Wings of Kilimanjaro – The reconnaissance climb

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I had such a brilliant time climbing Kilimanjaro!! I loved it….

It’s a mountain I’ve wanted to climb for years and for many reasons it was everything I’d hoped for and more. Unlike Everest Kilimanjaro is accessible to most people. It can be done in a week, it’s realistic to be able to train for it with a full time job, it’s not too expensive, it’s challenging without being crazy and it’s beautiful.

Incredible clouds above Kilimanjaro

The reason this trip came about was because I was part of the Wings of Kilimanjaro reconnaissance team. Wings of Kilimanjaro (WoK) is an event that will see up to 200 paraglider and handglider pilots attempt to fly from the summit early next year and in doing so raise over $1million for charity.

We didn’t fly this time!!

Kilimanjaro is in a national park and the permit to fly has only been issued for the main event next year. This trip was to check out the routes to the top, the camps, possible take off sites and to work on event logistics.

There were seven of us including myself –

Adrian McRae – Founder of Wok
Peter Bowyer – Safety officer for the event
Peter Grieg – Photographer
Jayme Moye – Journalist
Tim & Katya Leach – Pilot and locals with insider info!

The team - just hanging out on the mountain!

We spent 8 days on Kilimanjaro – this is longer than most trips. We had to allow time to circumnavigate the mountain, visit different camps, make sure we acclimatised well and explore all of our options.

We summited the mountain and spent time looking at the possible take off areas. There are several options but their suitability will depend hugely on conditions when we are there in January. It was a clear blue sky day and the clouds were below us…. Stunning!

On the summit with the team

At 5,895m the mountain is over 1000m higher than Mont Blanc and should not be underestimated! It’s definitely not a climb, it’s a trek and there is no need for crampons. You are not on ice or snow but the effects of altitude can be felt from around 3000m. Whilst lots of people do make it to the summit many people become ill and don’t make it.

I was on this trip because I wanted to see the mountain for myself and because I wanted to know exactly what WoK was about, the people behind it and how the money raised was being spent. It’s one thing organising a ‘climb and fly’ when you are doing it for yourself (as I did on Mt Blanc) but it’s quite a different matter organising up to 200 pilots plus a support team of up to 1000 people.

Was this even a realistic idea?!

Adrian McRae is an intelligent man with big dreams and, I believe, has the right components to make this a brilliant event. He has been working on this project for a few years now and has invested large amounts of his own time, effort and money to give it the best possible chance of success. After many visits and time spent in the county he has an understanding of how things work in Africa. It is no easy task dealing with and understanding how the authorities function!

Peter Bowyer is a very experienced pilot. He has been instructing for years and has worked as safely officer on many events. Having spent time with Peter on the expedition I know that he will have no issues with making the decision to fly or not. If the conditions aren’t right or the pilots are not fit to fly Peter will not permit them to do so. There will be a minimum of one helicopter present on the mountain should a rescue be necessary.

Leading the expedition was Silvano Hamisi Mvungi, the owner and chief guide of Top of Africa Expeditions and guide partner for WoK. The logistics for this trip went smoothly and I’m hopeful that this company has the staff, equipment and ability to handle the huge group that will be on the mountain next year. I think it might be worth remembering though that TIA….. this is Africa! and perhaps all people involved in the main event should pack a good amount of patience and understanding, especially for the first few days of the hike as everyone finds their pace and this large group settles into things!

With Silvano Hamisi Mvungi and another guide from Top of Africa Expeditions

Peter Greig is a wonderfully creative guy and has been very involved with WoK since the beginning and has worked closely with Adrian McRae. He documented this trip and his stunning photos can be seen by clicking here…

Rarely seen - the hard work of the person behind the photographs. Peter Greig.

I met the team, I climbed the mountain…. so what do I think about WoK??

I think it’s an absolutely incredible project with a remarkable team of people behind it. I’m excited to be a pilot and to be part of the main event. The mountain is beautiful, the route is good, there are camp sites that will accommodate the WoK group and there are good take off sites if the weather plays ball! The money raised will be going to very good causes and the WoK team are actively encouraging people to stay longer or re-visit Tanzania to get involved with the projects that the money will be funding.

I think it is critical that people have realistic expectations. This is the largest group of people that Kilimanjaro has ever seen and as I mentioned before – this is Africa! Things probably won’t run smoothly 100% of the time. Climbing mountains and paragliding are both sports that involve risk and elements that are out of our control. To climb the mountain and fly off the top would be great but that is not a given. The real glory in being a part of WoK is that you are part of a journey and a team that will see you try to climb a wonderful mountain and attempt to fly off the top. That may or may not happen, but what will happen is that the combined amounts of money that we all raise and donate will make a positive difference to many people’s lives… and that is quite simply incredible.