Highgate Wood School 2017

Thomas Escott, Oscar Murphy, Charlie Fraser-Allen

Ben Nevis wind turbine proposal

I remember signing up to the Mark Evison event at our school thinking it was just another motivational speaker, who had come in to give a pep talk about studying hard and revising well; the sort that leaves you feeling a new person for about 5 minutes – until a distraction arises and immediately melts away your newfound willpower. How wrong I was. In fact it left a lasting impression on me.

It turns out the Mark Evison Foundation is an incredible organisation with very positive objectives, and I was very excited by what they had to offer. Through their programme, I was able to motivate and challenge myself in ways I had not expected. A lot of it was to do with making the commitment to do the trip, on a particular date, and to justify why we wanted to go and what we hoped to gain from the experience.

Our mission derived from various skills and interests possessed by each member of the team. Tommy, for example, is interested in sustainability and this was key to attempting to make the project as symbiotic with nature as possible. Oscar is strong in design and technology. Charlie challenges himself every day with his competitive swimming. All three of us are physically fit and keen to explore. That said, none of us had contemplated an independent expedition and our lives in Crouch End are quite structured.

After guidance from Mark Evison, an idea began to take shape that would involve building a wind turbine capable of charging a mobile phone, which would be tested at the summit of Ben Nevis – during a 4-day wild camping expedition. Lots of planning went into minimising the costs of the expedition, such as taking a train with a 4am changeover and only buying home brand products. We had to submit our proposal a number of times before it was accepted, which made it even more satisfying when we got the go ahead. It was really important that we had the right equipment and food rations. Walking in the mountains can be unpredictable and being prepared gave us confidence to attempt the challenge and more.

The expedition itself was highly successful, but not for the reasons we’d expected. Whilst the wind turbine did appear to charge, the wind was not strong enough and the battery percentage actually ended up going down – in higher wind speeds (e.g. attached to a car) it is likely to work however. In reality, the focus of the expedition shifted slightly more towards the physical aspect of summiting Ben Nevis carrying 20kg rucksacks, far heavier than the majority of hikers, and the wild camping in the vicinity. After consulting with the visitor centre and talking to other walkers, we decided to update our plans and camp by Lochan Meall, halfway up the mountain itself. As all the group members are A-Level geographers, we successfully read the landscape to find a suitable place to pitch a tent, where there would be minimal wind – important as we found ourselves in a gale that night. Without the proper preparations and the foresight to set the aerodynamic edge of the tent towards the wind it is likely that the night would have been far more uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous.

We worked well as a team. The walk was more challenging than we thought and took longer because of the weather conditions, but we approached it in good humour and enjoyed the solitude of the mountains at night, in the dark with no phone signal and no light pollution.

We had set off in the dark on the Monday evening not knowing exactly where we would spend the next few nights. It was exciting but a little daunting. Our parents were supportive but also a little nervous. They were really proud of what we did.

Following the expedition, the mindset of the group has changed noticeably. We are far more confident in our ability to organise independent travel, and a similar trip to the Alps is already being discussed for next year. Mark Evison provided the necessary push to set the ball rolling, in a domain that we clearly all enjoy. It has reaffirmed Tommy’s desire to live around mountains when he moves out of London and continues his studies in Earth Sciences. Oscar and Charlie were novice campers and are now confident to go off by themselves.

Having to present and justify our proposal was difficult as we rarely have to do this, but it’s an invaluable life skill and we are encouraged to keep doing it. We often take things for granted but having to really work at something makes it more valuable.