1289 – ‘West Mercian Wing India’ – Ladakh, India

The expedition aim was to provide a group of Air Cadets from West Mercian Wing with the environment to develop personal and team skills. It was envisaged that the team would run much of the expedition themselves, the ultimate goal being the summiting of Stok Kangri (6130m). This would be mentally and physically challenging and, combined with the experience of visiting a totally different country and culture, would create life changing experiences for all.

The first challenge was to get a diverse range of individuals working together as a team. This was achieved through a series of activities and facebook, the latter being a very important in enabling discussions on equipment and the training progress. Monthly events gave the opportunity for training and fundraising with sponsored events such as abseiling and the completion of the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. The most profitable training was a four day Scottish expedition where group and personal winter skills were learnt, instilling in the group the importance of their equipment and teamwork.

After nearly eighteen months of planning and eight months of training the expedition team arrived at Manchester Airport to begin their adventure. The team’s equipment was divided up between the group and with our bags safely packed, our luggage was loaded onto the aircraft. Once passports were checked and the group cleared through security it was time for the journey to start in earnest.

On arrival in Delhi the doors opened and the heat, smell and noise invaded the senses and we knew that we were in India. Although Delhi was a big culture shock as well as fascinating to all, we were happy to leave it behind as we moved to the village of Leh (3500m), from where we could see the Himalayas in all its glory. This was our first experience of altitude and its affects upon our bodies, having to stop after climbing a single flight of stairs just to catch our breath. We started to take small walks out in the surrounding area in order to aid the acclimatisation process.

Eventually we acclimatised to the altitude and were able to start our nine day trek of Stok Kangri. This was exciting, crossing rivers in a basket suspended from a steel cable, crossing mountain passes and camping in exotic locations. Numerous early starts were in order to avoid the intense heat of the day, the spicy food prepared by our support team, was all part of living the life of an explorer and a totally different experience.

Summit day arrived and we were wakened by the cook team with tea, at a time most of us would normally have returned from a good night out!! We set off in darkness, with great anticipation and a line of head torches disappearing into the night. On the final ascent we didn’t make the summit due to altitude sickness causing us to turn back at 5850m. Back at Base Camp, we all sat in the mess tent reflecting on the last 16 hours. It was disappointing but could all be proud of our efforts and the most important thing was that we were all back safe. On reflection, the mountain will always be there for another attempt. We returned to Leh and after a well earned rest we took the opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort before returning home.

The most important skill that came from this experience was teamwork. It was inspiring to see how individuals supported each other throughout the expedition. It wasn’t all plane sailing though, with individuals fighting their own personal challenges too. Planning the expedition was a new experience for the group who learnt a great deal from this. The whole experience of visiting a different country and culture was eye opening, seeiing how the quality of life is so much better here in the UK.

In conclusion we consider this expedition was a great success, individuals have returned more tolerant, wiser and having a greater understanding of other cultures. Many of the group want to travel again, further broadening their horizons and opening their minds to new opportunities.

This would not have happened without the support of the Ulysses and RAF Charitable Trusts and The Team would like to thank you both for giving us all this great opportunity.

With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

In partnership with:

RAF Charitable Trust