Suffer the Little Children. Easter March/April
Two weeks previously I had spent 18 hours stationary, in a blizzard, on the M80. It had taken me almost 48 hours to complete an eight hour journey from Scotland, all due to a phenomena dubbed “The Beast from the East”.
Funny really, giving it a name, anthropomorphising the conditions stops us from recognising what it actually is, a vortex caused by rapid warming polar temperatures changing the circulatory nature of the earths air currents, in other words climate change.
The resultant change in the jet stream allows north easterly Siberian air flows to dominate our climate, yup, it was cold.
The lorry parked next to me on the M80
Two weeks later I was heading towards the Cotswolds for the first expedition of the year, a bronze for 14 teams from Kings Worcester. The forecast was dodgy, the Beast from the East 2 was being threatened, a yellow warning for snow was in place but it seemed to be threatening the South East. What to do, cancel and throw the academic calendar for 90odd kids into disarray or take the chance and go for it, cancel ? what does that word mean anyway.
I made my way up towards Broadway, the temperature gauge in the van showing a healthy 2 degrees, that was nothing compared to the outside wind chill which in my estimation was around -7. Snow flurries blew across the road in front of me in side winding motions any desert dwelling snake would have been proud of.
The coach arrived disgorging half of the teams, the other half some 40 odd miles to the south. I had real concerns about the temperatures but they were all smiling, well most of them. The sun came out and provided a small degree of warmth, all relative, we checked kit, repacked rucksacks and off we went, well the teams and the instructors did, I headed back south to start another expedition the next day.
The scene at Cranham before everyone got up.
I lay in my bed that night worrying, I got up at 0100 and looked out the window, it was snowing heavily, I went back to bed but did not really sleep. At 0530 my phone started ringing, I was advised the campsite was under 4 inches of snow, ah well at least we tried. Chris, Choire and Rob went into full evacuation mode, I phoned the school due to start that day and binned the trip, the first expedition I have ever cancelled in my career.
In the Cotswolds a sense of carnival took place, the north side were evacuated by minibus to a point where the coach could pick the kids up, in the south the teams had to walk some 5 or 6 K to the Gloucester south bound services on the M5 to be picked up.
The evacuation commences
We had prepared for low temperatures by bringing extra blankets, extra sleeping bags and I did not hear one report of any of the kids being cold, I think the snow had insulated the tents and provided a degree of comfort we had just not anticipated.
However bragging rights firmly established, camping out overnight in a blizzard, we managed to do the bare minimum to ensure these guys were able to proceed to their assessed expedition in the summer.
In the Black Mountains
Roll forward two weeks, five expeditions, two silvers in the New Forest and three golds in the Brecons taking place over the bank holiday weekend. Beast from the East No 3 threatening, yellow warning for snow and rain in place. Lets cut a long story short, the New Forest expeditions gave conditions that were simply dreadful, it rained for all three days of each expedition. The campsites were underwater, the paths were now rivers and the whole process became a matter of basic survival, things were no better in the Brecons, the wind chill on the tops was again well below freezing, what fell as rain at low level was snow above 300/400m and the campsites turned into quagmires with the passage of many booted feet.
New Forest or is it Lake.
Most of the schools and other providers cancelled their expeditions we elected to continue and facilitated the practice and assessed expeditions. I am not sure that it was either enjoyable for the participants or the instructors, it was a trial but there its absolutely no doubt in my mind that these guys are all absolutely prepared for their assessed expeditions in hopefully more clement times of the year no matter what the conditions throw at them.
If they do not actually appreciate what they have achieved let me be clear, I would not have done that unless I had no choice, they did and that is what sets these guys apart.
Well done to you all from us, you have what it takes.