On 10th July, 22 cadets and 10 staff set off from Liverpool John Lennon Airport for Barcelona. On arrival they collected four 9-seat mini vans and headed north to the small town of Albayna in the foothills of the Pyrenees. We arrived at the base camp, Bassegoda Park, greeted by 3 staff who had left earlier with all equipment on 7th July. The camp was fully set up for preparations to commence promptly. The Gold participants quickly set up their tents and settled in to their new home.
Two days of preparation, training and inspections followed as the groups prepared for the four day trek. The groups were well acquainted following completion of two Gold practice expeditions. This continuity was provided so that the leaders of each group were aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each group member and had already a good working relationship with them since their Bronze awards.
In the first meeting onsite, cadets were informed that any decision they wanted to take had to be confirmed to their assessor & supervisor. During these two preparation days route cards and maps were re-checked from prior classroom preparations. Their kit, equipment and rations were repacked and they completed short acclimatization treks.
The four groups then set out from Bassegoda camp to their starting points. The walk took them on part of the Spanish / French GR11 route. The GR11 is part of the extensive GR footpath network of paths, tracks and trails. It runs through the Spanish Pyrenees, passing briefly into France near Candanchu. From West to East, the trail starts at Cape Higuer (Basque Country), crosses Navarre and Aragon and finishes at Cap de Creus (Catalonia.) Its exact distance is difficult to measure, roughly 840 km and a total elevation change of 39,000 m. The route is separated into 45 sections. At the end of each section there is a useful stopping point (camping spot, town, hostel or refuge) but generally supplies have to be carried for 3–4 days. Because most rivers flow perpendicular to the trail, the GR11 passes over many valleys affording beautiful vistas but also many ascents and descents – some days as much as 1600 m ascent (with equivalent descent).
These walks had been used in a previous Gold by our school but it was a new camp and there had already been a H&S tour by our chief Gold assessor previously in the year.
We were using remote tracking software on this trek. The contingent uses the Mapyx Quo GPS system. Quo is a digital mapping program which enables you to connect your GPS to your PC and manage all your waypoints, routes and tracks, and view information such as elevation, distance, speed, ETA and many other services.
The four groups were walking in an easterly direction mainly on the Eastern stages of the walk ending up on the east coast area of Catalonia. The terrain was quite mountainous as one would expect from an area in the base of the Pyrenees.
Some groups started with 600m climbs and there were fantastic views and excellent vantage points along the way. The main difficulties faced by cadets were heavier packs then they had ever experienced before, maintaining a high calorie diet for four days, walking on challenging terrain and sleeping on hard ground. Blisters were aplenty and miles of Zinc Oxide tape were required. The four groups successfully completed their treks and after a rest four excellent presentations were given by cadets including videos from their trek. The cadets were happy and relaxed with increased confidence after completing their Gold trek.
Some cadets have also completed their residential, volunteering and skill tasks and as a unit we are on course to have the highest number of completed Gold awards in one academic year. The expedition ended with a few days rest & recuperation in Barcelona which was enjoyed by all. It was still raining when we arrived back tanned & refreshed in Liverpool.
We would like to thank, on the record, the Ulysses Trust and the RFCA for their kind grants to assist with the cost of the expedition. The Assessors and staff who gave their time and efforts to make the trip a success and to the cadets who’s hard work, cheery outlook and enthusiasm made it all worthwhile.
Mr Conor Turbitt, Liverpool College CCF