Charterhouse Memorial Award 2012

Jack Olsen

le chemin de la liberte

Their story, in their words…

“The walk itself was very hard from start to finish … It was however one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life as every step of the way I was with some friends and I knew I was representing a fantastic and inspirational organisation. It truly did keep me going, and I’m sure it had a similar affect on the others. Without a doubt it brought out the best in me, and in the others, which, as the T-shirts made so clear, was the aim of the walk. We never gave up despite the pain, fatigue and heat which is something that we can draw strength from in every walk of life. To know that we have achieved something like this, whilst still being teenagers is something that we will never forget and something we can be immensely proud of. I feel confident in saying we are fairly unique in what we have done.

The real hardship came from, firstly the length of days 1 and 2. Under the sun, with pretty much no shelter left us pretty shattered by then end of these days. On day 2 the heat was so bad that by lunch we had no water left between any of us and we had to go to a caravan on the road to ask in our best French for some water. Thankfully the owner was in fact English and therefore it made it very easy for us. Given the way our previous day’s speaking had gone this was a very lucky gift as we had found out that our “French student” was far from confident with the language.

When we looked in the guidebook for days 3 and 4 the relief we felt after seeing they were very short (3 being about 10km) was immense. This was short lived however as we then saw the height map for day 3 and realised it was essentially straight up, then down into a valley, and then straight back up the other side. This quickly turned into fear and over the second day all we could talk about was how bad day 3 would be. When we met our guides they promised us a very slow and relaxed pace for this day as one of the walkers had started to really suffer due to a ligament injury in his leg. I will just say this; the guide book recommended 7- 8 hours with 10 hours for the whole day with “very necessary rests”. We finished the whole day in 6 and a half. Having said this, we did then get a swim in a mountain lake and then 3-4 hours to relax by this lake and recover from the torture of the previous day.

Day 4 was no better as we immediately went straight down and lost all the height we had painfully climbed the day before. Then, inevitably a step ascent began again and before we knew it we were level with where we camped the day before. However, this was not yet enough; up into the snow we went. This was a welcome changed of terrain, however it did keep us on edge as none of us would have climbed back up the slope had we slipped, I don’t think our legs could take it. At the summit, and the Spanish border I felt a huge sense of relief and at the same time was humbled by a plaque we saw on a rock. We had just achieved this walk with proper equipment in good weather, with the only time constraint of a flight home at the end of it.

The route itself however was born from the French fleeing through the snow, at night, in city clothes escaping the Nazis, only to be arrested at the other end by a less than sympathetic Franco. But this view and sense of relief had to quickly be put to rest in my memory as we began a descent through a scorching Spanish valley. We had spent the whole walk cursing the up hills, yet the constant down was just as bad, if not worse, only with far fewer rests. However, we did know this time that at the bottom was not a field for our tent, but a car to a house for a shower and good nights sleep. When we reached here we were all so happy, proud, tired, inspired and relieved all at the same time.”