A PETERSFIELD pupil has told how storm-force weather led to the dramatic evacuation of thousands of hikers taking part in a gruelling two- day challenge on Dartmoor. Harry Geaves, 18, was leader of two six-strong teams from Churcher's College who were tackling the Ten Tors expedition over the weekend. But although the event started well, organisers decided to pull the plug amid fears for the safety of more than 2,000 young walkers. Lashing rain, poor visibility and a forecast of severe overnight weather conditions was enough to spark military personnel into a major rescue operation. Many hikers were air-lifted to safety by helicopters as the savage weather closed in, while others were instructed to follow escape routes off the windswept moorland. Harry, who was tackling the 55-mile version of the walk, said: "We were told to stay in our tents, but by 10pm it was absolutely tipping it down. "It was quite hair raising . We could hear water flowing past the tent." Earlier this year, a teenager from Devon tragically died when she was swept in to a rain-swollen stream while training for the arduous walk. The event itself is marshalled by military personnel from the base camp near Okehampton. And it was an army officer who told Harry that his team would have to brave it out for the night when they reached Trolsbury Tor, the southern most checkpoint from the start and finish line. "When we arrived at the sixth Tor at about 7.30pm on Saturday night, we were told that we had to pitch our tents and stay there and wait for further instructions. "The army officers then called up all the leaders at 10pm and told us it had to be called off due to the bad weather which was due to arrive overnight. "They said it was likely that the rivers would swell up and the ground would become sodden. "We were disappointed but we all felt it was probably a sensible decision." The 55-mile squad, which also included Will Kelly, Will Grill, Adam Cornwell, Keiran Binks and Steven Daniels, endured a night of appalling weather before they received instructions to follow a set route off the moor. Avoiding river crossings, the team made their way to the nearest road where they were evacuated in army trucks to the closest base. Up above, helicopters were attempting to reach people who were camped out in even more remote areas of the moorland. "It was a relief to get off the moor at that stage. Understandably, we were disappointed, but it was definitely the right decision," Harry added. The boys were eventually taken back to base camp where they were reunited with their families and members of staff. And the 35-mile team, including Elliott McGuinness, Michael Whelan, Charlie Beardsmore, Emily Lomas, Simon Body and Jack Trowlesdale, were also driven back to safety after they reached the seventh of their 10 tors. The school's outdoor pursuits expert, Marc Eaton, said: "Balancing safety with the challenge is always a difficult call. "The event went ahead largely because the weather on Saturday was not forecast to be too bad and the army set up checkpoints on the main Dartmoor rivers to help teams across. But the rain played its part on Saturday with 15 per cent of walkers retiring." All teams on the moor on Saturday night were awarded the Ten Tors Medals in recognition of their efforts, and for all the training they had done throughout the year on Dartmoor and at home in Petersfield. Mr Eaton added: "Everyone tried their best to rouse their spirits when they finally arrived at Okehampton camp, but it was all a bit flat as most of the youngsters, while understanding the decision, were acutely disappointed not to complete the full circuit. "Most vowed to return next year to complete the distances they had set out to do."
Evacuation drama on Dartmoor
Thursday 17th May 2007 10:00 pm