An emotional expedition – Hannah Matthews

Hannah’s Duke of Edinburgh Experience

I was not new to camping and walking, but when it came to it my Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition was more than just challenging, it was a life changing experience. I had never taken on any previous expeditions and was quite nervous as a direct entrant. I decided to take part, because I wanted to prove to everyone, and myself that I could complete something physically and mentally demanding that was worthwhile. I started the journey in the Yorkshire Dales National Park for 5 days of training. There were many challenging places with steep inclines and one of these was on our night walk preparation when the group climbed Pennyghent.

After many days training for hill walking the time came for us as a group to move on into the Lake District National Park in Cumbria. We set up basecamp at Scarness with an amazing view of Skiddaw. Our groups separated off into teams of 6 (we were a 5) and our group set off along the Lake Bassenwaite at about 5am. We got to Dodd wood in perfect time, and were feeling quite chuffed with ourselves. Then the problems started…. we took a left down a small track and hill for about 30 minutes, and realised we had gone the wrong way. As we were climbing back up we were contemplating where to go. We must have stopped for at least 2 hours, checking the map, compass bearings, observing surroundings… but to no avail. We had to go for it in the end, so we carried on the other way and finally came to the road we were expecting!

After finding our way to the right footpath we were drained, but confident, and continued for a good few hours. As we were so late the moral was brought down slightly, but ever positive Emma, in our team kept us going with singing songs and banter. We managed to get to our campsite at Stonethwaite which was “semi wild”. There were so many rocks around this campsite that we ended up pitching our tent right on top of one!

We ate as much as we could that night and just went to sleep.

In the morning I started feeling unwell. I could not keep up with my team from the off, I decided not to make a fuss because I didn’t want to pull the team down but I took some painkillers and struggled on until the first climb. It was only then that I let my team know that I did not feel up to it, and was the first time I had been reduced to tears over something so minor. As I went on my team encouraged me (some more than others) but I felt the support which was one of the main reasons for me carrying on. I also struggled that whole day, for 6 hours we walked along a boggy ridge, with climbs. As we were almost at the triangulation point, I was overcome with emotion that had been brewing all day, and I had a panic attack and collapsed into my team member’s arms.

I could hear the team panicking around me, yelling at some people passing by for help. I then don’t remember much after that apart from being surrounded by passers-by and having my team huddled around me. The team decided to use our emergency phone to call our teachers who were supervising the expedition. They were reluctant to come and get me as they thought it may not have been serious enough to jeopardise the groups chances of passing the assessment, but the team convinced them that it was and that I needed to be brought off of the ridge. I was very upset, as I thought I would not be able to carry on for the next two days and I would fail my assessment, but my supervisor made sure I was fed, fit and ready to go back to my team the next day. Before this happened I was informed that while I was being brought off of the ridge, my team had carried on but had taken the wrong turn for the next campsite and one had injured themselves badly, so badly they had to drop out. The whole team were also brought back to basecamp at Scarness and we were driven to a new starting point the next day.

The next day was slightly better than the second, bearing in mind I walked 100 metres and broke down in tears again convinced I was not able to continue. The whole team was then in tears as they would not be able to carry on as a 3 and desperately tried to convince me that I should carry on. I rung our leader on the emergency phone and he and the other members of the team gave us a team talk and finally got me going.

The day was full of ups and downs, I started badly and was still struggling, but with more singing and pointless conversations I managed to keep going until we got to the next campsite. We ate the rest of our food and settled down for a good nights sleep.

The final day was the most exciting, only about half a days walking and we were on track. We were supposed to be walking the whole of Lake Windermere in about 3-4 hours, little did we know, our route had been cut short and we were not doing it at all. We got halfway round the lake and decided we needed to walk on the road until we got to the other sides pathway, but as soon as we hit the road, we meet our leader in the little blue minibus. He said “we’ve seen enough, get in”. We looked in shock. “Are you serious?” we all burst into tears and were driven back to basecamp.

Duke of Edinburgh Gold was one of the most emotionally and phsyically challenging experiences of my life, I would do it again, and I feel that I have gained a great deal as a person from the experience.

Hannah Matthews
Southend on Sea