This week, Officer Cadet Dan Hebden Lloyd takes to the Black Mountains in Wales, for Exercise Long Reach. We are told that this rite of passage is never forgotten by British Army officer cadets – although the glasses through which it is viewed become ever more rose-tinted as time passes.
Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith sums up this gargantuan challenge.
There are few events which have occurred during my 23 years on this planet which will be so ingrained upon my memory as that of the 22 hour point of Exercise LONG REACH.
Our group or ‘callsign’, A10A scaled a mountain to reach one of the highest points of the route at 700m – only to find that the unmanned checkpoint that we were aiming for was actually located on the next mountain over. The cause was likely a case of rose-tinted navigation upon the crest of a wave of morale. The solution was to force our tired, beaten bodies to pick up our bergens (rucksacks), lean into the wind and start walking again.
The whole exercise was characterised by contrasts between instances of joy and melancholy. Joy, such as walking along the top of a dam at daybreak after gathering nearly full points in a command task. That is a test of command and mental dexterity under timed conditions with limited resources and extensive rules. And the melancholy that hung over the group after walking for three hours in the middle of the night, fully exposed to the rather brisk wind that the Welsh mountains had provided.
There were moments of hilarity, such as a round of quotes from the TV comedy The Office, when a night’s sleep had been replaced by walking. And gloom at the belief that the group ‘EMIT card’ (tracker) had been lost and that the previous hard-fought steps would have to be retraced in order to retrieve it. Luckily, it had merely been hastily packed into a bergen and the morale vortex its loss would have caused was avoided.
To put it more concisely, Long Reach was a series of very high peaks and very low troughs.
Personally, I learnt a great deal about the how the morale of individuals in the team has a pattern which is somewhat distinct from that of the group. Those who are ‘up’ help those who are ‘down’ to keep their spirits up and to keep moving, because in another few hours, the situation will no doubt be reversed.
We all discovered how much further we could push ourselves beyond our perceived mental and physical boundaries, finally completing the 70km mountainous route in 33 hours and 20 minutes. Certainly not a winning time, unfortunately, but an incredible experience nonetheless.
Read more of Officer Cadet Ledwith’s Sandhurst experiences
Learn more about Dan in our Who’s Who