Damon Roberts in India

Young Explorers' Trust

Moonlands 2012 – Led by John Hegarty
Leading Edge Expeditions

From the moment we all passed selection, a gruelling 2 night test of both out physical and mental stamina, we knew the trip was going to be the experience of a lifetime. Nearly a year later, we all met once again, this time at the airport saying our final goodbyes to our families, not knowing what to expect over the coming month.  For some, this was their first time out of the UK, and for one person, his first time on an aeroplane. 9 hours later, and we had arrived in Delhi with only one sick bag being used during the flight. We were instantly hit by a wall of heat, but this was nothing compared to the one we reached leaving the airport. After a night in Delhi, we boarded another plane, this one headed for Leh, where we would spend the majority of the expedition.

The flight showed off just how spectacular the Himalayas are, and after flying over countless, snow-capped peaks, we began descending into the Indus Valley, and realized this tiny strip of green would become a home to us over the next few weeks. We arrived at the hotel relatively unharmed, aside from a few of us getting lost, and a nose bleed within seconds of touching down. We then had a few days to settle in, acclimatize, and do some touristy bits before we got into the physical part of the expedition.

We began with rafting down the Indus valley, as an easy way to acclimatise, and see some spectacular views of the area we were staying in. As such, physically, the rafting was very easy, and we kept ourselves entertained by racing the other rafts, in which ours was by far the winner. This was also the first day of camping, something which we were all pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the campsites, and the tents. The next day passed in a similar manner, however, on the final day, we came round a bend in the river, and some of the most spectacular cliffs I had ever seen came into view. We then spent a few hours surrounded by these monolithic rocks, before reaching our final campsite.

The next stage of our trip was to be the hardest, our D of E trek. We had to do 4 days walking, with a minimum height of 11500ft throughout the trek. We began in a featureless desert, our packs loaded up with food, tents, cookers, and clothes that we’d need for the next few days, with mine coming in at over 1/3rd of my bodyweight. The first day was rather easy, with around 13km covered, and a lovely campsite right next to a small stream. The easiness was to be short lived, as we had a mammoth 26km walk the next day, which also happened to be the hottest day of the walk. One of our group of 5 went down with heatstroke with 5km to go, and at this point we had about a litre of water between us. A few minutes and a Rehydrat later, we continued on, and finally made it to our destination, a bridge over the Indus River. At this point we were meant to find a suitable campsite, which ended up being the sandy, horrible flood plain right under the bridge. We also had the best sleep of the entire trip that night. The next day was another short day, but it was all uphill, and by that point most of my right foot had become a massive blister, and we still had the final 24km back to Leh to go. The next morning arrived, and we all managed to drag ourselves up, and take the tents down for the final time. This walk ended up being one of the easiest, for the simple reason that none of us could feel much worse, and we just trudged on nonstop till we arrived, to the first nicely cooked meal and clean water we’d had for days. We had just completed what was the highest altitude D of E ever undertaken.

We had a day’s rest until we began the final part of our trip, the cycling. This was to be both the most challenging, and the most spectacular moments of the trip, as we were to take ourselves up to over 18500ft by the final day. We began with a small ride just to get used to it, and we felt the toll of the high altitudes far more than we had before within a few hours, with many people wondering how they would cope with 5 more days of cycling. But we pushed on and soon had reached the final day, and the bit we had all been waiting for, the 6000ft descent down into Leh. This was one of the highlights of the trip, we began in snowy clouds, and finished in 25 degree sunshine.

During the final week, we travelled down to Delhi, via Manali. This involved driving along Death Highway, and true to its name, we saw several crashed trucks, and had to cross a hastily rebuilt part of the road, which had collapsed the night before. We could see though gaps in the rocks making up the road to the huge drop below us. Luckily, we survived, and made it through Manali, after a local public bath. When we finally arrived in Delhi, we were staying in a YMCA in the presidential district, and for the first time, we say the Indian counterparts of all the shops we knew from England, and the first thing we did was try the Indian version of a McDonalds, and we all had The Chicken Mahajara Big Mac, which was surprisingly nice. At this point, we only had 2 days left in India, and were spent exploring Delhi and just spending time with all the people we had gotten to know over this experience.

As we boarded the plane back to England, most of us decided we would definitely return, and would never forget this experience, both knowing that we had succeeded, and had probably made some lifetime friends.