Exercise CORSICA CHALLENGE was an Adventurous Training (AT) expedition conducted in Corsica, France from 20 – 30 June 2019. Twenty participants, mostly NHS employees, and two support staff attended the exercise. The aim was to provide a challenging, testing and enjoyable experience outside of the normal military environment.
All participants not yet qualified would attain the Summer Mountain Foundation qualification, which is the first step to becoming a Mountain Leader capable of leading groups up the mountains at home and abroad. It was also aiming to identify individuals for suitability to participate in the unit 2020 expedition to Nepal. In addition, it would help to encourage them to develop their AT qualifications, and will hopefully lead to more future expeditions.
Ex CC took place on the island of Corsica over 10 days, with 6 days continuous trekking forming the exercise phase. The southern part of the GR20 route was to be followed, led by three Summer Mountain Leaders from our Unit. They delivered the SMF qualification to 14 of the participants throughout the exercise.
It was planned that we would conduct a continual 6 day trek from Vizzavona to Conca. All personnel on the exercise were deemed competent to take part, having completed several previous exercises and a training day. However, although the GR20 is a walking route, there are some difficult sections, which are on the upper limit of what may be expected of individuals not SMF qualified, and which would not be suitable for novices.
The difficulty of the route combined with unusually hot conditions (there was a heatwave while we were there) and the physical strain of carrying weight over mountainous terrain proved difficult for the group. To avoid risk of heat injury (heatstroke) the decision was made after four days on the original route to move the team lower down off the GR20 to a safer route near Zonza which provided more protection from the sun, and guaranteed water replenishment.
Throughout the exercise there was a support team in two hired vehicles making sure the team were looked after, so they were able to move everyone off the mountain when that decision was made. They were also there in case of emergency, and we had to have a very detailed medical plan due to the remoteness of the trek, which included how long a helicopter rescue would take. We also had a satellite telephone in case of lack of mobile phone signal, which did have to be used when it was necessary to move the team.
Very little English is spoken in Corsica, so having someone fluent in French is ideal, which we were lucky enough to have. We also made good use of Google Translate!
All accommodation during the expedition was at campsites until the trek was complete. There was no problem getting campsites without pre booking, but this was considered to be the low season, and classed as ‘winter’ until the end of June!
Having an opportunity like this to take part in a really arduous and challenging expedition was a huge benefit to those lucky enough to participate. We would never get an experience such as this at home. The true challenge of the exercise was demonstrated by the fact that we had to change the route to keep everyone safe. All members of the team got so much out of it, and were pushed well beyond their comfort zone on many occasions.
We would like to sincerely thank the Ulysses Trust for supporting us – their funding was invaluable to the success of this exercise.
I have included some quotes from the team members below.
Cpl Chris Finnegan said:
“The SMF course was delivered in hot, arduous conditions, over the highest trekking peaks in Europe during a once in a century heatwave. This demanded a high level of mental and physical resilience from the SMF candidates, and each member of 204 rose to the occasion. The discipline, courage, integrity and personal leadership displayed by all, impressed me immensely. The qualities so in demand within our busy NHS, were displayed by the Army Reservists of 204.”
Cpl Alice Poots said:
“From the experience we got the chance to develop meaningful relationships with people in the unit that other days we don’t get the chance to interact with. We have a new level of comfort in difficult and sometimes stressful situations. It has given us a new level of physical and mental endurance, which is needed in both army and A&E. Gr20 2020 anyone?”
Cpl Chris Swain said:
“This Adventurous Training Exercise has helped us gain skills in hill walking, navigation and team working. Our physical endurance and mental robustness have been tested and improved. The opportunity to be self-sufficient and traverse the arduous terrain and hot climate in Corsica along part of the GR20 is invaluable. The experience gained is highly transferable into operational and civilian roles. Our SMF qualifications will equip us to further develop our operational qualities in our future military careers.”
Maj Niall Gallagher said:
“Ex Corsica Finn epitomised all that AT stands for, challenging, exhilarating and empowering, promoting teamwork and forging strong friendships and a sense of belonging.”
Maj Jo Tams said:
“I thoroughly enjoyed the SMF course held in Corsica. I had never heard of the GR20 until it was suggested for this expedition. I had many firsts during the exercise from carrying all my accommodation and catering equipment, cooking an edible meal, erecting my one man tent in a variety of remote sites to hiking & scrambling in a heatwave.
The tuition was second to none. The instructors patience and analogies used to aid the interpreting of a two dimensional approach to three dimensional understanding of map reading was excellent.
I plan to expand on the skills learnt during this week and have set myself the objective to complete MLT (Mountain Leader Training) in the near future once I have completed the 20 quality mountain days. This shall also assist me to complete SL2 (Ski Leader 2). I hope to be an asset to 204 and the Brigade in future skiing & hiking adventure training.
The skills of planning, risk assessment, completion of tasks and evaluation are transferable to my day job in the NHS and Scouting organisations.
Thank you to the team for organising this Exercise.”