Exercise Ibex EMU was a mountaineering expedition that ran for 19 days from the 14th July – 1st August. It took place in Saas Grund, Switzerland and Chamonix, France. The main effort of the expedition was to summit Mont Blanc. Our unit had attempted to do this previously but had failed due to poor weather conditions which made it unsafe for novice alpinists.
The main aims of the expedition were to introduce officer cadets into alpine mountaineering which would then hopefully inspire some of them to organise their own mountaineering expeditions for the future. All officer cadets attending the exercise would aim to leave with an alpine mountaineering foundation which could set them off on the route to gain further qualifications if interested. The final aim was the eventual summit of Mont Blanc which is the highest peak of Western Europe.
Our objectives were for everyone in the group to obtain a winter mountaineering foundation (WMF) before the expedition which would provide the basis for the alpine mountaineering foundation (AMF). This qualification would give them enough experience to be able to operate on a glacier roped to alpine mountain leader instructors following the appropriate student to instructor ratios. In order to ensure that everyone was acclimatised and had enough experience to attempt to summit Mont Blanc, several 4000m peaks were to be attempted involving stays overnight in huts.
The first few days of the expedition we had good weather which is where we undertook glacier training on the Hohsaas and Langfluh glacier and the members of the expedition were refreshed in their WMF foundation skills and then moved to skills specific to the AMF like crevasse rescue and walking whilst roped.
Before attempting a peak it was decided to try a via ferrata route which are unique to the alpine mountains. Comfortable with the officer cadets’ skills it was decided to attempt the Allalinhorn, the first 4000m+ peak. Unfortunately as we departed the uplift the peak was completely covered with cloud, giving little to no visibility. As inexperienced mountaineers it was decided to avoid summiting but stay at that altitude to try and make the most of a bad situation. Unfortunately this outcome was similar for a few days and no possible alternatives as the weather effected a large amount of the alpine area.
We were finally met with a clear day and the whole team summited the Allalinhorn. After the success of our first peak, it was time to look to another. Although the bad weather became rather consistent we were able to find a gap of good weather where our group then went onto summit the Weissmies. We continued to work with the weather forecast to plan our daily activities.
Alpine mountaineering is usually considered different from winter mountaineering for various aspects, one of these would be the use of huts in order to get early morning starts. With the weather in Chamonix looking dreadful for the last few days of our expedition we decided that Mont Blanc was out of the picture and planned our last peak about a hut night so that the group could have the experience of sleeping at high altitude. We moved to Zermatt and stayed at the Gandegghutte with the sights of summiting the Breithorn in the morning. Unfortunately we were struck with more bad luck and the weather had differed from our forecast. We left only being able to summit two 4000m peaks.
Although the original itinerary differed greatly from the outcome of the expedition, we left with all officer cadets summiting two PD 4000m+ peaks, having the experience of sleeping at high altitudes and completing a via ferrata trail which introduced them to a unique way of climbing. Despite the poor weather we used the small pockets of good weather efficiently whilst keeping the level of skill of the team in good consideration.
The donation of the Ulysses Trust made it possible for us to hire guides and covered the cost of the huts which were pivotal to the expedition as these were where the expedition members gained the most experience of alpine mountaineering. Without the donation we would have been more restricted with what mountains we could have summited if any.