1333 – ‘Introduction to Alpine Mountaineering (IAM)’ – Alpes Pennie, Switzerland

This course was introduced four years ago to provide selected Cadet Force Adult Volunteer instructors and Senior Cadets (17+) the opportunity to utilise skills acquired on CCAT UK mountaineering and rock climbing courses and to give them experience in an Alpine mountain environment along with altitude.

The aim is to develop and broaden participants mountaineering experience by teaching them how to tackle differing Alpine mountain challenges. For the Adult Instructors in particular the purpose is to arm them with the essential skills to progress towards the Alpine Mountain Leader (AML) qualification. This year’s course included 9 Senior Cadets (6 male/3 female) and 5 Cadet Force Adult Volunteer instructors (4 male/1 female).

Having set off from North Wales early on Saturday morning, picking team members up en route we arrived in Dover for the early afternoon ferry. With a fifteen hour drive to Switzerland we aimed to arrive at our campsite at around 6am on Sunday. We had booked in at the local Mischabel campsite in Saas Grund. As dawn broke and the campsite residents slept we quietly erected tents, grabbed a quick cuppa and snatched a couple of hours sleep.

There was much to do if we were to make the most of the training time. I briefed them on the area, the plan for the week, issued equipment, fitted crampons and refreshed them on basic mountain rope work. A hasty lunch was followed by a visit to the local Guide’s shop for an up to date weather forecast and to hire the klettersteig equipment required for the first mountain challenge. It had been a busy day and after our evening meal everyone was ready for an early night.

Although the weather forecast was set fair for the first few days, there was a threat of thunder storms mid week so on Monday we decided that our first objective would be a mountain klettersteig. A klettersteig is a challenging mountain route where the technical difficulties are protected by a cableway and some stretches with ladders so that everyone is always clipped to a safety line. It is always great fun and took us five hours to complete the route to the summit of the Jegihorn at 3206m. This was their first experience of altitude and a vital part of the acclimatisation process. Acclimatisation is the key ingredient of a progressive training programme. The descent back to the cable car station was negotiated with care with the threat of a late afternoon thunder storm but overall an exhilarating day for the team.

Tuesday required a two hour drive for our next challenge. Having reached the Sidelen Hutte 2750m and consumed our coffee and croissant, we set off for an Alpine training rock ridge on the Kleine Bilenhorn 2950m. This ridge required the team to negotiate several small rock climbing pitches in a stunning setting, overcoming the exposure of a knife end ridge. The summit achieved, the track down to the hut focussed the mind, strewn with huge boulders and a indistinct route. Once back at the hut a well earned coffee and cake was the order of the day with time to reflect on a brilliant route.

Wednesday saw us undertaking glacier training and the first time utilising crampons and ice axes. The later start was appreciated with a two hour journey across two valleys to Lac Moiry. After a short trek to the snout of the Moiry Glacier we discussed glacier formation over lunch. We had a fun three hour session on the glacier teaching the team about use of crampons, the use of an ice axe and how to rope up for travelling across the glacier before undertaking a short glacier journey.

Next morning the weather forecast was uncertain but I decided to bring together all the skills training over the past three days in order to spend a night in an Alpine mountain hut and then undertake a traverse of a technically easy mountain with a glacier descent. We journeyed again to Lac Moiry and after a two hour ascent reached the Moiry Hut, 2805m. Mountain huts provide basic accommodation and food but can be expensive! We arrived just as the heavens opened but had stunning view from the glass fronted dining area of the mountains and the higher Moiry glacier.

After an early breakfast we prepared for our ascent. A leisurely walk led to a col and the start of our rock ridge which led to the summit of the Pigne de La Le 3396m. The summit achieved and photographs taken we descended a few hundred metres and donned our crampons, reconfigured the rope systems and descended the dry glacier to complete a circumnavigation of the mountain. We arrived back at the hut late morning and then descended back to the car park and were back at the campsite late afternoon.

All training objectives achieved, it had been a very successful expedition.

We offer our grateful thanks to the Ulysses Trust for their generous financial support towards the costs of the IAM course.

With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

In partnership with:

Nuffield Trust