Sunday, 26 December 2010

Selection Weekend

The weekend started on the morning of Friday 3rd December as final alterations and finishing touches were made to ensure the smooth running of the weekend for all involved. It soon became apparent that in this country if someone’s friends’ cousins’ dog sees a single snow flake fall to the ground the whole country falls to its knees. Unfortunately for us this left us with nowhere to meet as our previous meeting room couldn’t possibly be opened for us in such treacherous conditions. Luckily for us we managed to persuade the kind people at ‘The University Arms’ to give us access to a conference room complete with a projector in place all ready for James’s presentation for the Expedition. Due to the logistical nightmare of telling twenty odd people of a new, perhaps unknown to them, location for the meeting point, the group assembled as planned at 5pm outside the original location. Here we all had our kit checked by each other to ensure that no one had taken my previous advice of sun cream, shorts and a t-shirt. Once everyone was ready we were able to head over to James who was waiting to deliver his presentation.

James expertly delivered a presentation with some well picked motivational music in the background to really get everyone buzzing with excitement for the weekend ahead and ultimately for Africa Expedition 2011. Videos demonstrating what we would be doing on each part of the expedition were shown, and for one video James was able to demonstrate his advanced presentational techniques – it involved stopping and starting one of the videos at random intervals. I think that he called this particular technique ‘buffering’. At about 20:30 we were all ready to begin the weekend and so we headed out on foot from Sheffield towards the Peak District.

After a quick stop for extra supplies at Tesco’s we encountered our first command task along the route that the Navigational team had set out for the weekend. The group was split in two and each group was designated one ‘shepherd’ whilst everyone else was a ‘sheep’. The aim of the task was for the ‘shepherd’ to herd the flock of sheep into a ‘pen’ set out with climbing rope. This sounds easy enough, except all the sheep were blindfolded and the shepherd was unable to speak. Impressively, both groups developed a method in their ‘planning time’ that got the whole herd into the pen pretty quickly. As would be the case for many later command tasks, an extension of the task was made with extra parameters to make it more challenging. For this task, the degree of difficulty was increased by randomly selecting a ‘shepherd’ only after all the ‘sheep’ had been scattered and disorientated. Of course, the ‘shepherd’ was nowhere near the ‘pen’ and consequently we actually had one ‘sheep’ cross over to a different group. Eventually, both groups did manage to herd all their respective ‘sheep’ into the correct pen.

After this task it was down to the respective groups to navigate to the next checkpoint on the maps. Every time the groups would consist of different members so everyone got a chance to work with everyone else. This setup would continue for the whole weekend with a rotation on who was navigating, team leader, observing the group for feedback and who was the backmarker or ‘Charlie’ as he or she was known.

A quick scout of the terrain ahead of us on the planned route made it apparent that it was a bad idea to try and reach Robin Hood’s cave where we planned to sleep for the first night as it would require a swim (for want of a better word) through the deep and untouched snow. Accordingly we altered our course for Lady Cannings Plantation where we hoped the tree cover would provide for shallower snow. The snow was falling sporadically with light flakes interspersed with a few heavier downfalls as we battled our way up the steep side of a ridge that would lead us so cruelly past a still open pub and down into the plantation. It didn’t take us long to find a suitable area to pitch our tents as by this point it was about 02:30 in the morning. After some quick flattening of the snow, all tents were assembled and everyone hurried into their sleeping bags to try and get some warmth and rest before an early 6am start for what would be a hard days walking.

By 7:30am the food team had us all filled up on porridge, the tents were back in backpacks and we were pretty much ready to continue our journey. Heading North West we would continue out into the peaks. After a couple more hours of walking we stopped by a stream to refill water bottles. Unfortunately the chlorine tablets did nothing for the colour of the water which remained what can only be described as an unappealing urine-like colour (see picture below). After the bottles were filled we had another command task to complete. This time we were split into three groups with each group standing in their own circle facing one another. Every member was made to hold their left hand with someone else’s left hand that was not directly next to them, and the same was done with right hands. Accordingly this resulted in a massive tangle of arms which each group had to untangle so that everyone was arranged in a circle with no crossed arms. If this wasn’t hard enough we then had to attempt the same challenge blindfolded. For one group this somehow proved easier than the initial challenge but for the other two it did take a while longer before eventually everyone was freed.

Continuing the setup of two groups, each with navigator and team leader, we were given coordinates of the next checkpoint and given until 12pm to make it there. Interestingly the two groups opted for different routes, one taking the more direct route whilst the other group went for the slightly longer but ‘easier’ route on established footpaths. I was in the latter group so can’t make much comment on the other groups route other than it definitely turned out to be the better choice. Had we not had quite so much snow then it may have been a different story but unfortunately it soon became apparent that the well-trodden path we were hoping for was actually going to require us to wade through snow for a good few kilometres. At one point Nick who was leading the group in single file nearly disappeared as he fell down a particularly deep snow drift. Eventually we arrived approximately twenty minutes after the other group at the destination where we were to be greeted with another command task. For this task we had a series of strings as equipment and were required to pour ‘hazardous material’ from one tin can into another before removing the second can from the ‘contamination zone’. Here the difficulty arose in that no one was allowed within 6 feet of the can containing the rice, or as it is better known, ‘hazardous materials’. After some careful planning and good attempts two groups proved their methods partially successful with the other group unfortunately spilling the contents of their can on the floor.

The time was ticking away and we were still a fair distance from the destination for the Saturday. We were told that we would be having a pub dinner at The Royal Oak in Stocksbridge and that the food had been pre-organised to be ready for 19:30. After some discussion we decided as a group on the route we would take to Stocksbridge, favouring a slightly longer but less hilly route than the alternative more direct route. Learning from our previous route choices earlier in the day we travelled as a group on minor roads to ensure that we could cover ground quickly. Unfortunately, the slightly harder and icier ground began to give many in the group pain from the greater impact and our pace had slowed as we crossed a main road. We were behind time and would struggle to make the pub for 19:30, couple this with a lot of weary pairs of legs, and we decided as a group to take the bus from the main road into Stocksbridge.

The pub gave the whole team a much needed morale boost as we were served a lovely hot dinner and had the chance to get out of our walking boots for the first time in over twelve hours. After sharing stories including one particularly interesting one involving James and a sheep (you should ask him about it), we headed back out into the cold but in high spirits as we met our final command task for the day whilst setting up camp in some nearby woods. This time we had to set up tents in three separate groups. Each group had one leader who had frostbite and was unable to use his hands whilst every other member was snow-blind so was blindfolded (no one was actually snow-blind or frostbitten - don’t worry). Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to use the popup tent but we did still see some good efforts and perhaps with more time we would have had erected tents suitable to sleep in. A much earlier night meant that we were asleep by 23:00 and ready for another early start of 06:00.

Fuelled once again by porridge we were ready to leave out camp by 07:30 and head to a small ravine that would be our next and final command task before heading back to Sheffield. Here we were challenged to cross from one side to the other with only the first member being lowered down to climb up the other side – everyone else had to cross without touching the ground between either side. The method decided upon that would get us and all our gear across was the Tyrolean Traverse. Even with many skilled climbers in the group our crossing took the best part of 2 hours. This left us with only about five minutes with which to make our way to the bus stop, a fifteen minute walk away. The group was able to muster a decent running pace however and we arrived at the bus stop with a minute to spare.

On behalf of the group we should thank James for his personal motivation and drive to come up with such a great idea and for working so hard to make this happen. Now, the onus is on the group. It is all well and good saying we’re going to sail, cycle and kayak to Morocco, but it’s definitely going to take a whole lot of planning, training, determination and most importantly teamwork for us to realise the dream.

More updates will follow as we continue the planning and training aspects for our trip so look out for these.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Day 3

With another 6am start we're just finishing up dismantling tents and getting all equipment in our bags. Clear skies meant for a particularly cold night so warm porridge in the morning was particularly welcome. In a few minutes we will be departing for a rope challenge in what should be an exciting end to a great weekend. A thorough overview of the weekend including  pictures will follow.

Day 2

It's nearly 7pm and after a lot of walking we're all enjoying a much needed sit down in a pub in Stocksbridge. The day has been physically demanding with the deep snow making each step more difficult than otherwise. Still, we are all facing these difficulties as a team and it is only drawing us closer together. After we've eaten our highly deserved pub meal the walking boots will be back on and we hope to set up camp for the night 3-4km away.

Friday, 3 December 2010

First night

After an introductory presentation yesterday evening we were ready to leave the warmth of indoors and head for the peaks at half 8. A few command tasks later (details of which will probably have to be saved until after the weekend) we soon realised the conditions were not on our side and that "nipple high snow" was blocking the planned route. Still, every problem has its solution and we were able to head to a suitable site to set up camp at lady cannings plantation.... at 3am. A quick three hour nap and we're up again and preparing to continue.

Sent from my HTC

The route

We’ve finally reached the day the Selection Weekend begins and it couldn’t have come sooner as we all eagerly await our time of departure out from Sheffield and into the Peak District. Temperatures were as low as -10C last night but cloud cover tonight should be on our side making our first night a bit warmer. It can be confirmed that the minimal distance we will be covering is 25.8km but this doesn’t account for any optional control points we visit. The provisional route can be seen below:

This past week has ensured the whole route will be snow covered but this does have its advantages. The better visibility at night will definitely be welcome when erecting our tents / igloos. Although we’re not banking on this sort of weather for mid-summer in Morocco, it will be a good test for everyone involved for an ability to cope with difficult conditions. It should be a great weekend and good luck to everyone involved. Finally, keep a tab on this page as it gets updated throughout the weekend.