This morning I woke up in a red tent perched on a ledge below the impressive tectonic collision of the Matterhorn in the Italian Alps. Feeling pretty pleased to be dry & still in the same spot, after a 6 hour thunderstorm that clamoured & crashed us to sleep last night, my head cold paled into insignificance as we were all up, pouring boiling water into our freeze-dried breakfast food pouches.
Three nights in and our Mons Silvius group are fully acclimatised at base camp of 2800m. It helps that some of us were around the same altitude a few weeks ago during ESTEEM’s Annual Pyrenees 5 day Hike.
Mons Silvius is one of the groups set up by Toby, it’s the old name for the Matterhorn. Toby is one of ESTEEM’s Mentors and one of a few good friends who we go mountaineering with.The current challenge is to summit the Matterhorn, though I’ll be pleased if I reach the Carrel hut at 3900m. Yesterday, on a training day, an Ibex’s head was peering over the edge of a cliff to see us reaching a desperate hand, scraping around trying to find anything to place some gear in (like a nut or cam for securing the climb) as we hurl ourselves up & over to safety. Once up & anchored in, there’s no rest as its time to belay your climbing buddy up.
Jumping back to ESTEEM’s Pyrenees trip, a few weeks before, I think of our younger group having climbed for 5 hours to be rewarded with the sight of 20 grey-tipped vultures, their wingspan measuring over 6ft circling above and below, riding the air currents. Which ever the mountain range, being immersed in nature always gives you that sense of freedom and peace in the knowledge that you have achieved something with your day.
In the Pyrenees we were all walking as part of a long-term goal – it was our 6th year along the GR10. The twelve of us had to face challenges that pushed each out of our comfort zones; either the physical uphill struggle of ascending 1000m before lunch or the challenge of helping others with internal struggles which can be just as daunting as a 2000m near vertical mountain side. Out of the 40 or so people who have helped ESTEEM to get this far along this majestic route, this year particularly highlighted how important support from your team is. There were times when all it took was a quiet word of comfort & understanding from someone who had similar experiences to change the mood from darkness to a willingness to keep going.
Heather shares her memory from day 5 of the hike;
“06:00 am wake up call a phone alarm woke everyone up. I have never seen so many people wake up so quickly. It was a very chaotic morning with there being two groups with one group was made up of those with injuries, tiredness and those who motivation was waning. The other group were people that had no injuries and had loads of energy left in them. 4 of us set of at 06:40 am avoiding the extreme heat that was forecasted. We were overtaken by 2 senior hikers, that were making the climb look relatively easy. We ripped up the First section of the day beating the guide book time. Overall it was a very hard and intense as everyone was very tired by the last day. Its was funny as one wrong step and we would be rolling down the mountain like a bowling ball which was a long way down …. despite this potential terror…. people decided this would be the perfect time to whip out their phone.”
Here in the Italian Alps again, we’re planning our summit day around head colds & weather windows. It’s looking like Tuesday for an early start, an overnight stay in the Carrel hut (or a bivvy in -10deg for the hardcore crazy 3 in our team who are planning to go it the old fashioned way (without fixed ropes) – that’s not me included!), and then summit the 4400m peak on Wednesday. You can read more on the Mons Silvius instagram page to see how we get on. https://www.instagram.com/monssilvius/
ESTEEM evolved into what it is today because of my own ambition to start a charity-run Water Sport company, and from my mum’s passion for personal development which she has passed on to me. The evidence is clear across the world, that being active and having a focus can massively increase mental & physical well-being. At ESTEEM we try to offer as many opportunities as we can for people to take part in adventures, outdoor sports and travel. This summer it feels as though we’re making headway, with the Pyrenees hikers already motivated to do more active stuff, and the Outdoor Sports Well-being Research Project (funded by the University of Sussex & the Sussex Masonic Foundation) which will be running 6 weeks of adventurous activities. From climbing to sailing, we aim to capture the impact that taking part in challenges, being in the sun & in nature, and working as part of a team can have on our mindset. For my friends and I, we know full well that this is an addictive buz, one that gives a healthy, happy glow, and one that we want to share with as many people as we can!