In August 2019, 15 members of 207 Field Hospital travelled from Manchester to the Dolomite mountains, Italy. With the grant from Ulysses Trust, the option to participate was open to all members of the unit, encouraging junior ranks to take part. A group of three mountain leader instructors, a physio, chef, driver and 9 other members participated in the adventure training expedition. During this time 8 members of the group received Summer Mountain Foundation (SMF) build-up training by developing navigation and leadership skills, whilst two members of the group who already held the SMF qualification gained essential logbook days and developed team management skills necessary to progress to the summer Mountain Leader Training (MLT) qualification.
It was essential to be prepared for all weathers as temperatures in the Dolomites can decrease by 6.5 degrees Celsius for every 1000m climbed, and consequently we encountered hot sunny weather on the valley floors and snow and ice on the summits. The exercise phase took place over a 4-day period completing varying routes from the campsite. The longest route was 18km and the highest ascent was up to 2250m. The distance and technical difficulty of each route was dictated by the group capabilities and weather conditions.
Over the first two days of the expedition members of 207 Field Hospital scaled Monte Civetta, demonstrating courage and bravery descending steep and slippery terrain over the unfamiliar environment of the scree covered mountains. At one section we descended a drop of 1280m in just 3km! Traversing the uneven gradient was physically demanding and physio Major Dale Walker provided daily yoga sessions and individual physiotherapy, enabling everyone to continue with the expedition.
On day 3 of the expedition the troops visited the extensive Lagazuoi tunnels, built by Italian soldiers during the First World War. Here we learnt the stunning scenery had a sinister history, as this was the site of mine warfare between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops and many soldiers died, which was exacerbated by the austere mountain environment over the winter months. After exploring the surrounding area at the summit, we descended through the steep tunnels.
Over the four days the team completed circular routes from the campsite, where we experienced more extreme weather in the microclimate of the mountains, when the tents flooded during a heavy thunder storm. Despite wet clothes and boots, morale remained high and the next day the teams took on the longest hike of the expedition over Monte Pelmo. Here we encountered more history, ascending the scree slopes to view the fossils of dinosaur footprints imprinted in the rocks that formed the mountain 20 million years ago.
The expedition was organised by Corporal Diane King who had already achieved her SMF and has had previous expedition experience in the USA and Nepal. The expedition aimed to progress the rest of the team towards achieving the SMF qualification, and to assist the unit to obtain instructors for future adventure training expeditions.
“Exercise NORTHERN DOLOMITE SERPENT was my first expedition with the army reserves. The expedition was a wonderful opportunity to develop teamwork and navigation skills. Expedition leader Corporal Diane King did a fantastic job of co-ordinating the training, providing dynamic leadership to manage the various challenges that we encountered on the expedition. The planned routes were challenging but attainable for all members of the group. Participating as a member of the advance party has provided me with an insight into some of the organisational aspects of expedition planning and the resources that the unit will need for future expeditions. I now look forward to participating in the SMF course with the intention of progressing through the MLT scheme, as well as sitting the minibus driving test, which will be of benefit both to myself and the unit for the coordination of future adventure training activities.”
Private Stratford – 207 Field Hospital
“207 Field Hospital Army Reservists are primarily made up of NHS professionals working across Greater Manchester and Lancashire. During Exercise NORTHERN DOLOMITE SERPENT, these NHS professionals were taken out of their comfort zones and into a mountainous area of Northern Italy, The Dolomites. In a number of controlled risk situations, members of 207 Field Hospital were able to dig deep into themselves and overcome fatigue, very steep terrain in the mountains and hone their teamwork, physical fitness and moral and physical courage. These crucial development attributes enhance Operational Capability within the Armed Forces and are transferable skills to be taken back to the NHS.”
Captain Sutcliffe – Unit Adventurous Training Officer / Exercise Instructor
“Exercise NORTHERN DOLOMITE SERPENT was the first expedition I had organised for the army and the generous help of Ulysses Trust directly contributed to its success! I have enhanced my organisational skills and planning abilities that I can now take forward to plan future expeditions for my unit, as well as guiding others on the expedition process. During this expedition I have gained further mountain quality days for my logbook in a variety of conditions. I also intend on completing my Mountain Leader Training (MLT) qualification and Army Land Navigation Instructor qualification in the next year so I can progress further in this area. Numerous members of the group have also expressed they would now like to complete their SMF course and the unit plans to put this on towards the end of the training year, in preparation for the next big expedition in Patagonia!”
Corporal King – Exercise Leader