The first six brave students have officially kicked off the first Duke of Edinburgh Award mock expedition at LEAF Academy. This training expedition was essential to better prepare before the real expedition in late May. The group of two teachers and six brave students decided to go to Malá Fatra mountains near the the famous Terchová village – Jánošikove diery. Why? The real expedition is scheduled to take place in Slovak Paradise National Park which shares some similarities to Malá Fatra mountains. To prepare for the mock expedition, students had been instructed on how to pack properly, how to use a map and even how to help others in case of emergency.
Packed, we met at the train station to start our trip. Soon we found out that one of the students is missing hiking shoes and several other things, but it was too late to go back. This was just the beginning of our adventure. When we arrived in the hut in Terchová, we started cooking dinner together, and we discovered how (un)skilled we are when it comes to cutting an onion or zucchini. Still, the dinner was a great end to our day nonetheless.
The next day, we started to hike up to the ridge of the mountains through a series of waterfalls and rocks.
The amount of snow and ice was more than what we expected. Consequently, this also increased our personal fears. For most of the students, it was their very first time hiking with such heavy backpacks in this type of environment. As for me, I was enjoying these moments a lot because I was blown away by the beauty seen all around. When we reached the ridge, we could not find the trail. The students successfully used the navigation with a map and azimuths.
We were mostly hiking in winter conditions, which meant that everything took us much longer and we were not following the detailed plan of the day. We had to change the plan midway and descent to a village as one of the student’s shoes fell apart. Instead of camping in front of “Chata na grúni” hut, we were fortunate to meet a very nice lady in the village. She let us camp in her backyard which was better for us. We had a lot of fun preparing for the night and also very thankful for the way the day ended.
Next day, we had a few issues we needed to resolve rather quickly. While it was a fun night for many students, it was a sleepless night for others as well. Furthermore, we did not have any available bathroom to use in the morning. All tired and sleepy, we had breakfast together and we departed for another trail back to the ridge. We hiked up a very steep mountain. This was the moral boost we needed once we made it to the top.
The descent from the beautiful top of the mountain proved to be a trying experience for all of us. Not only was the hill extremely icy all the way to the bottom, the way down was not properly marked. This was the worst part of the hike! We got lost, we almost got buried in snow and our desperation was growing. Some of us cried and others were in real pain. The end we’d hoped to come did not arrive soon enough. Fear also started creeping in as we realized that we risked missing our train back to Bratislava. At last, we made it down the hill and settled in a warm and cozy restaurant. We had time to rest and reflect on our journey. Fortunately for us, there was another train to Bratislava.
The train arrived! We squeezed in the compartment for 6. There were 8 of us! That in itself was a mischievous adventure. I immediately observed the amount of energy increase among us. We spent the entire trip back chatting and reviewing memorable quotes from the trip such as “It worked until it broke” or “We are almost there”. We laughed at our trials and tribulations. During our reflection, we all agreed that this trip was a true accomplishment for us. Despite the hardship, the students are more than ready for the the Slovak Paradise challenge ahead of them.