Ex COCKNEY BARBARIAN was a Summer Mountaineering Expedition organised by PJHQ J2 Division to the Supramonte Region of Sardinia. Coming from PJHQ, the group was very diverse, incorporating regulars and reserves from across the tri-service community. As a rare opportunity to conduct Adventurous Training in a busy operational Headquarters, the expedition was heavily oversubscribed, and care was taken to incorporate a range of ranks and roles into the group. The expedition team assembled at Northwood HQ early on Tuesday morning, travelling to Sardinia via Luton and Olbia airports, before setting up base in the quiet town of Ottana in the centre of the island. Three long days of walking were planned, but an immediate concern was the high temperatures of Sardinia in July, often surpassing 40˚C in the afternoon. To mitigate the risk of heat injury, it was decided to set off very early each day, taking advantage of the cooler mornings.
The first day of walking was a technically simple but physically challenging ascent of Punta La Marmora (6017ft), the highest peak on Sardinia, via the lesser peak of BruncuSpina (5997 ft). The route initially passed through shady wooded areas before emerging on the exposed upper slopes into the full heat of the midday sun. Despite the spectacular scenery, very few other walkers were encountered, indicative of the higher temperatures to be expected in the afternoon. On reaching the summit, the team was able to admire a commanding view over the island and its rugged terrain. The 15km route ended near the town of Fonni, from where the team drove back to the overnight location.
For the second day of walking, the group departed for Urele, a small group of buildings on the eastern side of the Supremonte Region. The aim of the second day was to climb and follow the Punta Plumare ridge, a complex terrain feature towering 2,000 feet above the Tyrrhenian Sea. The lower altitude of this walk removed the cooling breeze that had been felt the previous day and steeper climbs made this day more challenging than before. Although the map indicated a prominent path followed the ridge, in reality this path was largely absent. As a result, route selection was highly important, particularly when descending from the ridge to the half-way point at Cala Sissine. Here, the group found a small beach and café, located at the mouth of the Sissine Gorge. Everyone took advantage of the beach to cool off and the café to refresh drinking water. The return leg of the 20km walk went through the spectacular Sissine Gorge, with sheer cliffs towering over 1,000 feet above the narrow path. There was considerable relief when the cars were eventually spotted, as temperatures rose into the low 40s.
The final day of walking tackled the imposing Punta Carabidda (4334 ft) a mountain that rises very steeply above the town of Oliena. Under the now-familiar fierce heat of the Sardinian summer, the group tackled the steep ascent, reaching the top by around 1000. On the summit, the group was temporarily halted by the presence of a film crew, filming shots on the ridge leading to Punta SosNidos (4422 ft), our next objective. Once the film stars moved on, the team headed along the ridge, admiring increasingly fine views over Oliena. The rocky track leading to Punta Cusidore (3763ft) proved to be the most challenging, with steep scree slopes prooving difficult to traverse. Despite these difficulties, everyone made it down to Oliena in good time, with the expectation of a large dinner and a good night’s sleep.
The final day of the expedition was dominated by a well-deserved lie-in and a cultural visit to Olbia before taking our flight home. The expedition has proved to be very successful, in spite of considerable physical challenges and the relative inexperience of the group. Our thanks go to the Int Corps Association, Ulysses Trust and Royal Navy Sports Charity for providing the financial support that allowed the expedition to take place.
Charlie Barrett, Capt, RIFLES, OIC Exped