The Ten Tors Challenge is a challenge for teams of young people between the ages of 13 and 19 to walk 35, 45 or 55-mile courses across Dartmoor in just 34 hours. The event takes place from Okehampton on the first weekend of May every year. This year was the 57th running of the event. The Ten Tors Challenge could well be considered one of the most difficult youth challenges in the world.
Dorset and Wiltshire RAF Air Cadets were entering six teams, one of these being a 55-mile team which had not been done for over 20 years, and an all-girl team which had never been tried. This meant a different approach to training and equipment would need to be looked at. Thanks to the generosity of the RAF Charitable Trust, all of our cadets received support in purchasing of necessary equipment. For some, especially some of the girls, this meant things as simple as socks, but for others whose parents were unable to afford to buy equipment, it was jackets, trousers and waterproofs. Additional funds also allowed us to purchase new lighter weight tents for some of the smaller team members to decrease their load. This meant every team member was equipped for the conditions they would face in the training and on Dartmoor for the event itself.
Cadets and support staff from all over Dorset and Wiltshire were training hard over the winter and building up their ability to navigate, walk distances quickly carrying weight and look after themselves in moorland environments. By February, teams had been selected and 15 girls from the total had continued to train and had made it through to the final team preparations.
By May, we had lost some cadets through injury and illness but reserves filled their places. The only team requiring an additional walker was the 55-mile team.
Thirteen girls made it through to the start line. However, due to the late withdrawal of a navigator meant the girls’ team was mixed across the other teams to try to maintain a good balance of speed and strength and ensure they had the best chance of completing the challenge.
On the weekend of the competition, the teams travelled down to Okehampton on the Friday. For some it was a familiar experience but for the majority, including 13 girls, this was their first experience of the event itself. Their first obstacle was scrutineering. Teams have all equipment checked by safety staff to ensure each is properly equipped to survive out on Dartmoor. All the teams passed this easily and now just had to wait for the start of the Challenge on the Saturday.
At 5am on Saturday, music over the tannoy woke up the camp. The support staff swung into action and prepared breakfasts for nearly 40 hungry mouths. Once fed, it was time to go to the start line and at 7am sharp, the teams were off.
For support staff, this is the most anxious time of the whole event. You prepare the young people for months, investing time into training and ensuring they are equipped properly to take on the Challenge and until the last team comes in, you have to wait and see if the training has all been worth it.
By 5.30pm Sunday, all the cadets were back in safely. Although there may have been only two complete teams finished in the allotted time, every team participated and achieved great things individually and as teams.
The journey for most of them was not the physical journey over that weekend. It was what they found out about themselves and others and how they would cope in adversity. It was a growth in self-esteem, maturity and understanding about others. It was so much more than can be measured by words or numbers.
This success would not have been possible without the support of parents, staff and the generous financial support of some individuals and the RAF Charitable Trust. Thank you again to the RAFCT whose generosity certainly allowed a significant number of young people to access this fantastic challenge knowing there would be financial support if they were to participate.