Mountain Tracks: Taking you from ‘Zero’ to ‘Alpine Hero’

I’m sitting in my kitchen with the smell of fresh coffee slowly awakening the sinuses. My porridge with banana and a dash of honey is starting to congeal, my attention being drawn to the GO Outdoors product booklet. Even though I seem to have amassed a mountain of kit over the years, I still can’t resist eyeballing the offers. The depth, breadth and value of the products offered always amazes me.

I grew up climbing around the Peak District and many visits were made to GO (or CCC as it was then) in Sheffield for our camping and outdoor gear. I had little idea that 15 years on I would meet John Graham (head honcho at GO) to discuss mutual business interests. With a twinkle in his eye John asked me to identify the climb in a picture on his office wall. I passed the test and correctly identified it as Regular Route on Half Dome in California’s Yosemite Valley (luckily I had climbed it as a youth!). Not a typical business meeting, but it typifies the passion people have in outdoor business.

My partners and I are equally passionate about our business: guided mountain adventure – and the spirit of all we do at Mountain Tracks. Mountain Tracks is the market leader in adventure skiing, climbing and trekking holidays. From your first tentative steps on a glacier to climbing the Eiger, or skiing in Indian Kashmir, we run our trips with world class IFMGA Mountain Guides.

Nick, Matt and I are all Mountain Guides with a passion for climbing and skiing, whilst Chris and Susie in the office expertly keep logistics, planning and customer service on track. Our team first connected with GO Outdoors through John Graham, who was guided by Matt on a ice climbing week in Chamonix. After sharing a few beers in the local we thought it would be a great idea to further share our passion and outdoor expertise with both Mountain Tracks and GO Outdoors customers. We are keen to show that mountain activities are inclusive and aimed at all skill levels.

At Mountain Tracks we often hear comments such as:
“That’s way too hardcore for me!”
“But I’m not that fit!”
“That sounds very hazardous!”

Well, think again! Everyone can enjoy the mountains at their own level – whether in the UK’s fantastic mountain ranges or in the Alps. Mountain Tracks will be writing a series of articles taking customers on a journey from ‘zero to hero’ in the mountains.

Throughout the articles’ twelve-month journey we will provide advice on mountain fitness, improving skill levels, and equipment selection needed for each progressive stage. We’ll focus on providing useful advice for both ‘DIY’ walkers and mountaineers while also explaining which guided packages are on offer. I hope you’ll be able to follow this great journey with us and be inspired to get into the mountains!

In the next few months…

A Walkers Guide To The Alps
Or, how to make the transition from hillwalking in the UK to the Alps. The European Alps are only an hour’s flight away and return flights can be had for as little as £50. So, why not escape the rain and hit the hills in the sub-Alpine regions of Switzerland, France and Italy? You’ll probably want to know… where are the best valley bases and the top ten walks across the central Alps? Do you need an umbrella and wellingtons or will trainers do?!? Do you need midge repellant and advice on how to avoid gorging yourself on cheese fondue?

Moving Off The Trails
Icy trips (glacier treks) for the more adventurous walker. There are hundreds of glaciers (rivers of ice) in the Alps that are crisscrossed by well-established walking routes. These walks are easily achievable for most walkers; I’ve guided all ages from 5 to 75 on these spectacular ice fields: so it’s not as ‘hardcore’ as you might think! Are crevasses (ice gorges) and seracs (ice cliffs) really that dangerous? What extra equipment will you need to go onto a glacier and keep you safe? We’ll provide the answers.

Via Ferrata – Walking with attitude!
Via ferratas (Italian for ‘iron way’) are an ideal way for walkers with a head for heights to access some spectacular cliffs via the fixed cables, ladders and ropes bolted to the vertical world. They can range from single ladders on a path to full on trouser filling suspended cable bridges and iron rungs thousands of feet up a cliff. They are graded for different levels of technicality and may be incorporated on a walk or be a stand alone activity. Some in the Dolomites of Italy, like the Bochetta Way, are linked and the traverse of the route lasts several of days.

Multi day Glacier Walks
When you have got to grips with some basic glacier travel then why not try some of the most famous linked walks across the high Alpine regions?  The walker’s Haute Route is the most famous and links Chamonix (below Mont Blanc) and Zermatt (below the Matterhorn). Staying in high Alpine huts is a real adventure, but beware of etiquette – annoy the hut guardian and you’ll be spending a night outside!

Alpine Skills
The next step, crossing glaciers DIY (do it yourself) and learning the basic skills needed to travel safely in the mountains on snow, ice and rock. Next, how to choose your first easy Alpine peaks. There are hundreds that are no more arduous than a day in the Lakes, North Wales or Scotland as long as you haven’t got two left feet and can safely walk in crampons.

Alpine 4000m Peaks For Walkers
Despite its jagged appearances, the Alps have a number of easier 4000m peaks that walkers can climb without getting onto any steep ground or climbing up hill for hours on end! Some, like the Brighthorn and Allalinhorn, are only a few hours walk from a conveniently placed cable car. How will the altitude affect you? What is the best way to acclimatise for these peaks? We’ll give you the answers that will help you best prepare for these Alpine adventures.

Big Ticks!
OK – so you’ve done all the above (or at least thought about it) and want a place a big tick in the box: and give yourself something to train for. Mont Blanc is one of the most popular high peaks in the Alps. Despite what people might say it is spectacular and achievable for fit walkers who can manage 10 hours on the hill in the UK. What are the different routes of ascent and descent? At 4800m do I need a really warm duvet and insulated boots in summer? Our guide to climbing Mont Blanc is sure to whet the appetite.

Mission Impossible!
Nope, not a day out with Tom Cruise but equally as rewarding! Our IFMGA Mountain Guides coined this phrase when people came to Mountain Tracks to do the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and Eiger in a two week hit. The big question is: are these peaks beyond the remit of most mortals? I guided a lady up the Matterhorn who was a mother of three from London – she had never been up a mountain in her life except for Snowdon… on the train! Admittedly, she had a natural aptitude for climbing, trained hard and was extremely fit. What extra skills and equipment do you need for these peaks? How much harder are they than Mont Blanc? What are the dangers associated with the ultimate Alpine adventure? We’ll give you the rundown on these exhilarating climbs.

We hope this short outline will give you plenty of ideas and scope to develop your adventures over the coming years with Mountain Tracks and GO Outdoors.

See you in the mountains,

Olly Allen (IFMGA Mountain Guide)