Well done to our SI627 – Expedition Physiology – students for another successful expedition, marking the 16th consecutive year since Dr Neil Maxwell started the module and the annual trip in 2004. This year, again led by Dr Alan Richardson, saw us back in Brecon Beacons where we arguably had the most spectacular weather yet. Thirty students, with leaders Dr Alan Richardson, Dr Mark Hayes, Dr Nick Smeeton, Dr Neil Maxwell and Rebecca Relf took to the Black Mountain hills of Wales donned in a multitude of outdoor gear, albeit not with as much suncream as was needed (isn’t that right Frank and Charlotte!).

We again stayed at Llanddeusant Youth Hostel, that is in the heart of the Brecon Beacons (and right beside a graveyard), allowing us to be straight up on the hill in the morning. The students had a night in the hostel and a night under canvas, before bed bingo to decide which would be their fate for the last night! Even with the weather as good as it was (evidenced by Nick’s – aka David Bailey – photos around base camp), proximity to the snorers (and you know who you are) seemed to be the key determinant of a successful night of sleep, rather than if you got a bed or not! However, there was much hilarity as Alan revealed the decisions…student by student. Chivalry goes right out of the window, with the guys being as hungry for the beds as the girls!

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The students were assessed on their menu planning and awareness  of expedition nutrition, navigation (both preparing route cards and their competency using a variety of techniques while out on the hill), incident management from being presented with a scenario and leadership of a group. It is challenging, but also an opportunity for the students to really step up and show what they have learnt from earlier in the module…with navigation arguably being a lifelong skill they can take with them when they graduate.

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Over the two days of actual walking, most groups covered between 40-45 km in distance, 2000 m of ascent and navigated across some pretty rough terrain. There were frequent streams/small rivers to cross. This year it was not too difficult since the ground was drier than normal, but there were still a few close calls.  Berenice found out the hard way that her boots were definitely not waterproof!  Mark did not spot any green-eyed feline this year, but multiple groups saw foxes and so maybe next year! Neil’s group won the prize for staying out the latest both days, with two 11 hour days under their belt.

One of the groups, self-named as the Sheep Savers by their act of kindness and bravery started their second day by rescuing a small flock (actually 5) lambs who had inadvertently got trapped between two fields. Feeling unable to walk by, they put on their imaginary superhero masks and got to work.  The girls (Rebecca, Ellie and Berenice) took the first action, scouting out the field for access and tried to corral the lambs towards a low gap in the fence. With the Great Escape music or was it Mission Impossible ringing in his ear, Dan Littler went under in hot pursuit!

From there it was a mixture of comical (both watching the lambs and listening to Josh Hill and Rebecca Relf commentating) and brutal, as we watched lambs bounce off fences and fence posts, desperately trying to evade the students and get back into the field. If you have a spare 5 and a half minutes, the two videos below are worth every minute!

Would you believe, within minutes the Sheep Savers were back in action as they found yet another lamb trapped. This time it was Jack Blenkarn and Josh Hill who donned their superman outfits, extricated the lamb’s head which had got stuck in the fence and saved the day!

With the weather this year we had some spectacular views to enjoy!

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However, our students like to have fun, whether at their own expense, Nick Smeeton’s…or just Dan Littler’s…again!

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Back at the youth hostel, there was always a mad dash for the toilet or shower, but the students enjoyed regaling stories from the day’s walking (and sometime a bit more Mel!), while making up for lost calories.  The leaders enjoyed a few glasses of purely medicinal wine and those heading outside, clung onto the last few rays of sunshine that might keep them warm throughout the night.

Well done to Alan who put so much into organising yet another successful expedition. To the students, well done for getting stuck in and making the expedition memorable. As always, our annual expedition was eventful, but as the saying goes…what goes on tour stays on tour! Until next year…

P.S. The leaders promise they did not set off the fire alarm deliberately on the final morning to get the students up early to clean the youth hostel!