Conville Courses and Alpine Adventures

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
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
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!

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