Saturday, 21 January 2017 dawned bright and sunny promising a good, if cold, start to our training.
Students began arriving at 9.15 am ready and eager to begin. The training staff, comprising Ben Trout, Sally Pinner and Mr Alsop had set up a slide show to welcome the students which showed photos from teams going back to 2008 plus one from 1999 with a very young Ben Trout accepting his medal for achieving the 55-mile challenge.
Our training started with a DVD which is provided by the army and has to be shown to all potential teams. It talks about current and historical use of Dartmoor, flora and fauna, bird nesting sites, the army firing ranges and finishes with an old local song.
Ben then opened our practical training with a session on how to read a map, use compasses and working out bearings. We were given a map of the area where we were to walk during the night hike, a compass and a route plan sheet. We started by looking at the 6 figure grid references and highlighting them on the map, then started to look at the route we would follow and the bearings. We were taught how to calculate distance to be walked as well as height gain and loss. From there we could work out how long each section and the overall walk should take, calculating this at a walking speed of 4km per hour.
At about 11.00 am we had a short break with drinks and biscuits, then were taken outside and asked to walk from the edge of the Tech Block across the car park for 100 metres. We had to guess where this was. Ben then taught us how to count!! That is not as simple as it sounds – we had to count every second step back to the same point we had started. Remember the number and write it down. When out walking by using this method it would give us a good idea of distance if the weather was bad and we had to walk for a couple of hundred metres. Ben also suggested that if we picked up a couple of stones before starting to count we could drop a stone after each 100 metres distance. If we were to walk 500 metres we would pick up 5 stones we would then know we had walked the 500 metres when we had no stones left!! This was put into good practice during our night hike.
After finishing our morning session we were then taught how to set up and light the Trangias (stoves for the uninitiated). Ben and Sally kindly allowed us to use some of the warm water from the LaSallian Centre in order to get our food cooked more quickly but were warned this would not be an option on Dartmoor.
Part way through cooking another trainer Roger Blake (who is Sally’s son-in-law and Ben’s brother-in-law), together with his son Callum (aged 10), arrived and took over this session whilst Ben, Sally and Mr Alsop went in to eat a meal of Beef cooked in Ale kindly brought along by Sally’s husband (that seemed a bit unfair when we had a packet to eat), however Sally did provide cake for after our lunch.
Our next session talked about nutrition and hydration and a list of foodstuffs will be provided prior to our walks and weekends on Dartmoor. Chocolate, apart from in the form of a hot drink, is not recommended which seems such a shame – dried apricot and banana doesn’t seem quite so appealing! Sally passed round a sandwich she had made a couple of days before and a chocolate cake which she had carried around to show us what our lunch could look like on Sunday and how unappetising that would be when we are hungry. It will make us think more carefully about what and how we pack food.
Back outside again we learnt how to put up the tents – actually we were given the tents and left to get on with it! One group made two attempts with a tent as the first had no poles and the second had a broken pole so it looked slightly odd and we definitely couldn’t sleep in it.
We were shown how to use a bothy. It was amazing how much warmer it was inside the bothy once we were all in it and out of the wind.
Back inside our next session was on first aid. We learnt about hypo and hyperthermia, watching a short YouTube clip on how hypothermia effects the body. Ticks were a subject we spoke about as well as burns, sprains, breaks and the recovery position. We were then given the chance to have a go at getting another student in the recovery position.
Our last session, led by Ben, detailed the equipment we would need if selected for the team. Rachel volunteered to demonstrate the survival bag, although I don’t think she expected to have the bag put over her head!!
All our lessons learnt, we were given time to have some tea then get ready for our night hike and put into practise our newly found skills.
Roger led the Yr 12 (45 mile team) with Mr Alsop assisting, accompanied by Callum and Mr Alsop’s dog. Ben led the Yr 10 (35 mile team) with Sally assisting. We left the school at about 5.45 pm and got back again at about 9.25 pm having successfully completed our night hike with few wrong turns.
Thanks to Sally Pinner for this write up.