Shrewsbury School

Six weeks of challenge and adventure with the Royal Canadian Army

Thursday 13 September 2018

Shrewsbury CCF Royal Marine cadets Sergeant Emma Graham (Head of School) and Lance Corporal James Weir spent an incredible six weeks during the summer on an intensive adventurous training and leadership programme.

Having undergone a nationwide selection process in the Brecon Beacons over Easter, Emma and James were two of just 24 UK cadets chosen for the 'Leadership and Challenge' Royal Canadian Army Exchange programme, which is sponsored by the MOD.

They describe their experiences...



My six weeks were composed of six different adventurous activities (cycles) based in the Rocky Mountains. I was one of 12 British cadets and we joined up with about 150 Canadian cadets. We were split into six platoons, each with around 30 people. Within each cycle we were further broken up into smaller groups and evaluated at the end. We took it in turns to take leadership of the platoon, which was not easy with a lot of “chiefs” and not so many “indians”.

I started the first half of my first week horse-trekking through rocky back country and dried river beds. It was more beautiful than challenging, but got me into the swing of things. We spent between one and three nights of each cycle camping, and had to get used to the Canadian-style ration packs – not easy! In the latter half of the week I was put through a Canadian Red Cross and a Rocky Mountain Wilderness first-aid course.

The second week was the rock climbing cycle, I had never climbed on natural rock faces before this, and by the end of the week I had learned a sufficient amount to complete my first multi-pitch up a 100ft cliff-face. Glacier-trekking had not originally caught my eye as an adrenaline-fuelled experience, unlike many of the other cycles. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the amazing views and the harsh conditions. Our guide had summited Everest seven times, which was pretty impressive!

Mountain biking on week four was possibly my favourite cycle but also undoubtedly the most physically demanding, as it is one thing to walk up a mountain but cycling up one is considerably more tiring: nearly four hours up and 20 minutes down in thunder and lightning. This cycle managed to rack up the greatest number of injuries, with one guy managing break his arm and another who dislocated his shoulder in my platoon alone. On the fourth and final day of cycling we summited Barrier Mountain, eating our lunch with exceptional views of the blue lakes below.

Throughout the course I had most been looking forward to the white water cycle, and with a fair bit of experience of kayaking from my D of E, I was feeling quite confident. By the end of day one, I knew that confident was the last thing that I was going to be feeling whilst going down the river. Each day the rapids got progressively harder, and on the last day we were able to have a go at a grade three rapid called double edge – some more successfully than others!

My final cycle was Alpine trekking, which was also in my eyes not destined to be filled with excitement. But although the walking was pretty tough, I actually really enjoyed the cycle, as I had a really good group and the views just about topped the ones from the glacier cycle.

The sense of achievement after each cycle and more broadly over the whole six-week course was immense, as I can now claim to have summited Mt Hable and Barrier Mountain, seen a bear and survived the grade three rapids along the Red Deer River in a kayak - amongst many other things. Fitness tests, inter-platoon sports competitions and highland games, interspersed with the Calgary Stampede, a parade in Banff and a visit to BATUS meant that the weekends were action-packed as well. I have left with new friends and some extraordinary memories.

Editor's note: Emma modestly does not mention in her account that she was also given the Best UK Cadet Award.


James - "397.3 kilometres on manpower alone":

I was selected to attend the arduous Expedition Instructor Course, which meant that the majority of my six weeks in Canada would be spend in the wilds, on the river and under the stars. I travelled with 24 other British Cadets to the Cadet Training Centre Argonaut, in New Brunswick, where we spent a week training and being taught how we were to conduct ourselves outside in the field, including safety and first-aid.

We then travelled on to the Bay of Fundy, where we started our 23-day expedition. Our first period was the walking (or tabbing) with heavy packs across the bay area. I enjoyed the challenge of the hills and also the spectacular views that stretched out across the Atlantic coastline.

Next we moved on to canoeing. For this cycle we were on the Yukon River that marks the border between the USA and Canada. I enjoyed this test, as I am a rower and am comfortable in water and with how to paddle and balance a canoe. I also especially enjoyed the evenings when we would start a fire and relax and discuss a hard day of paddling.

We then changed for our final period, which was the biking cycle. This was quite different, as we learned not just how to ride in arduous terrain, but also such skills as abseiling down vertical cliffs. We also undertook some community service, clearing litter from forested areas and giving something back to the beautiful countryside.

When we finished our expedition, we headed back to camp where we spent the rest of our time in our groups with Canadian cadets. Before finally returning to camp, our instructor congratulated us by saying, “Well done! 397.3 kilometres on manpower alone!”.

Over the course of the expedition I got to know the Canadians and made very good friends with most of them. At the end of camp we were presented with our Achievement Badges and T-shirts and told who had won unofficial awards. Our group of Brits then spent a few days exploring the city of Halifax, before heading back to the UK.

I am happy to say that this was the opportunity of a lifetime, where I made friends and worked with brilliant people, saw some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen and had the most fun I’ve ever had. If I could, I would do it all over again. I am really grateful to Lt Col David for nominating me and Emma Graham for the selection course in Wales.


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