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Caithness News Bulletins August 2005

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World Challenge Expeditions  
International Challenges Overcome By 21 Teenagers
Led By Bob Kerr From Melvich

Twenty-one Reading teenagers, all aged 13 or 14, safely returned to their parents on Monday evening at Heathrow airport following a two week expedition to Poland. The teenagers had taken part in the “First Challenge” program that is run by “World Challenge Expeditions Ltd”. Bob Kerr (27) from Melvich, Sutherland, had been appointed as the “Expedition Leader” and had been tasked with delivering the First Challenge youth development program to them.

World Challenge Expeditions run 4 different youth development programmes:

  • Leadership Challenge

  • First Challenge

  • Team Challenge

  • Gap Challenge

The nature of these programmes is to challenge participants at several levels in order for them to get the most from their expedition programme and destination. These challenges are physical, emotional, cognitive, financial and environmental. The participants are encouraged to face up to and overcome these challenges with the full support of World Challenge Expeditions’ safety systems, managers and leaders.

World Challenge Expeditions deliver a wide range of expeditions mostly to English schools but more and more Scottish schools are beginning to use them to help teach life skills to participants (e.g. Kirkwall High, Orkney, sent a group of pupils on the month long “Team Challenge” programme this summer). The “life skills” covered include:

- Leadership and management
- Teamwork
- Financial management
- Planning and organisation
- Individual and group responsibility
- Decision making
- Reviewing
- Time management
- International awareness
- Environmental considerations
- Outdoor skills

The aims and objectives of the Reading School’s First Challenge to Poland were to:
- complete an acclimatization phase enabling them to adjust to the climate, culture, altitude and terrain
- complete at least one challenging main trek
- complete a project phase working with a local organisation
- observe and learn something about the customs and culture of Poland
- work as a team, experiencing different roles within the team and develop life skills
- compile an expedition journal of their experiences.

The aims/objectives were achieved by the team of 21 challengers. The success of the expedition is down to the challengers working together to deliver the itinery that they had been involved in preparing. Bob’s role as expedition leader was to have executive control of the expedition but to lead from the back. The challengers were left to run their own expedition. They were allowed to make mistakes unless it affected their safety, itinery or budget.

“The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything” – Edward Phelps, 1899.

The team flew to Kraków, via Warsaw, sorted out their transport arrangements and went to some budget accommodation in the city. Whilst getting used to the heat, language barriers and cultural differences they managed to organise dinner for 24 people (21 challengers, 2 school teachers and the expedition leader). On the first day of the expedition the challengers were issued with the entire budget to use responsibly (Ł2370 in cash).

The second day of the expedition took the team to the Nazi’s largest concentration camp called Auschwitz (They had parental permission to visit here). All of the challengers were emotionally affected by the various displays (e.g. 1900 kg of human hair), photographs of the events there, the gas chambers, the crematorium, etc. “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again” – George Santayana.

Following the visit to Auschwitz, the challengers split their team up to achieve different tasks that day e.g. organise transport to Zakopane to start their trekking phase, work out where they were eating that night, explore the historic city of Kraków, etc. The challengers explored various options to get to Zakopane – hiring a bus, using the train service, using the local bus service, etc. They worked out that the only way to get to Zakopane within their budget was to use the local bus service and they managed to sort out the tickets themselves.

The next day was spent traveling to Zakopane (in the south of Poland), exploring Zakopane, organising aspects of their trekking phase (e.g. food for 6 days trekking), and they were briefed about the various hazards in the Tatra mountains (e.g. ticks, mountain weather/climate, scrambling, rock fall, etc). The team were also given training on river crossings incase unbridged rivers had to be crossed during the trek.

The first day of the trekking took place underneath a baking hot sun. The challengers carried their kit to the first mountain hut and then tackled their first mountain. All but one of them successfully summitted “Ornak” (1854m).

Due to the heat the challengers opted for a relatively shaded route for the following day’s trek to their pre-booked accommodation at Kalatówkach. They nipped up a hill called “Sarnia Skala” (1377m) to get good views over Zakopane during this 14km trek.

The third day of trekking saw all 21 challengers summit a mountain called “Kondracka Kapa” (2005m). This mountain was on the border of Poland and Slovakia. When the summit pictures were taken half of the group were in Poland and the other half were in Slovakia ! That night there was a particularly violent thunder and lightning storm overhead the accommodation at Kalatówkach.

In the rain, avoiding the newly formed rivers coming down the hillsides, the team commenced their fourth day of trekking. For some team members this was to be the hardest day’s trekking and their personal achievement in the trekking phase. Carrying all of their equipment, the team progressed to five lakes valley. The weather improved as the day went on but the visibility was poor all day. The trek involved going over a mountain pass at 2112m (Krzyzne) and scrambling down a very step rocky path on the opposite side. For those that had a healthy fear of heights this proved to be very challenging but they all made it to the accommodation safely.

After 4 days of grueling trekking, some team members wanted a relatively easier fifth day of trekking to the next mountain hut but eight team members were still feeling fit enough to have an attempt on the highest mountain in Poland (Rysy, 2499m) and go on to the next mountain hut. The group were split and both trekking options were successfully completed.

The ascent of Rysy from the five lakes mountain hut meant that the small group had to trek over a mountain ridge to get to the next valley and Morskie Oko hut (1406m). Unnecessary equipment was left at Morskie Oko and with light day sacks, the challengers made their attempt on Rysy. The ascent was straight forward until they were higher up the mountain. From about 2100m altitude to the summit, they had to scramble up a rocky ridge using chains installed on the mountain to pull themselves up. This was outside of their comfort zones but definitely memorable. All eight challengers summitted the highest point in Poland (Rysy, 2499m). The next challenge was to descend the mountain using the same chains and narrow rocky ledges. Once they were safely down, the challengers trekked to a hut at Roztoka (1031m) to meet up with the rest of their team.

The final day of trekking involved a fairly short walk to leave the Tatra National Park. Following this, they took a bus to Zakopane and then went to Wysoka (near Kraków) to undertake the project phase of their expedition.

The team were tasked with starting a new project to help the Wysoka Manor House. The Manor House was severely damaged by a bomb on the second day of WWII but has since been restored to life. The Wysoka Manor House personnel keep traditional Polish ways of life alive through hosting workshops, concerts, meetings, arranging visits etc. They do not want the Manor House to be another dry and dusty museum. People can stay in it and concerts of renaissance music are often played there. The challengers were treated to the music of lutes, singing and superb food.

The challengers project involved laying foundations, sorting out building materials and assisting with the reconstruction of a 1868 granary. During the 4 days at the Manor House, the granary’s four walls were reconstructed to a height of 3m. The next stage of the project (putting a roof on it) was going to carried out the following week by another team from World Challenge Expeditions. The weather hampered progress on the project but at the end of this phase of the expedition, the team successfully completed the task that had been set for them. The musicians in the team particularly enjoyed this part of the project as every time it rained they were inside the manor house playing on pianos, lutes, guitars, etc.

After the project phase the team made their way back to Kraków for more sight seeing, for present buying, etc. During the expedition the team had managed to stay below their budget so it was decided that they would treat themselves to a good meal on the last night in Poland. Until this stage their food budget had been Ł6 per day, that went out the window on the last night, and they had a superb three course meal with soft drinks in a mid-range restaurant. This cost them less than Ł10 a head !

The final day of the expedition was spent getting everyone back to the UK. Somehow not one of them had lost their passport or flight tickets – although there had been several near misses (e.g. passports being picked up off of bus aisles, etc).

Joe Pedley, one of the challengers, summed up the trip in his post expedition questionnaire by stating “The thing that I personally found most beneficial about my experience in Poland was the fact that the challengers were in total control which meant we all learnt new skills. Also the trip was A LOT of fun and we all have had a great time which was both challenging and enjoyable”.

For the challengers the expedition was the final stage of a long project. They had been involved with planning the itinery and then raising funds for their expedition. Bob told us that “I’m glad that the challengers all thoroughly enjoyed the trip. It was great to see them develop from shy school kids into young adults that were happy to communicate with strangers in a foreign language to organise things.”

If your secondary school would like to know more about World Challenge Expeditions or wishes to organise a youth development challenge then further information can be obtained from http://www.world-challenge.co.uk  or by phoning 020 8728 7200.