Cadets from Lord Wandsworth College CCF travelled to the small village of Autrans near Grenoble, France, to engage in a week of exciting Adventurous Training activities. The aim of the expedition was to take part in challenging activities in a setting that is bigger and better than anything the UK has to offer. We were a small group of cadets ranging in age from 14 to 16, with a wide variety of Adventure Training experience within the group. Amongst the group were cadets who had joined the Unit less than a year ago and for them the novelty and scope of the challenge presented a steep learning curve.
The activities engaged in were climbing and abseiling, climbing a near vertical 300 foot ‘Via Ferrata’, canyoning down a river gorge, going deep into an underground cave and mountain biking. These activities were more extreme than anything any of the expedition participants had engaged in before. The aim of these activities was to present participants with situations that they would find challenging, nerve-racking and fun. The Via Ferrata particularly challenged the cadets as they climbed vertically up the rock wall, looking down at the valley floor hundreds of feet directly below them. It was not even an easy climb as the metal rungs of the Via Ferrata were not placed at even intervals but often with large gaps between them and sometimes even on overhanging rock. The cadets however were determined to get to the top and when they did eventually arrive, they were elated and relieved to have overcome their fears. The canyoning was very popular as the cadets slid down natural water-slides and jumped 25 foot off rocks into deep pools. The cave was one of the biggest in the country but could only be accessed via a little boat on a lake and then a short climb up to a small gap in the rock to access the cave entrance.
Self-reliance was also something that we worked on during the week as the cadets were camping and looking after their own kit, equipment and feeding. The other important skill required and developed was teamwork. Many of the activities required the cadets to work together to achieve a successful outcome: for example, one climbs while the other belays; this meant the cadets learned to rely on each other and communicate effectively.
One cadet said:
“This is the best climbing I have done; it makes it so much better when you trust each other to look after the other end of the rope.”
As expedition leader, I saw the cadets grow in terms of confidence and character during the week. They had to work together from the first minute putting tents up in the dark at 10.00pm on arrival at the campsite or helping each other up a steep hill on the mountain bikes. One of the cadets on the expedition was from our Cadet Partnership School, the Costello School in Basingstoke, and he had never done these sort of activities before. He gained so much from the experience in terms of confidence, overcoming fears and enjoyment.
“What I did this week, I would never have been able to do if I hadn’t joined the Cadet Force”
The older Cadets, who are NCOs, became better leaders as they had to help, direct and inspire some of the junior cadets, even when they themselves were in testing situations.
When the cadets were asked at the end of the expedition how they would rate the experience out of 10, every cadet answered 10. The participants will give a short presentation to the Unit on one of the parade nights, and therefore the rest of the Contingent will gain some benefit from it from those who went. We were very fortunate to have gained a generous Grant from the Ulysses Trust which made it possible for the cadets to participate in the expedition as the cost would have prohibited some from going. The aims of the expedition were not only met but exceeded and it was a very successful venture for all concerned.
Sqn Ldr Alex Hamilton