Thursday 22 September

Six Weeks in the Rockies with the CCF - Will Johnson (Year 13)

Will J1

Will J2

My experience of Canada on exercise with the Combined Cadet Force gave me a summer that I will certainly never forget.

It all began with a hopeful application last November and then a selection weekend in Woolwich in March. When I received the call up a week later I was overjoyed and very much looking forward to a summer like nothing I’d experienced before.

We arrived at the Canadian camp in early July, situated deep in the Rockies and surrounded by dense forest. It became normal to see white-tail deer roaming the camp, small ground squirrels and chipmunks. This contributed to a feeling of being truly removed from our modern comforts and hectic lifestyles.

My first cycle was rock climbing and we spent our week climbing progressively larger mountain faces within the Rockies. I hadn’t done much rock climbing previously but it was the perfect place to start, with unparalleled views. Sadly, we were prevented from progressing onto multi-pitch climbing by the weather, which forced us to finish the cycle inside.

Our next cycle was glacier climbing but before we began that we attended the Calgary Stampede, an internationally famous festival with a Wild West-style rodeo and an awful lot of food including Poutine and deep fried Oreos. I would recommend it to anyone who is in the area at the right time.

Glacier trekking was next and was the standout cycle of my time in Canada; it was probably the greatest physical challenge due to the altitude coupled with the steep terrain that seemed to go on forever. Our instructors were Eric, an extremely experienced Canadian mountaineer, and Cchering, a guide and Sherpa from Nepal who had summited Everest eight times. The sense of achievement and the ridiculous views from the summit were the reason that this activity will stand out in my memory forever.

We followed this with a parade through the streets of Banff, where we later went shopping and enjoyed eating Beaver Tails, a pastry covered in chocolate! The next two cycles were mountain biking and white-water canoeing and each presented very physical challenges.

We ended the run of cycles with Alpine trekking - 47km through the Rocky Mountains along the continental divide. Yet again, the views were spectacular and the side expeditions to summit nearby mountains ensured that morale remained at a high level. I performed well on this cycle and was recognised with a cadet of the week award as a result, which I was very pleased with.

We progressed onto horseback riding, a completely new experience for me, and it was everything I could have hoped for, riding with the most picturesque backdrop imaginable. It was the perfect way to cap off an amazing experience.

The experience of the six weeks in Canada will remain with me forever and I cannot endorse it enough. This is due, in no small part, to the fantastic Canadian cadets, who were welcoming from the very start and made the trip light-hearted, fun and memorable.