Journeys in the hills and mountains
I first went to the Alps on a ski trip with school in 1999, but finally returned as a hillwalker in 2004 as a first year undergraduate. Michael Ashdown, then President of Cambridge University Hillwalking Club, had advertised the trip saying something like ‘it’s unusual for the British hillwalker to climb 1000m up hill and not get to the top of anything!’ Having returned from teaching sailing in the New York Adirondacks, I was keen to go. We flew to Basel in this case and then caught the train to Lauterbrunnen where we based ourselves for two weeks. This was a walking trip, and we spent our days using the trains and cable cars to explore much of the area. Walking beneath the North Face of the Eiger was interesting, and I appreciated having seen the face when I came to read Heinrich Harrer’s The White Spider and Joe Simpson’s The Beckoning Silence. Perhaps most memorable was our trip up the Jungfraubahn to the glacier where David Pettit, Dave Gruar and I casually explored the first few metres of one of the ridges up the Monch. It was this, possibly, which made me want to come back to the Alps with the ability to climb some of the peaks.
We went to the Pyrenees instead of the Alps in the summer of 2005, and so it wasn’t until the summer of 2006, just after graduating, that I went back. This time it was on the first of two courses I attended run by the International School of Mountaineering. I’m a big fan of this company: they use a great hostel in Leysin called the Hiking Sheep, they keep the costs down for students and provide all the training you need to try some peaks on your own. On the 2006 course, along with Tom Wright, David Gruar and Sam Gunningham, I learnt the rope work needed in the Alps and climbed the Pigne de la Le and the Pointes de Mourti. I returned to ISM in 2007 to complete their follow-up course, though unfortunately the weather was less good – we nevertheless had a good time doing one peak and doing some bolted climbs in the valley.
In 2008 a lot of people wanted to go to the Alps to do a range of activities, and a trip was organised to Zermatt. From a base camp in the valley I did a number of walks but also a couple of 4000m peaks. The Breithorn was my first 4000er, and also my first encounter with altitude sickness due to a lack of acclimatisation. A few days later I climbed the Alphubel, this time with no headache. In 2009 I returned for another trip, moving along a valley to Saas Grund. After a rather complicated journey, which involved an emergency plane landing and an irate, drunken Swiss man at a railway station, I arrived for a ten day trip. Our first attempt at a major peak, the Allalinhorn, failed due to a navigational error, and so instead we climbed the Mittaghorn. My only 4000er of the trip was the Nadelhorn, climbed with Alex P and Roger, which proved an excellent day out. The trip was rounded off with a tricky via ferrata on the Jegihorn. With several trips completed, and some good peaks now under my belt, I’m looking forward to my next return. I may even decide to take up skiing…