This challenge starts with driving from London up to Ambleside in the Lake District to buy all (or the vast proportion) of the gear that I will need for the various expeditions. Taking a large car and several credit cards just in case! Long journey through the dark but my spirits are maintained by a lively debate with the satnav over whether the M6 toll road actually exists. It provides a speedy circumvention of the Birmingham evening traffic on an excellently built and traffic-free road. I finally get into Ambleside just before 9; in time for a quick visit to the gym and a spot of dinner from the only available place in town - the local Chinese!
The next day is another long one - 6 hours in the Adventure Peaks shop. Given my attitude to shopping (even for sports gear) it is not long before my interest starts fading and I resort to my usual tactic of just asking for 'one of everything I need and make it the best you have'... I am going to look very shiny and new but need to avoid the potential for 'all the gear, no idea' accusations once on the course.
After that another long drive in the dark up to Onich. A small village between Fort William and Glen Coe in the Northish West of Scotland. Swine satnav decides to thwart my best efforts to avoid the centre of Glasgow and all my good progress on the motorway is undone as I spend a good hour crawling through the city.
A week that veered from enjoyable and informative to exhaustive and rather worrying. This was a chance to add some technical skills and tricky condition experience to my prior and rather old school approach of going fast and light to power through the terrain and weather – not really an option on the beasts to come!
First was a crash weekend course in beginner’s winter skills (crampons, ice axes etc) run by Mat followed by a week of trying out my skills and equipment in anger led by Zac (see his blog Jan 14th to 18th for a bit more of the detail - http://www.mountainzblog.blogspot.com).
The drive back down was more fun and games with the wretched satnav and an unfortunate petrol stop on the Southern Glasgow bypass became a battle of wills to get back onto the motorway. I claim victory on this occasion but the lady gets revenge when (still refusing to accept the existence of the M6 toll road) she cunningly diverts me onto the M1 rather than the M40 from Birmingham then allowing her to direct me though all the major traffic jams on my resulting traipse across London.
Most importantly are the great photos below from the week:
After the rather cool temperatures at the North Pole it is off to Thailand for a couple of weeks to warm up and do some training at the Tiger Muay Thai camp. Thailand may seem an odd place to go, but after so much cold I feel like being in a warm place and a fitness boot camp is hopefully ideal for the rather physical challenge of Denali.
One piece of advice that is often given before an expedition is to eat a lot as people always lose weight on long trips. It sounds sensible and so I have followed it. In fact, I found that I put on weight as well as losing muscle mass! Thailand is an opportunity to reverse this!
A typical day starts with an hour of fairly physical yoga at 7am with circuit training / cross fitness from 08:30 until about 10. Bit of a break during the heat of the middle of the day before more circuit training / cross fitness at 14:45 followed by a session in the gym and then a run or night yoga before an early night to get ready to start all over again on the following day.
The morning circuit training / cross fitness takes place on the beach or on a long, steep hill on Tuesdays and Thursdays just in case the sessions at the camp are not strenuous enough.
Perhaps the least favourite part of mountaineering for me is the actual climbing - vertigo being a longstanding friend of mine! Quite fortunately there is not that much actual climbing on most of the expeditions apart from the Carstenz Pyramid. So this week is spent in the Lake District under the expert guidance of Paddy Cave - one of the UK's leading climbers.
We started out doing some normal climbing however this was complicated by the fact that it was raining and that we were wearing winter mountaineering boots rather than rock climbing shoes. Gradually we moved from routes that were graded as 'difficult' to 'v. diff' routes as well as practising techniques for upcoming expeditions:
A lot of fun and we did make some good progress - just hope I can avoid a relapse before the expedition in August.
This was meant to be a week of snow and ice training and an ascent of Mt Blanc. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible with virtually no visibility and a huge amount of snow.
This is one of the main webcams in the area:
This meant that it was too dangerous to be up in the mountains and at the same time not really possible to practice any skills. We tried to get to one of the lower ridges but after wading through waist deep snow on the way up to the nearby hut, found that it was just going to be too dangerous to continue on the next day given the now very high risk of an avalanche.
To make the week productive, we spent most of the time down in the valley working on climbing and rope skills. This was actually helpful for me as I am happy up in the snow but much less so on technical climbing.
I was heading off for Denali next and Angus had another week which enabled him to do much more mountaineering practice as the conditions improved.
Accounts and photos of completing the Explorers Grand Slam - 2 Poles and 7 Summits. By Sebastian Merriman. Aconcagua, Ama Dablam, Carstenz Pyramid, Denali, McKinley, Elbrus, Everest, Kosciusko, Kilimanjaro, North Pole, Arctic, South Pole, Antarctic, Antarctica, Vinson, vertigo, climbing, mountaineering, skiing to the pole, skiing to the poles, seb2poles7summits, seb27, Seb Merriman, seb2poles, mountains, poles