Alpine Mountaineering 2011

In August 2011, EJNR took ten intrepid Etonians to the Alps for an alpine introduction course. But this was not a standard course. First of all, and for the second time, we were fortunate to have Roger Payne and Julie-Anne Clyma as our course directors. Roger is currently president of the British Mountain Guides and both are world class guides operating at the top of their game. Whilst their technical expertise is beyond question the real value is in the enthusiasm they have for teaching the boys on a range of subjects from leadership and teamwork, to environmental impact and glacial recession, and of course an alpine apprenticeship. Second, whilst the core alpine skills were addressed – use of ice-axe and crampons, crevasse rescue, navigation, risk assessment and management – the itinerary was more demanding than a standard alpine introduction. The highlight was undoubtedly the penultimate day when all boys managed to summit 5 or 6 4000m peaks!

The programme began with a few short trips to acclimatise and build up confidence. On day one, the boys were pushed out of their comfort zone on a demanding via ferrata on the Tour d’Ai followed by some cragging. This was followed by a glacier plod up Les Diablerets and routes up the Tour St Matin and Cex Rouges. Their first experience of a mountain refuge aided acclimatisation but was not the most comfortable experience in a basic, over-crowded old hut. Our descent was plagued by the only heavy rain of the trip leading to a strategic retreat to a ski lodge to practise prussiking. At least our waterproofs were well tested.

After a transfer day with a bit of cragging on route, the main expedition started in the shadow of the Matterhorn in Zermatt – the so-called ‘Spaghetti Tour’. After final preparations, we made use of the uplift and ascended the Breithorn – the boy’s first 4000er. A long descent down a glacier in the heat left us at a quaint, Italian refuge. The contrast between Swiss and Italian huts was very obvious as dinner was served. The route then took us over a col, back to the valley before more uplift to take us the Guglielmina hut – which is more of a hotel than a mountain refuge, boasting the best wine cellar in the Alps! The following day involved an ascent of Pyramid Vincent, another 4000er, before a night in another civilised Italian refuge, but short-lived with an ‘alpine start’. This was to be an epic day as al boys climbed 5 x 4000m peaks, culminating with Signalkuppe on the Swiss boarder – also home to the Margherita hut, the highest refuge in the Alps at 4550m perched precariously on the summit and our home for the night. The final day involved a long, hard descent down the complex Grenz glacier before returning to Zermatt.

The course was quite superb. Aided by the enthusiasm and professionalism of Roger and Julie-Anne, the boys were outstanding: highly motivated, fit, committed, well behaved and eager to learn. Their teamwork was particularly noteworthy.

EJNR, August 2011