years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
Suffering of bears, dogs and cats inspires weary UK team to new heights for 10th anniversary
With the celebrations for Animals Asia’s 10th anniversary under way, the much-anticipated weekend of the UK team’s Three Peaks Challenge finally arrived (9-10 August 2008), together with the forecast driving rain and howling gales of a typical British August summer! Time to steady the nerves and put those hours of training into practice!
With Dave, Gill and Lara driving up to the Manchester rendezvous on Friday night, to meet up with Mark Jones (our new Director of Animal Welfare), and with Nicky, husband James, son Chris (14) and supporter, Kay Roudaut, joining them early on Saturday morning, the team was complete by the time we picked up our trusty Ford Tourneo at 8.30am. (Kay had very kindly joined us as a co-driver, map-reader and general cook and bottle washer as poor Fiona had to drop out through illness).
James’ army training meant that rucksacks containing endless changes of clothing, food supplies and cooking equipment was loaded very efficiently into the tight space available, and the team was ready to set off.
An uneventful seven-hour journey to Ben Nevis Visitor Centre meant that we arrived in good time for the climbers to sort their kit finally, limber up and don the waterproofs. Very low cloud and mist meant that visibility of the mountain was practically non-existent (perhaps just as well). Nerves slightly increased by the sight of day-trippers coming down, soaked and exhausted, declaring “never again – it was freezing, wet and took us eight hours!”.
Urged on by good luck messages both from Jill and from Fiona in London, the team finally set off at 5.50pm into the murk and were quickly lost to sight. Kay and Nicky felt marginally guilty as we sorted out the van and prepared a hot meal for their return, but mostly we felt rather smug that it was not us! However, that soon changed as we were attacked by clouds of Scotland’s most vicious secret weapon, midges, who were undeterred by mist and rain.
Gill set a cracking pace up Ben Nevis, tackling the steep steps that mark the start of the route, before a brief respite on the plateau by two lakes, and the final zig-zag ascent to the summit, which the team achieved in 2 hours 45 minutes. The view from the summit was not impressive – totally obscured by cloud and rain with the temperature dropping to near freezing – so the team stopped only for a quick photo before beginning the descent into the gathering darkness. Spirits were lifted briefly by the sight of a herd of red deer and their fawns by the lakes, but otherwise they were totally alone and the descent was horrible, made worse by Dave taking a spectacular fall on the slippery rocks, resulting in a very painful shoulder.
By 10.15pm, Kay and Nicky were extremely glad to see five head torches picking their way down the hillside and we scrambled to have hot food ready waiting on the plates for their return, before the team stripped off wet and heavy clothing, changing into dry clothes for the seven-hour journey to Scafell in Cumbria. Very quick turn around, with everyone fed, and changed and ready to go by 11pm. Morale was not that high as the ascent had proved much more difficult than anticipated with the whole climb taking over 4 hours, 45 minutes, which the support team thought was brilliant but the climbers were disappointed in!! Moreover, everyone was soaked to the skin and already feeling very sore.
Kay and Nicky had an interesting drive through the night to Scafell, while the others tried to catch some rest. At times, it was raining so hard that the wipers made no impact at all, the wind was so strong that the van shook, and we had to avoid the herds of red deer that were taking shelter on the lower roads as we crossed Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor. We eventually arrived at the end of a very windy track to Wasdale Head in the Lake District by 4.30am to find the car park locked and no one else around!! Undeterred, the team dragged on their second set of climbing clothes and after a quick croissant and orange juice, disappeared off into the darkness, feeling slightly better that, although there was a howling gale, at least it was not raining – yet!
Scafell is England’s highest peak and the team had been told that it was the most challenging, certainly in terms of finding the route, with many a Three Peaks Challenge going astray here, as the teams got lost. Inspired map-reading by the team meant that this fate did not befall us, although it did happen to the only other Three Peaks team that we had met at Ben Nevis who had set out an hour before we did. Kay and Nicky watched them return to their car at about 8.15am and imagined that we still had an hour before our team returned. Imagine our surprise when our guys turned up at 8.30am, fit, happy and raring to get on the road again! Apparently they had had a relatively easy climb, helped to the summit in the clouds by a series of cairns, and enjoying a slightly murky view over Wastwater as dawn broke. They had made it up and back in 3 hours, 30 minutes and were feeling elated at having caught up on time. However, the climbs were taking their toll, with very sore limbs, chafed skin in areas no one wants to think about, and Dave’s shoulder was extremely painful.
No time to think about that and we were on the road again by 9am, starting the five-hour journey to Pen y Pass at the foot of Snowdon. This journey was fraught with frustration because, unlike the previous night when we virtually had the road to ourselves, we were now at the mercy of holiday-makers and crawling caravans on roads where it was impossible to overtake. The drivers certainly felt the responsibility of getting the team to Snowdon by 1.30pm to give them a realistic chance of achieving the challenge in 24 hours. However, the weather was marginally kinder with occasional glimpses of sunshine and some beautiful views as we came into North Wales.
Despite the traffic jams caused by a ferret festival in Betws y Coed, we screamed into the car park at Pen y Pass at 1.40pm to be met by a friend of Gill’s, Ian. His enthusiasm was infectious for the team, whose muscles had stiffened up alarmingly during the journey and they set off for the final ascent by 2pm, giving themselves just under four hours to complete the challenge. They had chosen the Pyg track, which is short but very steep. Kay and Nicky wandered some way along it, watching families out for a day’s climbing, looking very relaxed, as we got more and more nervous on behalf of our foot-sore colleagues!
This climb was very steep and rocky and necessitated crossing a ridgeline up to the summit of Snowdon. This was very sheer and slippery after all the rain and both Lara and Mark, who suffer from vertigo, found it extremely challenging and unsettling. The summit itself was again shrouded in cloud and very cold – sadly the cafe at the top is temporarily closed, so no comfort in sight! However, brilliantly, the team made it up to the top of Wales’s highest peak by 4pm with just the descent to go! Mark and Lara wisely decided that they would return by the longer, less steep track to Llanberis, not wanting to face the sheer descent of the Pyg track.
And so it was that Kay and Nicky finally saw the very welcome sight of the rest of the team arriving back over the brow of the hill to the car park at 5.15pm (Gill and Ian just five minutes ahead of Dave, James and Chris). Totally and utterly exhausted, but elated, they had made the challenge in just 23 hours, 30 minutes – a truly brilliant achievement, especially by Dave, whose shoulder was still causing him great pain.
Pausing only for a quick photo and to change out of yet more wet kit (the van by this time was extremely potent and we found little trouble in finding a free car parking space – other vehicles seemed to move away rapidly for us), the team drove down to Llanberis to collect Mark and Lara and to crack the champagne by the side of Lake Padarn following a fantastic celebratory meal in a local restaurant. To put the icing on the cake, Mark and Lara had made it down the much longer track to Llanberis in an astonishingly quick time, despite agonising knees and chafed skin, to arrive on the dot of 5.50pm, and thus also achieve the challenge in 24 hours.
We are extremely proud of our climbing team who, in turn, were extremely grateful for all the messages of support and very generous donations to the cause by our wonderful supporters, one of whom even drove to Snowdon to cheer the team along en route up the mountain! With donations still coming in, we hope to have raised around £4,000 for the bears, dogs and cats and thus make a fitting contribution to Animals Asia’s 10th anniversary celebrations.
The pain and discomfort of cramped and strained muscles will pass in very quick time for the team but they provide a stark reminder of the agony that must be suffered day in and day out over countless years by the 10,000 bears still incarcerated in tiny cages, unable to move or turn around on the bear farms of China and Vietnam. Their suffering was our inspiration.
The UK team celebrates at the top of Ben Nevis - the first peak.
Weary but elated, the team atop Scafell.
At last - the team conquers the third peak, Snowdon. And they did it in less than
The UK team's amazing effort raised more than £4,000 for the moon bears.