Tomorrow I will be at the Lord Mayors show, dancing on top of a float of Mount Kilimanjaro with the Tanzanian flag painted on my face in support of the Wings of Kilimanjaro challenge. Tune into BBC1 at 10.45am and you will most likely see us on the TV during the parade.
I may be a climber, but I do have a bit of a fear of falling…. yet the ‘Wings of Kilimanjaro’ is one cause even I could consider challenging my fears over….
Whilst many are looking for the next big adventure, the next record to be broken or the most almost imaginative stunt- (Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner’s 24-mile skydive from high in the stratosphere being one of them) a real world first has just been launched at London’s Gherkin and is also a truly international event that’s for a great cause.
Adventurer Squash Falconer, has summitted Everest and rode a motorbike from the UK, to Mont Blanc, climbed it, then paraglided off it. She is now joining a team of around 200 adventurers, including Commissioner of Police for the City of London Adrian Leppard and 1,000 porters from around the world to climb the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, before paragliding down from its 5895 metre peak on January 29, 2013.
The plan is to donate 100% of monies raised to support 3 charities, “One Foundation”, “Plant with Purpose” and “World Serve International”. These organisations are undertaking ground breaking work in Tanzania to address the severe problems of poverty in rural communities, deforestation and humanitarian issues including clean drinking water, HIV, nutrition and sanitation. They hope to raise at least 1 Million USD.
The challenge is the vision of Australian paraglider, Adrian McRae. Adrian spent two years negotiating with the Tanzanian government for a once-in-a-lifetime permit allowing a team of paraglider’s from around the world to launch off the peaks of Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain on the planet.
Adrian told me he came up with the idea, simply because it wasn’t permitted. ‘It was hard at first to convince the government to give the challenge the go ahead, but now they are all behind it…and we are beginning to talk to local schools and promoting it in Tanzania to get the word out….’
At the launch event at the Gherkin yesterday, Squash laid out all her paragliding kit for us to marvel. It weighs just 10 kilos and packs into a small backpack, which turns into a harness. Squash says ‘ I wasn’t going to be involved at first. It’s a big ambitious project so I stood back from it, but then I had a two hour Skype conversation with Adrian and realised that I was doing what people had been doing to me when I proposed my Mont Blanc flight, or my attempt to paraglide off Everest. If people don’t believe then these great events don’t happen. This is about raising money and changing lives. But it’s not a given that we will get to the top. Everyone asked me when I wasn’t able to fly off Everest because of the weather if I was disappointed. No! I’d just summitted Everest!!!’
The Commissioner of Police for the City of London, Adrian Leppard is also taking part as paragliding has been a big passion of his for years, outside of the police. He said, ‘I joined the police force because I wanted to do something exciting, not to sit behind a desk and to look after vulnerable people. I’ve been paragliding for 15 years and have always done exciting things. It’s an obsession and passion I can’t let go of. I’ve never climbed a mountain. I’m excited and nervous about this, at 19 thousand feet it’s not a walk in the park and is a real first, plus it will make a difference.’
So how is flying at such altitude different to normal paragliding? ‘Well, the aim is to get down,‘ says Squash. ‘The air is thinner and its faster to fly through if you don’t hit a thermal. It should take about 20-30 minutes. Mountains have their own mini weather systems with rotary winds so the ride down is never very smooth, but you can steer away from these areas. Also it helps if it’s windier higher up as it enables you to launch off the mountain. I guess the laws of flying change a bit.’
‘Who is first down depends on how people feel,’ says Adrian. ‘It’s not all about the flight, it’s also the summit which is hard too and people are in different states. I just hope for good weather, but this is something you just can’t plan for. ‘
Squash and the team have already had a practice run back in July. ‘It’s very stunning,’ she says. ‘I always get butterflies when I fly, but when that stops is when I’ll stop flying as it’s the adrenaline which makes it safe.’
Wings of Kilimanjaro has already secured support from adventurers in over 60 countries from Peru to Russia who will begin their climb on 29 January 2013.
If you want to support you can climb as a spectator, or fly with a professional flyer. Minimum to raise is $5000.
Visit: www.wingsofkilimanjaro.com for more information