In July 2018, a group of regular and reservist personnel from 77th Brigade travelled to the stunning Dolomites mountain range in Italy for a demanding adventurous training week – Exercise Tiger Heights 2018.
The adventure training provided an ideal opportunity to test members of the brigade against the challenging terrain of northeastern Italy whilst, building team cohesion and importantly, having fun. The six day programme was balanced evenly between two days each of hill walking, climbing (Via Ferrata) and kayaking. The opportunity also presented itself for visits to historic First World War battlefields which litter the area.
Brigade members taking part in the exercise represented a wide range of ranks, age and military and civilian experience. Two cohorts travelled by minibus from the UK out to the Dolomites, arriving in the early hours to Camp Olympia, north of the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo (Cortina hosted the winter Olympics in 1956). The long journey was rewarded by awaking under the shadows of spectacular peaks reaching over 10,000ft (3,000 meters). Other than the Olympics and being a stomping ground for Italian high society skiing, Cortina is also known for featuring in the films ‘Pink Panther’, ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and bizarrely ‘Cliffhanger’.
Via Ferratas are protected climbing routes in the Alps – utilising steel cables fixed to the rock–face – allowing novices through to experienced climbers to push themselves in relative safety. A variety of routes usually required a small trek in and out, some scrambling and vertical climbing to take in epic views across the mountains. An hour trek out from Camp Olympia takes you straight to the base of Punta Fiames, a dramatic 2,400m peak with a 500 almost vertical assent. Brigade members put vertigo aside and after a couple hours of dangling and scrambling were awarded with stunning views of the Cortina valley from the summit.
Lake Misura provided sheltered waters to learn kayaking under the gorgeous backdrop of the Sorapiss mountains. Despite being affectionately dubbed ‘Lake Misery’ on the coldest days, following multiple capsize drills, the lake offered clear, fresh water, islands to explore and a welcoming cafe for the obligatory warming cappuccinos and cioccolatas.
Trekking in the Dolomites is a real treat. Deep spawning valleys, forests, isolated lakes, exposed rock faces and steep accents are on offer for those adventuring in the region. One such accent saw members ascend around the famous Tre Cime de Levarado (Three Peaks of Levarado). There teams stayed the night in a local lodge at some 2,600m and enjoyed spectacular colour displays as the sun set on the ‘Three Peaks’.
Over the exercise, Brigade members had time to explore trench systems, field positions and subterranean tunnels left behind opposing Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops during the First World War. Many of the tunnels, carved through solid rock by hand, were used to by each side to sap one another’s defensive lines. Living for months in sub–zero temperatures – fighting on vertical slopes and under the constant threat of artillery aimed to cause avalanches – thoughts turned to those soldiers and what they endured. Amazingly, rusted barbed wire, food tins and wooden pickets can still be seen where they lay some 100 years ago!
77th members return to Hermitage, not only with appalling farmers tans but also a better understanding and confidence in exploring and operating in challenging terrain. Many will now develop their leadership skills further through Adventure Training Group mountain, climbing and kayak instruction courses.
77th Brigade is based in Berkshire and draws volunteers nationally from all cap–badges as well as specialist civilian professionals.
For more information, visit www.army.mod.uk