The expedition comprised 13 cadets drawn from 2480 (Holywell), 1918(Ruthin) 1378 (Mold) and 597 (Llandrindod Wells), all units are from RAFAC No 2 Welsh Wing, Wales & West Region. Flt Lt Anglesea led the excellent staff team: CI Andy Erasmus – 2 I/C expedition and pastoral care, CI Alan Conley – Mountain Leader and river crossing maestro, CI Anglesea – Adjutant and medical professional, CI Reynolds – Finance and pastoral care.
The cadet team comes from a host of backgrounds and for many this is a trip of a lifetime with the individual funding coming from many hard months of saving.
Our first challenge as an expedition came at the airport as we watched the carousel go round and round but NOT deliver all of our rucksacks. The next 24 hrs were very tense as we tracked down the luggage and started to put in place alternative travel arrangements. The jigsaw pieces which comprise any expedition were in danger of segmenting at the very earliest stage, with shared tents, cookers and technical equipment not in country. However the airline did manage to find the kit and delivered it to the campsite! Our schedule was 12 hours behind but at least we were now all kitted out.
Our next challenge was the 4 day arduous 81km trek, Laugavegur Hiking Trail, including the walk over to Skogar, the world famous waterfall (check out Life of Walter Mitty and Game of Thrones). We completed the trek in three and a half days which meant that we had caught up the time delay. The trek is located in the Southern highlands of Iceland, North of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull Volcano. The walk is stunning going through sulphurous springs, across ash deserts, around volcanoes and over compacted ice bridges. We had done mountain walking in Snowdonia National Park, (Glyders and Pen Y Ole Wen to name just two, including training in cold river crossings) and now this physical robustness and process paid off with several quite wide river crossings being undertaken in a very controlled and smooth manner.
In terms of personal development, carrying your shared home and rations on your back day after day into what is a very alien environment cannot be beaten! Helping each other, sharing and sometimes just putting one foot in front of another created a bond in the team and an inner confidence.
Our next three days were based in Skaftafell embarking on 2 days of environmental project work involving repairs to pathways, rubbish clearance and fence erecting, a way of giving back to the environment of Iceland. Nearly the whole period at Skaftafell was beset with continuous rain storms made living in shared tents a challenge all of which members of the expedition rose to with humour and lots of card games.
The final morning at Skaftafell saw the first sunshine for a while and the expedition moved onto a guided glacial walk which highlighted the effects of global warming; the glaciers retreating by the size of half a football pitch a year. The beauty of the Glaciers and the passion for the environment shown by the guides was counterpointed by the sadness that human beings had accelerated the rate of climate change and was massively impacting their home land.
The final day was spent in Reykjavik, including the Blue Lagoon, before flying home.
The staff team were truly inspired by our cadets who did strive, seek, find, and did not yield once! Going forwards, the expedition prepares, very well, three of our senior cadets for service life in the very near future. The younger members of the team now have a breadth of experience to take into teaching our recruits and other members of the Sqn who may wish to pursue the DOE scheme. On a wider community note the Sqn won the Lees Trophy 2018 and have now run a foreign expedition 2019. Both of these events illustrate that a small town on the North Wales coast, with several areas of severe deprivation, can do special things
The expedition was part funded from the Ulysses Trust, RAF Charitable Trust, No2 Welsh Wing Civilian Committee and the cadets themselves through various fund raising activities. Many thanks to staff at HQAC, W&W Region and 2WW for their advice and authorisations.
Quotes from cadets:
“I didn’t know how much I could push myself, but by the fourth day I realised I could climb any mountain!”
Cdt Charlie Birch
“I liked the trek the most. It was full of amazing views, and it was an interesting challenge.”
Cpl Joe Elliott
“The vibe was great when finishing the exped, everyone was looking out for each other.”
Cpl Harry Ellis
The Ulysses Trust also wish to thank the generosity of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust for supporting this expedition. www.rafct.com