October 11th 2023

Exercise Dolomite Eagle qets 12 service personnel Summer Mountain Foundation qualification


4 MERCIAN’s annual adventurous training (AT) expedition saw Soldiers travel to the Dolomites, Italy, with an aim to allow 12 service personnel to achieve their Summer Mountain Foundation qualification.

Exercise Dolomite Eagle consisted of trekking, navigation and summiting the spectacular and imposing pale rock peaks of the Venetian Alps.

The group were based in the very centre of the prestigious Ladin-speaking Dolomite Superski region, which is halfway between the fashionable, well-heeled resorts of Arabba and Corvara (approximately 180 kilometres north of Venice).

To begin with, a series of lectures were delivered by the two dedicated mountain leaders, including a force protection health brief, the principal aims of British Army AT and the vital importance of team cohesion, as well as exploring the fundamentals of summer mountaineering. Everyone had the opportunity to present a series of lecturettes on the local terrain, key trekking and mountaineering equipment.

As the week progressed the treks got longer, typical summer alpine conditions prevailed, the group topped the 3,152m -high pyramid-like belvedere summit of Piz Boè, the highest point on the Sella massif, affording an unforgettable 360-degree panoramic view of the dolomitic mountain wonderland.

With one of the most extreme battlefields in history right in front of the group, it was almost impossible to believe that intense military combat,with lines of trenches curling along the high ridges and fortifications drilled deep into the mountains,) once took place here between 1915-1918.

For context, the Habsburg forces were spread more thinly along the Dolomite front than elsewhere as they defended their territory and parryed the Italian attacks. Throughout most of the First World War, the blood shed to territory gained was even worse in the Dolomites – where the Italians fought the Austro-Hungarian Empire to a standstill – than on the Western Front. War has rarely been fought at such high altitudes (3,000mplus).

Estimates suggest that avalanches, exposure and falls killed more Soldiers on both sides than direct enemy action. On the worst day, Friday 13 December 1916, also known as ‘White Friday,’ more than 10,000 Soldiers from both sides were killed by avalanches.

A notable aspect of the fighting was the tactic of digging tunnels deep into the mountains before packing it with explosives. This resulting in detonation and then often taking off a large proportion of the mountainside as well as the defending enemy positions on top. Both sides also took to excavating caves, walkways and building underground depots. Several monuments, occasional scattered debris and small museums serve as a reminder.

In 2009, the Dolomites – described as “the most beautiful work of architecture ever seen” – were recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Ultimately, the adventure training proved robust and engaging in nature and allowed each the opportunity to thoroughly challenge themselves, both mentally and physically.

With thanks to Pte Mullee, C Company, 4 Mercian, for producing this report.