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CHARITY

In August, Paulo De Tarso and Ashley Palmer-Watts of Knightsbridge’s Mandarin Oriental hotel scaled the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro, raising huge sums for Africa in the process. But as Jamie Downham hears, reaching the summit was the hardest thing they had ever done...

Climbing TO CHANGE LIVES

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HIS SUMMER, two of the Mandarin Oriental’s biggest names swapped the luxury of the famous Knightsbridge hotel for the toughest task of their lives: climbing the fearsome Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Ashley Palmer-Watts, head chef at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, assembled a team including his good friend Paulo De Tarso, maître d’ at the hotel’s Bar Boulud, for a mission to scale Africa’s highest peak for charity. But even the hard-headed titans of London hospitality – dubbed “the chefs with altitude” – weren’t prepared for how challenging the trip

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would be. Towering 5,895 metres above sea level, the treacherous terrain and dizzyingly thin air defeats almost two-thirds of the people who attempt to reach the summit. However, with more than £50,000 in sponsorship for the charity Farm Africa’s Food for Good programme and the backing of friends, family and customers urging them on, the team made it to Uhuru peak on Wednesday, August 28. It has been an emotional journey all round. “What hit us the most was when we flew in,” says Paulo. “When you go from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, the plane goes by the mountain, right next to it. It’s 60km by 41km – an absolute


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Mountaineers John Freeman, Paul Foster, Ashley Palmer-Watts and Paulo De Tarso help with a fish harvest in Kenya

beast. We were all looking at each other like ‘Oh. My. God. We’re climbing that thing.’” Getting to the top is the equivalent of scaling Big Ben 61 times, and the team and their band of dedicated guides trekked for hours through the darkness each day wearing headlamps, in order to witness the spectacular sunrises. “It’s pitch black and all you can see are these little lights,” says Brazilian-born Paulo. “After three and a half hours, your head is down and you’re climbing. It’s pretty scary. But when you see the sun come up, it is the most beautiful thing. If you look down, you can see the curve of the earth as the sun rises. It’s unbelievable.”

The Knightsbridge pair had both been training in the run-up to the epic challenge, with Ashley cycling up to 100 hours a week, and Paulo kickstarting the fitness regime he began last year when he stepped into the ring for chef-on-chef boxing match Rumble in the Kitchen. But half the challenge is staying mentally strong, and with altitude taking its toll and the temperature plummeting, the route to the summit became increasingly demanding. “I thought day five was going to be the hardest day for me,” says Michelin-starred Ashley. “We had to climb ‘the wall’ – a steep, rocky cliff, with my fear of heights. Feeling tired V 59


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CHARITY

The triumphant team at the peak of Kilimanjaro

and with not much sleep, we set off at midnight towards the summit. The journey to the top was mentally and physically more demanding than anything I’ve ever done before. “At a few points I didn’t think I was going to make it. But when we reached Stella point [a milestone near the summit] after six and a half hours with one more hour to go, I knew I was going to do it. With the massive crater on the right and the glacier on the left, the beautiful sunrise coming up spurred me on to get to Uhuru peak. It was incredibly emotional seeing the team at the top and I’m very proud everyone pulled together and made it.” Exhausted, a jubilant team hugged and took in the breathtaking views (not that there’s much breath to take at that altitude) before embarking on the gruelling task of descending the mountain again, back to camp. As well as being an amazing experience, it has been crucial for the cause. The mountaineers – who also include top chefs Paul Foster and John Freeman – have managed to change countless lives in Africa through their support of Food for 60

Good, a programme which unites Britain’s food industry in giving African farmers tools and help to “grow their way out of poverty”. Diners at Dinner and Bar Boulud helped push up the staggering fundraising total, too – a discretionary £1 was added to customers’ bills before the climb and many made donations. Before taking on the mountain, the team went to one of Farm Africa’s projects in Kisumu, Kenya, which Ashley first visited last year. They saw how helping locals build fish-farming ponds is transforming the lives of hungry people who live without electricity or running water. “They don’t want our leftovers, they want to work for it,” says Paulo. “You’re harvesting, you’re selling the fish. They’re feeding themselves, they’re making a little profit and everybody is doing their part. Africa is an amazing continent. It’s a continent that needs to flourish.” You can sponsor Paulo and Ashley at virginmoneygiving.com/PauloDeTarsokiliclimb and virginmoneygiving.com/APWkiliclimb, or for more information, visit www.farmafrica.org

Climbing to Change Lives The Kilimanjaro Climb  

Sloane Square Magazine Climbing to change lives ( Kilimanjaro Climb) Chefs with Altitude Paulo de Tarso, Ashley Palmer Watts, Paul Foster a...

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