Life Changing Challenges

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  • David Uttley - Kilimanjaro trekker

    Well, what can you do after that Wing Walk that life changing challenges organised?

    Simple answer – Kilimanjaro!

    The trip had been organised quite some time ago and I’ve been preparing myself as best I could for the massive challenge of climbing to the roof of Africa. I am in mind and 59 and half stage for Skin Cancer I was met at Heathrow Airport by my companions for the trek - they were all 17! I did feel a little bit out of my depth and a little more apprehensive than I was already.

    The flight to Nairobi was without any incident. Then we had quite a long stay over, waiting for a connecting flight to Kilimanjaro International. On the morning of the flight from Heathrow I had, for some reason, dashed to the Apple shop in London to buy some of the air tags - I must’ve known that one of my bags was going to be left at Nairobi! Once one of my 17-year-old companions showed me how to use the Find My option for the air tag. I informed the people at Kilimanjaro airport. My bag was still in Nairobi.  We arrived at Springlands, Moshi quite late, and we all got to our rooms ready for a day, chilling around Moshi which is a vibrant, colourful town about 45 minutes from Kilimanjaro Airport.

    We were also introduced to the guides who were to take us up Kilimanjaro. We discussed the kit that may be required and also a brief idea of the itinerary. We were all very excited.

    Machame Gate to Machame Camp

    •Elevation (ft): 5,400ft to 9,400ft
    •Distance: 11 km
    •Hiking Time: 5-7 hours
    •Habitat: Rain Forest


    The drive from Springlands Hotel, Moshi to the Mount Kilimanjaro National Park Gate took about 50 minutes. The journey passes through the village of Machame which is located on the lower slopes of the mountain.  The park gate is where we assembled, and all the porters bags/camping equipment was weighed. The walk through the rain forest on a winding trail followed a ridge. Lower down, the 11km trail was a little muddy and slippery – not to mention sweaty!! Gaiters and trekking poles were a good idea here. The habitat of the rainforest provides great cover for Team Mongoose at Machame Gate, some wildlife including monkeys and several varieties of birds. It’s only around 20 minutes from the forest edge to Machame Camp. Our first overnight on Kilimanjaro!

    Machame Camp to Shira Camp

    •Elevation (ft): 9,400ft to 12,595ft
    •Distance: 5.5 km
    •Hiking Time: 4 – 5 hours
    •Habitat: Moorland

    So, an easier day today, a shorter walk and more time to try and acclimatise further up Kilimanjaro. It was quite strenuous climbing up to Shira Plateau and finally reaching Shira Caves, our campsite for the evening. All through the climb the porters had been racing past us as if we were standing.  Olivia and Charlie (the fastest of our group of 5) kept steaming ahead and not really paying any attention to the altitude that we were at. During the walk Olivia also found some obsidian rock which is scattered around this area.

    The vegetation has changed significantly and small chunky trees with a green leaf top dot the area. These are helichrysums and are found above 3000m. Also, we found some lobelias along the trail.


    Shira Caves to Barranco Camp via Lava Tower

    •Elevation (ft): 12,500ft to 13,000ft
    •Distance: 10 km
    •Hiking Time: 6-8 hours
    •Habitat: Semi Desert

    On this part of the climb only 482ft lies between the altitudes of the campsites (Shira Cave and Barranco). BUT it’s a day used to gain altitude on the way up to Lava Tower which stands at 15,180ft. The day starts reasonably easily as the path meanders through the plateau. The vegetation has again changed with only a few lichens and everlastings able to survive at this height.

    The day was quite tough especially due to the height gain at Lava Tower where we settled for lunch and a very well-earned rest. The terrain that we had negotiated to get to Lava Tower was very barren and rocky, often parts were incredibly steep, and you could feel the effort required really kicking in!!

    The rest at Lava Tower was a welcome one. Time to try and acclimatise and get your body used to the thinning oxygen. Not a place to stay for too long. Limbs were tired and an overwhelming desire for sleep set in. Lava Tower was once something that people could climb – but this is no longer an option. I would have loved to try, but feeling as I did it was probably not a good idea!!


    Then off we went again after trying to eat something and rest. Off to Barranco Camp. The route drops steeply south to a stream, rises, and falls a few times then drops steeply into Barranco Valley.  Absolutely beautiful part of the climb – but tough!

    Barranco Camp to Barafu Camp

    •Elevation (ft): 13,000ft to 15,000ft
    •Distance: 9km
    •Hiking Time: 8-10 hours
    •Habitat: Alpine Desert

    We started hiking to go from Barranco camp to Barafu Camp early in the morning covering 10 km and almost 700 net height meters (much more if you count the ups and downs of the trail).


    We headed off a bit earlier than usual, to beat the hordes of tourists that were to start at 07:30 and avoid the “traffic jams” at the very narrow passages there. Also, it’s good not to be behind anyone afraid of heights – then the going gets very slow.  The early start meant that we once again woke up before dawn and made breakfast while we took down the camps and repacked.

    First, we started with the Barranco Wall, which is known for looking impossibly steep from below – but turning out to be just a fun non-technical scrambling challenge. The legendary Kissing Rock (or Hugging Rock, whatever you call it – the important part is that you find a tight personal contact with it once you are on the way to pass it, otherwise you risk losing balance and falling off the path) was achieved with flying colours.  It took us 2 hours of scrambling the cliff (roughly 200 height meters?) to reach Breakfast Point. That’s the point you reach as you manage to climb Barranco Wall – earning its name because no matter how much breakfast you’d had at the camp below, it seems to disappear while climbing Barranco and you are going to need a new breakfast right there.


    We were well above the clouds, and the view was amazing. We went on in the semi-desert, along valleys and ridges, some members feeling better than others, and stopped at the stream just below Karanga camp, 2,5 hours and 6 km later, to have lunch and rest before the last 4 km with the steep ascent to Barafu (meaning Ice Camp), our last camp before the summit.

    Not much to do. We wolfed down the dinner, and hurriedly packed the daypacks for the summit attempt. As this was done late in the afternoon/evening, half in the dark, a few things were forgotten, to the big sorrow of those who brought the gear all the way (many days, and over 2500 height meters in total) just to leave it in their tents for the most important day. Nevertheless, the most important part was to grab some sleep – no gear will help if you have a clouded mind. So, we tucked ourselves in, at some time around 20:00, to try and get some rest.

    Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak and the descent of Kilimanjaro

    •Elevation (ft): 15,300ft to 19,345ft (and down to 10,000ft)
    •Distance: 5 km ascent / 12 km descent
    •Hiking Time: 7-8 hours ascent / 4-6 hours descent
    •Habitat: Arctic

    Frankie, one of the porters was tasked to wake us at 11.00pm. For some very strange reason he got his timing wrong and ended up waking us at 10.00pm!! We were told to go back to sleep like kids waiting for Santa Claus. Fat chance – an hour later he was back. Sophie, Annabel and I were up and off to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro… Uhuru Peak, located at 5,895 meters (19,350 feet) altitude.

    Why are we hiking in the dark?  It’s a common question, and there are actually a few reasons.

    Weather conditions at the top of Kilimanjaro are very changeable and difficult to accurately predict. During the day, it could be anything from a clear blue sky to a blizzard! However, at night, things are generally clear and calm. Also, the Barafu Base Camp where most people leave from to get to the summit isn’t set up for long term stays. There is no water supply there, and with a constant flow of new climbers, they don’t want you there more than one night. So, when you come back down the mountain, you have to continue past Barafu Camp and normally on to Millenium Camp which is another 4 kms (2.5 miles) down the mountain. With the climb up, it can take as long as 14 hours to complete and if you started at first daylight, you may not make it down the mountain before dark.  By 12:00 we had all our winter summit gear on, our headlamps on - we were on the trail with guides Brucie and Samil.

    It’s very steep. The section to Stella Point climbs 1,079 meters (3,500 feet) in 3.3 kms (2.0 miles). You can only inhale so much cold air before it starts to hurt, so you have no choice but to go slowly.  There were other groups on the trail as well. All moving at different paces, and you could see a stream of headlamps all the way up the mountain. There was no point in taking pictures… it was dark out.  The hiking was tough. It was slow, and monotonous. Not what I would call fun. By this time, I was starting to think I had bitten off more than I could chew. The difficulty became obvious to me when we began seeing the odd person heading downhill past us. But these were not people who had already made it to the summit… these were people who couldn’t make it to the summit and had given up.

    Dawn – I’m still going up!!

    My goal was Uhuru Peak – The “Roof of Africa. Stella Point was above us and it seemed impossible. Dawn came and went. We were still going up!  The problem was, Stella Point never seemed any closer. It was taking us an hour to do half a kilometre! I was exhausted. I was taking more and more breaks, and I could tell I was struggling.   The guides, William and Brucie, said to Annabel and me that will turn back at Stella Point.  Olivia, Charles, and Sophie had gone ahead. My response was clear and simple: “Over my dead body!”

    From Stella Point, the trail evens out. It’s still another 1.2 kms (3/4 mile) to the peak, but only another 140 meters of height gain. I made it to Uhuru Peak at 10.10am. It was then time to take the obligatory pictures and I also spread some of my Mum’s ashes that I had taken with me. It was a very emotional point of the trip for a whole host of reasons.

    There was still a long day ahead of us. The plan was to make it down to Barafu Camp where our tent was still set up, have some lunch, then an hour nap, then do another 4 kms (2.5 miles) down to Millenium Camp where we would spend the night. I was exhausted and had to be helped a bit of the way back to Barafu Camp. All I wanted to do was sleep. Then another 12 kms (7.5 miles) downhill the next day to the Mweka exit gate. I had a little lunch and then an hour nap. When I woke, the others had already set off and one of our guides, William, had stayed behind to walk with me the 2.5 miles to Millenium Camp. That was the longest 2.5 miles of my whole life. I was walking on empty!  Eventually the camp came into sight – I couldn’t wait to get some food and head down ready for the last leg to Mweka Gate.

    Millenium Camp to Mweka Gate and on to Springlands.

    •Elevation (ft): 12,500 to 5,400ft
    •Distance: 14km
    •Hiking Time: 4-5 hours
    •Habitat: Rain Forest

    Millenium campsite is a site used when descending, an overnight stop/resting point used by climbers instead of the Mweka camp as Mweka is a little further down.

    It is purposely used by climbers going down from the summit via some of the main routes. Trekking from Millenium camp to Mweka Gate is like the last trip to civilization, the internet, and actualshowers! The distance from Millenium Camp (3,825 m) to Mweka Gate (1,160 m) is about 14km and it would take you about 3-4 hours trekking on foot to descend the mountain.  The five of us set off together, but it wasn’t long before I was trailing behind. William went ahead with the other four. Salim and Brucie stayed with me. I was on autopilot and never had. I’ve been so, so tired. The path down was quite steep in places, very rocky and quite muddy making navigation quite tricky, especially with poles. I was absolutely spent!

    Once we reached Mweka Camp on the way down. Brucie organised a couple of the porters to help me in certain places and ensure that I didn’t fall. The others must have been very close to the gate by now.  The path continues down past the camp, and it is still steep, rocky and slippery. Great fun – or not. My knees were telling me to stop but I was desperate to get down. All I can think of right now was a lovely, lovely shower.

    Just before the Trail ends becomes a track suitable for a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Brucie had organised the local Ranger to collect us and get us safely back to Springlands in time for a late lunch. It was such a relief at this point to sit and be driven the last mile.

    Once we were through Moshi town centre, the Driver, very kindly let me drive the remainder of the distance to Springlands Hotel.  We were all safely back and we had all achieved the summit, the very roof of Africa.

    What a stunning achievement for us all.

    We all showered after lunch and then went back down for the official ceremony, where we all received our certificates from Brucie.

    It was an incredible experience – physically, emotionally, and mentally. A trip with four young people that I will never ever forget.

    Thank you Life Changing Challenges – two experiences of a lifetime that were adrenaline filled and oh, so wonderful.

    Guest blogger - David Uttley

  • Melanoma UK Fundraiser - Dave Uttley

    Kilimanjaro Challenge off to a flying start..

    Well, this all started with the notion of doing something special for Melanoma UK who had been so brilliant when I needed some help/reassurance during my stage 4 diagnosis, surgery and treatment – they have been an awesome group of people with so much knowledge, positivity and empathy.

    I was looking for a challenge, something to really get my teeth into and something really worthwhile. Various ideas circulated for a while – China Wall, Machu Piccu and the like / but the one that stood out, head and shoulders was yes – Kilimanjaro.


    The Main Goal..

    Now how on earth do we get from a concept of climbing Kilimanjaro to doing something really stupid like climbing on top of a beautiful old biplane and taking to the skies?

    Welcome Life Changing Challenges (LCC) / a very close friend who had already done part of the Great Wall recommended me to them.

    So, whilst having a long chat with Nathan (LCC) about Kilimanjaro and why I wanted to climb to the top of Africa he casually dropped in the concept of the charity packages available via LCC. A plan was being hatched.

    One of the packages for charities included a “wing walking” experience. I love planes and always wanted to be a pilot! I was in – hook, line and sinker!!!


    Oh those beautiful flying machines!

    A part of my reasoning for climbing Kilimanjaro was to raise money for Melanoma UK. The charity is attempting to provide Horus Mole Mapping Scanners for hospitals in the UK – each scanner costs £50,000. My mum had died on a flight back from a holiday in Spain last September and I had vowed to make this happen at her funeral. I WILL get to the top.

    This climb isn’t just to raise money for charity it’s also to fulfil a pledge I made – it means so much to me.

    Mum 13.03.1939 to 22.09.2022 Missed so very much by so many. ???

    The next step was to book my Kilimanjaro climb – all set now for July 30th departure from Heathrow. Unbelievably excited!!!

    But – I wanted to really launch my Kilimanjaro Challenge in style – and OMG was this THE best way to do it. my flight was arranged for July 7th at a beautiful WW1 location near Cirencester with AeroSuperBatics. I had to drive 190 miles to the location but it was worth every single second in the car my old trusted Defender.

    Arrived bright and breezy on an absolutely stunning day. The blue sky and fantastic rolling countryside of the Cotswolds. Simply stunning.

    A couple of days before I arrived I rang to check exactly what was to happen on the flight. It was a very well structured circuit around the skies above the airfield with turns, climbs and dives that could be as severe as you instructed your pilot. A brilliant experience. However, I opted to pay for a second flight where my endurance would be severely tested. A loop, Cuban 8 and a couple of barrel rolls. What was I thinking?

    There was a safety briefing in the Officers Mess pre flight and then it was “chocks away”. I was first up.

    wingwalk challenge

    What could possibly go wrong ?

    The first flight was nothing short of magnificent. High in the sky feeling free and just so so beautiful. The fields forming a gorgeous tapestry of shape and colour. The sky so blue. Just perfect. The Take off and Landing of Everything kept springing to mind (Elbow) and Perfect Weather to Fly. What a serene atmosphere. What an experience.

    wingwalk flight

    The Patch work quilt of England’s countryside

    After about half an hour on the ground it was my turn again. I was the only lunatic in the asylum that had opted to do some aerobatics with the team. What a prospect!

    Harnessed in by the wonderful Libby and Dave down in the cockpit with preflight checks done. We were off to 4000ft above Cirencester keeping in touch with RAF Brize Norton along the way. The climb was lovely, smooth and uneventful. But then the signal came – the wings waggled up and down. Dave was at altitude- thumbs up and ready.

    The dive began at at the steepest point we were touching about 185 mph! Then the pull up at the bottom of the loop pulling 4G. Absolutely exhilarating. Adrenaline flowing like Niagara Falls.

    Loop done. Straight into a Cuban 8 which is a figure 8 on its side. 2 loops. Then as we start loosing altitude we throw in2 barrel rolls for the hell of it . Display smoke being thrown into the air for maximum effect. I felt like a leaf being tossed around in the sky by a strong gust. An experience I will never ever forget.

    Dave, the pilot said that more people had climbed Everest than doing what I had just done. Now that’s special.

    wingwalk loop the loop flight


    Ready for action – thumbs up!

    WingWalk – don’t miss out on a chance to do it.

    Watch the fun

    Now for my next challenge – watch out Kilimanjaro. July 30th

    Here is a link to the GoFund Page for Melanoma Uk

    Guest blogger - David Uttley

  • Machu Picchu 2023

    Machu Picchu 2023

    August, 2021. In the UK, businesses were optimistically beginning to reopen after the easing of COVID restrictions, but the NHS remained under relentless pressure and burnout among healthcare workers was high.

    I was part of a small group of frontline ambulance staff who decided to raise money for the South Western Ambulance Charity, to help support our struggling colleagues. The challenge: to trek the Inca trail in Peru, a four-day, 45km slog at high altitude, ending in the beautiful 15th-century citadel of Machu Picchu.

    Our departure date in May 2023 soon rolled around, and after three flights, two buses and one lost suitcase, we landed in Cusco. The first day acclimatising to the altitude was uncomfortable at best and unforgiving at worst among the group, with several people having nausea, vertigo and nosebleeds. I do feel that these symptoms may have been exacerbated by the set of wonky panpipes that found their way into my possession for the princely sum of ten soles. What a bargain!!

    Numerous other pieces of supposedly handcrafted, less musical tat were bought by the group as we enjoyed the touristy delights of the Centro Histórico in Cusco for a couple of days: we
    huffed and puffed up the hill to the Mirador desde el Cristo Blanco, ate cake overlooking the main square and rang the bells at the Circuito Religioso Arzobispal. At this point I may have
    bought myself a poncho and was seriously considering starting a new life as a Peruvian busker, and skipping the trek altogether. I did pass on sampling the local specialty of guinea pig,
    although a few of the group did try it, with mixed reviews! I think I'll stick to the coca tea!


    The evening before our trek we met with our main guide Rosel, a local chap with an unrivalled passion for the history of the Incas, who told us confidently that this would be his 790th trip to Machu Picchu. After our relaxed acclimatisation in Cusco, things began to feel a little bit more real. The prospect of four days with no showers, sleeping in a cold tent, trekking by headtorch in the dark, humidity up to 80% and temperatures ranging between ten degrees overnight and thirty during the day... I was beginning to think this wasn't one of my finest ideas.

    Armed with enough plasters and painkillers between us to rival a pharmacy, and some very questionable improvisational skills on the panpipes, we set off from the hotel at 0430 in the minibus towards the trail head at Piskacucho. By the time we arrived the sun was high in the sky, and as we began our trek on the gradual incline towards the first campsite, we were treated to some wonderful views of the mountains. Rosel's description of the undulating path as the 'Peruvian flag' seemed quite fitting, and my legs were starting to feel it! We saw the first of many Inca terraces and I was awed by their sheer scale. Considering the construction techniques and knowledge that would have been required to build them, and the tools that would have been available at that time, they are an impressive feat of engineering.

    We met some of our porters for the trek as we walked - a group of hardened local men (and one superwoman!) who were responsible for taking our tents, food and water, and spare kit along the trail. Although the amount they are permitted to carry is now regulated, their oversized packs still weigh up to 25kg and watching them casually jog past us while fully laden (in flip flops!) as we toiled and sweated our way across the Andean highlands was humbling. Who needs a gym membership when you have the Inca trail!

    Inca Trail

    After surviving our first day with 14km completed, we were treated to a filling meal from the chef and crashed out at the campsite at Ayapata for an early night. We were rudely awoken on the morning of day 2 at silly o'clock with a cup of hot coca tea, to ready us for the endlessly steep climb known as Dead Woman's Pass. Several of the group even set out early to get a head start on the infamous trail, which peaks at 4200 metres above sea level, and is regarded as the hardest day of the trek.

    The guidebooks cheerfully report it takes an average of 10 hours to complete this leg of the journey - an optimistic estimate for a bunch of tired NHS staff, who were already emotionally and physically battered from frontline ambulance work and carrying a range of pre-existing injuries!

    It was hard going. Having not had issues with the altitude beforehand, I was unpleasantly surprised by the creeping breathlessness that came with the climb. The sun was as unforgiving as the terrain, beating down and draining our energy. After several relentless hours of hiking, we began to fragment and spread out along the dusty path, as the easy conversation from the previous day was replaced with ragged breathing and concentration on zigzagging up the uneven steps. It felt like the longest time before I finally re-joined a few of the others, who had kindly waited for me just below the highest point of the trail. We climbed the last few metres together, and for someone who normally doesn't stop taking, even I was lost for words as the view suddenly opened up in front of us. The clear skies that had provided no respite along the steep incline now gave us an unrivalled panorama of the beautiful Pacaymayu Valley ahead.

    Inca Trail

    (I must admit, I had a little cry at this point. Must've got a bit of dust in my eye.)

    We waited for the rest of the group to arrive before we began descending into the valley. I caught up with some of the others that I hadn't seen since earlier in the morning, and they described how they had made it to the top by distracting themselves with impromptu pop quizzes the whole time!


    I just love the idea of bemused local porters and other tourists listening to a band of eccentric English people throwing random trivia around the mountainside.

    Walking downhill felt effortless in comparison to our previous slog, and from this side of the trail it's possible to see how it gets its name. Contrary to my own personal belief that the trek was designed to kill me, Dead Woman's Pass (or 'Warmi Wañusqa' in the local Quechua language) is said to resemble a woman lying down, with the jagged peaks creating her silhouette. I feel this sort of creative licence from the Incas may be due to a combination of brain fog from the altitude and chewing too many coca leaves, so I'm sticking with my original theory!


    Inca Trail


    The relief from the descent was relatively short-lived as we had another climb ahead of us past the waterfalls and ruins at Runkuracay, but we had the chance for a bit of sunbathing and rest before sitting down for some lunch. Turns out that in the Peruvian Andes, what goes up must come down, before it goes up and down several more times! I managed over 33,000 steps in total for the day and it's a wonder my legs didn't fall off.


    Although my CamelBak sprung a leak at some point on the last stretch so at least my legs were nice and cool by the time we got to the campsite, if not a bit on the damp side.

    It was a clear night, and we were promised some amazing views of the constellations thanks to the lack of light pollution. I made the mistake of enjoying them a bit too much while I was heading to the toilet tent in the middle of the night, and fell straight over a rock - should've known to take my walking poles with me! One cut finger and a bruised ego later, I was very much ready for bed.

    After a cold night in the tents, we rose early again and I was beginning to crave a lie-in by this point. I could definitely get used to having all my meals made for me though; maybe life in the mountains isn't so bad, as long as you have a team of skilled chefs and porters looking after you! Before we set off for the day the team introduced themselves to us in turn, and I was surprised that the eldest porter was 61. I am never going to complain about being too old to do something again! Back breaking work for someone so close to retirement.

    We picked up the trail and it took us into the jungle known as the Cloud Forest, with the mountains becoming less visible through the mist and trees as the humidity began to rise. It felt like a different world to the scorching heat of the previous day, and after a short climb we reached the pass overlooking the Urubamba River and Machu Picchu Mountain. With almost 40km walked by this point, it was hard to think that our journey was almost at an end.

    The remainder of the path to our final campsite at Wiñay Wayna was mostly downhill, which I was very grateful for, although I hadn't really appreciated how jarring it is on the knees to spend a morning pounding down rocky steps. One of the group decided to try running down part of it - the paramedic in me had visions of things going horribly wrong, but thankfully no casualties!  Before we knew it, we had arrived at the campsite in time for lunch and a well earned rest. I made friends with some local llamas (I'm lying, I was terrified when they randomly appeared out of nowhere, they were MASSIVE) and later in the afternoon we walked down to the Inca ruin next to the campsite where our guide Rosel spoke at length about the significance of the area. And with the sun setting overhead, I utilised some gentle peer pressure on the rest of the group and we did a spot of yoga overlooking the terraces to stretch out our aching muscles.

    On our return to the campsite it was time for some more wonderful food, and the chef surprised us all by baking a cake for two members of the group who were celebrating their birthdays while on the trek. As someone who can barely bake with a fully equipped and functional kitchen, how he managed to produce such a culinary masterpiece on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere I will never understand. Apparently all it takes is a few ingredients, a clay pot and three hours sitting on a fire! Easy, right? My only contribution to the evening was playing 'Happy Birthday' on the panpipes, which had gotten a bit squashed in the duffel bag, sounded even worse than they had before. As if such a thing was possible! At this point I figured it prudent to quit while I was ahead (and before I got cake thrown at me), and we called it a night.

    After what felt like no time at all, we were woken hideously early for the final leg of our trek. According to Rosel, the earlier you can get to the checkpoint, the better - the gates open at 0530 and when we arrived at 0345, there was already another group queuing ahead of us. How do people survive on so little sleep? Still, once we were allowed in, we would begin our hike to Intipunku, the Sun Gate, where we would get our first view of the ruins of Machu Picchu itself.
    We were so close!

    The gates opened, and we were off. With the path ahead lit only by the glow of our headtorches, we soon overtook the other group and it became a bit of an impromptu race to be the first to the Sun Gate. As dawn began to break we clamoured up the rock face affectionately named by the locals as the 'Gringo Killer', quick marched along the flat sections, and excited ran up the last few steps together.

    Gringo killer

    We reached the top. For the first time in the trip, the weather had turned on us, and the whole area was completely obscured by fog. Disappointed, but undeterred, we sat and waited. We were still smug at beating the two American groups to the Sun Gate, but even that victory began to fade as we realised that ironically, we had travelled halfway across the world only to end up
    with some very British weather between us and our final destination!

    It was almost an hour later that the fog suddenly lifted, allowing us a glimpse of the city that we had spent the previous three days trekking towards. Within a few short minutes it had once again disappeared from view; so, satisfied, we continued on. We made one last stop at one of the huge sacred stones outside of the city, and we each left an offering to Pachamama ('Mother Earth') of three coca leaves doused in pisco, the local spirit.

    Entering Machu Picchu itself was a surreal experience. After four days of only seeing our fellow hikers, the porters and guides, suddenly there were couples and families everywhere on day trips, fresh off the train, wearing sandals and sun dresses. I know for certain that I was not at my visual best at this point, having not showered for days aside from some intimate encounters with wet wipes, and I can only imagine that these other people would find us all a little fragrant!
    Still, Rosel had packed a clean shirt for the occasion and was obviously in his element as he gave us a wonderful guided tour of the Inca city of his heritage. The clouds from earlier in the day had cleared to give us glorious sunshine and perfect visibility across the whole area, and we enjoyed exploring the ruins. All too soon it was time to catch the bus to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes for lunch, and to say goodbye to our guides before taking the train back to Cusco.

    machu picchu


    As with all good things, our trek had come to an end and I was ready for our return to civilization. Specifically, a nice warm bed and clean clothes! And we had all made it more or less in one piece - not bad for a random bunch of misfits, more at home blasting through the streets of Bristol on lights and sirens than sleeping up in the mountains. I couldn't have made it through without the support of our group, and I feel like the deep conversations and the banter between us could power me through anything. Maybe the experience will even keep me sane while scraping drunk patients off of the pavement on a Saturday night!

    Guest blogger - Helen Field

  • Wingwalker fundraises a Mahoosive £20,000 for Macmillian Cancer Support

    This year I decided to do a Wing Walk to raise much needed funds for Macmillan Cancer Support… so why a wing walk…. And why Macmillan…

    I’m a 6 year survivor of cervical cancer…. I had first hand experience of the invaluable support and services Macmillan provide to people living with Cancer and to their families/ friends/carers.

    When I got the All Clear 6 years ago I pledged to do all I could to raise awareness and funds for Macmillan…. In the first 4 years I raised £20,000!

    Then this year Cancer made it personal… again with my Dad being diagnosed with prostate cancer and my cousin being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour.

    I pledged to go the extra mile and push even harder this year….I did a hike, Art Exhibition, Quiz, fundraising events… but my main challenge had to be spectacular….. last year I did a skydive…. So how do you beat that….. well with a wing walk obviously!!!

    Now what you also need to know is I’m petrified of heights!!

    A local business, Ifor Williams Traiers Ltd sponsored me by paying for the wing walk and the filming of this so all the money I raised would go to Macmillan!

    I decided to dedicate the wing walk to my cousin, Mark Weeks as he was fighting a battle he could not win - it takes a special type of person to do this and he did it with strength, dignity and bravery and the majority of the time with a smile on his face! So it was known as Wing Walk for Weeksy!

    He was also a paratrooper so I felt it was fitting!

    We had some real fun in the run up…. We got T-shirts printed, photos taken to advertise it and it gave us a goal to achieve and I hope proved to be a distraction at times for him!

    The local press supported us greatly which was appreciated and I also got nominated for a Pride of Britain Award for fundraiser of the year and made the final four in the region!

    So to the day of the Wing Walk!! Arghhh!

    Unfortunately Mark wasn’t well enough to make the journey but we kept in touch with everyone via posting videos and messages on social media!

    I knew we had raised approx £7,000 and the money and messages of good luck were pouring in!

    The weather was very good to us…. Clear blue skies, no rain but a bit breezy!

    The Team at Rendcomb Aerosuperbatics were amazing with us! They reassured me, prepared me and truly looked after me in the time we spent with them!

    I had my Dad, son and best friend with me for support!

    I had my training and safety session which put me at ease….. well a little bit anyways… then the time came for me to get on that plane!!!

    There is no escaping it you are on your own on top of that plane…. I felt as safe and secure as you can do….. but I truly believe I harnessed some of my cousin’s strength, bravery and courage up there with me! I had our Wing Walk for Weeksy top on and my Welsh boxer shorts in homage to him and off we went…. It’s a bit bumpy running up to take off but then you are up, up, up and away!!!

    The pilot had told me the more fun I looked like I was having the longer we would stay up and the more fun he would have! To be fair he also told me if I wanted to go down just do the thumbs down signal…. Well that wasn’t going to happen! There was a lot of money raised for this and it was dedicated to my cousin and I so wanted to do him proud!

    I put my arms out and lifted my leg (the wing walk pose), when I saw the spectators I saluted, thumped my arms up in the air, did the pose and my thumbs were definitely up!!

    It’s got to be the most surreal, scary but exhilarating thing I have ever done!

    The views also very spectacular!

    Then it came time to land! I cannot lie it was a relief to feel the descent coming and to get my wobbly legs and feet back onto the ground! But Wowsers was I buzzing the Adrenaline definitely kicked in!

    The videos were spectacular and would prove to be a very emotional watch the day after in the after party with my family and friends! But specifically my cousin who was so proud of me as we sat together to watch it….

    Unfortunately my cousin sadly lost his battle in September of this year but we will never forget him and I will ensure every year I do something fitting in his memory to raise funds.

    My total to date this year is reaching a Mahoosive £20,000 which will be part of his legacy!

    The Wing Walk was a massive part of this year and though it was terrifying I would highly recommend it to anyone as there is nothing quite like it….. who knows I may even revisit as next time I would able to loop the loop too….. !!!

    Here is my Just Giving Page link should anyone want to donate…. It would be truly appreciated!!




    Guest blogger - Ali Alcock

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