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Alpine Introduction and 4000mtr Peaks

Alpine Introduction and 4000mtr Peaks

This summer, there was a change of direction in the mountaineering expedition. There was a shift away from a more major expedition to a skills focused trip. A select group of four experienced climbers and mountaineers embarked on an alpine skills course with EJNR at the helm. Three boys had climbed Stok Kangri (6121m) the previous summer, the other is an experienced rock climber leading F6a (on a good day).

Whilst a number of peaks were included in the itinerary, the aim was to give the boys the relevant skills to become independent alpinists able to climb easier routes in their own right. For this, we worked with three IFMGA mountain guides. The guiding qualification is the highest internationally recognised mountaineering qualification which enables the holder to guide any aspect of climbing/ mountaineering/ skiing anywhere in the world at any time of year. We were extremely fortunate to have the services of Roger Payne and Julie-Ann Clyma who are some of the most experienced (and modest) British mountaineers. Roger was a former secretary of the BMC and is currently president of the British Mountain Guides. His major ascents include the north face of the Eiger, Walker Spur and Central Pillar of the Freney. Together with his wife Julie-Ann, he specialises in climbing new routes and unclimbed 7000mtr peaks in lightweight, traditional alpine style. Whilst out there, I was reading Andy Cave’s latest book only to find them both mentioned twice in the first ten pages! Unlike many mountaineers of this calibre, they delighted in sharing their knowledge and love of the mountains with relative novices and offered first-class instruction. The third guide was Paul Wright who works for Aiglon College. His unique sense of humour and enthusiasm was something that will be remembered for some time.


Based mainly in Arolla, there was a basic skills days on a nearby glacier. This included use of ice-axe and crampons, ice-climbing (by being lowered into a crevasse), crevasse rescue and glacier movement. The following day we headed off into the mountains for four days. Based in two alpine huts in impressive locations, we climbed a rock route, three 3000mtr peaks and a number of cols and ridges. The leadership and navigation was shared out amongst the boys and all were encouraged to make decisions and take responsibility for the group. The most dramatic moment, much to the boy’s amusement and EJNR’s chagrin, was when EJNR fell through a snow bridge into a very large crevasse. Fortunately, Jonnathan Bennett (CMJ) was alert enough to hold the fall enabling EJNR to climb out. However, it was a lesson to remain alert even in fairly tame terrain on a glacier. Angus Graham-Watson (TEJN) also made some significant steps towards conquering his fear of heights when ascending a peak on melting ice (of about Scottish grade 1) to a narrow ridge, only to see our guide strolling about like he was on a Sunday afternoon walk.

After four days in the mountains with alpine starts (leaving the hut anytime from 03.30), and a very long day to get back to Arolla, we had a much needed rest day – which was the only day it rained! The following day we went sports climbing (climbing with bolted protection) in three different locations in the Rhone valley. Jono Astle (JMN) will not be forgetting the 70mtr abseil in a hurry (fortunately the look on his face was captured on film). A transfer to the Saas valley followed and the opportunity to put into practice the skills learnt – two 4000mtr peaks. From the Britannia hut, we ascended the Strahlhorn which is normally done on skis in winter and was a tiring10 hour day. It was a bit of a slog on foot, but the views of the Matterhorn and the Aletsch glacier from the top and the giant fruit loaf carried up by Angus G-W have become treasured memories. The following day we ascended the more straight-forward Allalinhorn before descending to the valley and a celebratory meal.

Next summer we hope to climb Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world, in Ecuador. The boys were Jono Astle (JMN), Jonathan Bennett (CMJ), Angus Graham-Watson (TEJN) and Arjun Bali (RJM).  




DATE POSTED: 08 September 2009

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