Wing Team at the Monserrat Monastery
Twenty Air Cadets from the South and East Midlands Wing have returned from a challenge of a life time. Following nine months of training and fund raising activities, the cadets set off for two weeks to explore the Spanish Pyrenees mountain range on what was the first overseas expedition, for their wing, of its kind.
The two week expedition was based near and around the remote area of the Benasque valley, located in the heart of the Pyrenees, and included a mixture of outdoor pursuits and adventurous activities, which was designed to introduce participants to a new environment and give them the opportunity to develop key skills important to everyday life.
As well as the physical challenge of the treks, wild camping, and adapting to living in a tent for the duration of the expedition, the cadets were introduced to new cultures and required to interact with the local Spanish population. By giving the Cadets responsibility for tasks which included; management of the expedition budget and how it was spent, booking the necessary transport, distributing funds for food, arranging accommodation for the group, and producing their own Spanish phrase book (including dialect), the team developed and improved vital skills in leadership, problem solving, communication, teamwork and budgeting.
Wing Team white water rafting on the Rio Esera
The Cadets started out their ‘Overseas Expedition Journey’ in October 2012 by participating in a dynamic selection process held at RAF Wittering to ensure that they were suitable for the expedition. For the successful cadets this was followed by a rigorous training programme of four weekend training sessions at various locations across the UK, which included areas such as the Brecon Beacons and the Peak District. The training took place over a duration of over nine months to develop their capabilities to live outdoors and prepare them for walking in mountainous terrain.
To ensure that the trip was available to all cadets regardless of their ability to pay, participants were tasked with raising funds for the trip. The cadets found innovative ways to generate the cash through generous donations, designing t-shirts, approaching local companies for support, bag packing and successful completion of the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, which was completed within the target time of 12 hours.
The Main Expedition
Monday 5th August saw cadets and staff meet to become involved in a ‘build-up day’ prior to departing for Spain. This time was spent participating in activities to increase team building, as well as kit checks to ensure the team had the correct equipment and were fully prepared for the trip ahead, before heading off to Luton airport on the Tuesday in the hustle bustle of excitable cadets!
Wing team on the summit of Pico Mulleres (3010m)
The main aim of the expedition was to summit one of the highest mountains in the Pyrenees at over 3000 metres above sea level (over twice the height of Ben Nevis). In order to do this, we were required to achieve a level of fitness and further training in country, to prepare us for the trek up to this type of altitude. This was accomplished by starting the week with two acclimatisation walks including summiting Pico Cerler at 2409m, followed by two smaller expeditions, which involved wild camping at Ibon Rencllusa (2260m) and Ibon de Batisielles (2220m), during which time we summited our second peak, Pico de Paderna at 2622m. This gradual build up in altitude primed us for our largest challenge yet – Pico Mulleres at 3010m.
Wing team descending Pico Mulleres
As with our smaller expeditions, we made our way up the Pico Mulleres Mountain on day one and wild camped overnight at just over 2100 metres. To enable us to summit and exit the mountain on the second day we were required to start our final 900m ascent at 6am in the morning. With this we set off on route in the darkness. As we walked along in the cold of night we witnessed the sunrise creep over the mountains and took in the breath taking views as we reached the summit at around 0900 hrs. An exhilarating experience!
It wasn’t all challenging walking however, we did have lots more fun along the way! Other activities planned by the cadets included, swimming, multi-pitched climbing, kayaking, white water rafting and a 280m Via Ferrata Climb, before finishing with a visit to Monserrat Monastery on the final day before departure.
The Staff at the Summit
All in all a successful expedition, with lots of challenges, fun and unforgettable experiences along the way! And the first of many in the wing, we hope!
By CI Lianne Harrold, 504 (West Nittingham) Sqn