After a long exam period a gang of lucky UBESters headed to Chamonix to do the Jonathan Conville Alpine Mountaineering course and get our first alpine season under our belts. The Conville course is a fantastic three day programme subsidised by the Jonathon Conville memorial trust which was set up in memory of a young mountaineer who died on the Matterhorn in 1979.
After two days of driving (or on my part singing musical soundtracks and annoying Megan and Ben) we arrived at the campsite in Argentière. Megan and I were to be on the same course and it quickly became clear that the campsite was a stronghold for Convillers which seemed to be dominated by UBES members! The next day a UBES cohort headed to Le Chesery to enjoy some slabby sport climbing and get our psyche back after a climbing dearth over exam season.
That evening Megan and I made our sandwiches (camembert baguettes naturally) and diligently packed our bags hoping that we had everything we needed. Emily and Duncan who had just finished their course assured us that we’d have a brilliant time and warned us of the guide’s opinions on buffs (pointless), camelbaks (unreliable) and GoPros (make you look like a… chump). The morning started with introductions and discussion as to what you actually needed to carry with you on an Alpine mountain day. The Alpine spirit of carrying as little weight as possible was quite alien to those of us used to packing a bag capable of dealing with every eventuality on a rainy day in the Lake District and spare-spare jumpers. Full racks and favourite ear muffs were quickly jettisoned. Due to miserable weather we weren’t able to go up high so spent the morning learning how to move across a glacier roped together and carry out crevasse rescue at the campsite. We then drove to a local crag Les Gaillands and practiced prusiking and climbing in our boots accompanied by the sound of bongo drums courtesy of some French hippies. The next day we got the lift up to Les Aiguilles Rouges, for most of us this was our first experience of the Alps in summer and the views were breath taking. At the top we practiced all the skills we learnt the previous day in a snowy environment, as well as learning how to make an axe belay and a snow bollard.
On the final day of the course we went up to the iconic Aiguille du Midi, the highest point I reached during the trip at 3800m and the increased altitude was noticeable. We quickly got our first taste of Alpine exposure descending the Midi arête with its steep gradient and sheer drops.
Excitement was high as we undertook our first Alpine route – The Arête Laurent, moving together and taking it in turns to lead sections as the guides soloed next to us.
We finished the course elated and keen to build on what we had learnt. The guides were incredibly helpful and enthusiastic and after extensive quizzing and leafing through their guide books Megan and I had soon composed a list of ‘totally rad’ routes we hoped to complete by the end of our stay.
First on our list was the normal route up Aiguille du Tour - a friendly introduction to Alpinism with plenty of glacier travel and an easy rock section to practice our rope skills. We set off the next day and walked up the scenic path to Aiguille du Tour with bags full of rope and bivvy stuff. After a beautiful night under the stars with some other UBESters we enjoyed perfect conditions and although the trudge back down seemed far longer than it had the previous day we were kept motivated by the promise of a midnight express in Chamonix once we reached the bottom.
Blessed with consistently good weather we went on to have several more fun packed days in the mountains climbing the Traverse of the Crochues, Cosmiques Arête, L’ Index and Point Lachenal.
After a great two and a half weeks with brilliant company I can’t wait to come back next year!