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Alps Walk team scales second peak in as many days

The team described the summit ridge as being like a knife-edge

(swissinfo.ch)

A select group of seven British climbers and Swiss guides has made a successful assault on the summit of the Mönch, 4,099 metres above sea level. The team has now clocked up its second Alpine peak in as many days on the fourth leg of a ten-day long mountain expedition.

The party chose the classic southeast ridge, which quickly became a scramble over rock and hard snow. Some of the slopes were 45 degrees steep and the exposed summit ridge was a knife-edge, swept by strong gusts of wind.

Alison Henry, the only female member of the Alps Walk team, easily matched the pioneering spirit of her Victorian predecessors as she headed towards the Mönch summit.

Henry's achievement certainly surpassed that of a certain 19th century Russian princess, whose mountain guide was so overcome with embarrassment when the royal party failed to make the ascent that he was shamed into entering a false name in the record books.

Stashing her skirt away in favour of a pair of tweed breeches, and handing her gear to a porter to carry, Henry reflected on what it must have been like for Victorian women to climb in the Alps.

"Nowadays, it's accepted for women to climb mountains," Henry said, "but back then they would have been ostracised".

Les Swindin, a climber with over 35 years' mountaineering experience in the Bernese Oberland, was making a return visit to the Mönch summit.

Relying on guides

But the three-hour climb to the top was still a novel experience for the British mountaineer, who is more accustomed to embarking on his own expeditions without the assistance of local guides.

"I'd prefer to use my own initiative if it was my first time doing these climbs," Swindin commented as the team savoured the spectacular view at the summit.

But Swindin and fellow British climber Philip Martineau did admit the expedition has taught the team to rely on its guides and their unrivalled skills.

Andreas Abegglen, who conquered his first 4,000 metre peak when he was just 14 years old, was praised by the team for his dedication to the task of guiding them up to the summit.

"Andreas really comes alive when he's on the mountain," Martineau said.

Abegglen spent much of the day securing ropes to belay posts for Swindin and Martineau as they made their ascent. His grandfather played a leading role in equipping difficult routes throughout the Bernese Oberland with fixed ropes and posts.

Safety is paramount

"The sheer number of secure ropes and posts makes the Alps more attractive to inexperienced climbers," Abegglen admitted, "but these people would climb anyway and the posts at least make it easier for the guides to ensure their safety".

After the relative comfort of the Konkordia and Mönchsjoch Huts, the team trekked across the snow fields to end their day at the primitive Bergli Hut, perched 800 metres below the Mönch summit.

Carrying their own provisions, the party of climbers ended the day in true 19th century style, cooking their own food over a wood-burning stove - and that, as several of the team members remarked, is as far away as one can get from modern civilisation in Switzerland.

The aim of the Alps Walk expedition, which can be followed every day on swissinfo, is to trace the history and the development of mountaineering as well as chart changes to the natural environment over the past century.

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