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The #TrekBale Blog

At the British Ambassador's residence in Addis Ababa At the British Ambassador's residence in Addis Ababa

On 6 November, a group of senior members of the UK food industry set off on a 117km trek across Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains in support of Farm Africa. The #TrekBale blog follows their progress as they hike through forests, scale peaks and meet the Ethiopian farming communities they are raising money to help.

You can help the team reach their £100,000 target by sponsoring them here.

Day 1 - Nigel Dunlop

"What a 24 hours!  After assembling at Heathrow and meeting up with our fellow trekkers, we boarded the Ethiopia Airways flight to Addis Ababa. Most of us only managed a little sleep on the 6 hour 40 minute flight to Ethiopia but we were relieved to find that all our bags made it through safely!

Addis Ababa, with its population of around 3.4 million, sits at an altitude of around 8,000 feet, which was noticeable when we disembarked the aircraft.

Our first stop was a long planned reception with the British Ambassador at his residence. After a quick change of clothing we sat down to an extremely warm reception by the Ambassador and a number of high profile government and business representatives.

The reception was a great opportunity to hear about the fast growing food and farming sector in Ethiopia as well as a chance to promote the already widely recognised work of Farm Africa in the region.

Another rapid change of clothing and into the bus for what should have been a 7 hour journey to Dinsho, our first stop, and at 10,200 feet our base camp from which to begin the trek.

At our first stop for lunch we found out that the only food on offer was raw meat (beef and lamb). So after a quick vote, we decided to find an alternative venue. This we did, and here we enjoyed a selection of local dishes which we ate by hand accompanied by locally fermented bread called Injera.

It should have taken a further 4 hours to complete our journey, but it turned into a marathon lasting just over 7 hours!  As we headed up into the hills we encountered extremely dense fog. With a steep slope rising to our left and a sheer drop to our right, the poor visibility slowed us down to almost walking pace.  At one stage, visibility was no more than 2 to 3 feet ahead, so as you can imagine, progress was slow!

After just over 10 hours we arrived at Dinsho to a welcome fire and some warm soup. Despite the long journey, we are all in good spirits and boosted by the incredible support from everyone back home. There is a real sense of excitement - we are looking forward to getting underway tomorrow morning."

Day 2 - Richard Canvin

"We got a good night’s sleep on the first night, waking up to ice cold showers and a good briefing from Ake [trek leader]. The horses turned up at 1030. Before that we walked through the national park, spotting warthogs and bushbuck antelopes – and from 1100-1300 we walked along a stunning rift above a river, eventually getting to the river itself which was in full flow. We all had to jump over sections of it, and Nigel did an amazing pirouette with a half turn, ending up with his leg in the water.

We eventually arrived at camp at 1730, having seen the endangered Ethiopian wolf! The camp was set in a large, stunning valley. Richard and Mark had both been affected by the altitude while we were trekking but felt better in the evening, and we went to bed after a fabulous meal. The temperature was at -5, and the camp was awash with the sounds of snoring all night long.”

We hope they slept well - the team will be facing their first peak tomorrow! You can spur them on by helping them to reach their £100,000 sponsorship target here.

Day 3 - Keith Packer

"Following freezing temperatures overnight the team woke to bright sunshine with a morning temperature that was warming up quickly. The only disaster overnight was Richard (Canvin)'s exploding bladder (backpack hydration system), which cased major water damage to clothing and much cursing.

The team set off at 0730 to take tackle the first of the 4000 metre peaks that we will be climbing, after crossing a scented plain we met with stunning lava and the gate of Doda. Scaling the 4000 metre peak via the rocky incline sapped the energy of all the team, but the views at the top were stunning.

After descending Doda we crossed through the labyrinth of solidified volcanic lava flows, the scenery here is to rival the Grand Canyon in Utah. As we were crossing the final plain to camp we saw two rare Ethiopian wolves before we reached camp before dark for a well-earned meal.

The scale of this challenge is immense: the long trek with the high altitude adding to the difficulty, we have all volunteered for this to raise funds to support Farm Africa in the numerous projects (some of which we will get to see later in the week) they run.

The team are well and looking forward to our challenge tomorrow as we cross over to Wasama through the Kyresnsa valley. 

Karen, Amy, Zak: love you and missing you loads and looking forward to seeing you Sunday!" 

Day 4 - James Dallas

"We enjoyed porridge and omelettes washed down with tea and coffee. However, water availability caused a delay and eventually we set off at 0800.

Today's trek was far less arduous than yesterday, none the less we still broke the 3000m threshold surrounded by stunning scenery.

The usual hubbub of conversation followed the group as we meandered the Kyresnsa valley. Story telling continued as we all found out more about each other, it was really in some cases intimate details, such is the camaraderie established in such a short time. The weather was fantastic: blue skies and a light breeze made for perfect walking conditions.

We arrived in Wasama Camp a little ahead of schedule, and enjoyed watching the camp being assembled in its various individual parts while we took a well earned break.

As I lie in my tent tapping this out on my phone temperatures are dropping rapidly, we’re in for another cold night!!

The route today was Morobawa to Wasama via the Kyrensnsa Valley."

You can help the Bale Mountains Challenge team meet their £100,000 fundraising target by donating online here.

Day 5 - Graeme Pitkethly

“A cold night followed by a big, big day…

In the ranking of nature’s best campsites our starting point for day five surely tops the list. The conical perfection of Wasama peak, to be topped first thing in the morning, dominates the view from camp. According to Ake (whose estimations of time and distance are proving as accurate as a chocolate watch) Wasama is only 230m or so higher than us at 4225m, but seems to grow in stature and menace as the sun sets and night takes hold.

An evening spent discussing the finer points of the UK’s membership of the EU, Scottish Independence and the wider electoral system, was mercifully saved by Nigel, who returned to form with another of his splendid bear stories, and by Alan, who appears to be enjoying a pandora of wild and exotic dreams brought about by the combination of Malarone and sleeping at 4,000m.

We set off on time (for the first time) and were on trail by 7.30, and after dropping the packs at the base of Wasama the conversation slowed as we moved into a low gear and heads down made a series of switchbacks towards the top at 14,281 feet.

By 9.30 we were there, rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view of the heart of the Bale mountains and an immense basalt pyramid opposite us which the sun (in limited supply today) was striking perfectly. Even the sight of our next destination – Batu Peak – many miles into the distance and a bare chested Macdonald struggling his moobs into his boxing club t-shirt for a summit pic could not ruin a perfect moment.

A long slog across the high plains followed, dodging the ever-present and ankle-threatening mole rat burrows, sighting a couple of majestic eagles as we made our way towards our next challenge in good spirits.  After a slow rise up to a rather other-worldly lake at bang on 14,000 feet we stopped for lunch, where it became clear that the savage impact of the high mountain environment on our supply of bread rolls is taking its toll, as Desi’s offering for this lunchtime was badly in need of some fine Colman’s Mustard or Hellmann’s mayo to enliven the experience. After the usual extensive field triage on the heroic Andrew C’s feet, we were ready to tackle the next climb.

The dual-summited escarpment ridge of Batu Peak loomed before us, generating its own weather system and looking very daunting. There was little talk, a lot of huffing and puffing, no little swearing and just a lot of effort as the team ground it out on our way to the top.

By 3.30 we were on top at 4,340m, our high point of the trip so far. With the weather closing in our time on the summit ridge was limited, but long enough for Richard C to pick up the ‘COTD’ award for his attempt to rock climb the second summit peak using only his backside and narrowly avoiding the dreaded emergency evacuation by the ‘Top Gear’ horse that has been shadowing us ominously from day one. Batu also provided our first mobile signal in days, so a welcome chance to keep in touch with loved ones / confirm the football scores from the weekend (delete as applicable).

A challenging descent from Batu saw us into our camp, safe, sound and in good form all round, by about 5.30pm after 21km, virtually all of it above 4,000m and with two big lumps summit end along the way. A big day, and a great one.

Love to all, we are ready for a beer now."

Day 6 - Mark Williamson and Alan Gibson

"What a day! As has been the case the “day” starts the night before over a wonderful dinner prepared by Desta our cook. She prepared last night (Wed) a wonderful spread of vegetable and lentil soup, rice, green beans, salad and hand prepared chips. Everything is prepared by hand from fresh ingredients and as we arrive into camp every evening the smell of her cooking lifts our spirits as we know what lies ahead. As one of us was a first timer the value of this dinner time to share stories and of course to have a joke from Nigel – the theme has been animals and last night it was the turn of the crocodile!

(Some first timer reflections were also shared over dinner - we are both first timers in our own ways - the sheer extent of the physical challenge – nothing can prepare for this, the isolation, zero communication with loved ones, the constant logistical personal planning on a daily basis involving ensuring we had a minimum of four litres of fresh water filtered from local rivers, ensuring we drank enough, not drinking will ensure altitude sickness, that can be very serious, the tent management was a massive logistical challenge – firstly to find things! Then not to lose things, then deciding where to put things, how to wash in sub-zero temperatures with a daily allowance of 500ml water, we won't mention the “long drop”, how to withstand the freezing night temperatures, it was so cold, how to ensure enough water was drunk for the night sleep but not too much..! 

But regardless of all of this nothing could prepare both of us for Africa, Ethiopia, the wonderful people, the children running and say hello, their hospitality, their joy and also their simplicity of life. We saw villages that have not changed for 1000 years. The landscape is simply outstanding, a blend of volcanic and glazier formations.)

So we awoke between 5.30 and 6.00 this morning in various degrees of rest (dogs barking at midnight did not help!), we had our usual routine of navigating our tent, washing, stocking up with fresh water, and feasting on a high carb breakfast – we are burning over 6,000 calories per day so this is a must! 

Today (Thursday) was the big one: Tulu Dimtu, the final summit to 15,000 feet and the second highest mountain in Ethiopia and one of the highest in Africa. The climb and trek would be a grinding 20km. As we set off at 7.30 we were already feeling the effects of five days of relentless trekking and the altitude, although day by day we were feeling slightly stronger in terms of altitude.

The weather was in our favour with blue skies – but a bitter wind. We prepared for the ascent as a team and climbed it as a team, 60 minutes of burning legs but the great leadership of Ake kept us all to the correct pace and we reached the summit at 11.07. The emotions were released and while not over with 1.5 days remaining we had achieved something that very few have ever achieved before: four Bale Mountain Peaks.

After some photos we then set off down a very rocky incline that required concentration but the strong sense of achievement made it feel like we were floating down.

After a Desta lunch and a brief rest we then set off across the glacier smoothed plateau, we found our spirits were challenged as the walk was long and flat, this was a time for keeping up conversations or retreating into our own space to deal with the hike ahead.

Occasionally there was the brief excitement of a wild animal, firstly an Ethiopian Wolf was spotted, then a Starck‘s hare and then finally a beautiful eagle at close quarters. The latter flew majestically off into the distance with a wingspan of at least eight feet. It certainly put the wind beneath our wings and gave us a lift!

Ake always encouraged us and although the Pastor and Sir against his direction did try and break free on a number of occasions we kept a steady pace.

Although the sky had been clear all day, clouds suddenly blew in and carried the first few drops of rain. This produced instant activity amongst the group as we scrambled in our packs for the wet weather gear that we have been carrying all this time. A number of smart-looking new waterproof trousers were produced and rain jackets and some were clearly dismayed when the clouds moved away and we had to remove the wet gear as we were now starting to overheat!

What we experienced upon arriving at Rafu was the most incredible stone formations we have ever seen – once again this country has delivered the most fabulous landscape. Hopefully this sheltered spot will prove more frost-resistant so that we have a marginally warmer night although at the time of writing a harsh wind threatens.

At the time of writing we are recovering with our individual aches and pains, taking the time to rest our heads before dinner – the smell of cooking already whetting our appetites for dinner and the final descent in the morning.

A privilege to be here and share with such a great team for a great charity."

Day 7 - Colin Brereton and Charles Reed

“It was a howling gale when we went to bed, freezing cold, and we woke to more rain, which made the morning routine massively complicated and getting anything done very messy! We left as normal after breakfast, trekking across the plain before we started to descend an escarpment. It was amazing path, rocky and steep, and very hard to navigate – equally as challenging as summiting.

We finally arrived at the bottom in Rira, and the temperature and oxygen levels were noticeably different with the lower altitude - a welcome change. Over the course of the morning, we saw a range of agriculture from goat farming to spring onions, followed by a stunning lunch by the river. 

We finished the trek at Rira with much exultation and a very strong cup of coffee, and headed back to our final camp as the rains started again. We had to move the camp from its original spot as the land was completely waterlogged, but this did provide time for an initial briefing from the Farm Africa team.

We’re starting to get a feel for how important Farm Africa’s work is here, and there is much anticipation for the project visits tomorrow. It’ll be a busy day – visiting the projects and then heading up for dinner with Michelle [Winthrop, Director of Programmes at Farm Africa] in Addis and a 2am flight back to the UK.

We’re looking forward to seeing all our families and loved ones, it’s been an amazing but challenging week.”

Day 8 - Owen Brennan

“Friday morning we awoke in the Harenna rainforest which is vast and beautiful. Home to over a million people it also boasts a unique and varied wildlife and fauna. Most visible of these are the baboons, to be seen regularly throughout in large family groups. Indeed, we were accompanied in camp by a very mischievous orphan baboon being cared for by a local family.

Farm Africa has provided assistance to local people in Harenna to improve their incomes from the forest in a sustainable way. These efforts have in particular focused on wild coffee and honey production.

Ethiopia is the home of coffee. The natural organic coffee and honey produced here are of superb quality. Wild coffee is produced underneath the rainforest canopy, wild honey at the top.

This is in fact the point. These products need the rainforest and the rainforest needs these products to provide a sustainable income for local people who in turn work hard to sustain the rainforest. A virtuous cycle indeed.

The people we met in this project were deeply impressive, hardworking and very focused on developing their projects with the assistance of Farm Africa. Incomes have expanded and producers have organised themselves into co-operatives to the benefit of all.

They are also conscious of the role Harenna plays as a vital water source for 9 million people in its hinterland and globally in the effort against climate change.

Increased incomes have improved living standards and allowed families to support children in education. Farm Africa is working closely with these families on further opportunities including forest management and carbon credits.

Harenna is an impressive example of opportunity developing out of great challenge. The people of Harenna that we met seem determined to develop with Farm Africa at every turn.”

Day 8 - Andrew Thompson

“Visiting the projects today I wanted to understand how your donations have helped local people on Farm Africa projects. So I asked as many as possible how the extra money from wild coffee and honey (it's really delicious) has affected their lives, and this is what they said...

School for my children
"I can now afford to send my children to school and they get food there too"
"My eldest child has just gone to university and I am really proud of them"

A better home
"I have built a corrugated iron house in the forest instead of a grass one"
"All my family can sleep in the dry under the same roof"

Enough food
"I can go to the market to buy food for all the family" – the average family has 8 kids!
"We have money to buy food, not just what we used to grow here"

Clothes for the family
"All the family have clothes from the market"
"I have now bought the children shoes (plastic). Before, most walked around barefoot"

It is truly fantastic to hear first-hand the ways in which Farm Africa has improved family lives in a very real and positive way. As a result it is not surprising the warmth with which they talk about Farm Africa which they believe offers them a better, sustainable future.

A big final thanks to everyone who has donated!!”

If you haven't donated yet it's not too late to sponsor the team and support Farm Africa's work in Ethiopia. Visit their fundraising page now and help them reach their £100,000 target.

Day 9 - Richard Macdonald

"An amazing week has sadly come to an end as we sit at Addis airport to get the 0210 (am!) flight home. It has gone in a flash but so much has happened and all good.

In headline terms we gave traversed the Bale Mts, we think the first group to do so. 130 odd km, 4 days at over 4000 metres and 4 peaks of over 4200 metres. It's been very tough, very cold at night, a very basic camping life, but immensely good fun. We are shattered!

Bale is stunningly beautiful and remote and we have passed nomadic families living the most basic lives. We have also visited Farm Africa's projects just south of Bale and seen the stunning difference these interventions have made to the lives of thousands of smallholders.

It's been a truly memorable week and I thank all my fellow trekkers for their participation, their company and for their magnificent fundraising. Here's to the next trek!!"

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