SAAS GRUND SUMMER MEET 2019
Camping Mischabel, Saas Grund, Switzerland
29 July - 11 August 2019
The Inaugural Young Alpinists Climbing Meet took place in the Saas Fee/Saas Grund area of the Valais region, Switzerland, between the 29th July and 11th August 2019. The 14 day meet brought together young alpinists from the UK and Ireland, with the aim of progressing their climbing safely, efficiently, and towards tougher objectives in an alpine environment. The hope too was that by bringing together psyched young men and women, the attendees could heighten their own individual skill, knowledge and motivation through shared experiences. Over 25 people attended, between the ages of 18 and 30, and strong, lasting partnerships were quickly developed. Tom Livingstone, who organised the meet in conjunction with Ian Parnell and the British Mountaineering Council and The Alpine Club, was on hand to provide additional motivation, structure and some top practical tips. He was initially joined by Will Sim, whose in-depth knowledge of the region and routes proved invaluable in the early days of the meet, as the young climbers got their bearings.
At the initial briefing, Tom stressed that the meet was not a competition, nor a fast-track course in alpinism, and the climbers who were in attendance had been selected based on the fact they showed enough proficiency in the mountains so they could be self-sufficient on their chosen objectives throughout the meet. It was also emphasised that this meet was a great opportunity for learning, forming great and lasting partnerships - although there was no expectation on their ability, participants should look to improve throughout the meet.
The objective for the first week was for climbers to choose routes within their abilities, and pair up with some new partners. During this first week, there were some impressive ascents on ridge terrain including a one-day link-up of the Lagginhorn and Weissmeiss skyline, several parties completed the Lenzspitse-Nadelhorn traverse and climbers also took on the snowfields of the Hohlaubgrat on the Allalinhorn.
Each evening, everyone gathered for “circle time”, where climbers discussed the routes they had climbed, the routes they wished to climb, topics for discussion including techniques, style and ethics.
In practical terms, this includes when and how to use the rope, when to pitch and when to move together, what natural features we could use as protection 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 also played the ‘motivator,’ encouraging people to not simply follow others 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.
There was of course time allotted for some jokes of variable quality and a lot of craic.
The second week provided a platform for the participants to take what they had learned in the first week on the classic ridgelines of the valley and push their sights now towards routes and objectives that put their abilities to the test. Participants explored options near and far and during this week really stepped up to the plate. There were ascents on the Shreckhorn, Kingspitze, the south ridge of the Rothhorngrat, an ascent of the rarely climbed west pillar of the Sheidiggwetterhorn in Grindelwald, and several ascents of the north face of the Piz Badile as well as many others. When back in camp there was an electric buzz around, as tired climbers came in to rest after big adventures and fresh climbers left on foot or by van towards some of Switzerland’s finest objectives.
By the end of the two weeks, a clear team spirit had developed amongst the group, and on the final night, there was dinner held in a local restaurant in Saas Grund followed by an impromptu DJ set played by one of the Young Alpinists from the back of another’s van until the early morning. Amazingly, some even got up the next morning, put on their gear and went out to climb again. It was obvious that the knowledge, camaraderie and psyche for the group would be continuing long into the future.
A winter alpine meet took place in March 2020, and discussions are underway on the direction that this young group of climbers - and their mentors - would like to take this energy going forward.
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.
Calum Kenny, Kyle Scott, Luke Davies, Richard Ive, Luke Maddock-Lyon, Tim Exley, Killian Buckley, Tim Gomersall, Will Lewallen, Tom Shaw, Alex Metcalfe, Augmantas Cibas, Kristian Soderstrom, Josh Abrahams, Holly Rowlands, Connor Read, Annie-Jo Gregory
Attended but no bursary:
Bobby Pearson, Carrie Beadle, Tom Hare, Joe Brindley, Callum Johnson, Jamie Clarricoats, Nick, Louise Kennedy, Katie Bowen, Omar
Special thanks to Tom Livingstone, Will Sim, Ian Parnell, Nick Colton, The Alpine Club, The BMC, Petzl and Mountain Equipment for their time, knowledge, organisation, funding and support before and throughout the meet.
Written by Killian Buckley