The Ten Tors Challenge
There may be many challenging outdoor events in Britain today, but Ten Tors stands alone in its scale, its ambition and the fact that it is aimed solely at young people. The event takes place every year on Dartmoor during the weekend following the May public holiday and is now firmly established in the collective consciousness of the South West. All those who attempt Ten Tors will undoubtedly remember it for the rest of their lives and for many it will be a life-changing experience.
Training for the Event is the responsibility of the participants’ Establishments and often starts months in advance. Completing Ten Tors is not easy with the terrain, distances and often the climate all conspiring against success. It is achievable with the right commitment, training, endurance and grit: as the Event’s founder once said: “If there is anything more important than the will to succeed, it is that the will shall not falter.”
The Event starts and finishes at Okehampton Camp and is organised by the Army’s Headquarters South West with support from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force as well as civilian emergency services and volunteers.
The Ten Tors Challenge
The Ten Tors Challenge is attempted by 2,400 teenagers in 400 teams of six. The teams navigate routes of 35, 45 or 55 miles (depending on age) over the northern half of Dartmoor National Park, visiting ten nominated tors/check points in under two days. The determination of those taking part should not be understated; they trek unaided over different 35, 45 or 55 mile routes and encounter some of the toughest terrain and highest peaks in southern England. They rely on their navigational skills and carry all their food, water, bedding, tents and other essentials on their backs. It is a feat they must complete as a team and without any help from adults, remaining entirely self-sufficient during their arduous expeditions, including camping out overnight on the moor.
Ten Tors Selection and Training
Ten Tors Selection begins in late December or early January with all participants fighting for a place in six-person 35 and 45 mile teams.
The weekends are intended to be a proving ground for the cadets with a degree of self-elimination being the order of the day. Such is the intensity of the training, and the importance attached to all the elements of training, that any cadet who is unable to commit to all the training weekends finds that they are automatically excluded from the draw.
The Directing Staff (DS) are looking for a number of factors from the cadets that they hope will establish the winners and losers. Naturally, a commitment to train was considered vital. In addition enthusiasm, personal fitness, team spirit, good humour, adaptability and navigational skills are closely assessed over the course of the first weekend.
So what is it that is so appealing to cadets that they will walk more than 35 or 45 miles over two days, over wet, windy, bumpy moorland carrying heavy loads, navigating purely by map and compass, carrying all their food, water and survival gear on their backs and camping out? One of the DS put it like this, “I believe that cadets get a great deal from Ten Tors and the personal challenge that it involves. Of course they get a medal at the end if they complete it and all cadets want to get a medal, but the challenge comes from within themselves, actually putting themselves to the test with map reading and the difficult terrain. I think that's what they actually want to involve themselves for.”
He continued, “If the weather is appalling during the training phases it's actually good training because it makes them concentrate more on the map, having to use pacing, keeping together as a team and looking after each other. If it was sunny and clear all the time it would be too easy and that's when mistakes are made. The bad weather does make them concentrate more and then you find that it brings on their map reading skills, so that on the competition if it the weather is like this they can actually do it themselves.”
Train Hard - Fight Easy is the quietly stated motto of the Ten Tors challengers. One cadet put on a brave face back at Okehampton despite her injuries. She was asked what made her want to do the event, replying, “Well, I got told that, being a ‘female’ I wouldn't be able to do it! So it was my idea to prove that I can do it!” She continued, “Horrible! The conditions were really horrible - non-stop mist in your face, you couldn’t see, it was cold and very windy - it was like Yoxter really - just a lot worse!”
What did her friends at school say when they learnt that she was doing this? “They don't believe that I'm actually doing it because I'm this 'girly girl' kind of character and I'm not really one to get muddy and get out there!” Will they be more impressed when they see the shots of her on the web site or will they think that she’s completely barking now? “Well, maybe both!” responded a grinning cadet despite the unknown severity of her injuries, adding, “I’ll be back next month for more training.”
Ten Tors is classed as an APC Syllabus subject, contributing as it does map reading and navigational skills as well as fostering keen team qualities, where leadership skills can be honed and polished. Says a DS, “I have seen cadets, and I know this for a fact with other ACFs as well, who have successfully completed Ten Tors and then they've been out on exercise with their platoon and have taken charge and led their cadets back to where they needed to be using the skills learnt on the event.”
Outstanding map reading skills, strong backs and legs, bags of determination, resilience, inspiration, positive leadership and a healthy dose of humour is what will enable the teams to succeed - all skills or strengths that the Army Cadets fosters so well.
“Awesome banter,” was how one cadet will remember the event and the friendships formed. “The hardest thing is the mental strain,” said another.
“Going to bed was the best bit,” said one, whilst another countered that by adding, “And getting up was the worst bit!”
One thing that they all agreed on was that they would do it again - it was a walk in the park - a national park!
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