What does it take to complete the Ten Tors Challenge?
PUBLISHED: 17:23 29 April 2019 | UPDATED: 17:23 29 April 2019
Weather, grit and walking boots - ABI LEIGHTON-BOYCE talks to Lieutenant Colonel Crispin d’Apice about what it takes to tackle the Ten Tors
Ask a Devonian what the words Ten Tors conjure up and the response is invariably: Dartmoor, walk, weather and blisters. The annual outdoor challenge is well known throughout the county for its epic trek across tricky terrain in unpredictable and frequently inhospitable weather.
It requires excellent navigation skills and the strength to carry two days' worth of food and shelter on your back. It is undertaken by 14- to 18-year-olds to be proudly typed up in UCAS personal statements (not to mention job application forms) for years to come.
This year marks the 60th year since the concept of Ten Tors came together and remarkably there have been 59 events in that time (2001 being the exception: the result of restrictions put in place during the foot-and-mouth outbreak).
The brainchild of Army officers Colonel Gregory and Captain John Joyner, who were inspired by Dartmoor-based military training exercises for young servicemen, the first Ten Tors Expedition to welcome civilians covered 55 miles and ten checkpoints from Haytor to Denbury Camp. The event is now exclusively targeted at school children predominantly from the South West.
Organised and managed by The Army's Headquarters South West, a dedicated team brings together an impressive cohort of services and organisations, some of them voluntary. This ensures the smooth running of the event and the safety of its participants.
This year, 2,400 teenagers are expected to attempt the Ten Tors Challenge - with the option of a 35-, 45- or 55-mile walk over the weekend of 10 to 12 May, including one night of camping.
A further 400 participants will take part in the Jubilee Challenge which is designed for young people with a range of challenging conditions and gives schools the opportunity to tailor a route to their students' needs.
Selection for both challenges is down to the individual schools taking part and many are inundated with applicants. Teams are limited to six people but establishments often get 30 or 40 students competing for a place.
It's not just physical fitness which counts, as Event Coordinator, Lieutenant Colonel Crispin d'Apice explains: “Everyone needs to pull together and get along so team managers are trained to select applicants who demonstrate empathy and common sense as well as the ability to look after themselves and others.”
Crispin is a passionate devotee, having completed Ten Tors three times during his school years: “There aren't many outdoor, youth-directed events of this scale in the UK. In fact Ten Tors could be considered unique!
“It's also a huge commitment for everyone - from the parents, teachers and team managers, to our partners: the Navy, RAF and Dartmoor Rescue Group, to name but a few. It's important to bring on that next generation; to ensure they are engaged with the outdoor world and aware of its power and environmental vulnerabilities.”
Location, of course, is part of what makes the event so special. Dartmoor's rugged landscape and distinctive wildlife are well known but so is its unpredictable climate, as Crispin continues: “Part of the challenge is negotiating with the elements. Dartmoor is infamous for its variable weather.
“You can head out on what appears to be a lovely sunny day with great visibility and within minutes be at the mercy of rain and fog so dense you can't see your hand in front of your face.”
Unsurprisingly, the organisers take safety and welfare extremely seriously and the young participants are steered away from the centre of the moor where evacuation, although rarely needed, would be harder. A sturdy safety envelope is put in place each year and forward planning is key.
Crispin explains: “We do a lot of work on river crossings. Naturally it is important for us to be flexible but keeping an eye on the river levels during the build-up to the event helps and if the water is too high on a particular stretch we make sure participants cross elsewhere.”
These days, teams are equipped with GPS trackers to ensure their safety. They are sophisticated pieces of kit but, as Crispin concludes: “It is participants' navigation skills, physical fitness, team work and sheer grit that gets them across the finishing line.
“I hear many say Ten Tors is the best thing they've done: I get a real sense of achievement from that!”
TREK SAFELY: Tips from Paul Hudson of Dartmoor Rescue group
- Plan an achievable route and check the weather forecast. Allow adequate time and inform someone of your intended route and finish time.
- Make sure you are able to read a map and use a compass or take a fully-charged GPS unit - don't forget spare batteries!
- Take warm clothing, a waterproof jacket and overtrousers. Most accidents are caused by slipping on wet rocks or grass so wear suitable footwear to support your ankles and give you good grip.
- Carry a torch and spare batteries, a whistle and a mobile phone.
- Don't start hungry and take some high energy food with you too i.e. cereal or chocolate bars plus a flask of hot drink in winter. You'll need enough water to keep well-hydrated.