Cdt Sgt Ross Davidson was recently awarded a place on an Alpine Training Course sourced through the Sqn Adventure Training Officer, Fg Off Nick Harvey. His report follows:
“Having not been able to go to the French Alps with the squadron in 2007, I was delighted to be told that I had been awarded a place on the Jonothan Conville Memorial Trust, a trust set up to give young mountaineering enthusiasts like myself a chance to use an alpine guide for 3 days in the alps and learn as much from them as possible. When I first arrived, I was awestruck by the vastness of the place. I was staying in the Chamomix valley, and all around me were these 4000m peaks, each with thousands of possible routes for me to do. The first day of the course took me to the Mere De Glace, an ice glacier that had been there for thousands of years, but has sadly been receding over the past 30. This was where we were going to learn all the alpine basics, how to walk in crampons, how to use axes, how to place ice screws, how to rope up, how to move together and what to do in the unfortunate case of someone falling in a crevasse, a very real danger to alpinists of any experience.
The second day were preparations for our first alpine summit, the Aiguille de Tour, standing at 3540m. That day we took the lift and then walked up to the Albert Premier hut. Mountain huts are situated all over the Mount Blanc Massif range and are where people stay before they do any snow or ice routes. This is because most routes start in the early hours of the morning and this saves time starting from the valley. When we had reached the hut, we dumped all our kit and practised more crevasse rescues on the nearby Glacier D’Argentiere before having dinner and having an early night for our 3am start. That day though, there were lots of signs of an electrical storm building up and so we had to make an assessment in the morning. After waking up at 3am, we started the route with our headtorches until the sun rose at about 5am. The route was like a highway, and we joined the 20 or so other parties following the same tracks. About half way up though, the weather started coming in and the guides decided it wasn’t worth the risk so we turned back. It turned out that the weather was fine, but the Alps aren’t anything like mountaineering in the UK; in bad weather you don’t want to be out. We made our way to a rocky shelf near the bottom of the route, and instead of making the whole day a waste, our guides taught us ways of moving together on rock. This included putting in temporary protection, different ways of belaying and how to start assessing how many of these precautions are actually necessary on particular routes, because these all take time and speed in the alps is everything. We finished the day with an abseil off the rock and back to the hut, and from there we walked back down to the lifts and then to the campsite.
Although I was originally disappointed at not completing my first alpine summit, I found that it was more useful to go over the rope work, because this was something I wouldn’t be able to do for the rest of my time out there, whereas that route still was. The rest of my time out there, I did routes with people staying on my campsite who had also done the course. I climbed the Aiguille de la Perseverance, (2899m), the Cosmique Arete on the Aiguille du Midi (3842m) and the Petite Aiguille Verte (3508m) as well as smaller multipitch rock routes in the area. Overall, I think that this was a great course and would recommend it to anyone that wants to make the step between British and European mountaineering”.