A Himalayan trek expedition to raise money for Refuge

Suzi and Xanthe - two lifelong friends who work in front-line services supporting women and children - decided to take themselves out of their comfort zone to do a Himalayan Trek to raise money for UK charity Refuge, supporting victims of domestic violence. Suzi takes us through their amazing journey...

Suzi takes in the amazing view, wearing the W's Stratam LS Sweater and Neema Hat in grey.

When I read about TrekHER50 – a Himalayan trek expedition to raise money and awareness for the charity Refuge – I thought it would be a great way of supporting ending violence against women and girls, while also challenging myself during my 50th birthday year.  Our two biggest challenges were going to be making sure we were properly equipped to do this, and raising as much money as we could for something we care deeply about.

And that’s when a chance request to kora, turned into a true life line. kora really know their stuff, they understood the changing terrains and temperatures we were going to be experiencing and with their help TrekHER50 turned into a trip of a lifeline and helped us raise £9,700 for Refuge.

We were trekking 8-9 hours each day in ever changing weather conditions and terrain. You know the phrase ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’ ... its absolutely true.

We arrived in India at 7am and before we knew it, we were in the centre of Delhi, in morning rush hour in 33 degree heat. We had a day free to do a spot of sightseeing before taking the night train from Delhi, 8 hour North to Himal Pradesh. We arrived at into Pathankot at 4am, still in darkness.

Waiting for a transfer, en route to higher altitude.

As we drove 3 hours east, towards the base of the Himalaya’s, the sun started to come up and the view emerged. We stopped in Dharamshala and went for breakfast on the roof of a local hotel, and that was the first chance to truly appreciate the vast peaks in front us. From the noise and crowds of Delhi and the night train, there was a genuine serenity about sitting in the shadow of the mountains. Although it was warm and sunny, it was noticeably cooler and fresher than Delhi and although we were below the Himalaya snow line, we were thankful for proper technical clothing that was going to keep us cool during the hot days and warm on the very cold nights.

We were spending the night in MacLeod Ganj – home of the Dalai Lama and also a large population of  in-exile Tibetans.  We visited the Tibetan Women’s Association in the afternoon so share stories and experiences around women’s rights.  Different country and culture, but same issues and problems.  We were tired after what felt like 2 days of constant travelling and little sleep, and I think it gave us all a bit of a boost.  A reminder of why we were doing this trek.  

Breakfast venue at Dharamshala

The next morning our group of 18 trekkers, 2 guides, 1 medic, and a handful of amazing support crew leading horses with all the camping equipment, left McLeod Ganj for our first day of TrekHER50.  We set off on a steep descent through thick pine forests, down towards Ghera village.  It was a beautiful day with barely any cloud cover.  The support crew had been ahead of us and by the time we reached them they had prepared an amazing lunch of breads, soup, dahl and curry.  I think we had all been expecting a sandwich!  This was great.  But thank god for the energy boost, as the afternoon was a fairly steep ascent up to the village of Kareri (2070m), where camp was set up on a meadow on the outskirts.  And after all the dread of wild camping, it turned out to be great – and everyone was so tired that we all slept well.

Our fabulous guides, some lunch and camp

The following day was mixed in terms of weather, but pretty unrelenting in terms of terrain.   Again, we started with a very steep descent towards the bottom of a valley.  Thankfully a quick stop for snacks and water, because for the rest of the day it was a thigh burning ascent.  Everyone seemed to find their rhythm though.  Some members of the team felt that it was the toughest day, and felt literally like an uphill battle.  But there was a lot of camaraderie and funny stories to keep everyone in good spirits.  That night we camped close to the village of Bal (2330m), which sits in the shadow of Camel Peak (5300m).  One of my favourite evenings.  And an amazing opportunity to do yoga outdoors, to the sound of a nearby waterfall, as the sun went down on such a peaceful and breathtaking view. 


Day 3 was the push up to Triund which was at 3500m – but again, we went way downhill before we started going up again, in a steep ascent of pine forests and rhododendrons.  It meant a lot of concentration all day as the path was incredibly narrow, and while there weren’t many people passing in either direction, it still felt pretty precarious in places.  Another amazing lunch, on a ridge, as the clouds closed in around us.  The trek support crew and guides were incredible –so talented (how do you cook like this on the edge of a mountain?!) and so knowledgeable.  We didn’t stop asking questions of our guides Sanjay and Anchuck, and they never tired of it.  And their positivity kept everyone buoyed up throughout the entire trek.

A long afternoon of single file walking, but the end was in sight.  We reached Triund about 45 minutes before sunset – everyone was over the moon that we’d made it – but even more so when we climbed a little further and found that the crew had set up camp in the most breathtaking spot,  I think I will ever ever camp in.  The sunlight glowing against the surrounding mountains and clouds gave a sense of stillness, which felt very magical.  There was a real sense of emotion reaching camp that night.  We had a campfire once the sun went down – there was a noticeable drop in temperature even from the previous night as we were so high and exposed.  But again, our Kora layers meant we were able to sleep soundly and stay cosy.

Suzi and Xanthe celebrate their achievement

And we needed every bit of energy.  As turns out a full days downward climb, is absolutely exhausting.  We had a 6/7 hour descent, savouring every last moment on the mountains, above the clouds, with kites and eagles soaring above us and goats following us down the hill.  It felt like a real privilege to be on what felt like the top of the world.  I know there are hundreds and hundreds of higher peaks, proper giant mountains.  Ones that require real technical skill and bravery and endurance.  But I feel really proud of achieving this little feat.  I feel very grateful to be able to be part of TrekHER50, to this with my best friend, to travel to India and walk the foothills of the Himalaya with amazing and inspiring women, and to be able to raise almost £10,000 to help Refuge support women and children experiencing domestic abuse.  

Our Neema lightweight base layers, hats and wool mid layers are perfect for trekking. kora fabrics help to keep your body temperature regulated and their natural breathability and wicking properties mean they can be worn without washing for several days at a time.