Why Outward Bound means so much to Geoff Hepburn, 23 years on

Former participant and now fundraiser, Geoff Hepburn recounts his return to Loch Eil to complete The Outward Bound® 24 Hour Highlands Challenge and reflects on the skills he learn't two decades ago; which still carries with him.

I’m 40, married with two kids, a dog and a battered old estate car! During the week, I generally drive a desk and pootle around with spreadsheets. Any time outside with work, is always in the city. There's plenty interaction with people, which I like and my life is pretty much the usual 'office job' stereotype, of which I've learned to enjoy.

In 1992 I was lucky enough to be chosen for a 3-week Loch Eil Outward Bound Scholarship. As an active, sporty kid from a beautiful Perthshire town, this was a dream come true. At the time, I reckoned I’d enjoy the course; I certainly know that at the time, I wouldn’t want to become the stereotype that I now am. How dull. How boring…

24 Hr Challenge Sailing (1)

Roll forward 23 years and I’m back at Loch Eil taking part in a '24 hour Mountain Challenge' as a fundraiser. When I first saw the email asking for volunteers, the itinerary looked fun rather than challenging – sailing, trekking, climbing, abseiling – all things I love to do. But the major challenge for me was to raise £5k in 7 weeks…it seemed a big ask.  To raise that sort of money from scratch, but overcoming obstacles is what The Trust is all about, isn’t it?!

I haven’t kept in touch with The Trust since the early 90’s but my experiences at Loch Eil have always kept in touch with me. I’ve had plenty of crossroads, in different stages in my life. I’ve learned (sometimes with hindsight) that when faced with a problem, I should try and take a step back and think rationally. To try to be resourceful and not be afraid to use as much support as there is available, to get through it.

24 Gr Challenge Geoff And Tony (3)I’ve often reflected on the gentle approach The Trust embodies in its course leaders and it’s great to see that spirit 23 years on. Our '24 Hour Challenge' course leaders, Emma, John and Tony (the Centre Director) each exude a gentle warmth and confidence that encourages openness and inclusion. The natural way they phrase simple questions promotes confidence and active participation from the team and the team learns to trust each other.

My clan in 1992 comprised a random collection of 16-18 year olds. The majority were part of the same scholarship that I was on, although we didn’t know each other as we were all from different schools.  One guy came on his own. His parents a wealthy Swiss family needing somewhere for him to go in summer and a few others kids came via a fostering programme from England. We were an eclectic bunch of state and privately educated adolescents. Some boarders, some goodie two-shoes, some mischief makers – all of us excitable and nervous individuals.

24 Hr Challenge Jacobs Ladder (1)As a 17 year old faced with the fearsome Jacob’s Ladder (a series of telegraph poles set out as a giant ladder where the gaps between the rungs increase to 7/8 ft as you climb it) - it’s a daunting prospect. Three on the ground on belay; three on the ladder. On our first attempt, it took us 20 minutes of grunting, sweating, slipping and falling… you eventually realise that despite your best individual physical and agile climbing efforts, you HAVE to work as a team of 6 to get the whole team up. With plenty of communication and encouragement, the second attempt took 5 minutes. Moreover, it was hugely rewarding as we’d succeeded by co-operating. By trusting in the team. 

The things I learned from my course in 1992 still ring true today. We humans are a peculiar bunch. We should be proud of our individual strengths, aware of our weaknesses but not be afraid of laying them open. Positive communication and encouragement. Inclusion and trust. Challenge the stereotype and you’ll be surprised at what you find. 

Like many things in my life, the answer is often staring me in the face. That’s what I love most about Outward Bound. The most important message was right there all along. Trust.

If you'd like to register your interest for our 2016 event contact enquiries@outwardbound.org.uk, typing '24 Hour Challenge' in the subject line.