Challenge Accepted – Day Three at the Lake District

Challenge with the apprentices

The challenge, should we choose to accept it… a bridge across a 20 foot gap over a fast flowing river using only ropes and a few cabiners (the metal clips used in mountaineering). 

Challenge Accepted

It sounded impossible, or at the very least highly improbable, and yet given a brief set of instructions and the opportunity to learn some skills needed for the task, such as knot tying and how to create tension in a rope safely, these apprentices set off and did it without complaint.

As an observer in this particular task, one of the things that struck me most was the energy the group approached the task with.  They had no background information, very little in the way of detailed instructions, and were simply presented with a kit list and told to manage it all themselves, and they did.  As soon as they were given the brief, every member of the team leapt in to action and took it upon themselves to familiarise themselves with a certain part of the task.  Some undertook the role of planner, looking at the logistics of the project, while others got stuck in trying to learn how to learn knots and understand the mechanics of what was required.  But not one of them sat back and did nothing, and when additional tasks were required, everyone volunteer for something, despite often not knowing what it might entail.  While this posed challenges for some of them a little further down the line, the enthusiasm for getting involved and making sure the project succeeded was an essential element of success for the team, and even when individuals did meet challenges or were unsure of how to fulfil their task, there was no shortage of people stepping up to help.  It was a stark contrast to the day before; despite most of them being exhausted from the long hike the previous day, they were far more organised, and were much more prepared for the day ahead, demonstrating already how much they’d learnt from yesterday’s experience.

Learning to communicate

After gathering all the necessary kit, and undertaking a few brief tutorials in the mechanics of rope work, the team set off to build the real thing.  Divided into two smaller groups, each had their part to play in creating the rope bridge, but neither would succeed without the input of the others.  There was some discussion prior to breaking away into smaller groups, but as it turned out, this wasn’t as comprehensive as they first thought.  At several points during the activity it was discovered that one of the teams had materials the other team needed for their task, and the first challenge of the day was figuring out how to get the parts over to the other side of the river safely.  After a few moments of pondering, the decision was made to use the original rope that had been thrown across the gorge, to ferry the parts to the right side.  Once this system had been tried successfully it became the go to solution for any other misplaced parts, but while figuring out the solution was one thing, communicating it across a wide gap with a river flowing fiercely beneath proved to be the real challenge.  Shouting was initially selected as the primary form of communication, but after proving relatively ineffective, other methods, such as gesticulating and mining, were introduced to help compensate.   This helped the group become much more effective in their communication efforts, doing the best they could in the environment they were in, and while it still wasn’t ideal, it achieved what it needed to.

Once each team had erected their part of the mechanism, it was time to bring it all together, and use it to transport each person across the gap safely.  Again this required a huge amount of team work and communication, with one group working on their side to pull the individual across using the pulley system, and the other team managing the ropes to ensure the person was transported at a steady pace, and that the ‘carriage’ (i.e. two ropes with cabiners to attach the harness to) was retrieved after each go.  It was a physically demanding task, but also required concentration from both sides to ensure everything ran smoothly, as well as clear communication to make sure that people knew to stop if it didn’t.  With 11 people to get over the river, it could easily have proved too much for the group, but with each person’s turn the morale went up instead of down.  Cheering each other on and laughing at the various dismounts made retrieved the groups’ sense of togetherness, and as usual laughter could be hear all round. 

Putting my life in their hands

After watching most of the group have a go with no problem, I concluded I couldn’t miss out, so got harnessed up and got ready to go.  Even before I was attached to the pulley system the group took it upon themselves to make sure I was OK and safe to proceed, helping me into my harness, checking it was safe and making me laugh to distract me from my nerves; by the time I stepped off the edge of the ridge I had no fear at all. 

But the most stunning display of the supportiveness and encouragement from this group came when I witnessed an individual who, despite being terrified of heights, strapped themselves into a harness and allowed themselves to be carried across the ridge by their team mates.  Putting the power into their hands, showed just how much the individual trusted the team to keep them safe, while they took a huge step towards conquering a fear.  If that’s not a demonstration of the power of team work, I couldn’t tell you what is.

(Catching up? Discover what our apprentices were up to on the first and second days of their trip to the Lake District.)