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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland


NEWS

QUEEN'S UOTC ENJOY SOUTH AFRICAN ADVENTURE

28 September 2017

GROUP 1 - TREKKING DRAKENSBERG MOUNTAINS KWAZULU NATAL SOUTH AFRICA-QUEEN’S UOTC

After travelling a great deal and arriving at Emseni Camp, Team A discovers their first Adventurous Training activity is trekking and receives a briefing on the next coming days. The overnight trek in the Drakensburg Mountains is designed to not only challenge the students but to develope useful skills and to view the incredible sunset that is only made better by the sheer isolation of the area.

Each team member is given an individual tasking to complete by the end of the trip. These include a team leader to conduct a kit check, navigators to plan a route and create the accompanying route card, scribes to take notes for an end of activity report and designated photographers to capture the beauty of the Drakensberg mountain. Kit is issued including backpacks, sleeping bags with bivvis, roll matts, cooking supplies and maps. The team’s destination is shown to the navigators and the team disperses to prepare their kit for the trek and taskings.

The day begins with a kit check held by the team leader and after completion the team eat breakfast and set out on their journey. After arriving at Didma camp via bus, the navigators brief the team on the coming route before setting of at 1000hrs. The route mainly consists of a small gravelly track allowing the team to set a good pace and other than a small telecommunications tower within the first kilometre, there are no maintained manmade structures in sight during the trek.

The team stopped for lunch at a convenient set of seats around 1300hrs and eat their lunches next to a small stone model of the surrounding mountains while taking in the incredible views that the Drakensberg mountains offer. 

The team continue on and while doing so come across a set of abandoned buildings and designate them as an shelter location in case of emergencies or a team member becoming lost or separated. Next was a choice of two different routes that the team would need to decide on. The first was a short but steep route that took the team directly to their destination but the uneven terrain meant that this would be at a slow pace. The second was a track that travelled around the mountain and provided a much more gradual climb but did so over roughly three times the distance. The biggest constraint of the two routes was the limited time until sunset buy with ample time, the team chose the latter and set off on their way. The track eventually led to the team’s destination, an old building lost to time that once served the purpose of overseeing a forest and to warn the authorities of a potential fire, and for this the building was known as the “Old Fire Lookout”. The building was incredible small, having only two small rooms which the team was divided amongst. The team settled in, assigning sleeping spaces, much of which had to overlap due to the small size of the rooms, and heated their rations while they still had light. The team viewed the stunning sunset before returning to their temporary accommodation.

On the second day, the team arose early to prepare for the sunrise set to start in half an hour, they packed their equipment and set a cooker to heat water for a cup of morning coffee or tea. They then took the time to watch the sunrise after which they planned their route down from the mountain peak. Decisions were made to take the shorter route down as the incline would work against them to a lesser degree. The team moved at a much greater pace, determined to descend while the air was cool and meet the awaiting transport. Descending in roughly half the time, the team stumbled upon a small group of impala only 100m away which they viewed through their binoculars and again took a break at the Drakensberg model. The final leg continued uneventfully and the team finished their trek at the Cathedral Peak Hotel in the late morning. With the trek finished, the team ate lunch in the hotel restaurant and came together sharing notes and photos and discussing ideas on the coming report. The reports were written by those tasked and sent via email to the instructors. In conclusion, this provided a truly unique experience offered only in such a remote area of the country incorporating vital skills such as planning, teamwork and problem solving on the go. Each OCdt came away with an irreplaceable experience whether they were seasoned trekkers or this was their first and offered each the taste of how trekking can truly be. 




GROUP 2 AT - MOUNTAIN BIKE DISCOVERY

This was situated at the four rivers rafting and adventures attraction South of Ladysmith in the Uthukela DC district around half an hour from em’seni base camp. Essentially the most important aspect of mountain biking was to sustain a high level of control whilst on the bike. Doing so naturally prevented the body from injuring yourself by losing balance. It was quite clear that the majority of the group had not partaken in mountain biking before therefore there was a higher level of risk and uncertainty amongst the group. Our first operation was the practice 3 different drills to tackle the high level of skill required. This included turning sharp corners in an upright position, riding over uneven terrain and descending from steep mountain sides over rocky surfaces.  Initially we briefly went through the theory of how to keep the best upright position and centre of gravity on the bike. It was extremely rewarding putting this theory into practice having several attempts to remain in a relaxed state whilst turning a sharp bends at such speed. It was evident there was varied abilities across the group so we had to accommodate for each individual to make sure they progressed on each drill and tackled fears. The biggest challenge that we found as a group was the high level of skill required in practice. There were multiple techniques required to travel over various terrain getting from A to B smoothly. Our group learned the importance of testing your own limits and trusting your physical capabilities when controlling the bike. It was very challenging as we felt we majorly stepped out our comfort zone risking the chance of physical injuries. We also learned that getting your position right was the most fundamental thing in down hilling.

Overall it was clear that mountain biking had the highest injury rate across all groups therefore the most vital aspect was putting the skills into place as a means of safety. A clear example of this was being taught not to hold your breaks when you reached the obstacle but prior to the obstacle. This was a hard concept to grasp but by the end of day 1 we managed to all improve as a group. We also considered the fact that as the day went on and our physical confidence on the bike improved, so did the level of activity and we pushed ourselves a bit further at each stage.

On the Monday 11th September, we took part in our second day of mountain biking at the Four Rivers Rafting and Adventures Centre. Firstly, we were briefed on what we would be doing the second day. It was explained to us that we would be cycling a 6km route over steep and rugged terrain. The other option was a 33km route over less strenuous terrain, however as a team we decided against this as it would have meant a long exposure to the sun and temperatures above 30 degrees. Some of the group were nervous before starting as there had been some falls the day before and we would be doing more challenging hazards today, the group were still excited to begin however and there was lots of encouragement from the team. After checking our mountain bikes as we had been taught the day before, we set of on the dirt path. Soon we began to ascend the hill and it became very steep. To begin with everyone managed to stay on their bikes however people dropped of one by one and had to push. Eventually everyone had to push the bikes up the hill as it was so steep. This was probably the most physically challenging part of the ride. We went up the hill as a group and had regular water breaks to make sure everyone stayed hydrated. Reaching the top of the hill was one of the highlights of the trip because we all had a good sense of achievement of making it to the top and the view was spectacular. After a 20 minute break to get some food on board, and to enjoy the views we began our descent. This was far more fast paced than our ascent but had an entirely different challenge. The whole group struggled with the severity of the rocky terrain and bushes. After many falls and slides the group came together and continued to descend, demonstrating our determination.

At certain points the group had to consider the risk of the upcoming route and if it would be unsafe to attempt to go down on the bike. As a result there were points where we had to pick up the bikes to avoid an obstacle. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill we couldn’t believe it as we had come down so quickly and we were all on an adrenaline high. The exhilaration of cycling down the hill was felt by the whole group and made all the falls and struggles worth it.



GROUP 3 - ROCK CLIMBING SWINBURN SOUTH AFRICA-QUEENS UOTC

Whilst in South Africa, one of the Adventure Training routes that we had a taster of was rock climbing. On the first of the two days, we went for an abseil. The location at which we abseiled was actually a waterfall in summertime but thankfully it was dry enough for us to go down. After receiving a demonstration of how to do the abseil, there were definitely a few nervous faces at the thought of going down the 50ft height. As we each did our first descent, we were all told to let go of the rope near the top so that we would have the required trust in the kit. Once everyone had got through once, the abseils certainly started going faster as we all gained confidence in how to go down and also how to move the ropes more effectively.

Day two was when we started the rock climbing. Once we had parked the van, we had a nice surprise as we actually walked past a lion’s sanctuary and got to see some of the lions there in very close quarters. Before we started climbing, we learned how to tie the knots for the rope, how to fall properly down the rock, and how to belay each other safely to catch each other. This day was a different challenge because we were putting our trust in each other rather than the experienced staff members. We split into pairs, one climbing and one belaying. For many of us, it was our first time ever climbing a real rock rather than a rock wall. This led to there being some very interesting positions being held on the rock while trying to find new hand and foot holds. As the day went on, even those who admit that they struggle with height managed to get right to the top of the more difficult climbs and then put that trust in their partner to get them safely down again. On one side of the rock we also had the wind to contend with that felt like you were trying to be blown off the rock but again, everyone adapted and managed to reach the top of the rock and have that sense of pride for achieving it.

Rock climbing was a new experience for many of us and it definitely put a lot of us out of our comfort zones in a very different way.



GROUP 4 - KAYAKING SOUTH AFRICA

Our group D consisted of a mix of strong swimmers and non-swimmers thus kayaking made the non-swimmers quite nervous. The first day consisted of orientating the group with the two different kayaks (one & two man) via mini games and challenges such as British bulldogs building our confidence on the water and develop paddle techniques. The most difficult challenge was having to purposely capsize the kayak and plunge into the freezing cold water, then flipping it back around and getting in again, which is A LOT easier said the done!!! Hence it brought to the forefront the team working, leadership and decision making skills in the group. 

The second day consisted of the 11km river tour downstream along the Tugela river, which was physically demanding and challenged the group to a greater extent as we tackled through the rapids and along the meandering bends. The 2 person kayaks proved more difficult to control and caused a few collisions as the crews adapted to them. Some people were convinced they had a faulty kayak but as the group progressed down the river the complaints stopped as we became more competent in our pairs. The wildlife and views were unrivalled to anything i've ever seen before, which made paddling with exhausted arms that small bit more bearable. We completed the journey in just over 2 hours and secured the kayaks on the trailer. On the journey back to Em'Seni we were fortune to see 2 pairs of giraffes and was a nice reward for the group after a hot day on the river.

The second part of day two involved rescue drills with the throw bag, here the drama students where exceptional allowing for realistic simulations and drills. Overall the kayaking was an enriching and rewarding experience for all involved but it only so good due to the top quality instructors, Jack and Jimmy who truly made the experience top notch by getting everyone involved and challenging us all.