Organising The Expedition
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Congratulations, you're expo leader. Probably you were conned into doing late at the pub one night, and now you're coming to the terrifying realisation that you're expected to do something. Never fear! Many notable idiots have organised expo, and you probably can as well. My number one tip? Delegate! You don't need to do everything on this list, but you do need to know who is doing what and whether they've done it yet.
Communication and Organisation
All communication about expo should be done through the ic.caving gmail account. This is an invaluable, easy to search resource that you'll almost certainly need yourself. If someone emails you on a personal address, sends you a facebook message or writes on your face in marker pen when you're passed out in stores, respond via email from the club gmail account. If you've ever tried to search facebook messenger for what size through-bolts we bought two years ago, you'll appreciate why this is so important. By all means stick to facebook for things strictly in the present, like "Who wants to lick lithium grease off my fingers?", but if there's the faintest chance anyone will want to know about it in future, then keep it to the club gmail!
The other advantage is that is stops old lags nagging you about what's been done for expo. Most of them have access to the gmail account so they can just log on, peek at what you've been doing then slink off without bothering you. It also helps to send frequent messages to the Yahoo group, which gets most active around Slov time. This is again a better record of past discussions than Facebook, and is a great way to get experienced old lags to offer advice and help out.
Some Key People You Might Not Have Talked To Much Before
- Jana Carga: President of the JSPDT, former ICCC caver. Jana is invaluable at talking to the locals, sorting out places to stay, coordinating with the JSPDT on things like insurance, helicoptering food up and all sorts.
- Andrej Fratnik: All round legend, very useful contact in Tolmin. Can be easier to contact him via Jana rather than directly, but good to have his mobile number when you get to Tolmin.
- Dave Wilson: Dave has been on expo for a while, and he's very knowledgeable about most aspects of life on the mountain, but especially the electronics for the solar panels. He's always willing to offer advice, and you should follow it (or find someone who can to follow it for you!)
What to do when:
- Nominate an expo leader. Hopefully this is you, reading this document.
- Start discussing where we want to push this year.
- Get people keen, especially if they can drive or lead.
- Send out the sign up email. Use the long, detailed template that has evolved over the years.
- Start writing the GPF application. Use google docs for easy copy and paste.
- Speak personally to potential novices, convince them to come.
- Submit GPF application
- Ask for deposits
- Book the minibus. Do it early to get priority!
- Book the ferry. Use a likely license plate from the Union's list of 9 seaters.
- Ensure the inventory is typed up from last expo's log book.
- Start buying lots of stuff, and preparing it, eg. soaking rope.
- Ensure the food list is typed up (Jarv: Dissenting view, I don't think this helps / is necessary. Bring last year's log book with you on the food shop weekend). Ask for more suggestions. Start buying the more obscure items on line.
- Order all the caving hardware from Tony, Caving supplies etc. Because it is specialist, they won't be able to order it in last minute.
- Just keep going (in between exams...)
- Get everything you haven't done in the previous six months, done in the final week. It gets frantic, but it usually all comes together! Well labelled crates and a good inventory are key.
- Usually the foodshop is the weekend before the minibus leaves.
- Most years we have stacked packed crates in the laundry / corridor; to ease logistics.
You need to determine two things:
- When do we start?
- How long do we go for?
We usually start shortly after term ends, which has been 7th July for the last two years, but in previous years expo has started later than that. The length of expo depends on how many people you have. The last two years we did four week expos because we were short on people. Having too few people at the end of expo makes caving dangerous (not enough leaders or rescuers) and the down carries tedious. Still, if you have enough people for five weeks then it makes for a superb experience for undergraduates with nothing else to do.
At the end of expo there's traditionally a party with the JSPDT. This party will be on Friday or Saturday (the Slovs actually work, you see) so there's no point planning to leave mid-week - you'll have several days of hanging around in Tolmin. Hence, plan to leave on a Saturday or Sunday, the day after the party.
Ghar Parau Foundation
The deadline for this is often 28th February. This early deadline sets the timescale for many others things, such as sending out the sign up email, because the GPF wants a list of names. Most of the stuff can copied and pasted from previous years )the GPF are fine with this). Make sure you contact the referees in advance to ask for their permission to be listed.
It may be possible to get Expo funded as a summer tour. Keep an eye out and put the application in.
Jack emailed a few companies (Soreen, Vango etc.) in 2017 requesting sponsorship but got nowhere. The accepted wisdom is that you need to ring up the company switchboard and ask to speak directly to the person who deals with sponsorship. This is exactly the sort of assertive approach we millenials hate, but it could be worth a lot of money/vodka.
Deposits serve two purposes. Firstly, they give us the money we need to buy all the equipment in advance. Secondly, they help determine who gets to go in the minibus - it's unfair for someone to have to buy a flight and then find out that another person has dropped out and there's a spare minibus seat. Discourage this sort of behaviour by asking for a deposit (usually £200). It's hard to get some old lags to pay the deposit because they don't think they need to (they do - see the first reason), but many of them will if asked nicely. The deposit can be a shop item so the money goes directly to the SGI, ready to be spent.
Book the Union minibus as early as possible. Book it for early (9 am) on the day you want to leave so no one else can get it and so we can start packing early. (Jarv: Alternatively, see if you can pack it the evening before + then park up somewhere safe ish on campus.)
Remember we can only take a nine-seater abroad, and we need a roof rack and tarpaulin! If possible, check in advance whether the radio works, try and get the unlock code if not, or a portable speaker system - long night time driving shifts without music are grim.
Jarv: Badger the union to make sure it gets a proper service. It will still be shit. Ensure that the club has a tyre digital pressure gauge. Check the tyre pressures before loading, and ensure they are to spec. If not, drive to a petrol station + spend 50 p on filling them. Otherwise you risk overheating + bursting! Convince the union to give you lots of fluids. You legally require alcohol breath-testers and high-viz vests for all passengers for France.
We take the Dover to Calais Ferry. Recently (2015-2018), P&O have a monopoly on this route. It's usually as cheap to buy with them as with any reseller company. Get a flexi-ticket (+/- 4 hours) and choose a time a bit later than you think we'll arrive - we're unlikely to get there four hours early, but we could get there six hours later! We count as a minibus, not a van (which is more expensive!)
Jack: There are lots of ways out of London - beware of Google maps as some routes have a width limit that the minibus can't do. In 2017 we drove west along the M4, then round the M25 to the M20. This was very easy, even if slightly counterintuitive!
Jarv: Drive up to Hyde Park Corner, then down to Pimlico, Vauxhall, Camberwell, Peckham and on to the A20; this then directly turns into the M20 to Folkestone/Dover. This saves ~50 miles on the above orbital route.
On the continent, DW has a great list of roads and cities to drive via that works well. Essentially you drive into Belgium, across to Luxembourg, and then along the edge of Germany (Stuttgart, Munich), and into Austria (Salzburg, Villach) and briefly into Italy (Tarvisio) before crossing the Predil pass into Slovenia.
Although you might think Google maps would do a better job, DW's route avoids a lot of very expensive toll roads in France and therefore is worth the slightly longer drive.
Until 2016, Tetley let us use his flat in Tolmin. Since this became his primary home, he was understably unwilling to let hoards of smelly cavers in. In 2017, Andrej Fratnik kindly offered to let us crash at his factory in the Barracks industrial estate near the centre of Tolmin. This has flushing toilets and cold showers, and works rather well. This could be organised again - ask Jana to speak to Fratnik about it, it is worthwhile.
Prior to 2017, we used the Skalar family's barn to store our equipment, but we had nowhere to stay in Ravne. Jana negotiated for us to use the village house, which has two (occasionally) flushing toilets, a basic kitchen, electric lights and space to store loads of kit and cavers. It does flood slightly, but it's a really nice place to have. Again, ask Jana to speak to the villagers about it, this is very worthwhile.
A good inventory makes a huge difference/ We now have a big spreadsheet which contains almost everything. Some of the things on there are obscure - ask the Yahoo groups what they are! Don't mark things as packed until they are actually in a crate - too easy to leave them in stores otherwise.
Lots of equipment needs fettling:
- Tents: Waterproof a few weeks before on a sunny afternoon. Check you have enough waterproofing stuff (Nikwax, the powder is far cheaper than the premixed spray) before hand, apply liberally with a sponge. For communal tents, check all the poles and pegs are there!
- Drills: Check they all work, no exposed wires. Fixing these is time consuming but several old lags have the skills.
- Solar electronics: Lots of mysterious boxes here. Ask an old lag to show you through the list.
- Batteries: The expedition needs lots of batteries, so check we have enough in good condition.
- Avoid glass jars at all costs. The best packaging is burnable packaging.
- Online shopping are easy, but the substitutions are irritating; better to go mob-handed with a vehicle one weekend.
- We used to irregularly (~every two years) go to Makro to get stuff; the card is with Jarv. This does not save money, but the catering-size portions & rat-proof containers, make packing and provisioning easier.
- Now we shop as ASDA and LIDL (conveniently close in Clapham Junction). It makes for a grand day out.
- Get obscure foodstuffs (dried mushrooms etc) off eBay before hand, or find a big wholefood store.
- The JSPDT is sometimes able to get heavy foodstuffs airlifted in. They rarely know until a couple of weeks before expo - hold off buying rice, pasta and oil until the last moment. This is very much a big favour, so don't rely on it!
Everyone going on expo should buy membership of the JSPDT. If you were a member in the previous year, you can just pay for the renewal, otherwise you have to fill out a form. This keeps the JSPDT happy, and may help cover the costs of getting rescued (though this is unclear). Jarv: Perhaps most importantly, it is necessary for our exploration caving permit, as foreigners.
Jana will email you a spreadsheet to fill out - your job is to get all the details off people and ensure new members have signed and scanned their forms in, ready to be emailed back to Jana.
It's worth also thinking about insurance, and encouraging everyone to get their own. It's not at all clear what insurance, if any, the JSPDT membership provides, but certainly it won't cover extended hospital bills. Snowcard provide insurance that covers cave exploration in a country with a cave rescue (eg. Slov) and it's not that expensive for four weeks.
Jarv: It is absolutely essentially that everyone has a current EHIC Healthcard (reciprocal national health service rights, in the EU): https://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/EHIC/Pages/about-the-ehic.aspx I'm not sure what non-British nationals should do.
It's nice if some people go out early to set up the rain-collecting tarps, unpack the food barrels, clean the mould off, and negotiate with the dormice. It's not absolutely vital, but usually you can persuade some keen undergrads to head out and sort stuff out early. The Slovs can be very helpful with lifts etc.