Chimanimani Mountains & Outward Bound Melsetter 

Senior Men's Course # 143 Outward Bound Melsetter June/July 1975 - Part 1 of 5
June 28 to 30 -  arrival, initiative tests, basic training, rock climbing

June 28

Having, through the kind offices of Eric Gargett, arranged a lift with Bill Palmer and Vic Anderson, of Bulawayo, from Balla Balla, with an overnight stop at Birchenough Bridge hotel, the Scribe arrived at the O.B.M.S. at 11:30 a.m. Here the three of us were met by Peter Cushman and told to dump our personal kit in Tandaai Cabin before going to the Stores to draw O.B. kit.

Several of the total cast of 22 (plus 4) were already on location when we arrived and the next hour or so was spent either renewing old acquaintanceships or meeting new characters and generally ‘sizing up’ the other guys, as they arrived, in an endeavor to determine which of them you believed you could beat in the ‘Placement Stakes’ to be run over a mile that afternoon. How wrong can one be? The Scribe reckoned on being able to make it comfortably about halfway down the field! In the final analysis he managed to keep his nose just ahead of The Admiral, to come in second last! Thankfully, the Chief Gauleiter refrained from recording the respective times set up by the last few runners home - they must surely have created an all-time O.B. record - for slowness !

After lunch, the cast was assembled in the Dining Hall to be addressed by The Producer, who gave us a run-down on Outward Bound in general and our program in particular. Inter-alia, this was the largest cast (in numbers, not specifically in girth) ever collected for a Senior Men’s Course, with a high percentage of Old Boys, proving perhaps, that these latter had gained something of value from their previous experiences.

Then down to the racetrack for the running of the ‘Placement Stakes’ with exhortations, form the Producer, not to overstrain oneself in running the event. The field bunched up on the start line. "On your marks, get set, GO!" from Bill and away we went- or rather most of us, at any rate. While the Scribe was still trying to decide which foot to put forward first, he looked up to observe the somewhat demoralizing sight of a certain senior member of the Judiciary, to wit, Gerd Schapp, streaking down the opening strait, hotly pursued by a bunch of likely candidates for Bundi and Haroni patrols. To be lapped before you have completed the first lap yourself, does not do very much for the morale - this happened, I’m afraid, to several final Tandaains.

The race, having been run, the Producer and his henchmen went into a huddle and came up with the final composition of patrols, as recorded at the beginning of this Odyssey. As time went on there could be little doubt that many of the Supporting Cast dearly wished that they had run a bit slower so as to qualify for merry band of Tandaains who spent the next twelve days in very close and happy association, living, we like to believe, the ideals of Outward Bound to the full.

Back to the School building area to start on the series of three Initiative tests which consisted of removing a drum of ‘petrol’ from a ‘minefield’ surrounded by an ‘electrified fence’; getting a ‘gun piece’, axle and six ‘rounds of shot’ across a ‘bottomless chasm’ and going to the rescue with the aid of two empty drums and a length of rope, of a ‘seriously injured’ C.G.’s Assistant, across the icy surface of Tessa’s Pool. We managed to get the ‘petrol’ out with the loss of only one patrol member, ignominiously ‘electrocuted’ and dumped into the heart of the ‘minefield’. With two ex-Gunners in the patrol and the Admiral’s incomparable knowledge of ropes and knots, producing something which resembled a ‘double-clove-reef-hitch’, the Chasm provided no undue problems. Down at Tessa’s, the C.E.O. and the Scribe nobly volunteered to hold the base camp, while the other three patrol members lashed the drums together and swam them across the pool in the very general direction of Brian Jackson. En route, the Tea Boy encountered a handy length of rope dangling down into the water from the lofty branches of a stout tree. With very commendable agility he managed to swarm up this rope until all but his two big toes were clear of the icy clutches of Tessa, from which vantage point he proceeded to shout encouragement and somewhat conflicting advice to his two companions while they proceeded to embark on their ‘patient’ and commence the return journey. ‘Safely’ back at the base, the C.E.O. and the Scribe managed to disembark the patient with only minor extra injuries requiring anything like major surgery! However, all’s well that ends well, and in the final score we just managed to pip Masapa into third place in this round of initiative tests.

Back to the dining hall for tea and to sort ourselves out into our final patrol placings and lodgings and then out for our first experience of the ROUNDABOUT. This came each day, when in School, as the final exercise of the day and consisted of a series of five exercises, including such things as step-ups, hurdles and body lifts, each done at a different point, reached from the previous point, by running from point to point with Bill Bailey blowing his whistle as a signal to start and stop your series of step-ups or what-have-you. A particularly sadistic form of entertainment with which to finish of a full and active day.

A gloriously hot shower, a beer or two and then dinner, followed by a lecture on First Aid. This latter given by Brian Jackson, who was not to be intimidated by the three ‘quacks’ (2 Gasmen and a Shrinker) in the audience. And thus to bed and ‘lights out’ at 9 p.m., gingerly feeling muscles which for years past had seldom, if ever, been used.

Quotable Quote of the Day: "It was somewhat soul destroying to see a guy walk past me as I ran my third lap of the race-track!" The Admiral lamenting on Placement Stakes.

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June 29

With a somewhat weird selection of moans and groans, the Filthy Five dragged themselves out of their sleeping bags at about 5:45 a.m., donned shirts, running shorts, and Super Pros (also known as Pronutros) and stumbled out in the first light of dawn to join the Supporting Cast for the Maestro’s Mannequin Parade. Circling the Maestro, at a slow jog-trot, the early birds mumbled uncomplimentary remarks as late comers joined the circle, since the trot had to continue until such time as the last body appeared on parade. There can be little doubt that Bill’s caustic remarks and mumbled threats from the circling mob, had the desired effect, as late comers, on future days, were conspicuous by their absence.

Once all the cast had been assembled, the Producer began initiating us into the mysteries of Circuit Training - a series of physical exercises reminiscent of a cross between 5BX and RBC’s 6:30 a.m. Jerks. "Touch your toes!" yelled the man. "He must be joking! I can hardly reach my knees!" "Breathe through your mouth. This is God’s clean mountain air, not the polluted muck of the cities!" said the man. Most guys were only too glad to be breathing at all - through the mouth or not.

Having warmed up nicely, away we went, in patrols, for the morning run which varied, during the course of time, between one and two miles, depending on the fitness of the characters involved. Then down to Tessa’s Pool, through the intervening valley, white with early morning frost, to discard all items of apparel and plunge into the icy water. Some crazy cats, including one or two Tandaaians, actually swam for a few minutes in this lot! The wiser ones, however, were seen to have one hand groping for the shoreline as they dived in, to hit the water and emerge again with split-second timing. The Scribe, having built up a lifelong hatred for cold water, perfected the ‘In-Out’ technique to establish a record of 1.25 seconds submergence! In all fairness, it should be said that he received valuable advice on this subject from no less a person than the Chief Gauleiter himself.

Back up to the School to shave and change into day kit and up to breakfast with appetites like 22 horses. Clean our cabins, tidy everything, pending the Producer’s Inspection at 8 a.m., and then Course Parade at the Flag Pole - a daily occurrence when in School.

Here the course formed up in patrols in a hollow square, with Bill Bailey and other instructors forming the fourth side of the square. One member of the Duty Patrol would ‘break the flag’ from the masthead, followed by another member giving the ‘Reading of the Day’. This was then followed by any special announcements regarding the day’s program and then, on dismissal, patrols would be away to whatever was first on the morning’s program.

This day the schedule included a lecture and practical demonstration on Mountain Rescue, which involved the construction of stretchers from various items of clothing and equipment worn or carried on patrol. Praise be that there was no necessity to make use of this knowledge on future expeditions, since the expression on the face of the Guinea Pig in each demonstration indicted that a sudden death would be far preferable to suffering of being toted down Long Gully on a stretcher made of two poles and several Filthy Five jackets!

An introduction to the mysteries of Ropes and Knots completed the morning session, while in the afternoon the entire cast enjoyed a lecture, by the Producer on Map Reading- perhaps one of the most important subjects to know something about in order to survive in the mountains- and a talk on Snakes and Snake-bite by The Snakeman, Vic Anderson from Bundi Patrol. A guy who deliberately goes looking for snakes needs his head read! His advice, however, to walk round any reptile sunning himself in the path, was strictly adhered to on at least one later occasion by the Filthy Five pointman.

To round off the daylight program, a Volley Ball match between Masapa and Tandaai, was staged, followed by RUNABOUT again.

After showers and washing of various items of clothing, most of the cast foregathered in the precincts of the Tuckshop for a beer before dinner. The Chief Executive Officer managed to magically conjure up some sodas to go with his brandy.

After dinner, Bill Bailey regaled us all with a thoroughly interesting talk on ‘Mountain Lore’ in which he very convincingly put across to us his tremendous love for, and unrivalled knowledge of the Chimanimani Mountains- surely one of the most beautiful corners of Southern Africa, as yet comparatively unspoiled by the desecrating hand of modern man and his infernal machines. Long may it so remain ! Much of Bill’s talk was, we like to think, taken to heart by all concerned and his advice of inestimable value on our few excursions into this domain later on, where one was continually reminded of the old Psalm which says, "The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof……"

And so to bed - nobody could remember the lights going out this night !

Quotable Quote of the Day: "Ah! Good morning Auntie. Please do bring your knitting along and join our happy circle!" B.B. to late-comers to the Circuit.

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June 30

Marveling at the fact that we were still able to move, the Filthy Five lumbered off to join in Bailey’s Early Morning Gambols. After breakfast we were directed down to Tessa’s Pool to be instructed by the C.G.’s Assistant in the intricacies of Canoeing. The stability of the various patrol members differed considerably and before very long three of them managed to turn turtle in the icy waters. The chortles of the remaining two members were soon ended when instructed to deliberately decant themselves into the water to familiarize themselves with the process of extracting fat bottoms and legs from the snug fit of their up turned fibre-glass canoes. Altogether a novel and interesting experience.

With a couple of warming cups of tea safely belted away, the Filthy Five set off for their turn of the exercise called HASH. This consisted of following a set of arrows attached to trees, each one pointing in the almost exact direction of the next one, anything up to 100 metres away- something like a paper chase, minus the litter, and designed to test one’s observation powers. The course stretched out over several kilometres, uphill and down dale and in and out of wooded and grassy areas. All went well until an arrow was located which had been turned through exactly 180 degrees by some previous patrol. The skullduggery was only discovered after about 30 minutes of fruitless searching like a pack of coursing hounds which had lost the trail of Brer Fox. Had we used our powers of observation properly, and seen the tell-tale scratch marks on the tree bark, we would have saved ourselves considerable grief and prevented the dubious honour and lesson well learnt. Beware future Bundi-, Haroni-, and Masapa-ites, the Tandaains will get their revenge yet ! Tandaai ! Banzai ! Kill ! Kill ! Kill !

With all feelings akin to sheep being led to the slaughter, the Filthy Five joined all other members of the cast for their introduction to rock-climbing that afternoon. Issued with slings, Carabiners, Safety Ropes, etc., we all set off at a brisk pace to arrive at a rock face which to us, at any rate, looked about 300 foot high, completely perpendicular and utterly, but utterly, insurmountable.

While various members of the production staff proceeded to the top of this cliff by a hidden route, round the corner, to prepare belaying points, the C.G. began extolling the virtues of the various climbs, ‘Incline’, ‘Freelance’ and several others to assembled cohorts. The alacrity with which the Filthy Five moved to join the queue for the ascent of the easiest climb, ‘Incline’, was quite commendable.

The moment of truth was about to dawn for all the novices. The Scribe, about 6 feet up from the starting point, ‘froze’ solid to the rock face. A cheery voice, saying, "Up you go! " and a shove from behind by the C.G. and away he went to arrive, what seemed like hours later, at the cliff-top to see the cheery face of Gasman No. 1 holding the most important end of the Safety Rope. The words, "Well done Mort" were like manna from Heaven and did much to still the quivering nerves and muscles.

A short rest to recover one’s full faculties, and then down to the bottom of the cliff to try yet another climb, if one so wished, or to sit and watch the other guys going up and marvel at the ability of the C.G. in giving varied instructions to four or five different characters, each going up a different climb at the same time.

Back down to the School for tea. A somewhat hilarious game of Basket Balla, versus Masapa, followed, in which the rules of the game were ‘slightly’ bent by the ref., Bill Bailey. Had this bending not taken place, it is doubtful whether the ball would have been in play for much longer than five seconds at a time! The prodigious height, girth and snarling bearded visage, of Big John Horbury, proved too much for the Old Crocks of Tandaai, and Masapa ran out easy winners. Their glee was, however, short-lived, as shall be related later on.

Following Runabout and Showers etc., all patrols drew rations and a few extra items of equipment from the Stores and then spend the rest of the evening being briefed and preparing for their first expedition into the mountains.

Quotable Quote of the Day: "That man Bailey was kicked out of the Gestapo on the grounds of excessive cruelty!" The Admiral, gingerly feeling tortured muscles.

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