Ph1 Week 10
Soldier Development Wing – Sennybridge
A week in Wales away from the walls of Pirbright to taste what Adventure Training is about. We trekked across the Black Mountains, traversed through caves and had a relaxing day climbing up walls.
…on wards to Wales
We packed our black grip bags and left Pirbright at about 0800 immediately after scoff. I made sure I packed my Kindle and attempted to read Interview With A Vampire – that really famous, soldierly and masculine must read. However, this was more difficult than what I had anticipated. Banter was rife on the bus and it was all too distracting, not to mention I get motion sickness easily.
is reading Interview With A Vampire on the coach to Army Adv Trg in Wales. Soooo manly! #fb
— RikkrolledVC (@rikkrolledVC) August 1, 2011
We took pictures of people snoozing to pass the time and more banter was thrown at anyone and everyone until I found myself snoozing too.
I awoke just as we crossed a massive bridge. On the other side, the landscape quickly transformed to a place where the sky was overcast and grey, even greyer than back in glorious England. Hills too, and … SHEEP! Lots of sheep!
Welcome to Wales!
When we reached camp about an hour or so later, we were handed our room, fit for a section of 11. After some time of waiting for everyone to get sorted and settled, we had a brief on what Adventure Training was all about it. Essentially, it’s time off usual work to do some outdoor sports, gain some qualifications and promote team building and strengthen team cohesion. For the purpose of our Phase 1 Training, this is an opportunity for us to see what it’s all about and what to expect from courses and expeditions run within the Army (and the Armed Forces). This week, we were scheduled to go on a 2 day hill walking, go rock climbing and caving.
We were then broken down in even smaller sections. In our group, there was: me, DJ, Bogle, Croot and Hendricks. We were told that we were hill walking first so we went to get issued tents, water bottle, day sacks, goretex, a fleece, walking trousers and gaiters. We wore issued boots so I had the Goretex ones on.
The rest of the 2 Section: Swirly, Jones, Porter, Strawberry and Adams ended up doing something else, and so did the rest of the troop apart from 5 guys from 1 Section as they went hill walking with us.
Us hill walkers proceeded to erect a tent to make sure that they were actually in good order. No one wants to sleep in pools of water or draughty tents.
After evening meal, we had a brief workshop on navigation and orienteering to supplement the ones we’ve been having back in Pirbright to give us an idea of what to expect on the hills. I’d say I’m fairly confident when it comes to maps, given my background so I let the others work it out, only helping when they get stuck or lost.
There is very little thing to do in Sennybridge camp so after the map reading exercise, we all pretty much kipped and had and early night… After a much needed shower.
… 2 day hill walking
Not really needing to have a shower the following morning, all my morning admin was shave, brush teeth and have scoff. This proved more practical, as apparently the showers went cold pretty quickly! Seeing about more than half of the troop rather pissed off so early in the morning before they even had breakfast, was morbidly amusing.
After grabbing our lunches and ration packs for the 2 day hill walking, we set off to some remote location that I now have forgotten. I do believe it’s at or close to Black Mountain in Wales. The trek started with an almost 70 ° climb purely because… uh, our leader was the incredibly fit Army Commando, Bombardier Pullman. We were with a small group of 1 Section on the van but they set off about 10 minutes after us. They were led by our Ghurka PTI, who umm… up to until then, we didn’t know his name. He and the rest of the PTIs were only referred to as ‘Staff’.
We traversed through miles and miles of the Brecon hills and slopes and took in turns navigating waypoints that Bdr set to put our skills to test. He also pointed out various edible plants along the way but because were close to hordes and hordes of sheep, even at the remotest part of the place, we weren’t in hurry to forage the land. I had anticipated this trek to be quite the same as our training in Pirbright but Bdr assured us that Adventure Training was also a time for them to not ‘play the game’ such intensely so they can relax a little.
About about 3 hours of walking, we found a cairn along a ridge. Protected from the elements and pleased with the slog we’ve made, we stopped to eat lunch.
After taking some snaps here and there, we continued our trek and found a trig point… there’s nowt better thing to do so I bring you:
We also took some time to pose to make it look like we did work.
We continued further along, about 3 and a half more hours of walking we finally reached our camp just before night fall: Llyn y Fan Fach reservoir… after trekking steep slopes to top off the evening!
We made camp and had scoff with our ration packs. I put the hexi cooker on for me and DJ, later trading chocolate drink/tea sachets with the others for a quick brew. After skipping stones and posing like retards for photos, we got our heads down while waiting for the sun to completely disappear. By about 2200, 4 hours later we got up and did some night navigation without using torches. We crossed some bridges towards a small hamlet (I guess that’s what they’re called) like a unit in covert ops. At about midnight, we headed back to camp and finally kipped.
… Back to Sennybridge
After a quick scoff at about 0830, we packed and made our back to camp. The mountains were covered in light mist, soft breeze blowing and the sun was high and shining – a perfect weather for some more hill walking.
We marched a different way from where we came and it wasn’t long til we reached our pick up point. A van picked us up and boy after the two day trek, we couldn’t be any more excited to not be walking.
We got back to the ‘bridge just before midday scoff. We then picked up kit for the next day’s activity – caving and boxes and boxes of Elevenses.
Evening scoff was slightly a bit more of an extended and prolonged activity with all the cadets running around being kids in camp. They somehow populated the ‘bridge in some sort of summer camp thing so the queue to acquiring food stretched outside the scoffhouse.
The evening was the only evening in the week where everyone in the troop would be in camp. 3 and 4 section were to go hiking on Thursday/Friday. Our NCO’s arranged for us to have an entertainment night at the NAAFI. We ordered tons of pizza and kebab and organised skits, taking this good opportunity to take the piss out of our NCO’s – standard Army Junior Rank’s mess entertainment apparently!
… to the caves!
Leaving camp at about half 8, we drove to the entrance of Porth Yr Ogof with our civvie cave guide. We were also joined by our Section Commander and Troop Sergeant.
None of us in our group of 5 recruits had ever caved or potholed before but it was obvious that some were a lot more anxious than the others. Fortunately, going in dark and cramp places is child’s play to me. The first route we took was the ‘Post Box’. The entrance was a horizontal slit on the limestone wall with about 30 ° cavity drop.
Instead of just going through the routes, one recruit after the other, our Section Commander and Tp Sgt thought it was a grand idea to make scenarios and command tasks out of it.
For the ‘Post Box’, one of us had to be a casualty and he had to be evacuated… without moving his arms and legs, without turning on the headlights on our helmets to see where we were going. Everyone also had to be through in less than 2 minutes!
I was indifferent to it as there was plenty of light from the entrance. I could see that it was reasonably deep, perhaps about 1.5m through the tight slit and this is probably what unnerved the guys. It was definitely a “once you go in, there’s no going back” thing.
Bogle was our leader for this task but me being one of the smallest and nimblest in build, I volunteered to go ahead first. We voted Jones to be the casualty, as he was also quite a small build and a lot less likely to get stuck when he can’t use his limbs.
When everyone realised that the slit was nothing to be uncomfortable with when they saw me slid through it (it was wet and slippery), we got through this first task with about 15 seconds to spare.
We pressed deeper in to the cave following the course of the stream in. It had started to rain the night before so the stream in the cave had a rather strong current.
The next task was led by DJ. He was taken away from our group, shown a route in the dark and was led back. We waited for the guide to disappear into the darkness and our task was to follow DJ’s ability to lead our section back to where they were at… in the darkness without touching each other (the leading kind, not ‘that‘ kind of touching, you perv!). It was pitch black as soon as we turned the light off and it was very disorientating! All we could hear was a water stream from behind us and people saying “yeah I’m here” and DJ relaying directions by words.
After about 3 minutes or so, DJ had successfully found the rendezvous (RV) point and we passed the task. However, AC had started to loose it and began to show signs of panic. It was pitched black dark it was like we had become blind. His hands were shaking and kept saying ‘I can’t do this!’. Bogle and I reassured him that we were going to be just fine!
We pressed on further but still keeping AC’s panic in check. As we ventured deeper into the cave, Jones also started to show signs of faltering. He started being quiet and only answering one worded answers and replies to the banter me, Bogle and DJ were chucking around. #awkward
Our guide noticed that the three of us were not particularly phased by the dark, he decided to take us to a harder route. He gave us an option whether to go and do this route or find something else. Bogle, DJ and I said we fancied a challenge so we said yes. Tp Sgt wanted to put out of my comfort zone so he said I should the lead this task, so I happily obliged.
The guide described the route and walked me though the path (where the lady is standing on the pic below) where the ledge was. The platform was narrow enough to hold my frame but immediately to my left was a sheer drop. Towards the end of the route was a sharp right turn with small drop (maybe about a hand deep) on to the connecting platform.
We joined the rest of the section and explained to them that this was a very difficult route… especially with the lights off, so we had to be very careful! Lots of recruit apparently got injured from this by falling off the edge.
As soon as he said that there was about a metre drop on our left throughout the route, AC had started to go in hysterics! He completely lost it… saying “I can’t do this!” He was shaking uncontrollably and really was just in tatters!
Our Tp Sergeant confronted him and tried to calm him down. We all joined in and as I was leading the route, I told him that I will be there in front so I’ll be able to say what is happening. He just had to trust me. I told him he could also hold my feet to make sure that I was still alive and that everything was all right!
I placed DJ last after Jones, because I noticed that Jones was also starting to panic. I knew DJ wasn’t phased at all by this whole caving lark so he could reassure that Jones was not getting left behind at the back.
Suffice to say, AC was threatened that he would have been backtrooped had he failed to complete this task so he went on with it.
I did my end of the bargain as soon as we got on the ledge. We leopard crawled throughout, constantly shouting back describing what was about to happen. I wanted to burst in a song but I guess that would have been slightly inappropriate. I did anyway in my head.
At the end of it, we all got through it, despite AC succumbing to his fear at the start. I nearly slid down the slippery edge when I was trying to get AC across the turn and getting him to overtake me ahead (the finish was about 1 metre down) while I helped everyone cross the turn.
We took a couple of minutes to get our breathe back and then we headed to the next task.
AC was the only one not to have lead our section up to that point so it was his turn next.
Our guide took us to this hole they referred to as the ‘Well’ on the cave floor and described the route to AC.
He was still shaken by his earlier outburst so he was very reluctant to press on ahead. I was getting really cold in the cave because the waters were freezing so without trying to delay us any further, I just volunteered to go down the well first and assisted our section as they descended. We regrouped at the bottom, where the water was past our knees. Tp Sgt was to be at the end of the tunnel in front of us with a cyalume to sign the end of the route. However at the point, with cold water must have added instant mong to AC, he refused to go ahead without turning the light on. We couldn’t see anything but the walls closed around us that I thought it was really obvious where to go. Despite this, he turned his light on, walked on ahead and… surprise surprise, Tp Sgt was there with his green cyalume, greeting us saying task complete but it was a fail!
From that moment on, our guide and our NCO’s said that as punishment, we definitely couldn’t use our lights any more. We took the batteries off and gave them to AC as punishment from earlier’s fault. (They were these massive box batteries so 6 of them easily weight about approx 10 kilos). We traversed through the cave system in darkness. As we followed the light towards an exit, some kids started to pop out from a different direction also heading out the exit, happy and very bubbly. It really put that experience into perspective for me and I felt quite amused that there were guys – soldiers – in my group terrified of the dark!
When we reached the exit, our guide said we had one last route to do. He broke us into to groups. Me with DJ while Jones, AC and Bogle together. At the exit, there was a pool of deep looking water. He said that in the water was where our next route would be. He sent the other group behind the trees so they didn’t see what we had to do…
The guide explained that underneath the water, there’s a small tunnel we had to swim through and emerge out on the other side of the pool behind the rocks, where our Section Commander was stood.
DJ and I jumped in the water, and the freezing cold jolted through my skin! My jaw shook uncontrollably and I kept jumping up and down… DJ was also the same. We just wanted to get through it as quickly as possible so we dived but we couldn’t see any tunnels! We dived again and again no tunnels! They had us for fools! When we got back up, the guide and our NCO’s were grinning … pretty much having that ‘trololol, there was no tunnel all along’ look in their faces!!! *curses!!!*
It was a test of courage, determination and perseverance more than anything else but DJ and I looked at each other and laughed!
When we got out of the water, our guide told us to pretend as if we nearly drowned so act like we were so lost out of breathe when the other group came back.
They were told the same thing but as soon as they jumped in the cold water, AC and Jones flipped out. Jones was keeping it cool beforehand but that time, the cold must have shocked him and really panicked with AC. Bogle was there laughing at the cold… being a Gioc, that pool must have felt like a hot bath for him. Prick.
With two obviously stricken with panic, there was no way they would have been able to ‘swim under’ safely so they were just told to dunk themselves in water three times and that was the end of it!
That they did and we all headed back to the car park. The other group from 1 Section who were also with us but did different paths joined us as we had lunch and laughed at how ridiculous AC and Jones were (they arrived just as AC and Jones started to flap in water). Definitely plenty of banter material that day!
We headed back to ‘bridge and still had a lot of time before scoff. Bdr Philips from 1 Section wanted to try out the Crosswire platform so to kill time, we grabbed some harness and went up the wires!
One of the challenges we had to do was to go up the totem pole (shown on the left of the photo above) in twos, stand at the top, lean backwards, stretch out your arms, and stay there for 30 seconds without falling off. Jones and I did it, shakily with the wind howling. That platform certainly put me out of my comfort zone! But it wasn’t the fear of height that got me but the possibility that we would have failed it by falling off more than anything.
The next was to do the trapeze jump on the top right of the photo. To make it even scarier, I put a blindfold before jumping to catch the trapeze bar at about 2 metres away. It gave me such a buzz that I just had to do it again! Good fun!
… rock climbing
This was the last activity for us at SDW . We picked up kit for climbing the day before then headed out to Llangorse Multi Activity Centre to do some rock climbing. It was originally meant to be an outdoor activity but as it had rained in the last 2 days, they deemed it was too slippery and dangerous to go outside.
We had a civvie climbing instructor that taught us the basics of climbing, rope drills and using a harness.
DJ and I were partners for most of our climbs and we were allowed to choose any of the climbs within one of the rooms. Later, we were taught how to abseil and one of the confidence tests we had to do was to dangle down in an abseil position (with about a 100m drop to the floor). The instructors chucked a red cushty blindfold down while I was suspended in the air and was asked to put it on. He then asked me to change the lace out of my trainers and swap them… all the while being blindfolded and at complete mercy of them as they hold the ropes! It was quite amusing being yo-yo’d as I attempted to undo my laces!
One of the things we also tried was to climb the massive fake tree trunk in the middle of the room with MASSIVE granite boulders! There wasn’t much to grip on but I managed to climb up a good height until my fingers really had enough!
As I had done climbing before in uni, I found this quite a good way to refresh my skills and just have a good time with my section… dry and in the warmth.
We then headed over back to ‘bridge and met with the rest of the Tp… them being drenched, mildly pissed off but still rather funny group of wet walkers.
We all handed back our kit just before evening scoff and prepared to leave camp. We packed our own kit, loaded the coach, handed over the keys, had scoff and then made our way back to Pirbright.
The week had been a really good week full of banter, which definitely improved the Tp’s morale. The variety of activities we did certainly gave us a good idea of what Adventure Training is and presentations on what it is about gave us insight to the awesome outdoor sport and skills that are available to us once we finish our training and join our future units.
Next up is Week 11…
ACMT, output tests and invals!