How it all started…
Being an overly excited prospective student, I was reading all the emails sent by the college. There I stumbled upon the Imperial College Exploration Board and learned about all the student expeditions to various exotic places that the Board had previously supported. Any Imperial student can present a proposal for an adventurous expedition abroad and if approved, the Board will provide financial assistance. The Board consists of senior academics from all departments who meet twice a year, in December and February, to consider student proposals. The proposals have to include the budget, itinerary, training schedule, and risk assessment, and are then judged based on their viability and preparation.
Dream team search
In winter 2017, the time was running out as the deadline for the proposal submissions was approaching, and many ideas were floating around. But since Georgios had recently been to a Corsican restaurant and Max was reading about the toughest trail in Europe, the decision on the destination came about naturally: the GR20, a 180km 15-day transverse in Corsica, a French island. It was the perfect choice: safe, cheap to travel to, and most importantly would grant us huge bragging rights! Now we just had to find people that were willing and able to spend three weeks of their summer in the rugged mountains, then plan everything, and write a report! Even though we were introverted freshers and didn’t know our coursemates very well, it wasn’t hard to assemble the team. Carla was sitting next to the boys in lectures and was fascinated by the beautiful pictures of the mountains they were google-searching. Georgios had heard rumours that Diane was a keen climber, while Carla suspected that Harry would be into it because he wore really cool hiking gear to lectures every day. Max invited Jake and Albert as well who, after helping us with the proposal, were informed by their doctors that they weren’t allowed to put that much stress on their knees.
But finally, the combined efforts of seven students who were very close to the deadline produced, as always, spectacular results. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the Board wanted us to present our proposal to them. The surprise turned into stress as we learned who the Board was composed of: lots of senior academics, with two of them from our department, and students who led successful expeditions in the past. After being grilled for 20 minutes (which felt like ages), all we had to do was wait. We were slightly disappointed as we didn’t think we’d convinced them… However, in spring 2017, the long-awaited email finally arrived, and it was positive! They were going to cover almost half of our expenses, including insurance and first aid training. Without such a massive amount of support, it would’ve been impossible to do the GR20.
Even though we were almost half a year away from the trip start date, there was a lot to prepare – equipment, plane/ferry/train/bus tickets (since all of us were going to leave from a different place), and accommodation on the island. Also, in summer 2017, to ensure our new kit was up to scratch and the group’s fitness was good enough, Max organised a weekend trip to the Brecon Beacons, a mountain range in Wales, where he had planned a 50km route over two days. Unfortunately, on the first day, Max’s leather boots caused him problems to such extent that we decided not to continue the hike. Instead, we tested out the tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping mats in Carla’s back garden: we were then confident that our kit was fit for the trail, since it survived a night in the rainy wilderness of Swindon. The attempted training weekend in Wales was still a useful experience because Max bought a new pair of fabric boots which didn’t cause him a single blister during the entire length of the GR20.
Off to Corsica!
In September 2017, starting from all around Europe, we began our long journey to Corsica. After 36 hours of travelling and four means of transport, we finally arrived. We were all annoyed after sleeping on the ferry but little did we know that it would be the most comfortable sleep for the next 15 days! We visited the last affordable supermarket we could find (where we forgot to buy cooking gas…) and went to our AirBnB to prepare for the big day. The first thing to arouse our curiosity was that Diane’s rucksack felt like a sack of bricks. This was closely seconded by the mystery of how Georgios’s bag with six (yes, 6!) t-shirts, seven pairs of underwear, and a glass bottle of Cognac did not feel like a sack of bricks! And although there was excitement and anticipation in the air, we were also anxious as we didn’t know how the hell we’d manage to walk the toughest trail in Europe!
In the next article: the team steers off the trail to climb the highest peak of the island and gets followed by 80 Belgian paratroopers, and the reason behind Diane’s heavy rucksack is revealed! So stay tuned.