Written by Holly Moseley, Arete Outdoor Instructor.
Before the start of any course, I try to step into the shoes of the students that are about to arrive. I think about how they might be feeling; what they’ll be looking forward to, or worried about, what they’ll find challenging and what they’ll find fun. I reflect on an experience that really challenged me: my first multi day ski tour in the Austrian Alps.
I can draw similarities from my experiences to empathise with how my groups might feel at times during the week. I felt excited and nervous in equal measure, not quite knowing what I’d let myself in for. I had to place trust in my friends who were more experienced and rely on them to look after me. Yet at the end I realised I’d learnt how to look after myself, how to ignore the voice in my head telling me I can’t do it, and how I can do much more than I realise if I put my mind to it.
Challenge No. 1 – Packing
There I was, in the middle of an Austrian supermarket car park, kit sprawled everywhere, trying to stuff all the kit I needed into what I thought was a small rucksack. I had no idea what half the equipment was, or really how to use it, let alone remember what it was called. I couldn’t help but feel way out of my depth when I looked around at the others and saw their kit neatly packed into a small rucksack, while mine was twice as big and busting at the seams!
We often need a variety of technical equipment for a day out. There can be a lot to pack and organise in the morning, sometimes it’s hard to remember; was it called a bouncy aid or a Beyonce aid?! And what on earth is a cowstail? (Look out if you’re in Dave’s group- he’ll expect you to be ready first!)
Challenge No.2 – Fitness
There’s nothing like walking uphill on skis with a massive rucksack at altitude to get you out of breath. The trip was 95% walking uphill, 5% survival skiing down! It was more of a walking trip than the ski trip I’d been sold! The views were stunning, although not enough to take my mind off how hard I could feel my heart beating in my chest. Walking at the back of the group was the hardest, watching the others stride on ahead, whilst I quietly sobbed to myself..! I desperately wanted to stop and curl up in a ball, but there was no escape and with the support from my friends, I just had to keep going.
We often take groups on journeys; through the mine, up the gorge or across the sea cliffs. Once we’re committed to the journey we’ll find ourselves at a point where there’s only one way down, up or through. Determination, a positive mindset and support from everyone in the group will see us through, as I found myself.
Challenge No.3 – Blisters
Not having much of my own kit, I borrowed ski boots from a friend. By lunchtime on day one, my feet were covered in blisters. Blisters are uncomfortable and sore, but not a reason to turn back and give up on day 1 (according to the others anyway). After a while, I got used to the discomfort and other worries like the risk of avalanches became more pressing!
It’s not uncommon to hear a group member complain about blisters or a sore ankle on the walk into the mine, only to see their worries change once they are inside, as the real challenges reveal themselves…
Challenge No.4 – Food
This was hard because there wasn’t that much of it. It was rationed and I was definitely expending more energy than I was taking in, which also didn’t help the tears! Wraps for lunch had been pre-made with depreciating quality as the days progressed. Day 1’s wrap looked and tasted great, stuffed full of fresh ingredients, but by day 4 it no longer resembled a wrap, the jam-only filling wasn’t too enticing! Dinner was packet asparagus soup and powdered mashed potato. The chopped up sausage on the first night was a luxury. I think it says it all when this was the best dinner we ate…
Don’t worry, there aren’t a huge amount of similarities to be drawn here! Actually it’s quite the opposite, there’s lots of tasty food and the sandwiches improve as the week goes by as the groups become more practiced at making them!
Challenge No.5 – Accommodation
This was the hardest challenge of all, I was totally outside my comfort zone. Two nights of sleeping under the stars on a glacier and one night in a winter room (a hut in the middle of the mountains which seemed to be precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff). Despite having the warmest sleeping bag I could find and wearing all my clothes, I spent the night shivering and plotting how I was going to get out of the situation the next morning, only I couldn’t, as we’d committed to the journey…
The similarities here are being away from home in a new environment and not having had the best night’s sleep on the first night… not from shivering though, probably from staying up late talking!!
What I have learnt and gained from the experience
I can push myself far more both mentally and physically than I’d ever realised. It’s okay to find things hard. In fact, it’s normal! When we chatted after, my friends had found it hard too. I have lifelong memories and some cool pictures. I have strengthened and cemented friendships. And crying doesn’t always help..!
These lessons are something that I am mindful of when delivering a course throughout the week. Whilst it’s important to have fun (and I love having fun), sometimes the best lessons are learnt from adversity, from being challenged and taken outside your comfort zone. I am always striving to strike the fine balance between fun and challenge, so that when Friday comes, students can head home having enjoyed some fun adventures and learnt how capable they really are. Looking forward to seeing you soon!