The second term was drawing to an end for the students of the Northumbrian University Officers’ Training Corps (NUOTC), yet excitement and anticipation was high for their week-long climbing trip to the crags and climbing areas around Alicante, Spain. This trip was designed to enable climbers of all abilities to have an opportunity at climbing, not only outdoors, but outside of the UK, which for the majority of the group was a first. Many new skills were learned by all, and all those who didn’t have a qualification were successful in gaining their RSF qualification (Rock Climbing Single Pitch Foundation).
Arrival at the NUOTC headquarters at 0700 hours, meant an early start for the climbers (who, as university students, is something a little less familiar.) Final kit checks were undertaken and kit-bags packed, before the students boarded minibuses to take them to Newcastle International Airport, where their plane for Alicante, Spain would depart.
The first stop, upon arrival in Spain, was to our eclectic accommodation, The Orange House: a Spanish villa equipped for groups of climbers, looking to experience the outstanding climbing which the area has to offer. Kit was unloaded and squared away, leaving the rest of the day free for briefings of what was to be expected of the week. A busy day of travelling resulted in early nights all round, preparing the group for their first day of climbing!
The first real day of climbing took the students to Sierra De Toix, with its stunning coastal views of the Mediterranean, Calp and Benidorm. The day involved a range of different climbs, in both difficulty and length, allowing the instructors to assess and determine the range of climbing abilities in the group. For some students, this was their first time climbing outdoors, so – understandably – began the trip with an air of caution. For others this was familiar ground, so jumped straight into the opportunity of foreign, outdoor sport-climbing. The first day, however, saw almost all nervousness wash away, as the students began to became comfortable with the adventurous nature of rock climbing. As part of their RSF qualification, this first day allowed the climbers to be assessed in their tying in and belaying skills.
Day three saw the group journey to Guadalest, a more secluded, yet equally as awe-inspiring, crag. With the first day of assessment out the way, the climbing became noticeably more challenging, in-keeping with the objectives of Adventurous Training.
The following day, the climbers ventured to another crag called ‘Echo 1.5.’ Climbing continued with students tackling longer and harder climbs. This day also proved a perfect venue for more lessons in the fundamentals of climbing to be taught. Students undertaking their RSF learned a range of foot placement techniques such as smearing and side-pulling, as well as the different hand-hold varieties including: crimps, jugs, slopers and pinches.
Two of the key skills taught in the RSF qualification are lead climbing and lead belaying. For this to be taught safely the group spent the next day at an indoor climbing centre in Alicante. Lessons in both of these skills were delivered, before students were able to put their newly learned skills to the test in the centre. The centre also provided the students a chance to try their hand at different types of climbing, including bouldering, bottom-roping and using auto-belays. After a long day at the indoor facility, the group returned to Orange House, where they were lucky enough to have a talk delivered to them by the Orange House owner, Rich Mayfield. The talk was based upon Rich’s biggest climbing achievement of completing The Hard Rock Challenge, a challenge which requires a vast number the hardest climbs in the British Isles to be completed within the shortest time frame possible. The talk was accompanied by a series of photographs of these climbs, which left the students quiet in awe. Many thanks go to Rich for this fantastic talk ,which provided the group of climbers with high aspirations for their own personal climbing endeavours!
By the time it had reached the sixth day, fingers were sore, forearms were tired and many of the students felt a rest day was beneficial if they were to climb on their last day in Spain. The option was still there, however, for climbing to go ahead, and a small group departed from the Orange House for another full day of climbing.
The final day had approached and feelings amongst the group were mutual, that today was the day to push themselves to their limits! The group arrived at the final climbing destination: Olta, and divided into two sub-groups, based upon the difficulty levels of the climbs. They were then able to find different crags to suit their needs. It was clear to see the students using this last day of climbing to push their limits. Routes were being climbed close to 30m, and students who began the trip climbing routes graded at 3 and 4, were completing climbs of grade 6C. After, arguably, the most strenuous and challenging day of the trip, the group were treated with a trip into the village of Finestrat, where they enjoyed a pizza dinner and shared jokes and laughter over their many funny stories of the week. Upon return to the Orange House, bags were packed, kit was sorted and heads were down as quickly as possible in preparation for their early departure back to Newcastle.
Attitudes amongst the climbers were mutual in that the trip was a huge success!
One student quoted,
“I started with no experience or interest in climbing. I finished with a qualification and a new hobby, whilst having an amazing time along the way.”
The students were also all in agreement that the expedition was well run and greatly enjoyable, summarised by another student,
“Well organised, well delivered, amazing location and amazing climbing.”
In keeping with the nature of Adventurous training, one student said,
“This was the hardest AT trip, mentally, that I have ever been on. It required me to overcome personal fears and push myself out of my comfort zone.”
This goes to show how successful the expedition was! All participants gained their RSF Qualification or more, despite any previous fears.
The students’ greatest thanks go to the fantastic members of staff who joined them on the expedition, for their exceptional delivery of the course and their excellent company they provided. Without their involvement, the trip could not have gone ahead.
Many skills were learnt, fears overcome and good times were shared, and it goes without saying that the trip would not have been possible without the extremely kind funding supplied to us by organisations such as The Ulysses Trust, Reserve Forces and Cadets Association (RFCA) along with other Military funding streams – We wish to express our sincerest thanks to all, in enabling this life-changing expedition to take place!
All-in-all, yet another truly outstanding and successful Adventurous Training Expedition led by NUOTC!
Written Credit: E Schwarz
Photo Credit: M Griffiths