Monday, 26 March 2012


This is a shorter blog than normal, as since returning from Ethiopia, there have been many things to catch up on. The details of this blog about my expedition to Ethiopia only begin to scrape the surface of the number of indigenious population we tried to assist - and the number that we were unable to. There are times when moral dilemmas are almost impossible and heart breaking decisions have to be made. This trip was not intended as an aid based expedition, but it would be morally criminal not to try and help where possible.
See below for the blog -

Ethiopia in the Dry Season:

Having led 3 previous expeditions to the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, I was excited to be going back after an absence of 3 years.

Up, up, up!

I had previously been twice in November, at the start of the dry season and once in January, in the middle of the dry season.  Now going in March, at the end of the dry season, I was to see how even the verdant Simien Mountains turn into a large dust bowl at this time of the year. River beds are almost dry and water levels appear to be nearing critical.

Notice the nearly dry riverbed on the right

The 8 days of trekking was as tough as I remember it being with our latest wake up being at 5.30am and our earliest at 3.00am. This was to avoid the heat of the afternoon and to be able to walk the 3 middle days of 11, 12.5 and 10 hours respectively.

Walking at sunrise

Most of the usual water sources had dried up which meant that water usage was even more constrained than usual and the afternoon washing sessions in rivers impossible.

Children playing.....

The usual suspects – the Gelada Baboons - made regular appearances and were delightful to watch.  We even saw leaping deer and a whole family of Ibex.

Oooh, that's it, just there... perfect...!

I think that the hardest part of the trek was that the villagers heard that there was a Medic with the group.  As both Leader and Medic, I had spoke to the group about the amount of first aid kit we had brought with us and that I would not be able to help all the villagers on route to the detriment of the trekking group that I was looking after.  This is a real moral dilemma.  I had brought more kit than we needed as a group specifically for the purpose of treating some of the local villagers on route.  I had brought specific wound dressings (supplied by Advancis Medical) for the type of open, seeping wounds that you normally encounter in the Simien Mountains, where it can be a 4 day walk to a clinic and they have to pay for the treatment.  The type of issues that were brought to me included fractures, growths, scabies, infected wounds, open cuts, constipation, conjunctivitis, etc.  It was very hard on me and on the group that we could not solve some of these very simple issues, but we did what we could and used up all the extra supplies we had taken with us.

Some of the children we met

Overall, a very positive expedition to the mountains with all the group reaching Ras Dashen, the highest mountain in Ethiopia and 4th highest in Africa, and all completing the amazing  8 days trekking through the Simiens.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Some Testimonials from Previous Expeditions!

I'm just back from the Simien Mountains in Ethopia and this weeks' blog was to be all about that - however, catching up on day to day activities in my absence means that time has got the better of me! Instead, I'm posting some of the testamonials that appear on our Website ( to give you an idea of what you can expect when you undertake your journey of a life time with us. I hope you enjoy reading them.

Expedition Wise Challenges - Testimonials

3 Peaks Challenge:

"Quite simply the best challenge I’ve done. I would use Expedition Wise again like a shot- they were superb all the way through and really knew their stuff.  The Expedition Wise team were obviously at the top of their game and made sure we were challenged enough on the mountains- they are the best mountains guides I’ve been with!"
Martin Jubb

"I thoroughly enjoyed every step, even the wet ones. The guides were informative and very helpful and brought the group together as a team. This was my first challenge, but not the last."
Francis Gimblett

"I REALLY really enjoyed the whole event, had a brilliant time and would recommend it to anyone! I thought the whole event was really well organised, and thought all the guides were great, full of enthusiasm and encouragement……thanks so much, I LOVED IT!!!!!!"
Polly Kemp

"I really enjoyed the weekend.  The people were great and the challenge was well organised and fun.  Going up Ben Nevis was quite spiritual at times – the views came and went and lifted my spirits."
Paul Lovis

Welsh 3000'ers Challenge:
"I really enjoyed the challenge and got a fantastic sense of achievement out of it."
Trevor Marchant

"Yeaaaah....... what a fantastic weekend. Such a feeling of achievement.   We had a great team, really supportive and great fun to be with. Thanks everyone for making it such a memorable experience."
Val Edson

"I have come away on a real buzz and only hope I can come on another challenge soon."
Caroline Brown

London to Paris Cycle Challenge:

"Fantastic Staff – couldn’t have asked for anything more. Expedition Wise Ltd were the epitome of professionalism. As the charity representative, I was super impressed with Expedition Wise Ltd from start to finish; they made me feel really confident and I had every confidence in their ability to deal with any situation." Karen Holman – Fundraising Manager for Cornwall Hospice Care

"Everyone was bowled over at the great work Expedition Wise Ltd did. The riders have also distinguished themselves with raising far more than we hoped and making the ride a real success for us. We can't thank you enough. On behalf of us all here, and for all the children who will be in the school built in Sierra Leone this time next year - and all the children use it long into the future - thank you so much."Dr Victoria Harris – CEO for Article 25

"Our cycle from London to Paris was absolutely seamless.  Your organisation, support and humour were second to none, and I know this sentiment was shared by all the cyclists. It was fantastic to relax and leave everything in your capable hands." Emma Harris – Supporter Partnership Manager for Booby Moore Fund & Cancer Research UK

"I just wanted to say a huge thank you to all of you... not only was the actual trip incredible, every member of the team was superb and the trip wouldn't have been the same without you all." Camilla Doyle - Events Coordinator for Age Concern

Monday, 12 March 2012

Everest Base Camp Trek

Following on from last weeks' blog; here is an account written by Deborah Simmonds after her first experience of a trek to Everest Base Camp.

So, something about the trip……well, it was amazing! The more time goes on, the more the magnitude of what I’ve done really hits me! I think it took someone to point out that Mont Blanc is less than 5000m high, and we went to 5500m to make me realize that it really was quite a feat! (Although there were days on the trek when it felt like the most monumental feat ever!!) It was easily one of the best things I’ve ever done….the beauty of the country, the challenge of the trek, the warmness of the people, the camaraderie of the group, the incredibly different living conditions (I will never get used to long-drop toilets!! Or to showers that involve an old woman sitting on the roof of the outbuilding pouring water over you from a bucket!!!). Total sensory overload, but in a good way!

Head Down, Bum Up!

The trek itself lasted 14 days (we had time in Kathmandu at the beginning and end of the trip, which was really a holiday in itself –what a place!!)….and (after a flight in the smallest plane I’ve ever traveled in courtesy of Yeti Airlines!) we started off down in the valley surrounded by incredibly lush vegetation walking along next to very fast flowing rivers…..crossing the rivers was a bit of a challenge as the bridges seem to have been built on the premise of “the higher – and wobblier – the better!” – The fact that they’re daubed with endless prayer flags too didn’t inspire a massive amount of confidence! I would love to say that the views from the bridges made it worth it, but I went very much for the “head down, bum up” approach and just got over them as quickly as possible!

Still Going Up!

In the early days of the trek, we passed through lots of little villages and really got a sense of the mountain communities – real hives of industry. I think we were all awed by the men who passed us carrying loads which were easily twice their body weight….a couple of the guys in the group tried to lift one of these loads at one point with no success, yet the tiny wee chap whose load it was, managed to pop it on his head and carry on, at some speed, up the hill….amazing. Everywhere we went, we came across beautifully decorated prayer wheels and rocks daubed with mantras written to protect the traveler…..quite some sight. In Pangboche and Thyangboche, we were also lucky enough to visit Buddhist monasteries which are incredibly vibrant, yet tranquil at the same time. There is very much a sense of calm amongst all the brightly decorated walls and furnishings.

As we climbed up towards Base Camp, the terrain became more and more “lunar” – very rocky with un-defined paths…thank heavens for the Sherpas! (On so many fronts!) Thankfully, I managed to escape the effects of altitude – unfortunately for 6 of my fellow trekkers, that wasn’t the case and they were carted off down the mountain to recover from a variety of altitude related ailments. 2 went down by helicopter, 1 went down on the back of a Sherpa and another on a suicidal horse! All part of the adventure! J

If Carling Made Road Signs.....

The group were a lovely bunch – a very diverse group from all over the UK and ranging in age from 24 to 62 (bless!)….but all genuinely lovely people, which meant that you had great company whoever you happened to be walking next to during the day or sitting next to at meal-times….everyone had their own fascinating stories to tell, or a new game of cards to teach me (none of which I mastered!!)… was really a case of back-to-basics as we huddled round in the lodges in the evenings….light bulbs dangling from wires in the ceilings and oil powered burners keeping us warm (before we all had to don down jackets & head-torches, grab our hot-water-filled water bottles and head out to the tents! Like being back in the Brownies….not!! J) 

The day we reached Base Camp was massively challenging as we started walking at 5.30am and reached Base Camp at 1.30pm…..the surrounding mountains were stunning and thankfully, we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine (as we were through most of the trek…hurrah!). We had got to a point though where everyone was physically fairly exhausted so plenty of chocolate….and Fruit Pastilles….was needed to keep going! Any excuse for a Dairy Milk!! I think I share a similar view to Michael Palin on Base Camp….I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I expected (if that makes sense!)…..there is absolutely nothing there….just snow and rock….I did think there would be at least a sign saying “This is It!”.

This Is It!

But, my shallow expectations aside, there is no getting away from the fact that I was standing, with my lovely group of trek buddies, in the shadow of Everest…..and that in itself was more than worth the toil!

In summary, it was a phenomenal experience….the best of times and the worst of times, massively rewarding and incredibly challenging….at times, I wondered what on earth I was thinking even attempting it, and at other times I was on the most incredible high just thinking about where I was and what I was doing….what more can I say!?

Clear Blue Skies Every Day

Monday, 5 March 2012

Two Things You Don't Want to Happen on a Trip to Everest

We are leading an Everest Base Camp (EBC) charity trek later in the year, which we will of course report back on in a future blog. 

This got me to thinking about the first time I ever went to see Everest and got into a few spots of trouble:

The trip was to be unusual on two accounts; firstly, both Steph and I were travelling overseas together, rather than me leaving Steph at home while I ran off on expeditions or recces or overseas First Aid training; secondly, that we were visiting two countries that neither of us had previously visited – Nepal and Tibet. The trip became unusual on two other accounts that I will get to later.

We first flew into Kathmandu. Thamel, Kathmandu, in Nepal, is a mountaineers’ shopping paradise.  It is also an incredibly relaxing place to sit on a roof top terrace, drink an Everest beer and watch the world go by. 

The flight into Tibet from Nepal was the most amazing that either of us had been on with continuous views of the Himalayas out the left hand side window, where we had asked to be sat, and an amazing view of Everest’s South Face.  I swore I saw someone summiting!  To fly that close and to see Everest was a boyhood dream come true.

Our first major problem encountered was in Tibet. As we attempted to pass through Customs, our Chinese visas were incorrect and we were held in a small office with imposing guards watching over us. Let me explain the reason why the visas were incorrect.  I had returned late from my previous overseas trip, and so there was no time to send off our passports to get the correct visa, and have it returned in time to set off again. Therefore I ingeniously (or so I thought at the time) got a basic Chinese visa and then added the extra Chinese figures to the visa for permission into Tibet with the same colour pen as the visa stamp.  Strangely, this didn’t fool the Chinese border staff and we inexplicably found ourselves locked in a small room with Chinese guards threatening to send us back to Nepal or keep us in a cell for tampering with the visa. Luckily, however our other papers were in order for the visit and with a few ‘cash gifts’, aka bribes, all round, we were eventually let through.  It was with great relief and lots of speed that we ran and jumped into our booked Toyota Landcruiser with driver and guide before they decided to change their minds.  Off we bounced on our way to the rarefied air of Lhasa.

3 days in Lhasa visiting the sites and then an 8 day overland trip to Everest Base Camp and onto the Nepali border was a story all of itself – maybe another blog?  Everest Base Camp on the Tibetan side was amazing and fulfilled a life time dream for both of us.  To stand looking at the 12,000 foot North Face of Everest in perfectly clear weather was truly awesome, especially accompanied by the mother of all headaches.

Anyway, on to the second unusual event – the attempted return to Kathmandu! 

We were dropped off on the Tibetan side of the Friendship Bridge, waved goodbye to our driver and guide and walked across to Kodari, Nepal.  It was now just a simple 4-5 hour taxi ride to Kathmandu, or so we thought.  We soon realised we may be in trouble when we saw the number of people waiting at the border car park – over 100 people.  It was then we found out that the Maoists were blocking all transport to the capital and there was a curfew in Kathmandu.  I had thoughtfully (luckily) brought along a satellite phone so phoned through to the UK to ask for an update on the news from their side; it was not very encouraging.  The strikes were to go on for 10 days and our flight to London left in 4 days.  We spent the next day phoning everyone we knew to see if we could solve this issue. On one of these calls to a “contact”, we heard that there was a Russian pilot, who worked for Shree Airlines, who was willing to chance the transport strike to fly from Kathmandu in a helicopter to the border and pick us up on a private flight.  As long as we could fill the helicopter, we could then pay our way to organising the flight.  We instantly jumped onto this idea, confirming that we could certainly get another 20 people to pay and were told the helicopter would arrive tomorrow. 

Tomorrow came and went, so did the next day and the next..............

The Imaginery Helicopter Turns Up At Last!!

It was now the day we were due to leave on a flight to London and we were stuck on the border, still 4-5 hours drive away.  We undertook the customary daily activity of walking down to the huge car park, where there were now over 200 people, to sit and wait for the imaginary helicopter. 

At about 10.30am, there was a huge commotion in the crowd as the noise of rotor blades was heard and suddenly we saw a Sikorsky military helicopter start to descend right in the middle of the car park.  The rotors were still turning as 200 hopeful people rushed to the door, reminiscent of a scene from the evacuation of El Salvador. We literally had to fight our way to the door to get a place along with the 20 other very lucky people.  45 minutes later and we were standing on the tarmac of Kathmandu airport. We then walked straight to the departures to wait for our flight to London.

The moral of the story is always carry a satellite phone and remember to keep all your “contacts” as you never know when you may need them. Oh – and we would *never* sanction tampering with your visa....