David Sills
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David Sills - Ullswater, The Lake District, 1962

Outward Bound U75
Dates: 27th December 1962 - 22nd January 1963
Sponsored by William Press & Son (now AMEC)
Expeditions to form final part of Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award

Arrived at school on a cold snowy afternoon late December in what was to be the UK's coldest winter for 200 years. At the introductory talk all new arrivals who had beards were told to shave them off by the morning and anyone who smoked was informed that if they were observed smoking whilst on the course they would be sent home. In addition anyone seen in any of the bars in the local villages would also be sent home....Welcome to the Outward Bound!

We were then formed into 12 man patrols and allocated our bunk room and patrol name; ours was Wymper, after Edward Wymper the first man to climb the Matterhorn. First task was to improve our fitness and stamina for the tasks ahead, this regime started with circuit training in the gym followed by cross country runs and the more interesting knot practice, map reading, orienteering and first aid. We were taught how to pack the rucksacks with all our expedition gear along with the extra sleeping bag we would all need...all kits had to weigh 32lb. for each expedition.

One early morning during the first week a canoeing exercise was scheduled - a very interesting and short experience...we were wearing shorts and anoraks, the centre of Lake Ullswater was frozen over and the margins was covered in octagonal ice floes about 200mm across. With difficulty we managed to make a path through the ice but it was so cold the water dripping off the paddles froze on the hairs of our legs followed by a build up of ice in the bottom of the canoe! After a while it was agreed that it was far too cold for such an exercise so thankfully all retreated back to base for a hot shower and warm up, however the shower walls were covered in sheet ice hence our shower wasn't really very warming...all in all a pretty cold experience!
Outward Bound schools curricula, I imagine were all very similar, U75 was memorable for the extreme weather. Deep snow when we arrived and was still on the ground when we left, and daytime temperatures which never went above freezing.

Back then our hiking kit was nothing like the high tech gear available today, boots were leather with vibram soles, trousers were corduroys or jeans! Jackets were close woven cotton anoraks accompanied by balaclavas and thick woollen jumpers. These basics were supplemented by the school with wind proof trousers and large yellow over anoraks with a reinforced weave....all just a bit heavy!

The rock climbing gear consisted of pitons, carabineers and the recently introduced nylon ropes. Early OB courses would have had to make do with hemp ropes which would have frozen solid in the conditions we were about to experience, even our nylon froze and became very difficult to handle!
I personally enjoyed the rock climbing expeditions having in the past attending Joe Brown's rock climbing school in Llanberris, Wales and was a regular climber at Harrison's Rocks in Kent and really enjoyed climbing Shepherd Crags up in the Lakes.
On our first rock climbing trip our OB leader Mr Belo asked who had previous experience, rather over zealously I stuck my hand up..."�Good"� came the reply "you won't be too scared then"�. They proceeded to strap me in the mountain rescue stretcher; I recall being bobbed along and lowered over and down the cliff face, all a trifle unnerving knowing my fellow patrol members were complete novices! Needless to say I survived the experience but would have much preferred to climb.

Our patrols first expedition was a planned three day event, it snowed for much of the time.
Early on the hike we learnt to walk on the sunnier side of the valleys where the snow had had a chance to melt and refreeze so was not so deep to walk in. The wind scoured fell tops were much easier to walk on although bitterly cold, with no lying snow apart from the wind-blown cornices which curled over the cliff edges. Our leader had plenty of opportunity to teach us how to use the ice axes and we even had an attempt at ice climbing up a frozen waterfall.
At Red Tarn we found a sheep that had ventured out on the ice presumably for a drink, but her legs had gone through and she was a frozen block of ice
The first night (New Years Eve) we set up camp completely exhausted and spent a bitterly cold night in our two man tents. We woke early the next morning, I remember our first big mistake...leaving our boots inside the tents...ice had encrusted them inside and out, we had to break and scoop out the ice with spoons and putting on frozen boots with already cold feet wasn't a pleasant experience! Similarly our woollen gloves had frozen solid to the ice axe heads. Breakfast was a disaster with frozen eggs skimming around the pan together with the equally frozen slab of bacon; it all took ages to cook and really didn't resemble the normal delicious fry-up! But eat it all we did finishing off our feast with a large slab of fruit and nut and a chunk of good old Kendal Mint cake! The second night, although equally as cold, our tough lessons of survival had us sleeping with our boots and equipment, in the sleeping bags! Upon our return to school I had a dose of snow blindness which lasted for two days...a bit scary I recall.

Most memorable was the main expedition again planned over three days and nights. Our brief was to depart from school heading over the Hevelyn range, climb Scafell via Esk Hause and return by a different route.
It was blowing a gale over Sticks Pass and lumps of ice were flying through the air, hitting us with terrific force and making such a racket. One of our patrol was a slightly built guy who was suddenly blown over and bowled along the fell top. We pinned him down, holding him as he stood up, then keeping him between us flapping like a flag until we could get into the lee of the rocks. Shortly after that another guy stepped into a snow filled gully, only his head and shoulders stuck out and thankfully was only prevented from going deeper by his rucksack! I recall it taking a while to dig him out and we were all relieved to get down from the pass; the wind had been truly ferocious that day.

Our chosen route was up Raise, down to Thirlemere, over to Watenlath, then on up Langsrath to Scafell. Four very brave OB instructors who had camped at Esk Hause were checking us on and off the summit, they had been there for 3 nights in absolutely atrocious conditions. I remember their heads popping briefly from the cover of their tent taking our names and retreating from the screaming wind. I certainly didn't envy their job!

Our return route took us via Angle Tarn, Langdale and onto Ullswater via Grisdale Hause. Going back was a slow slog in the deep snow. We hiked to just before dark on each day eating plenty of chocolate and mint cake and were pretty exhausted when we arrived back at the school. That evening meal was never more welcome, even the hot tea laced with bromide went down a treat.

It was not all hard grind; one sunny cold Sunday we borrowed some aluminium serving trays from the canteen and went tobogganing until dark on the hill beside the school. We must have been spotted as upon our return we were told that as we had polished the bases of the trays so well we could polish the canteens remaining trays with brillos before turning in for the night. The fun was worth it!

Did I learn anything from the course?

The Outward Bound Motto ' To Serve to Strive and Not to Yield', was certainly very relevant to U75 that year.
There was plenty of Striving and Not Yielding but at to Serving it was limited to acting as beaters in the deep snow for the local fox hunt and chopping logs for a local hotel.

Sadly, all personal memorabilia from my course succumbed to a house fire. During a long postponed visit to the school in 2014 I was very kindly given copies of photographs and reports related to U75 and after 50 years, was invited to write the memories of my experiences.