Can Bristol’s Student Union satiate your desire for adventure? Alasdair Robertson from the University of Bristol Expeditions Society shares past adventures and future opportunities available to UoB students.
The Expeditions Society is one of Bristol’s biggest and most active outdoor societies. As well as getting up to all manner of shenanigans across the UK during term time, every summer we run trips overseas, seeking out beautiful parts of the world to go walking through. The great thing about UBES (rhymes with ‘tubes’, by the way) is that, since we aren’t bound by having to find ski slopes, or surf, or rivers in the right condition, we have the freedom to go almost anywhere.
On our committee we have two dedicated Expeditions Officers whose job is to dream up and run a trip to anywhere they fancy. The only conditions are that it needs to be affordable and super fun! During my time in the society I have explored the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, walked one of the most beautiful trails in the world in Iceland, wild camped under the midnight sun in Arctic Norway, and climbed the beautiful Julian Alps in Slovenia.
It was on this trip that some of my closest friendships at university were forged
In the Summer of 2014, a group of 15 of us (which is a relatively large size for these trips) jetted off to Morocco. We had a day to take in the insanity of Marrakech before catching a bus into the heart of the mountains. We then spent two weeks hiking and ascending the highest summits in North Africa, some of them over 4000 metres.
It got pretty challenging – we were carrying all our clothes, food and gear on our backs in sometimes fairly intense heat and at high altitudes – but it was rewarding too. The scale of the landscape was awe-inspiring. It was on this trip that some of my closest friendships at university were forged. We got back to Marrakech dusty and dishevelled, and were glad to have a few days to chill out and explore the warren of the souks, which then led to us buying each other gifts in a ‘soukret santa’ format.
In 2015 Iceland got the UBES treatment. Whereas in Morocco we took a roundabout route to explore the area, here our goal was to complete a linear trek – namely the famous Laugavegur trail (plus a bit extra). We started on the South coast. After camping a stone’s throw from the 60 metre tall Skógafoss waterfall, we headed inland towards the mountains.
We passed through lava fields, wooded valleys, smoking mountains and ashy moonscape-plains
What makes this area unique is the ridiculous multitude of different environments you experience in just a few days’ walking. We passed through lava fields, wooded valleys, smoking mountains and ashy moonscape-plains. We climbed over icy passes and forded meltwater rivers. And at the journey’s end there was a hot spring to relax in. Add in sunsets, geysers, hitchhiking adventures and the Northern Lights and you have a trip that we will never forget!
Last summer we headed out to Norway to walk the Lofoten Islands. It is worth googling these if you have never heard of them. They are essentially a chain of mountains rising straight out of the sea, and they are stunning. We arrived there by ferry, which allowed us the fun of watching the primeval archipelago looming out of the fog.
You are allowed to camp almost anywhere in Norway, so we were free to wander where we liked, past lakes and fjords and up to the snowy peaks. We harvested mussels from the sparklingly clear waters and we were accompanied by eagles, oyster-catchers and otters along the way.
Our most recent trip was in September to Slovenia, to climb the peaks of the Triglav National Park. This is nestled in the Northwest of the country up against the Italian and Austrian borders. The mountains here are characterised by stark white pinnacles towering over lush forested valleys.
we were descending Mount Triglav as a storm was brewing, and we were getting small shocks from the metal cable
Most of the highest peaks are so steep that cables and pegs have been hammered into the rock to allow people to climb them. This made for an interesting experience when we were descending Mount Triglav as a storm was brewing, and we were getting small shocks from the metal cable. Despite this, it was sunny for most of the time and it lit up the beauty and wonder of this place, particularly Lake Bohinj, where we had a happy restful afternoon swimming and exploring the banks by kayak.
You can read full accounts of our trips at www.ubes.co.uk/blog/, and if this sort of thing appeals to you, we’d love for you to get involved. We will be running at least two trips this summer. In June we will be backpacking through the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia, helping with the effort to establish a Transcaucasian long-distance walking trail. Then in September we will be exploring the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia.
If you have an idea for a trip you’d like to do and you’d like to find people to join you, we’d love to hear about it! Email us at [email protected] or come along and meet us at the Highbury Vaults on a Wednesday night. Or if you aren’t free over summer, consider joining us on one of our upcoming weekend trips to the Yorkshire Dales, a backpacking trip to the Lake District or a climbing trip to Portland. Come and have an adventure with us!
Ever explored with a Bristol society? Tell us about it!