LCpl Nesbitt overcomes her fear of height on her final climb to the summit of Gran Paradiso
the rising afternoon temperature. We aimed to arrive at the refuge huts by mid-afternoon in order to conduct valuable learning periods including basic outdoor survival, avalanche obstaclecrossing drills and the construction of emergency snow shelters. Typically, this was followed by a carb-heavy dinner and an early night. Eventually after some hard days skiing we arrived on the 23rd in Rifugio Vittorio Emanule 2nd (2734m) Base Camp for the Gran Paradiso summit climb the following day. The summit day itself started much earlier than usual. By the light of head-torches we began the eerie six hour climb up the mountain, roping up to traverse glacial sections to mitigate the risks of falling into a crevasse - a measure that proved its worth a couple of times when soldiers fell through the icy crust. Every hour or so we stopped on a friendly bit of ground for a bite of something and a swig of water to keep moral and energy levels high. As we came to the 3300m altitude level the weather was turning decidedly grim, with strong winds blowing sharp snow into everyone’s faces. Due to the sharp wind that blew down the steep slopes, the ice line arrived earlier than expected and the team had to stash their skis at a
Captain Murphy tries not to look down
LCpl Speaight celebrates on the summit
lower altitude than originally planned. We set about attaching the crampons to boots and locating ice axes for the final ascent. Although, this was a welcome break from the monotony of the uphill ski it also marked the start of the last 350m of climbing that was vastly more tiring than the skiing. Roped up again to avoid disaster, we traversed the Gran Paradiso Glacier with the occasional foot breaking through the snow into a crevasse beneath, until eventually reaching the rocky final 50m of the mountain climb. After taking another brief water break the final attack was launched, the team picked their way over and through this rocky assault course at a slower pace than the rest of the climb. This was owing to the technical nature of the ground and having to attach themselves to the mountain every 7-10 metres using rope and carabiners with a sheer drop on one side for hundreds of metres as though the mountain had been cleaved by an axe. The summit was reached at 1315hrs, a small statue of the Virgin Mary greeting the climbers at the apex. High fives were exchanged, selfies were snapped and again more fluid taken on while the team took in the awe inspiring views over the ceiling of the Alps including the summits of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. The team’s decent back to the skis and down the glacier was considerably quicker than expected due to the high moral and the promise of food and bed. The descent on skis provided as much adrenaline as the ascent, but with exhausted legs, balance was a little off for some members of the team!
Ski-touring is excellent adventurous training that not only challenges individuals’ courage and stamina, but draws on essential military-relevant skills including vigilant patrolling, obstacle-crossing and essential team-work to ensure that what is essentially a dangerous activity is conducted as safely as possible. Exercise COCKNEY CHAMOIS was both mentally and physically challenging, but also extremely rewarding (especially on the down-hill runs). Effectively, heli-skiing without the helicopter, ski-touring is a wonderful way to explore some of the most remote corners of mountain ranges, and Exercise COCKNEY CHAMOIS was a great adventure for all who took part.
A well-earned descent in glorious knee-deep powder
Household Cavalry Sports Round-up ■ 75