Wednesday 11 January 2012

Outward Bound Mountin School, Melsetter

By Chuck Osborne

I attended No.138 Standard Course, Outward Bound Mountain School, Melsetter, (then) Rhodesia, from 20th February 1975 to 12th March 1975, kindly sponsored by the Air Force.

1-Canoe, In the water
Above: Tessa's Pool

We were collected from Umtali (now Mutari) station, and travelled in a (very) rural bus to the School in the Chimanimani Mountains. There were about 20 of us altogether and were divided into 3 'patrols' which were named after the mountain rivers (I was in Haroni Patrol) - most of us were sponsored by government departments, and mostly policemen. Our daily routine started at 5am with a run, increasing in length as the course progressed, followed by circuit exercises that were timed and numbers recorded. Then it was into icy Tessa's Pool to cool off before breakfast. Each patrol had daily chores allocated - dining room duty (setting and cleaning dining tables), boiler duties (chopping wood for the water boilers using an 'Imperial Log' as a guide) and others. After breakfast we either had lectures on outdoor subjects or hit the assault/rope course, did rock climbing, abseiling, orienteering, canoeing/kayaking, initiative exercises, etc. There was no TV so after supper, we did role-playing games, oral presentations, or occasionally had free time.

We did 4 patrols into the mountains starting with a short one and building up to a 5 day trek. We were issued 'dog biscuits' along with our food, which were developed from an SAS recipe that were really good for helping you recover from a few hour's hard marching - the objectives needed serious trekking to reach in the time allowed. We weren't supposed to venture too far into Mocambique as the whereabouts of any Frelimo fighters was unknown, but one cave that we favoured was a little way over the border. We tried to plan our day's march to end at a cave, as it rained for most of the time. One week whilst we were there, the school recorded 35 inches (890 mm) in one week, and we were on patrol for 4 of those days hence our preference for caves !!! This also caused problems crossing rivers that were normally little streams, but had become roaring torrents, aggravated by the fact that the two African chaps in our patrol couldn't swim. We carried ropes for this type of situation.

3-Cave, Cave
Above: our favourite cave - note the sleeping bags drying

Below: Myself abseiling
2-Absailing, Absailing

On one of our patrols, we were due to do white water kayaking high up in the mountain at a site set up by the school. When we arrived late the evening before, we were told that the kayaking had been cancelled because the patrol before us had completely smashed one canoe and damaged another, due to the raging river. That night we selected a site way above the high water mark by the river to pitch our bivouacs for the night. It rained most of the night, and when I awoke, the water was nearly up to my bivvy, and I had to wake the guy next to me as the bottom of his sleeping bag was in the water !!!. We then battled to get out of that valley as the steep track was just a mud slide, the wrong way.

We also did the 48 hour 'solo' where we were each placed into a designated area in the mountains on our own, and not supposed to have contact with others. Before we went out on the solo we were issued minimal rations - a small tin of bully beef, and of savory mince, half a cup of rice, 2 dog biscuits, 2 matches and small piece of striker, 2 tea bags, 2 teaspoons of sugar, an exercise book, pencil and 2 pieces of toilet paper. We could do what we liked with the book, use it for toilet paper if we wanted, but if we wrote in it, they wanted to see it. Our packs were searched for contraband before setting off. As a bird watcher, I was allowed my binoculars and bird book - they didn't find the box of matches that I hid internally by unscrewing a front lens. I couldn't find much dry wood to burn and used most of my box of matches to get a fire going... I found a semi-dry cave, but it had a sloping floor, so I built up a ledge to sleep on, half of which broke up and disappeared down the slope during the night, fortunately the bottom half. The next night I found a disused hut that was almost dry, but at least the floor was level.

4-View, VIew
Above: A gap in the ranges

5-Pinnacle, Pinnacle
Interesting geological features - King of the Mountain?

The Chimanimani Mountains are a game reserve. Eland have been re-introduced, and were lucky to see them occasionally, but they were very wary. On one occasion, we startled a small buck, probably a duiker, and it became trapped in a small ravine - and who do you think wanted to jump in and kill the terrified little thing for food - the two policemen on our patrol of course... We eventually convinced them otherwise. The geological formations were amazing and beautiful, not that we had much time to admire them.

My Air Force issue camou boots almost lasted a week before they rotted off my feet. Fortunately, the school had a small shop that stocked essentials, which included Bata Tommy shoes, but not the size 12's that I need, but I exhausted their stock of size 11's and cut the nose off. My glasses broke when on patrol, but was able to repair them with twigs and twine made from vegetation - looked jolly funny but it worked.

6-School, School
Outward Bounds Mountain School from above

Altogether, I enjoyed the course and found out a lot about myself. Only wish I could afford to send my two sons on a course.

Kind regards,

Chuck Osborne,
New Zealand.


Thanks to Chuck for sharing his memories with ORAFs.

Chuck Osborne attested into the Rhodesian Air Force with 31 LAR in August, 1973

Should you wish to contact Eddy Norris please mail me on


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