Expeditions have been a part of life at Balcarras for many years. Pupils have had the chance to visit countries such as Namibia, Ecuador, India, Tanzania, Mongolia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile/Bolivia, Borneo and most recently Malawi and Thailand/Laos. The month long trips are organised in conjunction with Outlook Expeditions with the aim of allowing students to experience cultures and environments completely different from their own. They are a life changing experience for the participants themselves and the communities that we visit. The expeditions are broken down into three phases.

Costa Rica Practice Expedition 


FRIDAY 19th April: Journey and setup 

Our weekend away began at 12:15 where we all gathered in the sports classroom, checked our equipment lists and compared bag sizes- our first challenge being getting over the shock at the sheer size of Nimisha’s overnight bag. After a short discussion and brief vending machine trips, we embarked on the most difficult task of packing the minivan with no help from Mr Weller and Miss Langford. We then departed Balcarras’ car park with precariously balanced bags, boots and rattling bottles, relieved Sandy wasn’t travelling with us to risk assess the potential dangers we were under from falling items.

Halfway into the journey, music blasting through the speakers and our ETA looking positive, we pulled up into a service station for the soul purpose of toilet breaks and a change of driver. However, whilst trying to stay in groups of three we somehow managed to buy five KFC boneless banquets alongside gravy dips, Percy pigs and costa coffees. This was a traumatic accident but one we fixed with ease, half an hour later leaving with full stomachs and being hydrated.

We were on the road again, this time with Mr Weller at the wheel… regrettably. The prospect of reaching Sandy at camp took a sudden decline, the Peak District seeming far out of reach. Stand still traffic, narrow lanes, and winding roads. By the end of the journey, it’s safe to say we were all questioning Mr Wellers driving but all very grateful to leave the minibus. Nevertheless, we reached camp five hours after we had set off and were welcomed by our expedition leader- Scottish Sandy.

Being led to Sandy’s chosen camping spot we immediately knew he had his favourites as three tents had already been set up for himself, Miss Langford, and Mr Weller. Whilst we struggled with poles, pegs and positioning of tents they really were enjoying their all-inclusive experience. Ater tackling a mix up of a three-man tent with two man poles we had set up our camp and were unpacking our bags and blowing up our beds.

After our elongated journey, it was late when we were taught how to use the trangias, or tracheas as Nimisha accidentally called them, but a group of us began chopping, boiling and cheffing in order to feed the team. Despite having to use head torches since the light had faded, dinner was eaten and enjoyed. Although Sandy was disappointed, as his first camping meal is usually a steak rather than pesto pasta with chorizo (we made sure to give him the luxury of grated cheese however).  Evening drinks served, washing up done and clothes layered everyone made their way into their tents not quite aware of the freezing conditions of the night ahead.

SATURDAY 20th April: Hike, café and games

Waking up the following morning was not an easy task as the arctic temperatures of the peak district left us all half frozen in the night. It turns out, even four seasons sleeping bags cannot save your toes from the icy conditions. Despite this, spirits were high, and we were able to tempt the late risers with promise of brioches and porridge (which turned out to be not as tempting as we thought).

Preparing lunch was a huge task and ended up taking a lot of manpower to accomplish. Thankfully, Jem and Charlie had joined us after breakfast and were more than willing to help. A sandwich station was installed on our orange plastic mat, and it didn't take long for the mini tuna sarnie factory to begin production. Sandwiches were then passed around, (with the edges saved for Sandy) alongside fruit and an abundance of snacks.

After layering up, we gathered for an inspiring (if slightly longwinded) pep talk from Sandy, before distributing the day kit amongst the team. This consisted of an emergency shelter, karabiner and rope, first aid kit, map and compass for our eager navigators- Laura and Harry. With a route planned out the night before, we set off through charming little villages with lush valleys surrounding us. Eventually, these streets turned to dirt paths and muddy treks through the countryside, but the fields were full of frolicking lambs which were enough to help you forget about the sludge seeping into your boots. After many rounds of ’celebrity guess who’ and ‘what can come to the party’ games, we followed a steep incline of steps to the first peak of Lose Hill.

We stopped here for a brief break and watched a colourful array of paragliders soar across the lush landscape. Any removed layers from the hike up were re applied for the windy journey across the hilltop. We were met with more inclines and stone slab stairs, but even with burning thighs, we were all motivated by the prospects of gourmet tuna and cheese sandwiches waiting for us. Not long after, the second peak was reached, and the view was just as idyllic as the first.

We were grateful to sit in a circle and dig into our prepared lunches (and marvel over Emily’s impressive apple carving abilities). It may have been Lose Hill, but we felt like winners. 😊

After a well-received lunch, Sandy decided it was a good time to discuss the code of conduct, which we each had to read, but in our best Scottish accents; in the end, it was Lowri who put us all to shame, even with Harry’s enthusiasm for his section. Then, we were off down the hill once again.

Everything was going according to plan until Harry took a tumble and rolled his ankle so badly, he was unable to walk. Fortunately, the team instantly flew into action- bags were handed over, allowing Ben and Charlie to hoist a pained Harry into the air and down the hill. Charlie then opted to carry him on his back, but as it turned out, Harry was completely unharmed and just a very convincing actor. It may have caused a lot of frustration and temporary loss of trust within the group, but we were able to put our problem-solving skills to work in an (almost) real life situation. Harry and the teachers were quickly forgiven when the emergency shelter practise began.

The endearing village of hope valley was a refreshing change from the downward sloping hills, and we quickly settled outside a cafe that took our staggering drinks order very graciously. An hour later, the line of hot chocolate and coffees had gone down very well with the team and fuelled us so that the final trudge back to camp felt like a stroll.

Dinner that night was even better than the night before, as our cooking team had not only developed their skills of when to start prep, but they had learnt that five trangias were much more effective than three (even if it meant more washing up). With cooking well under way, the rest of the team, opted to play a game of frisbee in the open space at the campsite. After dinner, almost everyone was playing, and the game quickly turned more intense.

After a tuneful washing up job from the whole team, thanks to Robyn’s tiny speaker, we dug into dessert. Marshmallows, digestives and chocolate spread on bread (that didn't spread at all) was the perfect way to end the night.

SUNDAY 21st April: Pack up and return

After our last night in our tents, we woke to miss Langford boiling water for cups of tea and another round of porridge, many of us opting for cornflakes this time around. Over breakfast we discussed our plan for the morning and the overheard variety of conversations in the night between Charlie, Ben and Ollie keeping some of us up (Mr Weller).

Once dressed for the day, everyone began the task of packing away the tents and once again fitting everything into our expedition bags- less neatly than before. After sleeping bags were stuffed away, air beds were deflated, and tents were disassembled we had to begin our sandwich making and washing up stations again. Charlie had now perfected his tuna and sweetcorn making skills and with the teams help our lunches were prepared with speed. With the help of music, we headed down to the washing up area and assigned people to scrubbing, drying and quality control in order to clean the trangias so well Sandy could see his reflection in them.

Following a team talk and reflection of the weekend, we packed the minivan and began our journey home whilst Sandy waved us off. We made the executive decision of McDonalds on the way back and thoroughly enjoyed our left-over snacks and the discussions of the logistics of our Costa Rica expedition just a few months away now.

Parents waited as we pulled up into school after a less painful 3-hour journey home and we were all looking forward to the prospects of warm showers, clean clothes and roast dinners. 

Adi Harris 12C and Robyn Millington 12E

The Adventure Phase 

In most cases this will involve pupils completing some form of trek or PADI. This has included pupils successfully summiting Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and navigating their way across the glaciers of the Arctic whilst in Alaska.

Latest Expedition News  

This July (2024) the expedition team are off to Costa Rica. We fly to San Jose before trekking through the various landscapes of Rincon de la Vieja National Park. The park covers 141 square kilometres the land varies from green pastureland to dense jungle, to dry, open volcanic landscapes.  We will be able to see a variety of volcanic activity such as bubbling mud pools and fumaroles as well as bathe in thermal pools. During the trek phase of our trip we will be camping and cooking our own meals on stoves.

We are then planning on heading south to the western coast of Costa Rica, close to the border of Panama.  We are then going to spend a couple of days in the Caribbean village of Cahuita. We will explore the tropical forests of Cahuita National Park, where it may be possible to see racoons, sloths and monkeys!

For our project phase we are hoping to help injured wild animals and educating the public on these animal’s struggles. The volunteer centre, ASIS, work closely with Costa Rica’s Ministry of the Environment and Energy and the Monteverde Conservation League. During our time with ASIS we will be accommodated by local homestay families, and will eat our meals with them each evening.

We are then going to head to Tortuguero National Park, only accessible by boat, which one of Costa Rica’s top wildlife destinations. It is famous for its nesting green sea turtles and healthy wild jaguar population. Whilst there we could see numerous bird species, sloths, monkeys and giant green iguanas. We will have a local guide with us in search of turtles late at night or spend our time exploring the ins and outs of this remote jungle paradise by organising a boat tour on the park’s network of canal systems.

We are all excited about our trip to Costa Rica and are currently in the progress of finalising plans and budgets.

We are going on an Expedition Training weekend in April. During this weekend we will venture into the Peak District with our team and leader to enhance our teamwork skills and practice some of the leadership responsibilities that our team will assume during the expedition, such as budgeting, meal preparation, and equipment management and a chance to start putting your Leader in Me habits into practice.