Up Close with AC Aspirant Hannah Mitchell

Hannah Mitchell is an Aspirant AC Member, an outdoor journalist and the driving force behind ‘Tidy Climbers’, a new initiative aimed at cleaning up our crags. We sat down with Hannah to learn a little more about her, her work and her penchant for litter picking.

Hannah climbing at Castle Rock of Triermain - Andy Milton


Hi Hannah. Could you kick off by telling us a little about what you do for work?

I’m primarily an outdoor and adventure journalist. My work is for adventure magazines and websites and I also do copywriting for outdoor brands.


And how long have you been doing that for?

I’ve enjoyed writing most of my adult life in one way or another. I was working in a Youth Hostel in the Lake District and during the COVID lockdowns I wrote an article for the BMC magazine and realised that this was the sort of thing I liked doing most. And I feel like if you can do what you like for a living, then brilliant!

I decided to take the leap and I did a Master’s degree in Journalism which I just finished at the end of last year and I’ve been writing for a living for a couple of years now.


Obviously you’re focused on the outdoors, but are there any topics within that field that you’re particularly interested in writing about?

That first article I wrote for the BMC was about disparities in financial support for outdoor workers and guides during COVID. The outdoors is the underpinning theme in just about everything I do, but I like to hone in on social and environmental issues. I’m also really interested in championing women in outdoor and mountaineering spaces and amplifying the voices of people you don’t typically see in those areas.

Speaking of environmental issues, that leads us quite nicely to Tidy Climbers. Could you explain what it is?

So I think with issues like litter at crags, it’s very easy to get bogged down and feel helpless, or frustrated, or angry, or even sad. And whilst I think it's really important to acknowledge those feelings, I think sometimes a far more positive way of tackling issues like this is to amplify the good stuff that's going on.

I was aware that a lot of climbers like myself were habitually picking up rubbish when they went climbing. Having a little clean up, either of the parking area or the crag. It’s something that quite a lot of people do already. One element of Tidy Climbers is to celebrate the good work that people are doing. Whilst they're probably not doing it for recognition or anything like that, I think it's really important to thank people and celebrate the positives.

The second, and probably the most important element, is to inspire behavioural change in people who perhaps don't already do that. It’s hard to force yourself to pick up someone else's mess, but hopefully by seeing other people doing it, more of us will just habitually take two minutes out of our climbing day to have a little root around the bushes or the car park and pick up any crisp packets or finger tape, or whatever we happen to find there.

Access to a lot of crags is a privilege for climbers and if areas are being trashed, it jeopardises that access, even if the rubbish isn't being left by climbers. So it benefits the entire climbing community if we all just do that little bit. And finally, it’s important to remember that these places aren’t just there to serve us as a recreational space – they’re habitats and ecosystems that we have a duty to take care of if we want to share them.


Was there a particular inciting incident that inspired you to start Tidy Climbers?

Oh, there have been plenty! I live in the Lake district, and it tends to be that I find less rubbish at crags, particularly high mountain crags, just because they're less visited areas. It's usually on the walks in and out that you come across all sorts of awful stuff like abandoned camp sites . A friend and I walked off Needle Ridge in The Napes and we found a completely abandoned campsite by the tarn and we basically just bagged and gathered everything up that we possibly could and then enlisted the help of some walkers to carry it all down. I guess that was the final straw!

Climbing on Dow Crag - Garry Smith

How would you most like other people to get involved with Tidy Climbers?

What's really putting a smile on my face at the moment is the fact that I'm getting contributions from people from all over the UK. I've had people send pictures from north Wales, from the Peak District and from Scotland. So it's really nice that it's kind of uniting people up and down the UK. I think just having people get involved and experience that feeling of community is one of the most important parts of it.

I'm constantly on Instagram trying to get people to send pictures of what they've picked up over the weekend, even if it's just like a handful of sweet wrappers. I just want people to get involved and engage with it.


How did you discover climbing?

I've always been outdoorsy, but I came to climbing relatively late in a bit of a baptism of fire. I’d maybe been indoor climbing a handful of times and then ended up going on a sport climbing trip to Spain and was just sort of thrown in at the deep end. But luckily I was surrounded by lots of people who were far more experienced than me and really willing to stand by me and hold my dead rope!

On the summit of the Dent du Géant following a successful Aspirants' Meet

I believe you’re heading to the Aspirants’ Meet this year. Is that part of why you joined the Alpine Club?

Since joining, I've spoken to a lot of people, particularly women, who've said “Oh, no, I couldn't join. They wouldn't let me in. I've not done X or Y.” And it's kind of like that thing where you apply for a job and they say “Well, you haven't got any experience…” and you reply “Well, where do I get the experience if I don't get the job?” So I think it [the Aspirants’ Meet] is great, because, for me, I've done a lot of mountain trad climbing and I've done odd bits of alpine style climbing, but nothing like what I'm about to go and do next week. So it's amazing to have that opportunity and to be able to get a real grasp on the very important skills that you need to be a safe and reliable partner.



You can follow Tidy Climbers on Instagram and Facebook.

This interview originally appeared in the Autumn 2023 issue of the Alpine Club Newsletter. Previous issues of the newsletter are available to read here.




Denise Evans

Members will be saddened to learn that Denise Evans died on 25 November, peacefully with her family.  Denise was President of the Alpine Club in 1986, the only female President in the Club’s history.

Report: 23 November 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 23 November 2023

Now the sun has come out it’s time for an update. 

The weather has calmed down a bit in the valley! The snow has melted down to around 1700m. It rained quite heavily last weekend.

For walkers venturing into Chamonix, we'd like to remind you that we're between seasons: too much snow at altitude for classic hikes and not enough for snowshoeing. The trails are heavily snow-covered from 1700m (and therefore impassable) and some have been damaged by the heavy rain of the past week. For instance access to the Chapeau buvette. (See photo below).

However, it's still possible to enjoy the sunshine (when it's there) and the beautiful colours on the paths near the valley floor. However, the footpaths are slippery and you need to be properly equipped.

The petit balcon sud between Chamonix and Argentière is still not recommended, nor is the petit balcon nord between Le Tour and Argentière (parts of the trail are eroded). Due to a major landslide, the paths in the tête de la Jorette area (Montagne des Posettes) are prohibited by decree. We'd like to take this opportunity to remind you how much we value your feedback from outings so that we can spread the word!

For those looking to climb a little higher, the Chailloux chalets or Loriaz are still a good options (with snow on the upper slopes).

The return of the sun means that ski tourers can get out their skins at La Flégère. With the rain-snow limit above the Index last Sunday, the surface of the snow cover is often hard and frozen. The road to the village of Le Tour is still closed, and there's no snow down there anyway! The ski areas are still closed (the Grands Montets is due to open on 2 December, snow permitting).

In the high mountains, there's been little or no activity, but there's plenty of snow and the wind has (as usual) been blowing hard (watch out for accumulations). Some of you will no doubt have taken advantage of this weather window to check out the mixed conditions.



Translated with kind permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.




Cold Comfort on Chomolungma

In a piece originally published in the 2023 Alpine Journal, Annie Dare, Head of Communications at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), explains why her organisation is moving from a solely knowledge-sharing role to become an active advocate on the issue of climate change and its impact on the Hindu Kush Himalaya. She also explains how alpinists can add their voices to ICIMOD's call for world leaders to take all necessary steps to protect this spectacular mountain region and the people who live there.

Going, going, gone? Seventy years on from the first ascent of Everest, the Khumbu glacier is disappearing at an accelerating rate. (Alex Treadway)

This spring, Catalan athlete Kilian Jornet was training around Everest, in Nepal. This was his 10th visit to the Khumbu region, but it was the first time he and his partner Swedish athlete Emilie Forsberg were accompanied by their two youngest children. Jornet, the son of a mountain guide who reached the summit of his first 3,000m peak at the tender age of three, was hoping to plant the seed for his daughters to develop a love for the people and nature of the Himalaya to equal his own. He delighted in seeing the girls playing with people and in places he felt so connected to.

Yet the trip was bittersweet. A climate advocate who consciously limits how often he flies in order to try to drive down his personal carbon footprint, it had been 10 years since Jornet had first seen Everest, or Chomolungma, ‘goddess mother of the world’ in one translation of the Tibetan. ‘The changes that have taken place in the snow and glaciers here, just in the space of that decade, are so immediately obvious, and so dramatic,’ Kilian told me. ‘It’s happening so, so fast.’

The family’s visit came just before dignitaries from the climbing world gathered at the base of the mountain, in Namche Bazaar, to mark the 70th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent. The glaciologists and researchers I work with at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which for 40 years has monitored the cryosphere across the entire 3,500km long expanse of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), used the moment to zero in on the specific impacts of climate change on Everest. Their data provides incontrovertible scientific evidence to corroborate climbers’ increasingly alarming eyewitness accounts, such as Jornet’s, or that of Lukas Furtenbach, who saw puddles on the South Col in 2022, or another climber who, when climbing Gasherbrum IV in 2021, was shocked to find water cascading down a rock at 7,000m. Worryingly, ICIMOD scientists found that the 79 glaciers around Everest had thinned by over 100m in just six decades and that the rate of thinning had almost doubled since 2009. The iconic Khumbu glacier itself is disappearing up the mountain. And the further east you go, the worse this thinning becomes.

Tenzing Chogyal Sherpa, an early-career glaciologist at ICIMOD, travelled to Namche to join his grandfather, the last survivor of the first ascent, Kanchha Sherpa, and Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, and Hillary and Norgay’s descendants for the anniversary events. Together, this group launched a campaign asking climbers to raise their voices to press for faster action to avert catastrophic, irreversible changes to Everest and other mountains under the banner of #SaveOurSnow. The campaign asks members of the public, but particularly climbers, scientists and mountain communities, to share stories of the climate impacts they’re seeing on social media and to add their name to a declaration that asks for governments to honour their commitments to limit warming as set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

All change in the Icefall. Always danger- ous, climate change is impacting on this key section on the ascent of Everest

Kanchha Sherpa, last surviving member of the 1953 expedition that put Hillary and Tenzing on the summit. (Tenzing Chogyal Sherpa)

‘The sporting community needs to step up,’ Jornet, one of the signatories of the declaration, says. ‘Alongside scientists studying these mountains, and the communities that live here, it is those of us who return year after year to these mountains, to work and to train, who can see with our own eyes the extraordinary pace of changes to mountain glaciers, snow and permafrost. These changes are not only aesthetic, of course. They also pose new dangers to climbers in terms of unstable terrain. But the much more profound impacts are the dangers these changes pose to the people and nature that rely on these mountains, for water, for livelihoods, for habitat.’

Climate impacts across the world’s cryosphere are fast outpacing scientists’ previous projections, with the fight to save summer ice in the Arctic declared essentially lost earlier this year, and revised forecasts suggesting Antarctica is vulnerable to devastating and permanent impacts at just 1.5°C of temperature rise. At 2°C of warming, glaciers in the Alps, the Andes, Patagonia, Iceland, Scandinavia, the North American Rockies and New Zealand are all set to disappear completely, while according to ICIMOD’s latest report Water, Ice Society, and Ecosystems in the Hindu Kush Himalaya around half of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya would be gone. That even just half might remain is unlikely: our current emissions trajectory sets us on course to smash through the ‘safe’ 1.5°C ceiling. At the currently plausible 4°C of warming, 80% of glaciers in the HKH will vanish by the end of the century. While glacier loss worldwide will devastate local communities and result in sea-level rise, the consensus is that the consequences of glacier loss, more erratic snowfall and permafrost thawing for people and nature in the hugely populated and bio-diverse HKH region, where 12 of the world’s major rivers originate, will be nothing short of catastrophic.

‘Nowhere is safe from climate impacts,’ says ICIMOD’s deputy director general Izabella Koziell. ‘But the Hindu Kush Himalaya holds the third largest frozen body of water on the planet, which provides freshwater services to a quarter of humanity. A staggering half of that population already suffer malnutrition. In the past two years alone we’ve already seen devastating climate-driven humanitarian disasters unfold in this region – in Afghanistan’s droughts, and Pakistan’s floods: a chilling illustration of what our scientists say will be one of the key climate impacts in our region – the issue of ‘too much water, too little water.’ The magnitude of the humanitarian catastrophe that will unfold should the reliable water supply that flows from these mountains be lost – undermining the food and water security of two billion people in Asia – is almost beyond imagining. Yet this is what the science tells us will happen unless world leaders act decisively now.’ 

The case for action is compelling. With very low emissions, most glaciers and snowpack can be preserved for water resources, with scientists saying losses would begin to slow slightly around 2040, with glaciers stabilising sometime in the next century. And the support alpinists have given the campaign has been unequivocal with over 2,000 signatories in the first 48 hours, including Kenton Cool, Rebecca Stephens, Peter Hillary, Wolfgang Nairz, Reinhold Messner, the glaciologist and alpinist Patrick Wagnon, Jamling Tenzing, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Lakpa Dendi Sherpa, documentary-filmmaker Craig Leeson, and Pemba Sherpa. Other backers include the Nepal Mountaineering Association, the Mountain Research Initiative, the UN Mountain Partnership, and the UIAA.

‘It’s amazing to have had this strong early support from the climbing community,’ says Izabella Koziell. ‘But it feels like we’re barely scratching the surface with what might be possible, in terms of the leadership role alpinists might be able to play at this crucial moment,’ says Koziell. ‘Not just because of their tenacity and influence, but most of all because of their unrivalled intimacy with mountains and mountain people. Many climbers’ lives have often been if not profoundly transformed then at least hugely enriched by encounters with the landscapes and cultures of the Hindu Kush Himalaya. These experiences give them an intrinsic awareness of how much we stand to lose unless we check emissions that are threatening lives, livelihoods and cultures.

Visible changes seen in the terminus of glacier AX010 from 1978 to 2008. Situated in the Shorong Himal, this glacier has lost almost half its surface area in just the last three decades. (Alton Byers)

The terminus of the Rikha Samba glacier between 1974 and 2010. The rate of loss has only accelerated since then. (Alton Byers)

‘It’s hard to have spent any time among such communities too and not be struck by the sheer injustice of what we’re seeing unfold across this region: of the lives of peoples who have trodden so lightly on the Earth for generations being destroyed as a consequence of political and business choices being taken millions of miles away.'

ICIMOD, for its part, is reinventing itself to rise to the challenge of supporting communities and governments in the region that will confront the impacts of the changing climate. The organisation has completely reconfigured its portfolio in order to reduce the region’s vulnerability to disaster risks: biodiversity loss; and water, energy and food insecurity. This work runs from installing early-warning systems to forewarn communities of floods and encouraging governments to share data across national boundaries, to advancing the rights and recognition of nomadic communities and the role of rangelands, to identifying incentives for communities to protect biodiversity and forests.

Critically, the organisation is setting out to build an advocacy voice that is commensurate with the region’s importance and peril. Because, despite how much hangs in the balance in terms of human population alone, knowledge of the consequences of continued climate inaction on the Hindu Kush Himalaya globally remains low. There was no mention of mountain impacts at all within the draft text of this year’s critical Global Stocktake process, an integral of the Paris Agreement under the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In collaboration with and on behalf of its eight regional member countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan – the organisation is setting out to change that lobbying at global fora: for faster action on mitigation globally; for the urgent scaling up of adaptation and ecosystem restoration funds; and programmes and for the mobilisation of loss and damage finance.

ICIMOD glaciologist Tenzing Chogyal Sherpa in the lap of Ed Hillary in 1992.

And with his grandfather Kanchha Sherpa. (Tenzing Chogyal Sherpa)

In seeking to strengthen its impact, ICIMOD is also looking outwards, exploring the creation of a new regional political mechanism, akin to the models used by the Alpine or Carpathian Convention, with the aim of accelerating political change through closer collaboration among countries to build greater resilience to these issues, many of which are trans-boundary, such as floods, and in securing greater prominence and negotiating power for the region.

‘For 40 years, ICIMOD has acted as a knowledge centre for the region, generating and sharing evidence to our member countries to support their policy processes, and this remains our primary work,’ says Koziell. ‘However, with humanity standing at such a crossroads, and our cryosphere being so central to that, our board, donors, regional member countries and stakeholders were all unanimous that ICIMOD should start to take a much more assertive role.

‘I believe that at this moment all of us are being called to go beyond ‘business-as-usual’ – and that it’s for all of use whatever platform we have to urge governments and businesses to transform how we power our lives, feed ourselves, move around so that Earth can sustain life. The science is clear – there really is no time left. Perhaps this transformation will be humanity’s greatest summit yet.’


  • To sign the declaration go to and share your story of impacts using the hashtag #SaveOurSnow.




Report: 17 November 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 17 November 2023
After the snow and the flooding, it’s certainly been a strange month!

The heavy rain (rain-snow limit above 3,000m) and the associated melting of the snowpack have had a major impact on the footpaths in the valley, which have been badly damaged. Surveys are underway and we don't have much information yet, so please let us know what you see! Some sections of path have been completely washed away, while others may still be unstable (unstable boulders etc.) This is particularly true of the Petit Balcon Nord (Le Tour-Planet sector) and Sud (Nants-Floria-Caisets sector) and the access to the Chapeau Buvette, which should be avoided.
At altitude, there is still a lot of snow above 1,600-1,700m.
So hiking is complicated at the moment (but come on: it's not really the season any more either)! We know that the Bérard cascade, Loriaz, the Blaitière alpage, the Cerro and the Chailloux alpage don't pose any problems (there are certainly others!).
As far as snowshoeing is concerned, it's still a bit early with not enough snow on the possible itineraries.
The Flégère gondola has reopened after the bad weather. The snow pack has been soaked up to high altitude. It is still waterlogged and not completely consolidated, but it is gradually drying out. In the "moyenne montagne", it snowed a little last night (between 8 and 15cm depending on the area and altitude). This prevented refreezing at depth but generally improved things. The latest news is that you can skin from around 1,700m.  

Translated with kind permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.




Mont Blanc: The Summit Paintings - Grand Opening

Mont Blanc: The Summit Paintings - Grand Opening

In the summer of 2022, artist and AC member James Hart Dyke retraced the footsteps of famed mountain artist Gabriel Loppé. His aim? To paint as Loppé had, capturing the sunset view from the summit of Mont Blanc. In the process, James produced a series of paintings which captured his journey, including two works carried out from the summit itself. 

James at work on Mont Blanc

On 5 December 2023, James's latest exhibition 'Mont Blanc: The Summit Paintings' will open at the Alpine Club's Charlotte Road premises, where his pictures from the climb will hang alongside one of Loppé's original summit paintings from 150 years ago. There will be the opportunity to meet James and to hear him discuss the experience of painting at altitude in a Q&A with the Club's Honorary Keeper of Pictures, William Mitchell.

The event is free to attend and open to all, but we do ask that you register your intention to attend using the form below.

Doors will open at 7PM for a 7:30PM start.

The exhibition will run from 28 November 2023 to 31 January 2024. Details on how to visit are available here.






Jonathan Lee

We have recently learned of the death on 8 September of Jonathan Lee.  He had been a member of the club since 1988

Alpine Club partners with the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust to Provide Mountain Safety Instruction to Young People

Alpine Club partners with the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust to Provide Mountain Safety Instruction to Young People

From 2024, the Alpine Club will support the work of the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust through an annual donation that will provide 10 places on the JCMT’s Summer Alpine Course.

The Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust, founded following the death of mountaineer Jonathan Conville in 1979 has, over the past 44 years, provided more than 5,000 subsidised places on introductory training courses in North Wales, the Alps, and Scotland. Their work has equipped generations of young climbers with the skills they need to enjoy the mountains safely.

As the largest organisation representing alpine climbers in the UK, the Alpine Club, which was founded in 1857, has many members who took their first steps into the mountains under the supervision of the JCMT. To recognise that long-standing relationship and to ensure that future generations of enthusiastic young alpinists can start their alpine careers on the best possible footing, the AC has committed to provide financial support for the Trust’s ongoing work.

Alpine Club President Simon Richardson said:

“Together, the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust and the Alpine Club have both made huge contributions to British alpinism. This is a natural partnership that not only allows young climbers to get the early support they need, but hopefully also demonstrates a path to future progression and many years of successful climbing through the Alpine Club”.

Neil McAdie, Chair of Trustees for the JCMT said:

“We’re extremely grateful to the Alpine Club for their generous commitment to fund an annual ten places on our Summer Alpine Course. These courses are life-changing experiences for many of our attendees and donations like this allow us to continue offering that experience into the future.”


You can learn more about the Alpine Club at and you can donate to the ongoing work of the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust at   




Ramsden and Miller Make the First Ascent of Surma-Sarovar (6605m)

Ramsden and Miller Make the First Ascent of Surma-Sarovar (6605m)

Less than a month after being announced as the recipients of a Piolet d'Or for their 2022 ascent of 'The Phantom Line' on Jugal Spire (6563m), Paul Ramsden and Tim Miller have returned from Nepal with another stunning first ascent on an unclimbed peak.

Miller and Ramsden on the Summit - Photo: Paul Ramsden

The pair, along with Hamish Frost and Matt Glenn, travelled to the Salimor Khola in the far west corner of Nepal. The area had seen very few previous visits and the team had limited information and no photos of the valley to help with their planning. Howerver, what they saw on Google Earth looked promising and ultimately, the huge effort required to reach the valley proved worthwhile.

Over fours days, Ramsden and Miller established a route to the summit of the previously unclimbed Surma-Sarovar (6605m). Their route climbed the mountain's colossal north face which stretches for 2km above the valley floor. Miller noted that the route's major difficulties involved crossing a rock band between 6000 and 6250m. After this, the weather turned and the pair summitted in poor conditions before starting a complex descent, made more hazardous by the fresh snow. The whole descent, which involved downclimbing a long ridge, took two days.

The line of ascent (right) and descent (left) Note: The image does not show the entirety of the north face - Photo: Hamish Frost

Commenting on the expedition experience overall, Miller said: "The social aspect of being a team of four was definitely the highlight for me and we all agreed that it was the wildest trip we had ever been on."

Glenn and Frost made attempts on two adjacent peaks, but on both occasions were forced to retreat in the face of poor conditions.

The expedition was supported by both the Montane Alpine Club Climbing Fund and a grant from the Mount Everest Foundation.




Report: 10 November 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 10 November 2023

Winter’s hanging around before a forecast milder spell from tomorrow....

The storms have been (and will be) coming one after the other, and it has snowed regularly down to 1000m, even though the snow has not lasted at this altitude. There is a bit of snow from around 1100m. Above 1500m, there are significant amounts (20-25cm at 1500m, 70-80cm at 1800m). Snow cover and the risk of avalanches should therefore be taken into account when choosing your outings, whatever the activity (hiking, skiing, etc.)

These are winter conditions, which means that hiking opportunities are very limited and mainly restricted to below 1500m. We would remind you that virtually all classic summer hikes are not possible in these conditions, even with snowshoes (steep terrain, avalanche risk, etc.)

Thanks to very good snow cover for the season, ski touring is possible above Flégère (gondola open but ski area closed) or at Le Tour (skis on from the car park).



Translated with kind permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.




Arctic-Alpine Plants: Engineers and Warning Bells

In the UK, arctic-alpine plants are a key component of upland habitats, laying the groundwork for insects, other plants and larger predators to survive in mountain environments. But new research suggests that these species are under threat; withdrawing uphill and perhaps on the verge of vanishing from our slopes entirely. Sarah Watts, a PhD researcher in plant ecology and conservation at the University of Stirling, explains why these plants are so important and why they’re currently in retreat.

From Left to Right: Purple saxifrage, snow pearlwort and drooping saxifrage - Sarah Watts

When most people consider the arctic, or high-altitude mountain landscapes, they think of endless snow, ice and bare rock. But pastel-coloured flowers, sometimes just a few millimetres wide, bloom in these dramatic places too. These miniature flowers not only weather some of the toughest habitats on Earth, but can also help to engineer the landscape for other species.

Don’t be fooled by their delicate petals. Some species of rock jasmine and sandwort grow at well over 6,000 metres on Mount Everest, while purple saxifrage flourishes on the northernmost point of land in the world – Kaffeklubben Island, north of Greenland.

Plants in freezing cold environments are typically small and often form as ground-hugging rosettes, or dense tufts with short stems, known as “cushions”. Antarctic pearlwort sits no more than 5cm high and displays a tight bunch of minute yellow blooms. The summits of the Scottish Highlands, where temperatures can drop to -27℃ in winter, are home to tiny flowers also found in the Arctic, such as moss campion, dwarf willow, trailing azalea and starry saxifrage.

Trailing azalea close up - Sarah Watts

Moss campion, a mountain wildflower - Sarah Watts

Although plants such as these may appear fragile, their minute size helps them cope with freezing weather and fierce winds. Low stature and tightly packed leaves act as an aerodynamic trap and storage system for water and solar radiation. Microspaces within the dense, dome-like foliage are efficient structures for retaining moisture and heat. An arctic-alpine cushion’s internal temperature can be 15°C warmer than its surroundings.

Cushion plants and mosses can be integral to their local environment. They are known as “keystone species” and “ecosystem engineers” because they stabilise their harsh microclimate, and are often the first to colonise bare ground. As the cushions grow, they improve the moisture and nutrient content of thin soils by accumulating organic material both directly within the plant itself, and through their root systems. By buffering temperature extremes, cushions reduce the frost risk in their immediate surroundings. These processes create a habitat more suitable for less stress-tolerant plant species including arctic-alpines in the daisy and pea families.

Cushion formers are therefore vital “nurse” plants in mountain and polar regions. They also shelter small arthropods including beetles and tiny wingless insects called springtails. These animals may in turn pollinate the plants they take refuge in, and provide food for others higher up the food chain.

A rove beetle on snow pearlwort - Sarah Watts

However, these tiny arctic-alpine plants are now sounding a warning bell for the loss of biodiversity due to climate change. The plants have an important relationship with snow, which offers them protection from disturbance and erosion. But rising temperatures are causing earlier snow melt, allowing the spread of other species previously restricted to lower altitudes and latitudes. Consequently, taller generalist plants, such as common grasses and sedges are crowding out the smaller arctic-alpines.

High mountain areas are warming at twice the global average and are geographically isolated from other places with similar climates, leaving the specialist flowers nowhere to relocate to.

Arctic-alpine plant numbers are plummeting in Britain and climate change is impacting numbers across the world, threatening the future of species that depend on them. Snow pearlwort, a cushion plant usually no bigger than a penny, is the first flowering plant in Britain to have its International Union for the Conservation of Nature status moved from vulnerable to endangered due to climate change. Our research analysing long-term monitoring data from the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve in the Scottish Highlands has revealed that the British population of snow pearlwort declined by 66% between 1996 and 2019. These data, collected for over 40 years by National Trust for Scotland staff and volunteers, also show that two other arctic-alpine plants have lost over half of their population since the 1990s. As temperatures have risen, snow pearlwort, mountain sandwort and drooping saxifrage have all withdrawn uphill. What’s more, these species face mountaintop extinction here in the UK because there is no higher ground left for them to retreat to.

Snow pearlwort growing on Scottish munro Ben Lawers - Sarah Watts

If we lose these plants from their British mountaintop outposts – at the edge of where they occur globally – this will signal that their strongholds in the Arctic and the Alps are also in danger.

Polar and mountain regions are havens for biodiversity, nurturing species found nowhere else in the world. We risk losing the cultural and inspirational value that rare species give us, with implications for the preservation of our natural heritage.

Plants are the building blocks of habitats and food webs on which other lifeforms across the planet depend, but they are frequently overlooked in conservation news stories. There’s a name for this phenomenon – “plant blindness”. Scientists, nature writers and the media usually turn to trees or species with large colourful flowers to open people’s eyes to the importance of plant life. But we must celebrate and protect our tiniest of plants too. If we don’t, the spectrum of diversity across the Earth’s extremes will be lost for generations to come.

-  Sarah Watts (PhD researcher at the University of Stirling)

A version of this article originally appeared on The Conversation. Changes have been made with the permission of the author.

You can read Sarah’s research via Science Direct and follow her on Twitter.




The Conversation

Report: 2 November 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 2 November 2023

Winter has come for the Toussaint (All Saints) holidays.
It snowed down as far as the valley floor last night. It’s white down to 1000m. This morning there was between 40 and 50 cm of snow at 1900m! And it's going to snow again!
The weather remains very bad for mountain activities.
There has been no activity in the high mountains. We'll have to wait and see when (if) the good weather returns. For the moment, it's snowing hard!

There arent many opportunities for walking between the snow showers.

The mountains are now well covered in snow above 1500m. Take a look at the webcams (if you can see anything) to get an idea.

At present, most of the classic hikes (lakes, balcons) above 1800m are out of the question, even for seasoned hikers.

As you can see, depending on the weather and snow cover, you'll have to make do with short walks below 1700m (some ideas here) to get some fresh air and enjoy the beautiful contrasts with the snow and autumn colours.
Snowshoes might come in handy if you want to go as far as Loriaz (but I'm not sure if the weather will play ball over the next few days).
For ski touring enthusiasts, we'll let you take a look and then tell us how it goes, but don't forget the rock skis!

For those lucky enough to be climbing in the sun in other parts of the world, enjoy it for us too!

As a reminder, the Aiguille du Midi, the Montenvers train and the Planpraz lifts shut this Sunday (5 November). Flégère is running from Monday until 26 November.

Translated with kind permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.




Report: 27 October 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 27 October 2023
The off-season is well and truly here! The Indian summer seems to be behind us and winter is just around the corner!
The weather over the last 10 days has not been very favourable for mountain activities, but the glaciers (at least at altitude) and the water tables are recovering!
One storm after another. Last night, it snowed down to 1,800m in the Aiguille Rouges and a little higher (1,900- 2,000m) on the other side of the valley. Guess what, the higher you go, the more snow there seems to be!

In the high mountains, there must be quite a lot of fresh snow, with a lot of snow transported by the inevitable wind. Even if there isn't really a window of opportunity in sight (a bit of sunshine this weekend, but it's forecast to be windy), beware of the risk of avalanches up there, even on the classic 'short' routes from the Aiguille du Midi, for example. You'll also need to watch out for fragile snow bridges on the glaciers.

With favourable weather, it is still possible to hike in the valley. You will need to adapt to the snow conditions and stay below around 2,300m. The paths are quickly greasy and slippery at this time of year, so bring poles and good boots, as well as warm clothing. This is no longer trekking season, so it's best to opt for day hikes.
For your information, several trails are currently closed (particularly in the Argentière-Lognan and Chamonix-Plan de l'Aiguille sectors). For more information, click here.

As a reminder, the Aiguille du Midi cable car, the Montenvers train and the Planpraz cable car are open until 5 November (end of school holidays). After that, the Flégère cable car will be open from 6 to 26 November.

Translated with kind permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.




The Phantom Line | Alpine Journal Extract

The Phantom Line | Alpine Journal Extract

In April 2022, Alpine Club members Paul Ramsden and Tim Miller made the first ascent of Jugal Spire, a 6,563m peak in the Jugal Himal. The route of their ascent, an improbable "Phantom Line", was a thin, intermittent route of snow and ice which cut like a scar across the mountain's north face. Their ascent has since been recognised by the jury of the Piolets d'Or which gives out awards annually for new routes accomplished in the best possible style. To coincide with this award, we are publishing Tim's account of the ascent from the 2022 Alpine Journal.

The route’s second ‘White Spider’ where Ramsden and Miller spent their third night on the wall.

The steep headwall pitches loom above. (Tim Miller) 

One thing we knew for certain on our trip to Nepal was that at some point each afternoon there would be snow, usually hail and often thunder and lightning. Every day for a month without fail we encountered an afternoon storm. Frequently it would cloud over from 9am onwards, affording us only a couple hours of sun in the morning. So as we sat in our little tent in base camp after completing our climb as the heavens opened and thunder raged, we couldn’t believe we had managed to snatch such a brilliant route from such improbable conditions.

The adventure began two years earlier when Paul Ramsden invited Richard Kendrick and me to a Gritstone Club hut nestled under a cliff in the Lake District. Inside, Paul swore us to secrecy before showing us a few of his highly confidential new route ideas on his laptop. We discussed them, then picked one and started to make plans for a trip. Not long after, Covid-19 hit and scuppered plans for that autumn – and the following autumn as well. The route we had planned was climbed in the meantime and Richard then had to drop out due to other commitments. By this point Paul and I were frustrated at having our plans fall through so often despite all our efforts at rearranging. We decided on a new objective and planned to go in spring; we didn’t want to wait another year.

Below the wall of chimneys, the key to the face (Tim Miller)

I first met Paul one winter’s day about eight years ago while climbing on Ben Nevis by myself. I was at the CIC hut getting ready to head down at the end of the day. Two other climbers were also packing bags so I asked them if they would be driving past Glasgow and could I get a lift. They were heading all the way to middle England and so they sped me back to Glasgow in double quick time. Paul was one of them and he told me how he had once witnessed a murder while hitchhiking to the Alps when he was younger. One of the lovely things about the world of climbing is how it is so small but welcoming. There are few sports where you can read about your heroes in books, the next day bump into them and a few years later be on a trip together.

We arrived at Kathmandu airport and after the slight panic of not finding our bags (another team had removed them from the conveyor belt) were met by our tour agent with a garland of flowers and driven to our hotel. Paul showed me around the sights of the city while we picked up our permit, gas canisters and other last-minute supplies. We were introduced to our team of porters and then we all jumped on a bus and were off out of the city. The roads got smaller, steeper, became single track and then turned to lumpy dirt tracks.

Paul Ramsden squirming (Tim Miller)

Before long, the bus was bumping and swinging round hairpin bends while clinging miraculously to the edge of steep mountainsides. At the end of the road we arrived in the small mountain village of Bhotang, surrounded by rice terraces and humid jungle.

What’s interesting about our objective is that it hadn’t seen a previous attempt or any interest at all despite being only a six-hour drive and four-day walk. It’s one of the closer 6,000m peaks to Kathmandu. Its obscurity may lie in the fact that its face is hidden and the peak sits in front of the bigger and more famous Dorje Lakhpa so it doesn’t stand out on the skyline.

It was obvious on the first day of the approach that there was quite a divide in experience among the porters. Chatting to them in broken English, we discovered a few had never portered before but had previously worked as hotel clerks in Dubai, before Covid-19 had brought an end to the tourism industry there and they had lost their jobs. Now forced to take whatever work they could get, it must have been quite a contrast to their previous lives. They started to lag far behind the fitter porters up front, who hadn’t understood where we wanted to stop for the night and carried on to the next stop, forcing us all to continue.

It was now that we were introduced to the regular weather pattern with an afternoon thunderstorm. Tired and bedraggled, the last porters arrived in camp 12 hours after setting off on what should have been a two-day journey. We had gained 2,000m of ascent and were concerned the porters, who were from Kathmandu and not acclimatised, might suffer from the altitude. Luckily for us, next morning everyone woke up well and was able to continue. A much shorter day took us to the famous Panch Pokhari religious shrine, a pretty collection of five mountain lakes at 4,100m a popular pilgrimage site.

Nut hunting on The Phantom Line. (Paul Ramsden)
Ramsden’s patented homemade snow-hammock
allowing the team to pitch a tent on a steep slope. (Tim Miller)

Up to this point we had been walking on well-constructed paths that allowed pilgrims and tourists to visit the lakes. These now stopped and we were on to rough tracks over passes and round mountainsides. A few of the porters decided at this point to switch from flip-flops to trainers. White rugged peaks pierced the crisp blue skies, rocky ridges led steeply down to misty green valleys below. And from the top of one pass we got our first view of the mountain we hoped to climb.

We trekked for two more days, sometimes in the fog and occasionally getting a brief glimpse of our peak. Just before arriving at base camp, and not having seen another soul in days, we noticed a solitary figure a few hundred metres behind the group. He must have been following us in the shadows. Despite the snowy passes we had crossed, he arrived with only the clothes on his back, flip-flops on his feet and no bag. Our sirdar spoke to him and declared him ‘a mad man’ who was on some sort of religious journey. He hadn’t eaten for days, so that night we fed him and he was walked back down with the porters the following day.

Base camp was situated in a valley of lateral moraine that was quite muddy from the frequent rain and not a place we felt inspired to hang around for too long. So we set off straightaway, with light bags, on a reconnaissance mission. Our aims were to find a practical route through the maze of the glacier leading to our peak and try to get a view of the face if we were lucky enough for it not to cloud over before we arrived.

Travelling across highly crevassed and moraine-covered glaciers is always an extremely slow and awkward task. Paul pointed out that it was often at these points that injuries happen and the most important thing for us to do now was stay fit and healthy. As soon as he said this, I slipped on a wobbly boulder, fell backwards and put my hand out to catch myself. In doing so I bent my fingers into an unnatural position and tweaked some of the ligaments in one of the fingers. I didn’t want it to affect the expedition but for days after I struggled to hold a knife and fork and tie laces with that hand. I just hoped I would still be able to hang off an ice axe when the time came.

Tim Miller starting on the crux section of steep chimneys on Jugal Spire’s The Phantom Line.

Sacks were hauled as the climbing required getting inside the chimney and squirming. (Paul Ramsden)

The rest of that day we continued up the glacier, eventually climbing an embankment of moraine that brought us to a little alpine lake surrounded by grass and large boulders with views of the peak. It was an idyllic spot. But our first view of the face blew us away. Looking at it in profile we realised it was much steeper than we had thought. The one photo we had seen of the face was from a Spanish team that showed it straight on. We also realised our photo had been taken after a storm, making it look very white and leading us to believe there were lots of lower-angled ice fields on the face. Now we realised it was made up primarily of vertical granite with the exception of one long scar of ice across it. We couldn’t see yet if this ice linked up all the way but walking back down the glacier we knew we had discovered an incredible face. Yet there were several big question marks as to whether it was climbable. On the plus side we discovered a brilliant path that took us down a grassy moraine valley straight back to base camp. Both tasks for the day were complete.

With fresh motivation, the following day we launched straight into the acclimatisation phase. With huge bags packed with food for seven days and all the kit we would want for the climb later, we set off up the moraine valley. Plodding slowly under the weight of the bags and our unacclimatised lungs, we arrived eventually at the ‘hanging garden’ of the little alpine lake. We had hoped to lounge around here stretching and relaxing in sunshine on the grass but the weather had different plans and we found ourselves reading in the tent all afternoon while it snowed around us.

Paul on the breakfast pitch, day four (Tim Miller)

Next day, we stashed under a boulder all the kit that we knew we would need for the climb but wouldn’t want for the acclimatisation. Then we continued up a large flat glacier. Our acclimatisation generally involved slogging for a few hours each morning to gain an extra 400m of elevation and then putting up the tent up and lying there for the next 18 hours mostly reading and sleeping and occasionally eating and getting up to pee. We continued thus to 5,700m and with splitting headaches decided to stop and stay an extra night before descending. What took five days to get up took us a morning to get down.

Back at base camp it was sinking in that months of planning and weeks of in-country preparation was now coming to a climax. We meticulously went through gear, cutting out anything that would add extra grams to our bags and triple-counting our rations. Then it snowed for two days and we were forced to rest in the tent reading books while the thought of the mountain hung over us. With apprehension building it was a funny thing to be tent-bound while so mentally ready to go. Then a nice morning came along and off we went.

Our first stop was at the stash we had left under the boulder. We repacked and with bags now overflowing continued gingerly up the glacier, each of us struggling over boulders while wondering how on earth we were going to climb a face that is 1.5km high. That evening we set up camp not far from our planned descent route, leaving two meals and a handful of bars stashed under a rock for the likely scenario that we would be starving hungry and needing a break when we got to this point after the route.

Steep climbing on day four. (Paul Ramsden)

The following day we continued up the glacier right beneath the face. It towered over us looking monstrously steep and imposing. We dumped our bags and walked up to the bergschrund. All we could see above was a sea of granite, our line of ice totally obscured from below. Paul seemed slightly subdued at this point and I can understand why. At the time I didn’t know what to make of such an impressive wall other than that I was in awe of it. I went to sleep looking forward to giving it a go but I sensed Paul had doubts over it being possible, having seen the wall up close. Had all our weeks and months of preparation been for nothing? Had we bitten off more than we could chew?

At 3am next morning our alarms beeped and we were tugged from our dreams to the monumental task at hand. Without a word we packed our bags in the cold morning air and retraced our steps from the previous afternoon across the glacier just as the sun started to light the tops of faraway peaks. Not yet in a rhythm, I struggled under the weight of my pack while I fought my way up steep snow over the bergschrund. I would stop every so often to pant furiously and warm my numb fingers. As soon as I could, I stopped to make a belay to give myself a rest and pass the work over to Paul.

The route started to steepen, the snow turned to ice and we now fell into a rhythm that worked. Climbing in lots of quick 40m pitches allowed each of us a frequent rest and prevented the belayer getting too cold. After 13 pitches of this we had climbed a huge third of the face, admittedly the easiest portion. On one of the last pitches of the day I arrived at a belay ledge and kicked the ice with the side of my crampon to make a small stance. As I did so the metal loop connecting the ankle strap to the crampon base popped off. The crampon was no longer attached to my foot and skidded down the ice a few meters, then stopped precariously in a patch of snow. As Paul climbed up towards me, he was able to simply pluck it out the snow and hand it back to me without any further drama. We marvelled at the ease with which the situation was solved and grimaced at the thought of the complex retreat that might have followed had it disappeared for good, spelling the end of the trip and months of planning.

Loose mixed climbing at 6,200m. The snow mushroom in front of
Miller fell off a few seconds after this picture was taken. (Paul Ramsden)

Having arrived at a potential bivy site we had spotted earlier through binoculars, to our surprise we discovered an overhanging rock cave with snow beneath that we were able to flatten off and pitch a tent on, albeit with the edges hanging in space. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay on such a steep face. Still clipped in and with harness on, the rest of the evening passed quickly with snow melting for tea, juice, dinner and finally tea again, all with the familiar routine to prevent spills, promote efficiency and avoid too much steam condensing on the walls of the tent.

The main task for the following day was to tackle the so-called ‘crux chimneys’. These were a gap in the line of ice and formed one of the bigger question marks that separated us from success. After packing up camp we rounded the corner and our eyes met a 100m steep wall of rock split by an ugly curving chimney. This was the wall’s only line of weakness and we had to get up it. Leaving my rucksack at the belay allowed me to get inside the chimney at points and squirm my way up, feet peddling on small edges and my chest grating against its walls causing several ragged tears to open in my jacket. Loose rocks clattered down as I struggled to hook anything with my axes. I was grateful for my Scottish winter apprenticeship; it had prepared me well for this type of climbing.

Paul seconding with plenty of exposure. (Tim Miller)

After three pitches of this, along with the exhausting job of hauling rucksacks, we re-joined the ice ramp. Hauling was a much harder job for Paul, who not only had to climb the pitch but also simultaneously dislodge the rucksacks with one hand, as they seemed to jam every few metres. Had the face been unlocked? Could we celebrate? Not yet. We knew there were further challenges up ahead but solving the problem of the chimneys was a big step forward.

We completed another few pitches that brought us to a feature we dubbed the ‘first white spider’, one of two circular snowfields reminiscent of their namesake on the Eiger. The hard labour never stopped and after a quick brew we set to work preparing our accommodation for the night. This involved Paul’s very own homemade snow hammock, an invention that when fastened to an anchor at either end can be filled with snow while a ledge is also cut to form a platform big enough to pitch a tent on. That’s quite an unexpected luxury on a 60° ice slope. But as we lay in the tent after dinner, content at having finished a day of good progress, Paul, who had his back to the slope, found himself forcefully pushed forward. A large amount of snow had fallen down the gap between the tent and the face. This was not good news.

I jumped from my sleeping bag, threw on my down jacket, boots, gloves and head torch and stepped outside. Unbeknownst to us, it had been snow- ing while we were in the tent. The face was too steep to be of any avalanche danger but streams of spindrift were cascading down and accumulating behind the tent, threatening to push it off its perch. We had to work constantly, one at either side, to dig out the snow before the next assault came. Wind-whipped snow, reflecting the beam of our torches inches from our faces, and the outline of the other were all we could make out for several hours. After struggling for a while, we realised this wasn’t sustainable. So we pulled the tent in towards the slope and the spindrift fell on its side, flattening it into the platform. Before long it was buried under a meter of snow but at least this way we wouldn’t lose it off the cliff. All we could do now was stand with our backs to the slope while intermittent torrents of snow poured down on us deep into the night. We turned our torches off, slipped into a trance state and embraced the grim position we found ourselves in: standing in a snow storm, strapped to the side of a mountain at 6,000m in the middle of the night.

Tim Miller and Paul Ramsden celebrate on the summit

After an immeasurable amount of time the volume of spindrift partially subsided and we became too cold. So we uncovered the tent, removed the poles and sat inside it like a double bivy bag. Whenever a shower of spindrift fell on us, we pressed our backs against the slope to stop it accumulating behind us and using our arms raised the tent fabric in front of us to help the snow slide off the tent. This prevented us being buried but also kept us busy all night.

Eventually, to our huge relief, the sky started to lighten and brought a bit of warmth with it. We packed up our kit and set off climbing for the day. Having had virtually no sleep our progress was noticeably slower. A couple of pitches got us across the white spider and then the ground started to drop away wildly to our left. Below us lay a huge 700m sweep of granite while our ramp continued across the top of it in a brilliantly exposed position. Then the good ice disappeared to be replaced with large amounts of unconsolidated snow on top of rock slabs. Once again I left my bag at the belay and led a pitch of Scottish-style tenuous mixed climbing up a groove that led to just below the second ‘white spider’. More hauling faff followed, made worse by our exhausted state. We had only climbed 150m higher but were in dire need of a rest. Who knew where the next possible bivy spot lay? Once again, the snow hammock saved the day and allowed us to pitch the tent. At one point we were given a scare when a flurry of spindrift came down; we thought we were about to have a repeat of the previous night but thankfully it was a one-off. That evening we were even treated to a glorious sunset but were so knackered we hardly appreciated it. We were asleep instantly despite our cold and cramped sleeping quarters.

Three very steep and looming pitches on the headwall lay between the final snow slopes and us. Paul started on these next morning; the ice was good and squeaky and the first two pitches proved to be very enjoyable. On the third, the ice thinned out, then disappeared as the groove system moved left around a protruding bulge of rock. Once again, this required bag-free climbing and all my Scottish winter experience of choss before I finally collapsed onto the bottom of the summit ice slopes. It was only 11am so we decided to press on and aim for a shoulder we had spotted just below the summit where we would be able to pitch the tent easily.

By now the altitude had truly caught up with us. Our pace reduced to a few steps before we were forced to stop for air. The ice required a frustrating amount of force before it took pick placements, sapping further our limited remaining energy. Then the sun burst from behind a cloud and, reflecting off the snow, started to boil us in all our layers. Each pitch was taking longer and longer. Even talking became a big effort so conversation was reduced to short, measured bursts squeezed between bouts heavy breathing. Then the sun set and our saturated gloves froze immediately around our hands as the temperature plummeted. We went from being cooked alive to being forced to warm our hands and swing our feet every few paces to keep them from frostbite.

The top of the slope was getting close and I led a pitch to the bottom of a small rock band. As I approached this, I realised it was an overhang with a perfect cave formed beneath with a lip of ice protecting it. I rolled into the cave and lay there panting for several minutes, utterly exhausted and extremely relieved we had found a suitable spot for the night. The cave was only a few feet high, and all our bulky jackets made it tricky to move around, but we managed to create a flat sleeping platform. Just as we were having dinner and laying our sleeping bags out, snow began to blow into the cave and circulate around, settling on our kit. This required an urgent reset to keep things as dry as possible. All this had to be done in bitter cold and simple jobs like opening packets and eating required gloves on. During the previous few days Paul had been developing an altitude cough and exacerbated by the extreme cold and elevation it now became alarmingly constant and rasping. He didn’t tell me till later, but at the time he was concerned it might develop into HAPE and we would have to go down immediately, missing the summit.

We then endured an extremely cold night trying to keep our numb digits from freezing. Waking in the morning, we wrapped ourselves in all the layers we had and stumbled out of the cave. Two pitches of easy snow brought us onto the shoulder and then up to the summit. Dazed by the morning sun and the desperate cold, we fumbled to take a few photos and absorb the view. Any emotions were largely suppressed by a stifling sense of exhaustion. We had summited an unclimbed and unnamed peak via an exceptional route over five days and 37 pitches.

The Phantom Line on Jugal Spire.

Retreating back to the shoulder, we put together a plan of descent. We had spotted an obvious couloir on the opposite side of the mountain that ran from a col 500m below the summit straight back to the glacier. All we had to do was abseil on V-threads down the ice slope and into the couloir yet even this was knackering for our tired bodies in the morning sun. We developed a routine making sure no mistakes were made at this late stage in the game. Once we were halfway down the couloir the angle eased enough to allow us to down-climb the rest of the way with a final abseil over the bergschrund and onto the glacier. What had taken five days to climb had taken five hours to descend.

By now the cloud had rolled in for the day and snow was starting to fall. Feeling utterly drained we stumbled across the glacier in the fog. The crampons I was wearing had steel front points and aluminium bases to save weight. On the climb they had been great, but now after days of being worn down I was forced to front-point backwards down any slightly steep decline. Despite this we made it back to our much-appreciated food stash where we decided to stop for the day since we needed the rest and crossing the moraine-covered glacier with an extra layer of snow on the boulders was too much to handle at that point. Finally able to relax, we felt the relief of being down safe and the satisfaction of our achievement began to wash over us. I wasn’t able to get to sleep for a while despite being warm and having a flat bed for the first time in several nights.

We woke to grey skies and with snow still covering the moraine the going was slow and our steps clumsy with fatigue. With a bit of guesswork we crossed the glacier in thick fog to the grassy moraine valley on the side of the glacier. Every so often, while we walked, we would whistle into the mist to tell base camp we were on the way, being a day late by this point. A few hundred metres from base camp our cook crew came out to greet us with an extremely welcome flask of hot juice, a KitKat and some cheese that provided the essential energy to stumble the rest of the way to camp. We threw our bags down and collapsed into our tent feeling weak but happy.

The next few days passed in a blur of eating the many brilliant meals provided by our cook and sleeping. Our thoughts drifted back to the climb and we simmered in satisfaction. The porters arrived a day later and we started the slow march home. On the first day of the walkout a hailstorm blew in that then turned to snow making the going hard work. Since descending the peak, Paul’s cough had continued and now with this added fatigue he suddenly collapsed. He picked himself back up and was able to walk to our camp for that night where he took antibiotics for a chest infection and over the following days his condition dramatically improved.

We spoke to several locals to ask if they had a name for the mountain that we had climbed, but none did, only referring to the whole group as Jugal Himal. So we settled on Jugal Spire. We then named the route The Phantom Line as we were never sure whether the line would have ice all the way and several big question marks lingered right up to the end. Was it there was it not? Did it exist as a climbable entity?

There were two essential ingredients that allowed this trip to be a success: the first, discovering such an amazing and improbable route on an immaculate, unclimbed face that leads to an unclimbed summit is extremely rare and very special. Finding these gems takes a lot of cunning and knowhow. The second ingredient was the tactical understanding that allows such big routes to be climbed safely and successfully: where to stop, how to bivy, how much food and kit to bring, when to pitch and so forth. Both these ingredients are Paul’s specialty and it is thanks to his experience in these areas that we were able to succeed. I can’t thank him enough for inviting me along on another of his brilliant adventures.

- Tim Miller


If you enjoyed reading this account and would like to access more high-quality mountain writing, you can purchase a copy of the 2022 Alpine Journal via our shop.




Paul Ramsden and Tim Miller's 'Phantom Line' Receives Piolet d'Or

Paul Ramsden and Tim Miller's 'Phantom Line' Receives Piolet d'Or

The committee of the Piolets d'Or have announced their selection of awarded ascents for the 2022 calendar year. Amongst the three lines to receive a Piolet d'Or is 'The Phantom Line' (ED) on Jugal Spire (6563m), which was climbed in April 2022 by Alpine Club members Paul Ramsden and Tim Miller.

A press release from the Piolets d'Or commended the style of ascent, saying: "Members of the jury felt this was a perfect example of ambitious exploratory mountaineering, carried out in simple but effective alpine-style: two sacs, two ropes, one tent, and no ascenders, bolts or weather forecasts."


The other routes to be awarded a Piolet d'Or this year are Christophe Ogier, Victor Saucède, and Jérôme Sullivan's first ascent of Pumari Chhish East (6850m) via 'The Crystal Ship' (1,600m, 6b, A2, M7) and the first ascent of the south-southeast spur of Jirishanca (6094m) via Reino Hongo (1,000m, M7, AI5+, 90°) by Alik Berg and Quentin Roberts. You can watch an excellent short film of the awarded ascent of Pumari Chhish East below.


The women’s sailing and climbing team who made the first ascent of 'Via Sedna' (7b+, A1) on Northern Sun Spire in Renland, Greenland also received a special mention from the jury. Caro North, Nadia Royo and Capucine Cotteaux were commended both for their style of ascent and the low impact nature of this all-female expedition.

You can read more about all of these routes on the Piolets d'Or website.

The award ceremony itself is due to take place on 15 November in Briançon, France.




Audrey Salkeld

The club has received the sad news that Audrey Salkeld died on 11 October.  Audrey had been a member since 1978 and was made an Honorary Member in 2022 in recognition of her enormous contribution to mountaineering journalism, literature and film.

Alpine Club to Co-Host Autumn Expedition Symposium

Alpine Club to Co-Host Autumn Expedition Symposium

After the success of this January’s Expedition Essential for Women Explorers event, the Club is once again partnering with the Mount Everest Foundation, as well as Plas y Brenin and The Arctic Club, to host an expedition symposium.

Mick Fowler - Prow of Shiva

The event, which takes place from 10 – 12 November this year, will be hosted at Plas y Brenin and features workshops on a variety of essential topics including expedition kit and wilderness first aid. A number of AC members will be in attendance, with Guy Buckingham delivering a workshop on Himalayan logistics and Mick Fowler giving one of the evening talks.

Aimed squarely at those planning their first large-scale expedition, the symposium has been heavily subsidised, with non-residential places available for as little as £60 for the full weekend. Further details and booking via the PyB website




Report: 11 October 2023

La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 11 October 2023

We don't have much to update you on compared to last week, except to tell you to make the most of the fine weather and splendid colours before this coming weekend.

Fans of summer granite will still be delighted by the S faces of the Aiguille du Midi, the Tacul satellites, the Chamonix Aiguilles and, for the strong (ski lifts closed), the Envers des Aiguilles, around the Charpoua, the Moine (except the E face) and the Pierre à Joseph, as well as the Aiguilles Rouges (note that several climbing routes are closed on the Brévent by decree).

Snow and mixed: there are still targets around the Le Tour glacier (technical rimaye on the normal route on the Aiguille du Tour), around the Aiguille du Midi (beware of the very technical 3 Monts) and Helbronner. A team climbed Rêve Éphémère on the Grandes Jorasses, with good conditions up to pitch 5, then it got terribly dry. The normal route on Mont Blanc is busy, as are the winter rooms.

Lower down, it's still great for hiking, sport climbing, cycling or any other activity that takes your fancy.

At this time of year, a lot of work is being carried out on the paths and lifts. We would like to remind you that the paths in the Grand Bois and Pré du Rocher sectors are closed. Don't forget to check the regulations page.

For the Toussaint holidays, the following lifts will be open: Aiguille du Midi, Planpraz and the Montenvers train.

The few huts which are still open close on the following dates: Plan de l'Aiguille - 01/11, Les Prés - 28/10, Loriaz - 15/10 and Tré la Tête - 15/10 (extended opening because of the good weather). The footbridge on the Conscrits path is in winter mode.

In the Aosta valley, the Torino hut is open until 31/10 and the Skyway until 5/11 but remember that the Mont Blanc tunnel shuts on 16/10 at 08:00.

Translated with kind permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.




Honorary AC Member George Lowe Receives Piolets d'Or Lifetime Achievement Award

Honorary AC Member George Lowe Receives Piolets d'Or Lifetime Achievement Award

American alpinist and honorary Alpine Club member George Lowe has been announced as the recipient of the 2023 Piolets d'Or Lifetime Achievement Award.

George Lowe photographed in Tanzania in 2015 by Wikipedia user Mellowish126 and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Among Lowe's many notable accomplishments are the first winter ascents of several peaks in the Grand Teton National Park, the first ascent of the north face of North Twin Peak in the Canadian Rockies, the first ascent of the Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker and the first ascent of Everest's Kangshung Face. However, perhaps his most famous climb is one he did not complete. In 1978, alongside Michael Kennedy, Jim Donini and Jeff Lowe, he made an attempt on the north ridge of Latok I, turning back just shy of the summit. It was an incredible effort, handily demonstarted by the fact that the line remains unclimbed to this day.

The 2023 Piolets d'Or ceremony is due to take place on 15 November in Briançon, France. Further details are available via the Piolets d'Or website.