And conquering one fear encourages students to vanquish others. “If we’re rock climbing, we make sure the children are absolutely safe,” says Mr Wright. “However, some do come with a fear of heights and are petrified. We don’t force anyone to do anything but we encourage them to try. Some go through two or three minutes of blinding terror – but what a fantastic achievement when they do it.”
And it is not just about facing fears, but conquering the unknown. “One of our students was from Pakistan and the first time we went out to the foot of the mountain, he just fell to his knees and was touching the snow, picking it up, tasting it.
He’d never seen it before,” says Mr Wright. “Within 10 minutes he was clutching an ice axe, had crampons on and was walking up this snowy mountain, stepping over glaciers. That was a very special moment.”
The teachers, inevitably, have a fund of such standout memories. Mr Milner recalls a recent ex to Solalex when one
of his students fell through a cattle grid. “He didn’t know how to walk across it, slipped and was actually trapped above the knee,” he says. “We thought we’d have to call out the pompiers (fire service) but by rolling up his trouser leg and applying a lot of suncream, we finally got him free.”
All of which proves the mountains do not just teach the students to be resourceful – for all the teachers’ vast knowledge, every ex adds to their experience too. “About two years ago
I took 16 children camping in Taveyanne and we were hit
with the worst storm I’ve ever seen here,” says Mr Milner.
“The lightning was so powerful that whenever there was a flash it seemed to go from nighttime to daylight and back again.
Even I was apprehensive. Then I heard girls talking in one of the other tents and there was a lot of nervous anxiety, even sniffling. So I put on my waterproofs and went over in the pitch black
to reassure them. Just as I got to their tent another lightning strike showed up my silhouette against the side of the tent and they screamed the house down! Then I told them it was me,
the screams turned to giggles and they couldn’t stop laughing. At least that stopped them being nervous!”
Some expedition experiences, of course, are common to all Aiglonians. “Blisters!” says Sally. “It’s almost a rite of passage. Coming down from the girls’ high ex at the start of this term, stopping at the hut on the way down was like a huge Compeed festival as Miss Dickinson handed out the blessed plasters.”
Camping also has its regular recognisable hazards.
“The tents we use are quite old, bright orange, they always smell a bit mouldy, and the best bit is definitely the sides,” says Oliver. “They’re also not very waterproof, and if it rains you are likely to get quite wet. Oh, and they often have parts missing like pegs or even poles, so improvisation is sometimes needed.”
And it is not just the equipment that can prove challenging. “Tent mates are another entertainment,” says Sally. “You might wind up with any of: snorers, kickers, wrigglers, sleep talkers or moaners. One high ex found Mr Wright sleeping outside
in a tent on the side of a mountain, because he knew he would never have heard the end of our teasing if he had slept in the hut with us.”
And when students are tired, blistered, wet, cold, and
just generally fed up, that is when they learn the most about themselves. “We teach them to be resourceful,” says Mr Wright. “Things can go wrong – for example, poor navigation gets us lost or someone burns the food or loses the matches or forgets their lunch. But I tell them: ‘Expeditions are a great way to learn to solve problems, sometimes problems that we bring upon ourselves.’ On the mountain you have to be self-reliant and deal with the consequences of your actions. The mountain exposes you, and there’s learning to be had.”