The BMC Young Alpinist's Meet 2019 was a huge success, giving a number of keen British alpinists the tools and knowledge to help prepare them for future expeditions. From technical skills to mental preparations, the meet imparted wisdom and experience that young climbers would struggle to gain from textbooks or articles. Here's what went down:
This two-week climbing meet, based in the Valais region in Switzerland, aimed to motivate young British alpinists so they may progress safely and efficiently in their alpine climbing. Over 25 people attended, all around 25 years old, and they quickly developed strong partnerships, sharing knowledge and ideas. Tom Livingstone, initially joined by Will Sim, was on hand to provide motivation and structure to the meet.
At the initial briefing, Tom stressed that the meet was not a competition, nor a fast-track course in alpinism. Attendees took responsibility for their own actions, and the program for the first week was simply to meet new partners and choose conservative routes.
Thanks to the BMC Mountain Medicine Weekend, where the British Mountain Medicine Society donated 50% of the profits back, the BMC was be able to offer a limited number of bursaries of up to £300, each to assist with travel costs and camping fees. Equipment for those receiving a bursary from the BMC was generously provided by Mountain Equipment and Petzl (all 18 people who applied for a bursary were given a fair share of the funds). Each applicant received a 37L Tupilak Pack, a Tupilak Atmo jacket, a t-shirt, and a Petzl Actik+ headtorch; a Sirocco helmet and Volta Guide 60m 9mm rope were also raffled during the Meet.
Every evening, everyone gathered at the campsite to discuss their thoughts on the day, the things they’d learnt, and their thoughts for the following days. ‘Circle time’ became a valuable part of the meet.
Circle time! Photo: Alex Metcalfe
During the first few days, climbers practiced their skills on classic routes like the south ridge of the Lagginhorn, the north ridge of the Weissmeis, the Lenspitze - Nadelhorn traverse and the Holabgrat on the Alallinhorn.
In practical terms, we debated when and how to use the rope, when to pitch and when to move together, what natural features we could use with the rope, how long to keep a practical and safe distance between climbers, and ways to make moving together safer. We also discussed speed and why it can - but not always - equal safety, how best to approach and descend from routes, and gear.
In mental terms, we considered our attitudes to risk, reward and revelry. We also debated other climbers in the mountains, and their effects on us. We talked about ‘the big picture,’ such as when and how to plan an alpine trip, when to take rest days, when to be productive with our time, when to be ambitious, and when to know you’re relying on your partner.
Route choices were also discussed, and Tom might also play the ‘motivator,’ encouraging people to not simply follow other’s suggestions or ideas. Routes which were ‘classics of the trade’ were not encouraged, nor bolted multi-pitch climbs with clear online topos. This form of ‘alpinism’ was not the emphasis of the Meet. Instead, participants needed to think for themselves, come up with original ideas, and fully research their objectives. Much of this was seen first-hand by Tom (and others) during the Slovenian-Scottish exchange in 2018/2019, mentored in part by Ian Parnell and Marko Prezelj.
Part of the lesson was to ignore grades, reports and egos, and instead enjoy being in the mountains, acting and reacting with whatever they found. Participants were pushed outside of their comfort zones, but with the idea being to progress in a way they ultimately benefited from.
Partnering up. Photo: Tom Livingstone
By the end of the two weeks, there was a clear team spirit amongst the group, with people exchanging ideas and feedback. We discussed the variability of the weather, and even benefited from some rainy days in order to practice skills like hauling a pack on an alpine route, building belays carefully and efficiently, and managing the ropes.
During the rest of the meet, participants enjoyed bigger adventures, such as the west pillar of the Scheidiggwetterhorn, the Schreckhorn, routes on the Kingspitze, the south ridge of the Rothorngrat on Zinalrothorn, the Ober Gabelhorn, the Alallinhorn-Alphubel-Tasch-Dom traverse, and the Bishorn. On the final night of the Meet, participants debriefed while enjoying a meal at a local Swiss restaurant. Everyone left with new partners, fresh motivation and plenty of route ideas.
Going big. Photo: Alex Metcalfe
Future events (such as a winter alpine meet in early 2020) will focus on those who have accumulated a large amount of alpine climbing experience, and wish to progress to harder routes.
Attended but no bursary:
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