Tuesday 14th August 2018 saw eleven Cadets and three staff from Oakham School CCF depart for the Dolomites in Northern Italy. To add to the adventure, we had decided to get the train out so after a rapid Eurostar journey and a few hours in Paris, we boarded the nightly Thello service to Verona. Arriving refreshed early next morning, we collected the hire vehicles and headed for the mountains, reaching our base near Corvara mid-afternoon in time to meet our external assessor, an Army Reservist.
The next day the first thing to undertake was the acclimatization walk so after viewing the area as a whole from the top of the Lagazuoi courtesy of the cable car, in addition to seeing some of the tunnels dating back to World War 1, we returned to the Passo Falzarego and set off heading for the Rifugio Averau. Navigating around some of the stunning mountains, we stopped at the hut for a pleasant lunch before completing the loop. After some expedition shopping, the teams returned to the campsite to prepare for the expedition.
Day 1 dawned sunny but chilly and the teams headed out by van through Cortina d’Ampezzo to the start point. With a short but steep climb up into Val Padeon, the teams walked amongst some delightful scenery, both stopping by a lake for a well-deserved lunch. With a final haul up over the col, the teams then headed westwards down towards Cortina, crucially finishing just before the heavy afternoon rain showers!
Day 2 was the chilliest yet, though sunny as the students packed away their kit. Both teams set off through the woods and pasture of the lower part of the valley to head up to the side valley, which leads to the Passo Falzarego, their finishing point for the day. The Cadets made good time and attacked the steep uphill sections of the first part of the route. They headed for the shade and rest afforded by the Rifugio Dibona at just over 2,000 metres (some 700 metres above their start point!). After their break they were met by staff at the site of a World War 1 field hospital high on the valley sides, the ruins still clear to see.
Day 3 saw the teams continue from the Passo Falzarego heading today for Corvara. Both teams made good progress despite the odd navigational error and hit the ridge close to the Col del Lana at about lunchtime. After a break they descended down towards the hamlet of Contrin where they were checked in by staff. The terrain changed through the afternoon with the harsh rock of the mountains giving way to lush alpine pasture where there were great views of the Marmolada, the highest mountain in Italy. After a short last bit of uphill towards the Rifugio Incisa, which sits on the ridge above the town of Corvara, it was downhill all the way to the top of town.
Day 4 started with an ascent of around 400 metres though both teams made short work of hiking to the checkpoint at the top of the mountain in around 2 hours. They then ploughed on along the ridge towards the second checkpoint at the Rifugio Pralongia where both teams had a short break to recover and to admire the 360 degree views. Team 2 then headed for the descent whereas Team 1 continued to the highest peak in the area to have lunch and to enjoy even better views! Everyone made super progress in the afternoon with the descent down towards the campsite. Team 2 arrived first though Team 1 was not far behind.
The following days saw the Cadets visit some of the battle sites and the museum dedicated to the Italian Front of World War 1 as well as the impressive official memorial which overlooks Cortina before they headed for a day of R&R in Venice and then the short flight home.
The Cadets put in a sterling effort over the expedition and they dealt with a range of weather as well as steep terrain. They have been rewarded with not only successfully completing their Gold Expedition but also doing so surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery that Europe has to offer.
The challenges of this expedition were various, ranging from the physical – coping with the daytime temperatures and navigation in unfamiliar terrain – through to learning to operate in their teams and to rely on each other. Their routes saw them tackle some very steep ascents and descents which demanded a great deal from them, especially as they were carrying large packs.
The impacts on the contingent are numerous, however, the timing of the expedition (at the end of their lower 6th year – year 12) served a valuable purpose in that it allowed the Cadets to bond and to learn to operate together in advance of them taking up command positions within the contingent in their final year at school. As a DofE Gold assessed expedition, it allowed them to take on this challenge in a more varied area. Individually, all the Cadets will have found themselves tested in various ways in terms of their navigation, campcraft, cooking or in terms of dealing with the climate and terrain.
6th form NCO Luke said:
“The steep inclines required vast amounts of determination to complete and the team dealt with fatigue incredibly well, motivating and pushing each other to continue when they were mentally and physically drained.”
Our thanks go to the Ulysses Trust for their support which is invaluable in making the expedition more accessible for a wider range of Cadets than it would otherwise be and for enabling them to have this great opportunity to develop themselves.