On Sunday 20th July 2014, 32 excited teenagers and 9 equally excited adults gathered at Manchester Airport for the beginning of our mammoth trip across the world to embark on the Gold expedition for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. For the previous 10 months, students and staff alike had been working hard to train, prepare and fundraise for this trip of a lifetime which would see all participants successfully complete the expedition section of their Gold Award.
The students had been gearing up to this trip since September 2013 when they signed up to the Award and committed themselves to training and preparing for the trials and challenges they would face in the harsh volcanic landscapes of the Big Island in Hawaii. Fundraising began almost immediately with parents, pupils and staff alike engaging in a series of planning meetings so that all pupils who wanted to participate could benefit from such a trip. Anyone associated with the trip, even those who would not be travelling, invested time and energy into organising a multitude of events such as Christmas Fayres, St. Patrick’s Day Quiz, bag-packing in supermarkets and monthly table sales in the community.
Students also endured several training expeditions in the Lake District where they learnt to deal with every eventuality the British weather could throw at them. They quickly realised that if they could successfully navigate, cook and camp in the wet, windy and cold conditions of the UK then they would be more than equipped to deal with any climatic conditions Hawaii could throw at them. They also spent time in school and at weekends training and passing a First Aid course to allow them to have confidence in their own abilities and equip them with the skills needed to be truly self-sufficient whilst on their expedition.
Following an overnight stop-off in Los Angeles, the group arrived at Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii as the sun was setting. Our base camp for the duration of our time there was the Kilauea Military Camp, a recreational facility for US service personnel and their families at the summit of the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. Once the students had appreciated the awe and wonder of their surroundings they immediately set about preparing for the expedition in earnest; testing equipment, designing menus and purchasing food for the trip and surveying the nature of the landscape they would be trekking across. Each group also had a purpose for their expedition which they began to research such as observing and recording the volcanic features of the landscape or identifying how the plant species have adapted to the constant threat of lava flows.
The role of the adults on the trip was to supervise and provide safety for the groups. Each group had a dedicated supervisor and fully trained mountain leader to assess their performance throughout the expedition. Adult interaction was kept to a minimum and as much as possible the young people were encouraged to work together to make their own decisions and also deal with the consequences of poor decision making along the way.
The expedition itself proved as challenging as everyone anticipated. The heat and strong sunshine meant that groups had to be out walking at first light so as to escape the heat of the day and this required strong group discipline to get up in the dark and have breakfast cooked and the campsites packed away before the sun even rose in the morning. By the end of the five days on the ground, all groups had realised the value of this and were successfully arriving at their destinations each day before heat stroke and water supplies became an issue for them.
The groups experienced some fantastic views and scenery along the way. The glow from the lava lake in the crater of Kilauea at night was certainly a highlight as was the white sandy beach at the Halape camp site on the coast, famed for its turtles and fresh water lagoon. The various routes taken by the groups ensured they had a rich source of information to be used in their presentations at the end of the trip. They also gained a strong appreciation for the fragile nature of the unspoilt environment and an understanding of how humans are essential in protecting and conserving these unique habitats.
Anyone speaking to the participants will hear them describe this trip as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The young people should be very proud of their hard work and dedication in planning and preparing for the trip throughout the year and giving up time to complete training weekends and fundraising activities when they could have been relaxing with friends or studying for AS examinations. They were certainly tested during the expedition in Hawaii and would not have overcome the challenges without the hard work put in back in the UK. However they would all say they were well-rewarded as they return home with memories of an amazing experience and skills in problem-solving and teamwork that they didn’t possess before they went.
Thanks must go to all who made it possible for the trip to go ahead. A special mention to the Ulysses Trust who’s extremely generous grant made the trip possible. To the RFCA (NW) for their contribution not only to the group fund but their kind assistance to one individual cadet who had difficulties raising the funds required. To the CCFA for their financial support of two cadets and to the families of those lucky enough to be a cadet at Liverpool College CCF and had the opportunity to undertake a truly exceptional experience of a Gold Expedition in Hawaii’s Volcano National Park.