Mercantour 2018

Attending the International Mountain Leader [IML] introduction week with Head Quarters Air Cadets [HQAC] this year was a great experience. We were in France for a total of six days situated in the beautiful Alpes Maritimes, Mercantour National Park near Nice. The party comprised of five Cadet Force Adult Volunteers and two HQ instructors. Each day was spent in the mountains, gaining knowledge of a variety of alpine environmental factors including interpretation of the weather, flora and fauna, group management, managing steep terrain and navigation.

Due to the local climate, each day required an early start as potential weather conditions were diverse, offering clear sunshine and 25 deg. + temperatures in the morning to the possibility of heavy rain/thunderstorms in the afternoons.

The group progressed confidently through each day from day one. Each participant enjoying the alpine environment, teaching and learning atmosphere of the course and the differences operating as a leader compared to the UK.

Having taken time to acclimatise consistently in the alpine environment, focus was very much on specific skill sets required in that environment. Days were spent looking at alpine navigation which was far different to our experience in the UK. Time spent appreciating the map was converted into assessing the terrain ahead and this led to more decisive leadership/route finding amongst the participants in the group. We also recapped safety techniques whilst looking at the full range of the IML syllabus, It was also clear that the flora and fauna knowledge forms a large part of the mountain experience and that leaders need to continue to develop their knowledge pool alongside their ability to lead and inspire. This time of year has a wealth of diverse alpine flaura to observe

The group were introduced on a daily basis to new challenges e.g using fixed equipment and the parallel challenges it presents to the leadership of groups.  It demonstrated how different leadership approaches were necessary to mitigate the risks involved and how those being led need to be inspired to complete challenging tasks.

Each day was followed by reflective discussion allowing candidates to evaluate alternatives alongside their original plan. This provided a constructive environment for learning and ensuring that candidates took away knowledge and experience to empower their decisions in the future. Having challenged personal goals, inspiring leadership development and exposing future leaders to new environments and challenges certainly met the aims and objectives of the expedition. The candidates attending the course certainly committed to use this knowledge in the future to lead their cadets into new eye opening environments creating an inspiring programme for all members of the air cadet organisation.

Benefits of attendance:

Probably the highlights of the week were day 4 which was probably physically the easiest but by far the most spectacular. Circuit route (fig of 8) from Valle de Boreon to Lac de Trecopalles (2170m) to refuge de Courgourde. Excellent intro route for groups with climbing relatively steady and on good paths, with picturesque views all around. A great ‘alpine experience’

The final day consisted of an ascent of Mount Ponset. Off-piste navigation on a “ski touring route” to gain access to the final summit ridge. Traversing boulder fields and crossing snowfields provided technical interest. The final ascent of 400m on steep lose ground with high consequence ground below brought our skills into focus. The descent was difficult and slow due to steepness and looseness of terrain underfoot. This would be considered very much at the high end of the IML syllabus and the group agreed it was see what the upper end of the award scope covered.

As a group, throughout the week, one of the main differences we learned was a different style of navigation and to be far more dynamic than operating here in the UK.

Each of us returned from Mercantour 2018 with fresh appetite to offer new and exciting opportunities to our cadets in oversea locations near and far. With the reduction in other core opportunities through the RAFAC, and the subsequent emphasis being placed on adventure training this course helps staff realise the potential to run such exercises to keep the RAFAC relevant.  It was great to spend a week with similarly minded people to share ideas and best practice.

“Having completed my summer mountain leader course in May 2017 the next step to progress I wanted to improve my skill set is to work towards the International Mountain Leaders award. Starting with a blank sheet the opportunity to go to the French apps for an introduction into international mountain walking was an opportunity not to miss.

“Arriving in France with some apprehension stepping into the unknown the week for me was fantastic on all levels from the company, accommodation, food and not forgetting the views were breathtaking. Most importantly for me was that starting point towards me doing my IML and the understand I can do this. I have come home inspired and eager to move forward with my skill set, wanting to improve and learn and this trip was all and more I could of hoped for. Thank you to all involved in making it happen. Looking forward to going again.”
Shawn Whitehead



The week aimed to introduce, practice and promote the use of basic alpine expedition techniques to develop leadership, planning and judgement in staff and young people within the Air Cadet Organisation.

Our aims and objectives for this visit were met in full and in my case as the organiser far exceeded my expectations.   Participants definitely stretched their personal comfort zones both physically and mentally during the visit.

Thanks once again to Ulysses Trust and to the RAF Charitable Trust for making this course possible.

Sqn Ldr Chris Conley RAFAC

Expedition leader. July 2018

Read Tim Welsh’s Account of Expedition Mercantour 2018.

Our thanks go to the generosity of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust for supporting this expedition.


With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

In partnership with:

RAF Charitable Trust

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