A team of 6 cadets, aged 16 and 17, and 3 staff from 241 (Wanstead & Woodford) Squadron Air Training Corps have just returned from 2 weeks of Alpine Mountaineering in France.
The team, consisting of Fg Off Nick Harvey, Plt Off Matt Davies, AWO Lee Morris, Cdt FS Mike Cross, Cdt Sgt Jay Bhadresha, Cdt Sgt Ajvir Sandhu, Cdt Sgt Carl Gbeho, Cdt Cpl Will Browne and Cdt Cpl Rob Fothergill, put their skills to test on classic Alpine routes in France, Italy and Switzerland. Two years of extensive training which included regular trips to Scotland, the Lake District, the Peak District and Wales paid off when the team summited the Dent du Geant (The Giant’s Tooth) a 4000m peak in Italy, renowned for its technically difficult ascent.
The trip was made affordable through many fund raising events such a litter picking and grants from charitable trusts. The team organised a sponsored climb where between them they climbed over 200 rock pitches in one day.
The team travelled to Chamonix in the squadron’s new minibus on the 21st July after an early 2am start. Over the 2 weeks they camped to save on costs and to gain the ‘full Alpine Experience’. On the mountains we were looked after by fully qualified mountain guides. For the first week the team were split into a ratio of 3 to 1 guide. Working in such small teams enabled us to refine our skills and got us moving proficiently at speed over ice, rock and snow whilst roped together. All this learning though, did not stop us from doing several serious routes, one of which involved an early rise at 4am in order for us to tackle the famous Swiss Aiguille de Tour with a summit height of 3542m. It was also another major learning curve with the guides coming off our ropes and simply supervising. Our work however was not restricted to movement in boots and crampons. On the Friday of the first week the team survived 8 pitches of gruelling rock to reach the top of a cliff which offered superb views of the Mont Blanc massif.
It wasn’t all hard work and no play however, on Friday night the team hit the streets of Chamonix to celebrate a good first week having completed 5 alpine routes and then to look forward to the week ahead.
For the second week we were joined by yet more guides so the ratio went down to 2:1. We were now proficient budding alpinists, and this enabled us to steer clear of the common beginner routes of the first week, and move on to some more aggressive and challenging feats.
Most of the second week was spent in Italy where we defeated more multi pitch rock faces and had our summit attempt at the Dent de Geant (4018m).
We were pretty set on the idea of climbing Mont Blanc but by the latter half of the trip, we had changed our minds. We would have done Mont Blanc by the over crowded Gouter route, a long unexciting slog up a snowy gradient. The conclusion was that we were here for adrenaline stirring routes, and with some of the best mountaineers in the world as our guides, it would be almost a waste to drag them up it. This is why our 4000m peak was decided on as the Dent de Geant. From a distance it matches its translation, the Giant’s Tooth. A large featureless slab of rock with a tricky approach across varying terrain crossing notorious rock fall sites, this was much more like it!
The teams set off from the Torino Hut in Italy at 5am, sheer excitement overruled in our minds the fact that we were up at this hour on our holiday. The trip across the glacier to the foot of the peak was tiring; we were after all a good 2.5 miles above the sea floor. Then began a technical climb up a mixture of snow ice and rock being very careful with our foot placements after seeing several climbers ahead of us knocking off rocks as they travelled. We reached the base of the ‘tooth’ at around 11am, 6 hours of work and the hardest was yet to come. Hauling off massive fixed ropes we approached the summit; and exhausted, around 2 hours later, we reached the top. It was an emotional time for the team, after 2 years of training in the UK, further training in the previous week and 8 hours of climbing, we had reached the pinnacle of our mountaineering careers to date.
The remainder of the week passed in a blur with our final route on Friday, being the Cosmiques Arête. From here all that was left was to pack our kit and head on home.
The general consensus was that this trip was by far, the most exciting and exhilarating of our lives. Now we look forward to progressing our skills and hope to return next year this time possibly without guides, to renew our skills and learn more. We are proud of the comments that the guides left us with, our enthusiasm, resilience and fitness levels were often praised, and this is proved by a short blog on the Alpine Guides website (http://www.alpine-guides.co.uk), along with pictures. Sgt Jay Bhadresha went as far to say that ‘pretty much anything is possible if you put your mind to it’, after all, two years ago most of the cadets had never visited the mountains before.
Report by Ajvir Sandhu