After a busy year of fundraising, fitness training, paperwork, kit research, trips to the vaccination clinic and briefing weekends my adventure finally began.
On the 21st of July 2015 I travelled to India with the Royal Geographical Society and the British Exploring Society. The team consisted of twelve Trainee Leaders, fifty ‘young explorers’ between the ages of 16-25 . As well as mountain leaders, science leaders, base camp managers, medics and a chief leader. I was a young explorer.
The team was split into groups called ‘fires’ which were then named after the rivers and valleys in the Ladakh region of the Indian Himalaya – Dras, Indus, Zanskar, Markha, Shyok and Chenab. This region was to be our home for the next five weeks.
The main aims of the expedition were research and exploration. After arriving in Delhi we had a day to catch up on much needed sleep before our next flight to Leh. We landed at the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh, one of the highest airports in the world at 3,256 m above mean sea level. We then spent time acclimatizing to the altitude and slowly ascending higher until we reached our base camp at 4,200m.
Once at base camp we received training in a range of areas from first aid to moving over difficult terrain and crossing large rivers safely. We were then able to apply this knowledge in the following ‘tours’ /expeditions over the coming weeks. These tours consisted of trekking in the area for long periods of time (up to five days) to reach a common goal. Goals such as, using maps to navigate our way to the nearest villages, discovering and exploring snow leopard caves beneath water falls in glacial U-shaped valleys, hiking along glaciers and ascending mountains as a team.
During these tours I was given the opportunity to use cutting edge mapping techniques to monitor and record glacial retreat in the extreme environment of The Drang-Drung Glacier. This is a mountain glacier near the Pensi La mountain pass at the Kargil – Zanskar Road in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir in India.
The Drang-Drung Glacier is among the largest glaciers in Ladakh with a maximum length of 23 kilometres. The glacier lies in the northeastern Himalayan Range known as the Zanskar Range.
I found it particularly exciting when I was able to practise my ice skills on the glacier, which involved me abseiling into and ice climbing out of a crevasse and also being lowered into a hole in the glacier. These were some of my favourite moments, as I had to conquer personal fears to do this. Both of these activities involved walking backwards off vertical drops, which is not my forte, but it felt especially rewarding once I had overcome my worries.
Among my many trip highlights was a time after a long hard days trekking when everyone was lacking energy, spirits were starting to dwindle, it took determination and teamwork but we still managed to reach the summit. We then got stuck on this mountain and were running out of daylight as we tried to descend with 3 torches and an iPod between the ten of us. It was incredible to see how the team pulled together in an intense, potential emergency situation. We were all incredibly relieved to reach flat land after being on the mountain for 15 hours.
British Exploring expeditions offer a unique opportunity to develop an Explorer’s media skills, through their own personal, original and creative interpretations of the expedition journey. Explorers are encouraged to reflect philosophically on what it is to take part in an expedition to a remote part of the world.
Overcoming the physical and mental challenges of living in and exploring such environments provides substantial opportunity for personal development. I had the chance to learn about myself through personal exploration, whilst being supported by leaders to develop my teamwork and leadership ability. The expedition is also an opportune time to reflect on personal core values and motivations away from day to day distractions; at a pivotal time for me between sixth form and University. I developed my confidence and spirit of adventure.
I found my time in the Himalaya challenging, inspiring and I returned with a new-found sense of perspective and resilience. It was an utterly unforgettable journey over which I gained invaluable experiences and formed life-long friendships. I would like to thank the Ulysses Trust for their generous support because without it this may not have been possible.
Ellie Booth, 16
CSgt, BGS CCF