8 September 2014

After successfully completing the 3 Peaks challenge over 3 days in aid of OKE a local children’s charity, 9 boys travelled to Chamonix in the Mont Blanc Massif region of France to participate in 5 days of Alpine Mountaineering training prior to attempting an ascent of the Gran Paridiso, Italy’s tallest mountain at 4062m. After two days travelling, which involved minibus, Eurostar, overnight sleeper train, Chamonix valley train and a 5 minute walk, we arrived at the campsite at 10.20 on Sunday morning.

Sunday evening we meet Rob Jarvis www.highmountainguides.com who talked us through the week’s schedule and issued boots, crampons and ice axes.

Early Monday we meet our other two guides, Johny and Neil then set off to start training and a two day ascent of the Aiguille du Tour on the French - Swiss border. The morning was spent ascending to the mountain refuge, our accommodation for the evening, enabling us an early start to the summit before the midday sun as well as to acclimatise.

We arrived at the refuge at midday and after a short break started the mountaineering training on the glacier which consisted of the correct fitting of crampons and walking over various types of terrain including rock, ice axe usage and short rope techniques, which involved a team of 5 being joined together for movement over the glacier and summits. The afternoon finished off with the boys being lowered into a large crevasse and then ice climbing out using ice axes and crampons.

After a well-deserved evening meal the boys prepared their equipment and got set for an early night and a 4 am wake-up, only to be woken up at 4 am, to be told to stay in bed until 6 am, due to a thunderstorm. After breakfast we had a training session on various maps and navigation skills in winter conditions, by which time the weather had improved and it was decided to attempt an ascent starting at 8 am. All was going well and the lads were really enjoying themselves but unfortunately as we arrived on the ridge at the Swiss border, the wind driving in the loose snow was too strong to complete the last 300m to the summit, so it was decided by the guides to retreat back down. Although a shame, it proved to the guides how well prepared and mature the boys were for a group of 16 year olds. This meant we could have a day and a morning rock climbing in the Chamonix valley on the Wednesday and in a venue in Italy on the Thursday morning. Once again the guides were full of praise at the levels of the boys skills and abilities.

Thursday midday after a quick lunch in the valley saw us start our accent of the Gran Paridiso with a 1000m + walk up to the refuge for late afternoon.  After the evening meal the boys prepared their equipment and fitted head torches to helmets ready for a 3.45 wake-up and then retired for an early night.  Friday morning following a quick breakfast of bread, Kellogg’s and plenty of strong coffee we started our ascent at 4.45 am with a 30 minute walk in the dark, up to the start of the glacier. At about 5 am just as we started off in our three groups we heard an almighty crash, of what sounded like thunder, to be told by the guides that it was the glacier. As we made our way up and the dawn light started to become visible, the temperature raised resulting in the ice of the glacier creaking and groaning. One boy was heard to say this is “awesome and worrying at the same time.”

3 Peaks Apls

After a long slow steady ascent we arrived at the start of the Gran Paridiso ridge at approximately 10 am, where we left our ice axes and walking poles, to enable us to scramble along the busy ridge, which involved one section where we had to clip into anchors for safety, due to the sheer drop and narrow ledge. On the top the views were out of this world with clear blue skies well above the cloud base.

After a 15 minute rest we made our way back along the ridge and started our 2200m descent, including 1100m on the glacier with crampons on and a further 1100m on paths back to the valley floor, with a 45 minute break at a mountain refuge. Once back on the valley floor we handed all the equipment back to Rob and the guides, had a late lunch after which Rob and the guides congratulated the lads on a very successful week and praised their maturity, professionalism, commitment, skills and behaviour - having at first been a little apprehensive in agreeing to guide nine 16 year olds, on what is obviously an activity which demands a very high level of discipline and the attributes mentioned.

Saturday and another early start to beat the queues saw us taking the mountain lifts to 3800m onto the Aiguille du Midi, which is an amazing engineering achievement with an ice tunnel, glass box, restaurant, museum and various viewing platforms with amazing views of Mont Blanc at 4810m and the surrounding mountain range. In the evening we had a celebration meal followed by free time in Chamonix.

Sunday after a well-deserved lie in, we packed our bags for the return journey home starting at 5.10 pm, so the lads did what lads the world over do and went into Chamonix to run themselves into the ground playing football with the local French lads. After an uneventful journey back, with the exception and to the delight of the lads, Mr Hind was escorted from the group under armed police guard along with an Alsatian dog, whilst the police and Eurostar staff decided what I should do with my ice axe.

 I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the lads on a truly amazing trip and for all the hard work over the last eighteen months, involving training and fundraising to make this trip a success. I hope the life skills they have learnt as well as the qualifications they have gained will only enhance their futures. Good luck lads well done and thank you.

Gary Hind.  September 2014

Tags: 3 Peaks