Exercise Midnight Sun - Greenland 2008

Ex Midnight Skye
Midnight Sun Mountaineering Easter Trip – Week 1

 

The week prior to Easter saw the first of two week-long training exercises for the Midnight Sun expedition take place on the Isle of Skye. The week was aimed to develop both the skills and fitness that would be needed for the expedition, additionally providing the participants with further opportunity to use the equipment they would be using during the Greenland expedition and bond as teams prior to the full exped in August.

The participants were divided into smaller groups; each assigned an experienced group leader. Tarquin Shipley’s group included myself, Matt Ladbrook, Ali Rowsell, Andy Wilkins, and were additionally joined by Greg Cairns later in the week for the overnight exped.

 

The first few days of the week included the issuing of kit and clothing, and some initial introductions to the island’s mountains with some gentle days on the hills. These saw us taking on some gentle scrambling, allowing basic rope skills, scrambling techniques and general mountain skills to be introduced. Specifically, skills introduced included how best to move up steep rocky terrain that may typically be encountered in Greenland, the use of ropes as a safety aid, and how to move as a group over the terrain with only limited lengths of rope.

 

The weather on Skye during the week was quite simply superb, comprising generallyGreat weather quite dry and moderate weather, but still with a good amount of snow on the summits and ridges. This additionally enabled some winter skills to be introduced in the training, including the use of crampons and ice axes, the different approaches that are required when moving over snow and ice covered terrain, and the extra considerations that must be taken into account in such winter conditions.

 

Towards the middle of the week, the overnight practice expeds took place, with most groups remaining on Skye for this. For our overnighter however, Tarqs took us back onto the mainland to explore some new mountain areas inland. Setting off with all our necessary camping gear, food and equipment, the first day was used to practice navigational skills; timings, micro-navigation, overshoot-indicators and other such skills essential for remote mountaineering when conditions can deteriorate rapidly. Ascending to our target camping area, the ground conditions changed quite significantly to deep snow and low visibility, making the going both more challenging but certainly more rewarding and enjoyable. The last section in particular, essentially along a ridge line but with a series of small rock features almost too small to register on the map certainly put the skills practiced on the way up to the test. Eventually settling in a suitable and relatively sheltered location to set up for the night, the tents were quickly erected by one half of the team while the rest prepared the stoves and food before the temperature descended rapidly with the sun.

 

The walk-out on the following day, continuing in a large loop back to the start point, gave opportunity for further navigational practice and some impromptu ice-axe arrest practice Sunrisewhen a suitable snow-covered slope presented itself. Some time was spent launching down the slope at a variety of angles, then making use of the ice-axes to arrest the descent of the slope. Confidence of the technique is invaluable in winter conditions should things go wrong and you find yourself falling or sliding down a snow-covered slope.

 

The remaining days of the week were used to further develop the skills learnt during the first half, additionally including a number indoor classroom-style lessons, covering first aid, emergency procedures, river-crossings, rope-work and further general information about the expedition itself in August. Finally, Tarqs talked us through in detail the equipment carried on his lead-climbing rack that had been used during the week to site the safety ropes, culminating with the opportunity for us to make use of the equipment on a low cliff-face to practice locating the gear within cracks, grooves and features in the rock face to allow secure anchor points to be made for the rope.

 

All agreed that the week had been both highly useful as a training exercise, enjoyable as a week in a fantastic mountain area, and rewarding from a skills and fitness Camp siteperspective. There were days when the weather had been less than inspiring, with at times heavy rain and strong winds, particularly on the summits and ridges, but such conditions only made the excellent dinners prepared for us on our return from the hills more welcome. Regrettably, these will not be a feature of the exped in August!

 

Stu Rowell

 

Ex Midnight Skye – Week 1


We all arrived on sat at various points in the evening after very long journey-including toilet stops every 30mins and having a top speed of 58mph.The journey was an extra long for one, who didn’t arrive until the following evening due to problems with his nav, involving a lorry, a ditch, lost keys and a trip to the police station!

 

We had a briefing and a couple of lessons on equipment (Light is Right), and then had the equipment issued out. This included boots- these were definitely not FMB’s (if they were- I’m definitely going wrong somewhere!). The boots were plastic - and the only way to walk in them was to walk like a robot trying to impersonate John Wayne - even going to the loo in them was a challenge (thankfully I mastered the tricks pretty quickly - and you’d be surprised at how useful the walking sticks were!).

 

The weather was fantastic, so we wasted no time getting out on the mountains I was still walking like a robot, but once we hit the snow (pure white and blinding in the sun) the boots were much better.

 

There were just three of us in my group, Gary, Jim and me. Both Gary and Jim were instructors- so I learnt so much- partly because I felt so safe I didn’t worry about how high up we were- or how far I would fall, so all I had to think about was how pretty everything looked, and how great the views were. I even started to really enjoy walking along the ridge- although I was often on all fours – but that definitely changed by the end of the week , esp when the wind wasn’t trying to take me over the edge.

We joined up with Cath’s group on one walk, and as we came over the edge, the pure white snow had changed to a bloody mess- it looked like someone had been murdered- blood was everywhere. But it was only Joe- he’d cut his finger! We walked up some ice walls with them, which was great- you just kicked your feet into the ice and make steps!

 

Every evening we came back to the smell of lovely hot food, with hot drinks at the ready. Except one evening- well two- but one was intentional as we camped out! One of the walks as we ran/slipped and skidded off the scree, we stopped to have a brew as Cath and her group headed down to the minibus. We followed shortly after, however we realised that we had taken the wrong route and ended up a mile further up the road to the mini-bus. We tried calling on the airwave, but there was no signal, and none of us had comms on our mobile. Jim ran ahead and said he’d run to the minibus and get the others to meet us. Gary and I waited by the hostel, watching everyone eating and drinking in the warmth, whilst we perched on a rock watching enviously. Jim came running back up to say that the minibus wasn’t there. We were worried that something must have happened for them to leave us behind. We tried to ring the hostel that we were staying in, but even that was a challenge as it wasn’t listed in the phone book. We rang another hostel who then gave us the number after they had found it on the internet, just as we got the number the minibus arrived with Gaz. They had driven the mini-bus down to the end of the path which we should have come off, but due to it being at the bottom of the hill, Jim hadn’t seen it. As we hadn’t arrived when they expected us Cath and Joe had headed up the mountain to come and find us- thinking that something must have happened. We drove back to the bottom of the path and honked the horn and flashed the lights (Gaz said he’d do this if we turned up so they would know to turn back). Jim decided to run up after them as he thought he’d be able to catch them as they hadn’t been gone long, so Gary, Gaz and I waited in the minibus trying to find any leftover food to eat. Eventually they came back and we headed back to the hostel for a very late meal and some extremely tried walkers/ rescuers!

 

The night out on the mountains was an awesome experience. We truly experienced the Scottish weather- which up until then I thought must have been a myth. The day started with a long hike up to what seemed like a very sheltered spot- being protected from the mountains that surrounded us.


We had joined groups with Huw, so there were 6 of us altogether. It was quite nice having Ollie with us as I didn’t feel quite as inexperienced as he was, with his sister’s PINK (he would argue that they were blue- but I’m sure that’s not true) gaiters, fingerless gloves (which I was secretly thinking was a brilliant idea- until EVERYONE teased him about them- ok so maybe I am just as inexperienced!) and a very, very heavy bag (I definitely had learnt from Gary’s LIGHT is RIGHT lecture!). Gary asked Ollie whether he’d be getting a new bag for the trip to which Ollie replied ‘Oh of course, I need at least 100ltrs!’ to which Gray nearly choked and I nearly wet myself! It was then that we realised that Ollie, arriving a day late, had missed that lecture!

 

We set up camp, had a quick bite to eat, and then our groups split to our normal size and we took went off to different peaks. It was still brilliant sunny weather, with clear skies. I had got quite use to crampons - and was starting to really trust them. When we got to the ridge the wind was howling and I felt very exposed. We came off the mountain in perfect timing- we had just enough time to cook up our dinner before the heavens opened. We quickly got wrapped up in our tent, and opened the decanted bottle of ‘Round the world wine’ (basically vinegar with red food dye)- Gary thankfully hadn’t listened to his own lesson! We were getting concerned that the other group hadn’t got back yet as the weather was getting really bad and it was also getting quite dark. Every now and then we could hear voices, which sounded like they were back- but they were nowhere in sight- the wind was carrying their voices. It was really odd! Thankfully they made it off the mountains, and John was quick to ask us if we wanted a drum - Gary was really excited about this - whereas I was concerned at how another 3 people could fit into our already cosy tent for a sing song and drums…it turned out to be a DRAM- which went down very well- especially considering I hate whiskey!


None of us slept- the wind gave us all a good bashing and the branding of the tent was constantly being flashed at us as the outer layer kept hitting the inner of the tent! Morning came and we debated about whether to get up- or wait to see if the rain would ease off. We decided that the rain wasn’t going to stop, so we may as well get down off the mountain! It was just as well as our tent was about an inch away from the Lake- it had been at least a foot away the night before.

 

All in all, Skye was a great experience. The views were awesome, I lost some of the fear of the Ridge, I felt a lot more confident using the ropes , the weather was...Scottish, my knees were badly bruised (apparently spending more time on them than I first thought!) and I learnt loads- I certainly won’t be putting A and O-Levels on my CV!!! I was also very relieved to hand back my not so kinky boots!

 

Val O’Regan

 

30 Oct 07 - Selection Weekend 2 report

 

On the weekend of 26-28 October 2007 twenty eight people, from Royal Signal Units all over the UK, travelled to Capel Cruig, Wales to complete a selection weekend for Exercise Midnight Sun.

 

Exercise Midnight Sun is an expedition to Greenland taking place in August 2008. It will provide TA personal the opportunity to visit one of the last truly untouched places, whilst building teamwork and self-development skills as groups tackle the terrain by ski touring, mountaineering, sea kayaking and sailing.

 

As you can imagine with such an opportunity being rare the places are extremely sought after, with double the amount of applicants as there are places on the expedition. Hence it was off to Wales to see which individuals best suited the expedition.

 

With applicants arriving on Friday night, it was straight into bed to get maximum rest in preparation for the next day. The next morning was a briefing where the group was given more information on what to expect over the next two days and what those selected could expect to face on the expedition. The group was split into two activities – those doing kayaking and the mountaineers/skiers. For the mountaineers/skiers it was off to the Hills of Snowdonia for a full day of walking and because it is not training unless its raining, the heavens opened and a full day of rain began!

 

One of the most satisfying things about walking up hills is taking in the spectacular view at the top, but not on this day in Wales! The fog came in and was here to stay. With the wind at an estimate 60mph the group was nearly blown away, the only thing keeping our feet on the ground was the minimum weight which we had been instructed to carry!

But as we reached each summit along the route of Glyder Fach, in a soggy state, we felt a great deal of satisfaction. The group remained positive and enthusiastic throughout the day; of course this had nothing to do with thinking about a nice drink in a cosy pub at the end of the day!

 

The next day, with some aching muscles, the walking groups headed back out into the rain and went scrambling. Our group headed up the North route of Tryfan. As the morning rain cleared, the sun came out and the group was finally rewarded with some brilliant views. Working on route selection, negotiating the large rocks by squeezing feet into small cracks, and feeling for an edge to get a good hold of. The group finally reached Adam and Eve (two large rocks that are positioned upright – and some mad people jump the gap between them).  None of our group felt so mad/brave!

 

At the end of the weekend everyone prepared for their journey home, with the satisfaction that they had done all they could and at the very least they had thoroughly enjoyed a good weekend.

 

Lt Emma Kelly