1274 – ‘Northern Emulous III’ – France – Vallon Pont DArc

Exercise Northern Emulous llI was a multi activity expedition conducted in the Ardeche, an area of outstanding beauty in Southern France, for eleven Officer Cadets, three instructors and four administrative staff (One of whom took part in all the activities). The aim of the exercise was to increase the skills and qualifications of those undertaking the exercise in order to build better self confidence, team work and develop physical robustness. All of these aims were achieved.

The outward journey was a torturous two day trip by minibus from Dundee to Folkestone followed by the whole length of France and on to the town of Vallon Pont D’Arc, which is as far south in France as you can go, without speaking Spanish. The camp site at Domain De Mazes, proved an ideal base from which to conduct the exercise activities: kayaking, hiking and rock climbing. After an administration and reconnaissance day, the Officer Cadets were split into two groups for the five day kayaking phase.

With the river passing the camp site, the location was ideal for kayaking. This was conducted over five days with the first day concentrating on skills and drills, confidence building and a short paddle of some 7km. Days two and three were more intense and included defensive swimming techniques, in case of capsize while traversing rapids, and also greater distance as the instructors’ expectations/demands increased. These days were a build up to the monster fourth day, when the groups paddled 37 km through the wonderful Ardeche Gorges. The fifth and last day was test day with all eleven Officer Cadets and one member of staff attaining both 1 star and 2 star kayaking qualifications. This was mission accomplished and proved an extremely successful start to the expedition, with everyone commenting very positively on the excellent quality of instruction and the fantastic setting in which the training took place.

Before starting the next principal activity there was time for a day of hill walking and a challenge pursuit day. The hill walking provided an opportunity to work on map reading, team work and oral skills; all key components of the UOTCs aim to develop the cadet’s leadership potential. The day was a fabulous trek through the gorges of the Ardeche, conducting a river crossing and enjoying lunch at a fantastic swimming spot, ideal in the blazing sun, before finishing the day with a heart pounding ascent to the mini bus. The following day, the team sought the ‘challenge’ of the local ‘Indy’ park, which involved a confidence course built into a local wood, consisting of zip wires, cargo nets, Burma rope bridges and swings, all of which tested even the most confident of individuals.

After the fun of ‘Indy’ Park the Officer Cadets moved to the excellent rock climbing area of Salavas Fontgornide, situated five miles from the camp. The area is well known, well used and well found with all the rock faces pre bolted. The setting was quite dramatic – the crag topped by fir trees (useful rope anchors for abseiling) and water at its bottom with loose rock prone to tumbling if disturbed. However, because the crag was west facing and in shade all day exposure to hot sun was not added to the mix. The instructors ensured that the training was progressive from the outset: day 1 was an introduction to climbing and basic rope work, days 2 and 3 saw the cadets progress to more challenging climbs and the final day saw the majority of the group undertaking very difficult ascents and abseils. From the feedback this phase succeeded in catering for both the absolute novice climber while at the same time pushing those who had previous experience. All were challenged and taken out of their comfort zone and two of those with previous experience were able to pass their rock climbing foundation course.

The last activity was a day’s canyoning up in the hills about an hour north of Vallon Pont D’Arc. Dressed in wet suits, helmets and boots the group descending into a canyon where they were given a safety brief and then led by two expert local guides down through approximately 900 meters of fast flowing white water, water falls and in and out of caverns, not to mention jumping from rocks some 30 meters above the river, being dangled at the end of a rope at the side of a waterfall and then dropped into a plunge pool. The whole day was a real test for the individual but all loved it and were brimming with confidence by the end. However, it was a very tired group that returned to the camp site that night; what a day !

The Adventure training over, the team packed up the camp site and the vehicles then began the reverse trip from Vallon to Calais, then Folkestone and the long drive to Dundee and the end of the exercise.

Exercise Northern Emulous was a really well organised and successful exercise which proved to be challenging, educational, enjoyable and had the added benefit of being conducted in a fantastically beautiful region of France.

The expedition was organised by SSgt Johnny Graham, RAMC, and supported by the three Mountain Leader, Kayaker and Rock Climbing instructors. It would not have been possible without the continuing fantastic support of the Ulysses Trust, Highland RFCA and G7 at HQ 2 Division. For further information please contact WO2 (RQMS) JR Culling ([email protected])

With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

In partnership with:

Nuffield Trust