon’s encouragement and leadership. I had a brilliant day out. The conditions were variable but predicted – the snow and poor visibility certainly wasn’t a surprise in the mid-afternoon. As the sun disappeared and the snow began to fall, I found comfort in knowing that a hot chocolate and heaping plate of nachos were not far away.  To every cloud there is a silver lining…

Fin de Saison. The journey that I’ve been on over this past year has been an unexpected adventure. Despite the fact that it has been ‘the road less travelled’ and challenging at times, I'll never ever look back and think that I’ve lost or wasted time. Despite the ‘narrow mind’ that threatens as I near ‘middle age’ (if my Dad’s coffee mug is correct!), I’ve learned there are no short cuts to life. It took each and every situation that I’ve encountered on this crazy journey called 'life' to bring me to ‘the now’. And ‘now’ is right on time and has brought me to exactly where I’m meant to be…

And on that note, the fire in the fireplace has gone out, my wine glass has finished, the snow continues to fall outside and it’s time for me to go to bed. 

Jon celebrating success

Apr 3, 2016

The Nepal Earthquake - One Year On: A Celebration of Gratitude and Hope in Gairung Village, Gorkha

I held my breath and braced for impact as our jeep coasted over yet another gaping pothole hidden by a cloud of fine brown stilt. It landed with a soft thud, our driver jerking the wheel sharply to the right to stop our jeep from careening off the mountain cliff and into the abyss. My muscles ached - we’d been bouncing along for about 2 hours – and the entire vehicle swirled with dust. I could feel silt between my teeth, in my eyes and hair. Squinting, I looked at the remote landscape as we bobbed along.

Dotted in the rural hills and between the steep dry terraces, were ancient looking ram-shackled huts, decorated with a patchwork of faded orange and blue tarps. Occasionally, a weathered face would appear in a window frame or from the parapet of a terraced field staring curiously as the jeep navigated its way through clouds of dust, between potholes and over the rocks on the precarious path.

We were in Gorkha (also spelled Gurka), a district that had been devastated during the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25th 2015, killing over 9,000 people and injuring over 25,000. More than 1,000 people died in Gorkha in a matter of seconds as their homes collapsed on top of them and as hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rock descended on their villages in powerful landslides. For the thousands who were injured, rescue was impossible as roads – a vital lifeline for food, water, medicines and aid – were impassable. 

Nearly a year has passed since the devastating earthquake – the Gorkha district, and Nepal as a whole, has since suffered thousands of aftershocks, a monsoon, a fuel blockade, political unrest, and one of the coldest winters on record.

The Chaudhary Foundation

An organisation that has made an impact is the Chaudhary Foundation. Formed as the corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm of the Chaudhary Group, Nepals’ largest conglomerate, the Foundation mobilised its resources immediately after the earthquake implementing a short-term strategy of relief e.g. the distribution of food, tents, tarps, medicine, and then mobilising a longer-term strategy of rebuilding to help the local people to get a roof over the heads. 

The company CEO, Binod Chaudhary, stoically committed to rebuilding 10,000 homes and 100 schools. The project would be achieved through partnerships with organisations including the Alibaba Group, LG Electronics, PwC and the Indian NGO SEEDS. 

That was a year ago.  

Today, nearly 3,000 homes and 30 schools have been built. Positive sounding numbers but I couldn’t help but wonder how the 7,000 home delta would be bridged.

With first-hand experience of last years earthquake and initial rebuilding efforts I had a vested interested in seeing the progress a year on... and understanding what more could be done to help. 

To provide some perspective – the cost of a shelter home is $750 USD; a school costs an average of $7,000. A shelter takes between 5 – 6 days to build and will provide a safe and comfortable home for an average family of 5 for between 5 – 8 years during which time plans can be made and funding secured for more permanent homes. It puts London rental and property prices into perspective.

Gairung Village

Our jeep slid to a gentle halt. As the dust settled I looked outside and saw an entire village of brown painted shelters with shaped shiny steel roofs framed by long, bright yellow bamboo posts securing the roof to the ground. The pyramid-like shape of the shelters resembling two hands coming together as if to say, ‘Namaste’. 

A rapture of applause greeted our arrival – it was overwhelming, emotional, humbling – a thousand emotions all at once. An older woman with a toothless gummy grin adorned with a gold nose piercing and dressed in beautiful traditional Newari dress grabbed my hand and pulled me forward under an arch. Under it hung a colourful, cheerful ‘Welcome’ sign written in Nepalese. The clapping grew louder as a long thumb of bright red powder was drawn from the crown of my hair to the bridge of my nose and a necklace of vibrant red flowers were strung around my neck.

The purpose of our visit was to conduct a ‘site handover’. Whilst the locals had moved into their homes earlier that winter, they had not yet received their home number-plates. The Nepalis, never shy of a celebration, quickly realised that receiving these number plates was an opportunity for one and mobilised as a village.

A pair of scissors decorated with a bright red ribbon was placed in my hand. Still slightly overwhelmed I tried to make sense of what the situation as what felt like a thousand eyes looked on. I attempted to decipher frantic gesturing and animated Nepali and I finally understood I was being asked to perform the ‘ribbon cutting’. With a tremendous sense of responsibility the scissors came down, the ribbon broke free, and with a cheer, the crowd surged forward to the festival tent.

A ceremony ensued during which we formally handed over the number plates as well as health and hygiene kits to 55 families – impacting about 250 people. There were speeches, singing and dancing and we were invited to tour the homes of many of the villagers. The overwhelming message was a unanimous sense of pride and gratitude.

It was incredibly moving to see something as ‘simple’ as receiving a number plate evoke such a tremendous sense of pride and ownership. It was almost as if the day had become the celebration of a story coming full circle – after the human and economic losses suffered through the earthquake, a miserable monsoon, a fuel crisis, a bitterly cold winter, and now a drought…– the list goes on... the celebration was to commemorate new beginnings and hope for the future.

I can’t imagine what the people living in these remote villages had experienced over the past 12 months. And yet they smile, they laugh, they sing and their eyes shine with hope. The creased, weathered faces of the village elders look over the mischievous grins of the children running between the rubble with sticks chasing the goats. The young women, with their bright pink dresses, perfect complexions and bright red tika welcoming us into their homes. Most of the men in the village are gone – many working in Kathmandu or in search of employment in Dubai and Qatar.

No country, community, government or company can ‘go it alone.’  

The entire day made me realise how many things I take for granted – that I can walk into my flat and turn on a light; the fact that my water comes from a reliable source and that I don’t have to walk two hours up a hill in my bare feet to satisfy the basic necessities of life.

I learn something new with every adventure to Nepal. On this trip and over the past year, I’ve learned about gratitude.  Whilst it’s clear that there is still much to do here in Nepal and that the challenges facing its people are significant, there is a deep-rooted sense of gratitude. For the local people, this gratitude has transformed common days into days of thanksgiving, routine jobs into joy, and ordinary opportunities into blessings.

On a more ‘corporate’ level, I have also learned that working to deliver change in a post-crisis environment such as Nepal, no single entity – government, public or private – possesses all of the necessary powers, resources, or expertise to assure resilience against natural disasters and catastrophic events – be it earthquakes, floods, tornados or tsunamis. Key ingredients to effective solutions include collaborative and organised approaches, leveraging the capabilities and capacity of stakeholders from government, the private sector, local communities and society as a whole. As highlighted by The Chaudhary Foundation’s efforts in Nepal, both short term and long term, as a global community, we’re all going to have to work together with everyone’s best interest in mind to respond quickly and efficiently to current challenges and to prevent such disasters from happening again in the future.

Mar 2, 2016

SUMMIT SUCCESS! Kilimanjaro Climb raises over 25,000 GBP to support research into the health and wellbeing of women and babies

As I type the final members of our team are making their way back to the UK from the heights of Tanzania. We left just over 8 days ago as colleagues, bound together by a common ambition to reach the Roof of Africa. We return to sea-level bound by new friendships and memories that will last a lifetime – friendships built through shared laughs, fears, experiences, and a shared sense of team as we plodded our way to the 5,895m summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

As individuals we pushed ourselves to our personal limits, to the nth degree and beyond, putting one heavy altitude weighted foot in front of the other whilst being spurred on the journey by our collective sense of team and sights on the ultimate objective.

One thing that I have learned from this adventure is the importance of celebrating success in the progress toward a goal. The goals of this 4th PwC Wellbeing of WomenKilimanjaro Climb were to (1) reach and surpass our 20K target and (2) challenge ourselves our journey to the summit of Kilimanjaro (3) have fun!

‘Fresh’ off the plane last Saturday evening, our PwC team sat down for our very first dinner together in our hotel in Arusha, Tanzania. Anticipation was running high. It was here that I realised just how much we’d achieved already – not only had we put together a strong, connected team with a common vision and common goals, we’d also actually made the preparations to say ‘Yes, let’s do this..!’  Shiny new kit had been purchased, flights had been taken via cities who’s names we could hardly pronounce, Tanzanian visas had been sorted, overflowing bags had arrived, hotels had been booked, new boots had been broken in… and nearly £10,000 had already been raised for Wellbeing of Women through the hard work, creativity, passion and commitment of the team.

So much achieved, so much to celebrate - and we hadn’t even set foot on the mountain yet!

The trip continued to be jam-packed with successes. At the end of our first day we crammed into our mess-tent, bundled into our warm jackets and hugging hot cups of tea we raised a toast to the days achievements. Everyone was smiling. Everyone was laughing. The team had made tremendous progress already – Camp 1 reached – and it was only a matter of ‘onward and upward’ to reach the following day’s objective.

The days on the trail passed quickly, broken up through ‘sippy-sippy’ water drinking stops, eating stops, photo-stops, sunscreen application stops… all the while conversations flowed, learning more about each other and the environments we were passing through.

When the team reached our ‘base camp’, 'Kibo Hut' at 4,750m (almost as high as the summit of Mont Blanc!) in the early afternoon before our ‘summit push’ the effects of altitude were starting to show. We walked across the saddle between Mawenzi peak and Kibo, with laborious breaths, our packs suddenly feeling heavier and every step harder than the last. This did little to dampen team spirit as we settled in for the afternoon and began mentally preparing for the challenge ahead. We would be leaving camp at 11.30pm for our ascent.
Heads down, our Kilimanjaro conga-line snaked its way through the seemingly endless switchbacks and zig-zags over the volcanic scree. We stopped every hour for no more than 5 minutes to refuel and reassess our progress. It wasn’t until I looked up to see the familiar rocky final section that I realised that we’d reached the  first of the three summits – Gillmans Point (5685m) – in record time and in the dark..!

We then continued on with a further 3-hour round trip to the summit, Uhuru Peak - the highest point of all Africa. The route took us through a moonscape of volcanic rock and remnant glaciers with their impressive ice cliffs.

I can safely say that I’ve rarely seen such an incredible sunrise. The conditions were clear and there were panoramic views over the crater, to Mawenzi and Mount Meru looking very small below us. The view from the final summit was quite literally ‘breathtaking’.

Despite our cold fingers, desperate gasps of rarefied air, throbbing heads, and rosy cheeks, we were laughing as the dawn broke over the summit crater in spectacular fashion and we celebrated our combined successes. A ‘journey’ that had started with an email saying ‘Yes! Sign me up!’ led to these happy (tired!) faces, new friendships and memories to last a lifetime. Additionally, we succeeded in our challenge to surpass our fundraising target, raising over £21,000 for Wellbeing of Women – money that will go toward funding research to improve the health of women and babies – and leave a legacy that will long outlast aching feet, sore muscles and throbbing heads..!

Climbing Kilimanjaro (or any mountain for that matter!) is no different from any other major challenges that we face in our lives. Whether we want to start a new career, have a healthier lifestyle or mend a broken relationship - we’re all climbing mountains of sorts. These experiences require us to be stronger than we think we are, endure more than we think we can, and become more than we dreamed possible.

Nearly £100,000 has been raised for the Wellbeing of Women through these PwC led Kilimanjaro climbs thanks to the hard work, dedication, determination, creativity and fortitude of some of the most amazing people that I’ve ever shared a mountain with. Once again it highlights why I love climbing - not only for the breathtaking views, the physical challenge, and the personal sense of achievement, but also for the inspiration gained and insights shared by the people you meet along the way

It's not too late to donate if you'd still like to show your support. All proceeds go to Wellbeing of Women and can be made via the link below:

 Thank you to the amazing team – Andrea, Alexandra, Larice, Lucy, Maisie, Patrick, Saxon, Urszula, Victoria - and our amazing team of porters and guides - for the wonderful trip memories; your humour, honesty, commitment, and enthusiasm through thick and thin (air) will never be forgotten and I can't wait to share another mountain with you again soon.

Huge thanks also to our sponsors - Thalgo for their wonderful suncream and spa products; Meatsnacks for the delicious beef jerky and Sherpa Adventure Gear for the donation of prizes for our pub quiz fundraiser.