Ex DHAULAGIRI ALPINE DRAGON was the training event conducted in Saas Fee, Switzerland during the period of 11-26 Jul 15 for members of the British Services Dhaulagiri Medical Research Expedition. Dhaulagiri is the 7th highest mountain in the world and the expedition will involve a 24 person mountaineering squad with numerous trekking teams.
The aim of the expedition was to allow for team members to get to know one another, gain the AMF qualification if required, conduct some training activities for the Himalayas in 2016, and facilitate some degree of selection for the British Services Dhaulagiri Medical Research Expedition but most importantly to do some great climbing routes. These routes would have to wait however until we had completed the 12hr + journey across Europe to get there.
It was early evening by the time most of us reached the campsite. As we started establishing camp it became clear each service had a different idea of what camping was. Both the Army and the Royal Navy were very quickly outshone by the RAF who brought the equivalent of a Camp Bastion modular system complete with sitting area (actual chairs!) and cooking facilities, including pans! For the next 2 weeks this became our base camp from where we launched our climbs.
Prior to us all ascending on the mountains was a bit of refresher training and an opportunity for people to fine tune their gear and drills on the glacier near Hohsaas. After some good crevasse rescue exercises and a walk through talk through of different techniques used amongst the group we headed back to the valley base camp to prepare for the climbs ahead.
One of our first climbs was the Dri Hornili after a 3hr walk in to the Almegella hut. This was a fun route that allowed us to work on our roping skills and gear placement with a good degree of exposure from the ridge and height just to keep us on our toes! After a long day and a well-deserved feed at the hut we got some sleep to prepare for the Weissmies.
The Weissmies is 4017m and the third highest summit of the Alps. We set out from the hut at approx. 0430am to start the traverse from the South Ridge which was not technically difficult but was sustained and offered fun scrambling before the summit ridge presented a slightly exposed snow crest leading right to the summit and a breath taking panorama of the Alpine chain. The descent was relatively short and swift with some steep snow slopes, crevasses and seracs which required careful negotiation. This was great training for all of the team and gave an opportunity for the less experienced members to learn from some of the more experienced.
Next on the list for some but not all was the Dom. The Dom is a mountain of the Pennine Alps, located between Randa and Saas-Fee in the canton of Valais. With its 4,545 m (14,911 ft) summit it is the third highest mountain in the Alps and the second highest in Switzerland, after Monte Rosa. It is however a demanding 3,100-metre ascent with objective danger in the upper part. In laymen’s terms this means it is a long, long slog which was evidenced by the 5000 calories we spent!
Whilst some tackled the ascent of the Dom which we assumed was named for its ability to cause Delayed Onset Muscle soreness, others went for the Allalinhorn traverse which stands at 4027m via Hohlaubgrat. The comfort of the Britannia Hut after a 30-minute walk from the Metro Alpin lift station was a welcomed relief after some of the early Alpine starts. The following day started with a 10-minute descent to the Hohlaub Glacier and was followed to gain the NE ridge which steepened at a 30m rock step. This soon led to the summit and spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. The descent followed the normal (WNW ridge) back to the Mittel Allalin station past a long line of guided groups.
Ex DHAULAGIRI ALPINE DRAGON was not just an excellent training event for members of the British Services Dhaulagiri Medical Research Expedition. It was a welcomed opportunity for mountaineers across the Joint Services to collaborate and work together in a tough and demanding environment. Events like this which give younger members the opportunity to be mentored by those with more experience and those with experience the chance to push themselves are vital for the future of Joint Services Mountaineering.