I’ll admit that I had trekking down as an easy activity. It’s just walking right? If I can run for hours on end then I can totally walk all day. Bearing this in mind, I had a bit of a shock during my trip to Ethiopia when I learnt that trekking is actually quite hard work. It’s exhausting, but in a completely different way from running. It slowly wears you down without you noticing, and then takes you by surprise when you reach camp and all you want to do is eat plates of pasta and sleep for 10 hours a night.
I was in Ethiopia as part of a charity trip organised by my work. I work for a global law firm and the challenge is our inaugural ‘Global Challenge’. The idea of the Global Challenge is to take colleagues from our offices all over the world and bring them together to tackle a big physical feat and raise money for our global charity partner, UNICEF. The firm does a lot of work worldwide with UNICEF, but the trip was in aid of our child justice programme in Bangladesh, which aims to improve the treatment of juveniles caught up in the justice system, whether as offenders, victims or witnesses. To date the Global Challenge has raised over $250,000 for the programme and I understand that our trek is the largest corporate fundraiser of its kind ever, which is pretty awesome!
The trek took five days and we summited at 4,500m, which is the highest altitude I’ve ever experienced. The trek covered lots of varied terrains (including some steep rocky climbs and sharp descents!) and we trekked through so many different types of weather. We also camped every night, which added to the exhaustion and the general discomfort. I could ramble on forever about the trip but that would probably be boring, so I thought I’d sum up my highs (and lows!) for your reading pleasure.
The best bits!
I loved summit day! It was amazing to reach our goal of summiting Mount Bwahit. We worked together as a team throughout the whole trip and I think our summit sums up the team’s attitude really neatly. The team was of mixed abilities and there was a small group of people who chose to take it easy and bring up the back of group. They’d struggled on some of the tougher climbs but had persevered and never ever gave up. As a surprise we arranged to stop just short of the summit for a re-group and then let those who’d been at the back lead the group to the top, so that we could all summit together and that no-one was left behind at the crux of the trek. They were really touched by the gesture and if I could have bottled the mix of emotions at the top of that mountain I would have done. Amazing moment!
I met some amazing new people. I am generally terrible at socialising and get terrible anxiety in big groups. Before I went on the trek I knew that my biggest challenge would be staying afloat in a group of 50 strangers, not the trekking itself! I did find it difficult but I also met some wonderful people and really enjoyed making new friends. I got on well with my tent mate and actually really enjoyed finding out about my trek mates. This felt like a massive achievement for me.
Sunshine and scenery. The Simien Mountains are absolutely stunning and it was such a privilege to be surrounded by such beauty every day. My favourite part was the latter half of the trek where we were consistently above the clouds – it felt so peaceful and it was just so beautiful. I also know I said we experienced a whole variety of weather but the beginning of the trip was mostly sunshine which was glorious. I haven’t been on holiday this year and I forgot how happy the sun makes you feel!
Our guides. We were guided through the mountains by a team of scouts from local tribes. They were hospitable, kind, knowledgeable, fun and very friendly. They really looked out for us on the mountain and set up an amazing camp in what feels like the middle of nowhere. They were also pretty savvy and gave us tips on how to behave when passing through local villages, which was really helpful. An amazing bunch of dudes! At the end of our stay we donated any camping equipment we no longer needed. They split it in to equal size lots and divided them up using a raffle system, with unwanted items going in to local communities. I thought this was great.
Spending so much time outside. When you do an office job and live in London you forget how brilliant it is to spend time outside. Properly outside; going to Victoria Park or Epping Forest doesn’t count! I’ve made a mental note to set more time aside to get out of London more often and breathe the non M25 encircled air.
Being without social media. I was pretty anxious about being out of contact with my friends and family for a week but it was actually one of the best parts! I barely even thought about my phone and when I did get back to reality I actually found it all a bit tedious and boring. I don’t care what you ate for breakfast or what trendy pop-up you’re going to or who you went to pilates with or about that stupid quote you think is inspirational but is actually a bit judgmental. It’s embarrassing that there are grown adults sub-tweeting each other so boring that people spend their lives caring enough about insignificant things to bother being passive aggressive on the internet. I had definitely missed speaking with my nearest and dearest though and the first thing I did was send them all a hideous picture of me and my sunburnt nose.
The unexpected. The most wonderful thing about exploring the world is coming across other cultures. It always shocks me how different things can be a few thousand miles away and my time in Ethiopia was no exception. Overall I found the people of Ethiopia to be warm and welcoming, very ambitious and fiercely patriotic. I think my favourite example of culture shock was ordering takeaway fries in Dubark and (40 minutes later) being handed a mountain of greasy fresh chips in a couple of carrier bags. Wonderful.
The not so best bits…
The toilet situation. Each camp had long drop toilets which, if you’re not versed in “camp” translates as holes in the ground (doors optional). I don’t think I need to elaborate more than just saying that it sucked.
Social anxiety. Although I met a lot of amazing people I did find it hard at points. Some people on the trek were less friendly than others and being stuck on a mountain with people I didn’t feel relaxed around was very difficult. By the time the trek ended I was very much ready to go home.
My work colleagues seeing my tattoos. Most lawyers don’t have tattoos. So many questions I didn’t have answers to!
Altitude sickness. I got a touch of altitude sickness on day two and it was really difficult. Luckily mine was quite mild and limited to just a headache, but a killer headache at that. Altitude sickness is often compared to a hangover and it definitely felt that way. My head was throbbing and every step I took made it throb even harder. It felt like my head was going to explode! Luckily I acclimatised overnight and was fine for the rest of the trek, but some other in the group were hit quite badly. I’m proud to say that our entire group made it to the top in once piece, which is apparently very unusual. In fact, our guides said that we were the first group they’d ever taken where every single person had summited. I think this says a lot about lawyers and stubbornness.
If you’re thinking of doing a trek like this then I would recommend it 100%. It was definitely the experience of a lifetime and worth every penny. Our trip was organised by Discover Adventure and they were incredible, so if you’re looking for somewhere to start I can definitely recommend them! Now I just need to plan my next challenge; Kilimanjaro or Everest Base Camp?!
My trekking is in aid of UNICEF UK and all donations go directly towards child justice projects in Bangladesh. My justgiving page will be open until the end of December if you fancy donating!