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17 May 2022

From Rathdowney to Reykjavik

From Rathdowney to Reykjavik

Bruce Doyle, a 3rd Year Student in St. Fergal’s College Rathdowney took part in the Crean Challenge in Iceland in February. This event is one of the toughest challenges on the Scouting calendar and requires several months of preparation. Here Bruce tells us about what he’s done to prepare for such an adventure and gives us a report on the trip itself.

My name is Bruce and I’m from the 2nd Laois (Rathdowney) Scout Group.  For me, the Crean Challenge process began in March 2021, when I had to apply with a written CV and a Video Application detailing why they should choose me to be part of this experience. 

In June, 2021, an email came through from the Crean Challenge team confirming that I got accepted.  Initially, I thought I’d been lucky enough to have been accepted into a group that would challenge for places amongst the final expedition team, but at the initial meeting, it soon became apparent that I’d been chosen as one of the lucky 32 Scouts, from all around Ireland to participate in the Crean Challenge 2022. 

I’m a 3rd Year Scout, having made my way through the Scout Groups Beavers and Cubs Section and age was a limiting factor, this was my one and only chance, as Covid had prevented the previous year’s challenge.   

The preparation for the expedition began officially in August 2021 and there were 4 training weekends planned, in addition to the 4 training hikes that I had to complete separately (minimum 15km distance and 500m in height) and complete 2 projects as set out by the Crean Challenge mentors.  Each training weekend took place in a different part of Ireland.

We began with a Backwoods Camp in Castleconnell (Limerick), where we camped and Hammocked and cooked Irish Stew over an open fire.  This was our first get together camp and it was on this weekend that the 32 Scouts were broken up into the four patrols of 8 and I became a member of the Green Patrol.  We’d be in these patrols for the remainder of the challenge.

Then went to the Galtees for the second weekend (Burncourt, Co. Tipperary), where we had a 10hr hike on the Galtees, honing in on our navigation and mapwork skills.  Again, we camped on our own and did everything as a patrol and it was on this weekend that we first experienced our cooking stoves, that we would be using in Iceland.

In November we headed to the east of the country, to Lough Dan (Roundwood, Co. Wicklow) where we completed a night hike over Scarr and then set up camp in the early hours of Saturday morning, before an early rise for a day hike around Tonelagee, where we practiced our River Crossings, which would be similar to some of the challenges we could expect to encounter in Iceland.   All four Patrols navigated and hiked in lone patrol formation, reaching check points set up across the hills.  

In January 2022 we travelled south to Cronin’s Yard (Killarney, Co. Kerry) were we climbed Carrauntoohil on our last Group activity, before the trip itself.  This weekend was kind of special as the covid Restrictions were beginning to be relaxed nationwide and we could all begin to mix as one group, as on the previous weekends we were restricted to mixing only within our patrols.  After climbing Carrauntoohil, and to mark the completion of the training weekends the leaders put on a BBQ and presented us with our Crean Challenge Jackets….. next time we would all meet as a group, would be in Dublin Airport on the 19th February.

Between Training Weekend 4 and the departure date to Iceland, I had to complete my projects, tidy up my log-book and study for my Junior Cert Mock exams.  But once these were completed on the 18th, I headed off to Dublin airport in the early hours of the 19th February.  To be totally honest, I hadn’t really experienced anything like the nervousness and anxiety that I felt in the car on the way up to Dublin airport. 

While my parents and brother tried to distract me and occupy my thoughts, my stomach was doing somersaults all the way up the M7….. but as soon as we got to the T1 Short Term carpark, I saw two other Scouts in their Crean Jackets and the nerves left quite quickly.  After a brief ‘cheerio’ with the family, the Expedition team moved upstairs in Terminal One, allowing family and friends to head home.  It was then, the trip really begun….

Upon arrival in Iceland, we were very lucky to make it out to USU (Scout Centre).  Weather warnings were in place all over Reykjavik and many roads closed.  We had to swap out our first bus for a 4x4 bus capable of travel in such harsh conditions.   After a brief walk around the centre on the Saturday evening, we settled into our dormitories, which would be our accommodation for the next few nights.  

After breakfast on the Sunday, we completed our route cards before some dinner which comprised of pasta and hot dogs.  Then we went out to the snow to clear some patches to set up their tents for the night as we were camping out on the Sunday night.  It took about 2 hours to dig down to grass level and clear enough space for the 2 tents that our patrol would use.

After breakfast on Monday, we put away our camping gear and then we went for a short hike to get used to the conditions, which comprised of very strong winds and deep snow, several meters in places.  On the Sunday the Weather warnings were extended until Tuesday, so Mondays preparation hike to a Power station was very weather dependant, but thankfully it went ahead, as planned.

However, the weather turned while we were out hiking and the storm conditions came in earlier than expected.  If anything, this was a good learning experience of how quickly the weather can change and why you need to ‘Bi Ullamh’ (Be Prepared).  Thankfully all scouts made it back for some well deserved lunch, showers and rest time ahead of our cultural evening, where we got to try some delicacies of Iceland - sheep's head, whale blubber and fermented shark.  I didn’t eat too much of what was on offer, but thankfully we were served up a lamb dinner by the Scouters that evening, so we all went to bed with full bellies. 

The weather outside had gotten worse throughout the day and while we settled down to watch a movie (Everest), candles were on the ready as power cuts were expected, due to the stormy weather conditions.  As things stood, we had to wait and see what the weather was like on Tuesday as regards doing the planned activities.

Unfortunately, the storm didn’t improve and we woke up still in a ‘red weather’ warning area.  The storm conditions put a stop to any outside activities, with the strong winds (23m per second) and snowfall, so fast and hard, that it felt like bullets of ice hitting my body.  We finalised our Route Cards for the expedition hike, we learned about first aid scenarios that would be specific to our environment for the hike, carried out gear checks and kept up to speed with the latest weather reports for the next 24/36 hours.  At this stage, we were hoping and praying that the weather would ease up tonight and leave a suitable window to start hiking at 6am tomorrow.  

Wednesday was a very early start with breakfast at 5.30am and the first patrol out the door at 6.30am.  Unfortunately, the original planned route had to be changed late on Tuesday evening due to avalanche risks on the original route left from the storm weather.  Our planned overnight hike accommodation where now inaccessible, so the new route meant we started from and returned to our current accommodation centre. 

The new route was just as challenging if not more so, as the recent storms had left over metre deep of fresh snow that we had to try and navigate through as well as the treacherous conditions on the hills.  Thankfully all scouts had received training in fitting and using crampons (spikes for our boots) by an Iceland Mountain Rescue team, who joined us on the hike, as it would have been impossible to complete without this additional footwear.  Our Chief Scout (Jill Pitcher Farrell) who had flown into to join us on the Tuesday evening was assigned to hike with our patrol for the hike, so this added an extra bit of importance to successfully completing the hike.

Thankfully all patrols made it back safely to the USU (Scout Centre).  The Crampons were needed for most of the hike as there was lots if ice.  It was a challenging but rewarding hike for all and some amazing views were witnessed along the way.   We bulked up on some well deserved chocolate cake ahead of dinner and then finished up a few programme bits and bobs that needed to be completed, but mostly we had a chance to relax and update our logbooks.

On Thursday, we departed USU are moved into a local scout den in Reykjavik (Capital of Iceland), but before we headed off we did some rope-work and ice axe training. We arrived at the scout den in Reykjavik, had some time to work on our logbook, then we walked to the geo thermal pool which was so warm and a great relax after our hard week. That night we got some pizza for tea ….. 

On Friday we had hoped to head back into Reykjavik town centre to explore the city, but because the weather had turned again, we only got as far as a large shopping mall but at least we could spend our Icelandic Króna and finished off the evening with the awards ceremony, at which both our own Chief Scout, Jill and the vice Chief Scout of Iceland attended, they said a few words and presented all the participants with their awards. 

As we had such an early flight back to Dublin on the Saturday, no sleep but lots of fun was had on the Friday night and we departed the Scout Hall at 3am Saturday morning for the journey to the airport that would eventually bring us home to Ireland for 10am, where we were met by our family and friends.

Trips like this don’t just happen – there’s a massive amount of work to get such an expedition to a successful conclusion. I want to thank all the Crean Challenge team for giving me the opportunity to have been part of the 2022 Crean challenge, especially my mentors, Morgan and Megan.  I also want to thank my own Leaders from 2nd Laois (Rathdowney) Scout Group who helped me along with this Challenge.”

The whole thing is still just crazy to me, going from a random campsite with 32 random teenagers to a scout den in Iceland with 32 new friends.

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