Mid-December – Heavy Snow, Coursework and a Sobering Reminder

12/December/2018: The western Alps received between 30 and 120cm of snow at higher elevations in the second week of December. Conditions for snowboard free-riding in Verbier (Switzerland’s largest resort) were exceptional on my two visits in the past week, and the early season solitude meant first tracks on several pitches.

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There were repeated booms from avalanche management with remote explosives while the highest lifts remained closed.

Last Saturday 8/December a mountaineer with whom my son and I happened to share dinner in November in the Abbey at the Simplon Pass (2,000m) died in an avalanche in Cervinia, Italy while ski-touring with a very experienced skiing partner.

Avalanche accident

It’s a devastating reminder of the forces of nature in the high mountains and the need for robust education and preparation. I’ve recently received my package of study materials for the 5-6/January Ice Climbing Course, which is the first in a series of courses to achieve Swiss Alpine Club mountain guide certification by the middle of 2019.

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This package gives me plenty of reading materials over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Until the next update,

Preparation Notes – Fall 2018

30/November/2018: While the travel planning for the two principal expeditions (Cotopaxi March; Pik Lenin July) in 2019 continues apace, I have been trying to make the most of the ‘shoulder season’ here in the Alps. Depending on the weather and snowfall, September-November can offer terrific access to high altitude one day, and stop all activity the next.

Some brief notes from the fall ventures so far:

  1. Early October ascent of Haute Cime (3,257m), the highest peak in the imposing Dents du Midi range overlooking the upper Rhone valley in ValaisIMG_3405[1]

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2. Late October ascent of Pointe Percee (2,752m) and overnight wilderness camping on its slopes with the family. It’s a favourite annual climb, with a decent technical challenge and the ‘Alpine light’ elements of terrain, wildlife and rockfall risks.

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3. Late October adventure atop Mont Saleve (1,300m), Geneva’s backyard playground, where a surprising early snowfall and cold blast made for some great photos.

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4. Scenic hikes and mountain-bike rides in and above the gorgeous Cirque de Sixt-Fer-A-Cheval valley (1,000m), ringed by waterfalls and steep cliffs.

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5. Mid-November winter hike to and under the Aletschgletscher, the longest glacier in Europe, with a view of both Mönch (4,107m) and Matterhorn (4,478m) from the middle of the glacier. The complete solitude and recent snowfall covering the crevasses made me a bit apprehensive to continue with the original two-day plan, so I returned home after snapping some amazing photos.

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6. Late November winter season premiere in La Clusaz and first time ever on a ‘Splitboard‘, the radically millenial child of a snowboard and touring skis (ski randonnee). With experienced Norwegian mountaineer Bjørn, we completed a 750m vertical ascent (1,500-2,250m) on relatively benign grade in about 90 minutes, followed by a 9 minute descent.

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Reaching Higher – New Expeditions in 2019

6/November/2018 – Three Peak Challenge predictably inspired additional thoughts of climbing mountains in other parts of the world and with higher altitude. The absence of any serious discomfort during that expedition makes me think that I can, ideally in the company of other outdoor enthusiasts and mountaineers, take on peaks in the range of 6-7,500m in the coming year.

The preliminary plans are today as follows:

16-23 March 2019: Cotopaxi, Ecuador 5,897m

Cotopaxi

First half July 2019: Pik Lenin, Kyrgyzstan 7,134m

Pik Lenin

Both peaks are reachable without any significant travel or technical climbing difficulties, while posing similar challenges with respect to altitude and cold & unpredictable weather as Mount Elbrus did in early September 2018. I expect to finalize trip details for Cotopaxi by the end of 2018 and for Pik Lenin by March 2019.

If you are interested to join one (or both) of these trips, please contact me at mickemorn@gmail.com or +41793880409

Mikael

Three Peak Challenge – expedition wrap-up and next steps

14/September: Today one week ago I summited Mount Elbrus (5,642m), the highest mountain in the Caucasus, Russia and Europe, and one of the tallest volcanoes on the planet. I anticipated that it would be the biggest challenge as the conclusion of the expedition covering three high peaks in the region (Damavand, Demirkazik and Elbrus). The combination of the 4am 1,800m vertical ascent, strong wind and sudden fog and clouds made the final hour to the summit one of the most memorable of my mountaineering life.

IMG_E4647I set out on this expedition as a personal challenge and with a commitment to my school United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA) https://www.uwcsea.edu.sg/about, in equal parts. I wanted to challenge myself to reach greater heights in the big mountains of the world, and inspire awareness of and support for the incredible scholarship programme at UWCSEA https://perspectives.uwcsea.edu.sg/node/17184, which brings motivated students from all over the world to Singapore to learn and contribute to the ideals and spirit of the UWC movement https://www.uwc.org/about.

I was extraordinarily fortunate to attend UWCSEA for seven years, including graduation from the International Baccalaureate (IB) two-year programme. My experience was and remains central to my world view, ambition, values and continuing happiness. Through this fundraising initiative I aim to bring a scholar from an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) region to UWCSEA, with a strong conviction that he or she will benefit in similar ways.

One of the direct advantages of a UWCSEA education is an improved ability to understand and move among people and cultures different from one’s own. The combination of travel to remote locations in Iran, Turkey and Russia certainly took significant planning and preparation, and (probably with a bit of good fortune) the movements and logistics on the ground unfolded without a single issue of significance. I met enough colourful characters along the way to write a 400-page mystery novel, including:

  • The chief of an Iranian horticultural research station near the Iraqi border
  • Anna, a Russian divorce lawyer turned high mountain guide
  • Farhad and Sayeed, two beefy Tehran Martial Arts experts pursuing their doctorates in electrical engineering at age 36
  • Mohammed (center, below), aspiring Turkish photographer and herder of 260 sheep in the barren Aladaglar mountains

IMG_E4493I have already assigned each of them a role in the novel, and penciled in some famous actors (Ben Kingsley, Reese Witherspoon, Dwayne Johnson & Vin Diesel, and Benedict Cumberbatch) in the event a movie version follows.

While the interactions and conversations with people along the way were rewarding, the culinary experience was also very positive, bringing some common elements together in the region – grilled lamb and chicken, eggplant, peppers, and the ubiquitous tea. Conventional wisdom states that you should drink as much tea as you want at altitude, and I followed this advice which seemed to work very well for maintaining hydration, alertness and warmth.

IMG_E4628.JPG(Mutton soup and dumplings with climbing partner Walid Fawaz, Elbrus 3,850m)

With each country’s currency under pressure in 2018, the pricing of both the travel arrangements made in advance and the costs on the ground were attractive. Relying on local, independent operators as much as possible worked without a hitch, and Istanbul Sabiha Gökcen (SAW) airport as the four-stop hub was a revelation in cost and convenience.

My sincere thanks for the expedition arrangements, integrity and attention to safety and detail go out to the following:

A few lessons I will bring with me to the next adventure:

  • Bring foldable “camp sandals/shoes” – the pair of rubber sandals I bought in a Turkish village were compromised by a mischievous juvenile shepherd dog at 3,000m camp, and I had to either borrow flip flops or wear my heavy mountaineering boots at all times
  • Bring a good book, with some relevance to the ongoing travel/adventure. The ratio of active climbing to “travel & downtime” is about 1:8, so there is an abundance of time to read and think. While I enjoyed my “Le Petit Nicolas” book for the first few days, I misplaced it on one of the eight flights and experienced some boredom thereafter.
  • Talk to as many people as possible, and take photos. It is rare that people refuse a photo, and I feel like I did not take enough.

Final thanks to Monica, Joe, Alexandra and Dave of the UWCSEA foundation team for managing an excellent fundraising campaign, which we will now move towards the practical task of electing a country/region of origin of the scholar and the scholarship selection process.

This page will remain my expedition blog, so please continue to follow and share it as I already have ideas for 2019!

Until then,
Mikael Mörn

Geneve

Mount Elbrus 5,642m – unabridged and unassisted

6/September: With climbing partner Walid Fawaz, hailing from the millennial generation, I summited Europe’s and the Caucasus’ highest point Mount Elbrus at 10:45 on Thursday morning.

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Elbrus is infamous for its highly changeable and unpredictable weather, and we got a taste of it as we set down packs at the Saddle (5,400m) for a final break before the steep snow pitch to the west volcanic summit cone.

As agreed with Walid the night before the climb, we did the 1,800m between advanced camp 3,850m and summit on foot in 6:40h, while an estimated 95% get a ride to 4,800m or 5,100m with a snowmobile or piste machine. The contrast between Damavand, with its dry landscapes, mule trains and tent camps, and Elbrus, with its permanent ice-scape, snowmobile swarms and metal huts could not be greater!
Though the wind at the summit was too strong, I did manage to unfurl my flags at 5,400m as the sun re-emerged briefly.
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Thank you for following my blog, and thank you for the generous contributions to the campaign to fund a scholarship to United World College of South East Asia! If you have not yet contributed, please consider doing so at:
I’m proud to conclude this expedition and campaign today, as I return home to Genève!

Elbrus Summit, 5642m

Three out of three this morning at 10:15 am! More photos to info to come, but for now, Mik and his climbing partner Walid are taking a well-deserved rest after today’s summit.

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Mount Elbrus 5,640m – a world apart

5/September: My climbing partner Walid and I arrived in the Baksan valley on Tuesday morning, and made our way up to the Garabashi cable car station (3,850m) in the early afternoon. Seeing the facilities on Mount Elbrus after four days in the wilds in central Turkey is quite a shock to the system. Containers and barrels serving as housing units are strewn about in an apparently haphazard fashion, and there are dozens of snowcats and snowmobiles waiting to shuttle day trippers and climbers up to higher elevations.

We made a joint decision to attempt the summit “unaided” on Thursday morning – meaning the full ascent on foot from 3,850m to 5,640m. This is apparently a less common choice, as many, such as a couple of French climbers who just returned to camp at 17:00, hire a snowcat (piste machine) or a snowmobile to take them to 4,800m or even 5,100m.

We had a good training climb to the Pastuchov Rocks at 4,725m around mid day – achieving the same height as Dufourspitze, the highest peak in Switzerland.

Dusan, Class of 2019 from the Republic of Serbia

I would love to share the story of one of the UWCSEA scholars that motivates me on my Big Mountain Challenge:

Dusan, Class of 2019 from the Republic of Serbia

page3image1833408One day, I hope to be the Ambassador of Serbia to the United Nations.

I want to represent my country and its people on a global stage, whilst having the opportunity to make the world a better place. I have been an active member of many youth empowerment organisations, such as Model European Parliament and European Youth Parliament and when I heard about UWC, I felt it would be the perfect environment for me.

The differences between my old school in Serbia and UWC are great. Whereas my community used to be a small and culturally homogenous place, now I am learning in a large and culturally diverse surroundings. I am amazed by the interactiveness of classes and the quality of the learning equipment and facilities.

Although I have only been here a short while I believe the cultural diversity of UWCSEA will only enhance my learning. This is due to the power of cultural understanding and mutual respect, two traits which are omnipresent. This experience is helping me grow into a more open-minded and tolerant person and is helping me prepare for my future career.”

Let’s make more stories like this possible. Help me raise money for a fully-funded scholarship at UWCSEA through my Big Mountain Challenge – click here to donate.

 

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