Expedition Recces

Jonathan Sims

Over the next 30 minutes I will discuss expedition recces. I will look at when and why a recce might be desirable, the information the recce team needs to start with, what sort of information the team is required to gather and how the recce should be conducted.

Firstly then why carry out a recce?

To supplement our knowledge of the area to be visited, to gather permissions and establish useful local contacts.

When is it advantageous to carry out a recce?

During the early stages of expedition planning there may be large gaps in your knowledge and understanding of the area to be visited. If the area has been visited by previous expeditions, or if you have a good local contacts a recce may not be necessary. If it is a new area off the beaten track then a visit prior to the main expedition could by highly advantageous. It is up to the expedition leader to decide weather to conduct a recce.

The main advantage of conducting a recce is that it will confirm that the area is suitable for a caving expedition; it may also prevent major problems or large unnecessary expense caused by poor information during the main expedition. It will allow the expedition to move quickly and efficiently to the working area by the most suitable route, and may save much time which could otherwise be wasted by local politics and access arrangements.

What work needs to be completed prior to the recce?

The more information the recce team has, the more productively it will be able to use its time.

  • Local politics
  • Language
  • Addresses of useful contacts or institutions
  • Maps
  • Culture and customs
  • Climate
  • As I have already mentioned one of the main reasons for conduction a recce is to gather information. What sort of information are we after?

  • Terrain
  • Nature of caves (Equipment requirements)
  • Vegetation
  • Navigational difficulties
  • Infrastructure
  • Communications (Roads, busses, hire rates etc)
  • Shopping (food, carbide etc)
  • Medical facilities
  • Accommodation (base camp)
  • Crime
  • Local population (attitudes, guides, etc)
  • Access arrangements (letters, permits, John Bull printing set)
  • Water supply
  • Moving on to the conduct of the recce.
  • There are a number of considerations,
  • Scale (No of people, duration, reconnaissance expedition)
  • Timing (previous year, advance party, dry/wet season)
  • Cost and funding (separate grants, part of a holiday, advance party)
  • Defining specific objectives (and sticking to them)
  • Areas to be visited
  • Routes to be confirmed
  • Logistic information to be obtained
  • Permits to be applied for
  • Equipment (lightweight, GPS not much caving gear)
  • All recces will be different depending on the particular circumstances, but a typical programme for a 10 day trip may look something like this:

    Day Activity Remarks
    1 Fly to country
    2-3 Visit contacts in capital, and examine local transport options. British Embassy, University, Government departments
    4 Move to regional capital Visits
    5 Move to expedition area Establish local contacts, look for base camp
    6-8 Travel around area Assess communications, terrain, local infrastructure. Talk to locals, Identify caving potential.
    9-10 Recover to UK

    It is important to remember that the Recce's objective is to gather information, not necessarily to go caving.

    After the recce team has returned the information gathered will have to be interpreted and included within the expedition plan. Much will be extrapolated from the results, a few important deductions are:

    In conclusion

    A recce in advance of an expedition may well considerably improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the main trip. It should be well researched and carefully planned, with the team having well defined objectives and the self discipline to stick to them and not start exploring the first cave they find!


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