July – August, 2016
Budmouth College CCF – Moonlands Expedition – Ladakh, Kashmir – Rafting, Trekking, Mountain Biking, Duke of Edinburgh.
The aim of our Moonlands Expedition was to foster leadership skills in our senior cadets through a programme of adventurous training for five weeks in the Ladakh region of the Tibetan Plateau.
This is a unique area, long isolated by the high peaks of the Himalayas, which still forbid land access for eight months of the year. It is the coldest and highest inhabited place on earth and is populated by nomadic herdsmen. The region is in reality the last unspoilt area of Tibet, just miles from the Chinese border.
After flights to New Delhi and onto Leh, the cadets landed at 12,000ft to start a strenuous programme of physical activities. Their first objective lay in a white water rafting descent of the Upper Indus. The melt waters of high glaciers provided a remarkably fast and cold river with exciting rapids. Frantic paddling was interspersed with the task of recovering floating teammates as they drifted through desert and canyons. This was a fascinating way to travel through some of the most unusual scenery on our planet.
Moonlands trekking is of world class standard and provided a strenuous challenge for our group. Days started at dawn to avoid the searing heat of the afternoon; and with no chance of carrying sufficient water, vast quantities of liquids were consumed at breakfast. Valley campsites soon gave way to windy, snow covered passes at over 18,000ft. The unforgiving landscape also allowed our cadets to undertake a four day unsupported gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition. This involved predawn starts to navigate across featureless terrain acquiring water from startled monks at temples.
After a day’s rest in Leh, the group started a week’s mountain biking in the Zanskar Range, including crossing into the military ‘Line of Control’ area marking the disputed de facto border between India and Pakistan. Long days, some involving six hours of solid ascent and crossing the highest navigable trail in the world were followed by freezing nights spent below amazing skies. Needless to say the medics were kept busy by frequent crashes.
Having spent forty minutes flying up to Leh, the final challenge was to be an arduous road journey back to Delhi which was to take four days. The only road is mostly unpaved, crosses two chains of the Himalayas as well as deserts, rivers and landslides. It is recognised as one of the great road journeys of the world and our route was marked by overturned, crashed and fallen vehicles as well as one human decapitation.
It is obviously early days to judge the effect of such a venture on its participants but they certainly thrived throughout their expedition and appear to have gained considerably from it. One cadet’s journal observes, “I found the whole experience incredibly demanding and for me this has been an impressive achievement of which I am extremely proud. It has given me a much more positive outlook and has made me more appreciative of my very privileged life. I now feel a much stronger moral duty to improve the life of others.” Another journal notes, “I was occasionally terrified, repeatedly sick, managed to lose 6kg and loved every minute”.
The real test will come in the future of these young people and how they develop to lead their contingent, whether they come to join other leadership teams or indeed organise their own expeditions.