12 cadets and staff from 461 (Chichester) and 2530 (Uckfield) Sqn’s ATC have just returned from a 12 expedition to Switzerland, made possible from a year’s hard fund raising and planning, including lots of generous donations notably the Ulysses Trust and RAF Charitable Trust.
The group took the decision to travel by train rather than air, taking Eurostar to Paris then overland via Basel to Interlaken where the team based themselves for the first few days. Balmers tent site was the back drop for two days of acclimatisation, kit checks and skills revision to ensure the team could impress the guides when they turned up. It also allowed an acclimatisation walk to Trummelback Falls to witness the amazing site of 20,000L of water a second crashing down a series of cascades.
Kit repacked the team headed off for the Stein Glacier where they were to put their skills to use for the first time. A short walk onto the glacier and we reached the site for the ice-climbing. Armed with our new deadly weapons and spiderman boots (well, ice axes and crampons!) we were lowered numerous times into a crevasse only to have to climb out again.
Next morning the team headed off up the glacier and into the unknown, following various gradients of snow covered slopes, until the clouds fell below and gave way to bright sun and deep blue skies. 900m of climbing and Tierbergli hut where the team were to be based for three days, finally came into view.
Two days of peak climbing followed the same routine, up at sunrise to catch the glacier whilst it was still hard and frozen, and to avoid the heat of the searing sun, at least on the way up. Snow-capped summits with stunning views, interesting descents on now softer snow and skills sessions in the afternoon on the slopes outside the huts. The first peak, Gwartchenhorn was at 3420m the highest in the area and a 3hr climb from the hut, and being more gentle slopes allowed the team to practice their glacier skills. The second Vorder Tierberg 3091m, was lower but steeper sloped and more technical with a small summit dome, barely able to take both rope teams.
Following a short break for lunch the team descended by the steep and loose summer path back to Steingletscher Hostel. The trek to Tallihutte was a pleasant 12km route following a winding glacial river through forest and alpine meadow, and an amusing encounter with a herd of goats that was some sort of merge of the Pied Piper meets Heidi.
The final hut was the gateway to the Tallistock via feratta (way of iron in latin). Another early start meant the team were first onto the route and spent the next 5 hours climbing a winding path of scrambles, narrow ledges, ladder sections and awesome views, protected by and ever present wire bolted to the face to provide security. Finally summitting the 700m climb a tired but elated team had achieved all of their aims and now faced the painful 1000m descent over mixed terrain to the waiting minibus and back to hot showers and pizzas in Interlaken.
However not content with their efforts the team then decided to spend their final day in Switzerland white water rafting on the Lutschine River, a mix of grade 2-4 rapids providing thrills, a short break beached on a large rock, a couple of close calls on swimmers and a head butt when one team member misunderstood get down for another manoeuvre. That said a fun day was had by all and a suitable way to finish a fantastic trip!!