JOINT SERVICE ALPINE MEET 08

by Ian Richardson

The Joint Service Alpine Meet (JSAM) is an
annual event, usually taking place in the last 2
weeks of July, for members of RAFMA, the AMA
and the RN&RMCC. Unlike UK meets, those
attending JSAM must meet certain requirements1
and, as alpine novices, undergo training on their
first meet and then climb with experienced or
qualified personnel until they are deemed to be
experienced themselves. In the past, this has
been run very effectively by the individual clubs
ensuring personnel that personnel adhere to the
JSAM directive. However, in 2007 Air Command
refused to authorise JSAM and the meet was
unfortunately cancelled at short notice.


JSAM 08 was going to be a difficult event to get
authorised following the previous year’s problems                         Breithorn-Traverse
and it is fortunate that Lt Col Simon Hall RM was organising the event on behalf of the RN&RMCC.
Simon is the head of JSMTC (Indefatigable) and had the advantage of being able to work from
within the JS mountaineering environment to ensure JSAM 08 went ahead. Nevertheless, it was
an uphill struggle and I believe the 3 clubs owe him a great deal of thanks for ensuring that JSAM
continues in much the same vein as it has in the past.

This JSAM was supported by JSMTC(I) and Bavaria. Under the auspices of the Senior Instructors
from the 2 centres (WO2 Phil Maddox and FS Ian Nicholls), fast track Alpine Mountaineering
Proficiency (AMP) and Alpine Mountaineering Leader (AML) courses were run throughout the
meet. These courses allowed those with the appropriate experience to gain their qualifications in
half the time it would take on the standard course from Sonthoffen and allowed the “students” to
climb more challenging routes than they would on the normal course. A fast track Alpine
                                                             Mountaineering Instructor course
                                                             was run before JSAM started.
                                                             Unlike JSAM 06, which also ran
                                                             AMP and AML, personnel on
                                                             courses were fully funded as they
                                                             would be on a normal course –
                                                             even their week’s campsite fees
                                                             and food in the valley was paid for.
                                                             The 2 centres also provided
                                                             minibuses and drivers as well as an
                                                             experienced       duty    instructor,
                                                             negating the need for the 3 club
                                                             leaders to stay in camp – a big win!
                                                             Most importantly the traditional
                                                             aspect of JSAM was maintained,
                                                             allowing those experienced or
                                                             qualified alpinists to climb as

looking at the Rimpfischorn from the Strahlhorn

    Lead VD in big boots, competent snow and ice and experience of multi-pitch abseils.

This years’ Joint Service Alpine Meet (JSAM) was based at Saas Grund in the Valais Alps region
of Switzerland, a fabulous area for both experienced and novice alpinists alike. Unfortunately, the
RAFMA contingent was rather small – me (Ian Richardson) and Mandy Singleton for the first week
only! Experienced alpinists were relatively thin on the ground throughout the meet (only 5 in week
1), but there were still over 50 personnel from the 3 Services at Saas Grund with the numbers
taking advantage of the courses on offer.

The weather was fairly mixed throughout the 2 weeks, with lots of fresh snow and fairly strong
winds during week 2. This meant that some of the more interesting rock ridges were out of
condition. Fortunately, there is plenty to do in the area and I only resorted to a snow plod for the
first route. I teamed up with Surg Cdr Ade Mellor RN for about 10 days of the meet – a good
pairing as we only ended up behind guidebook time once and that was wading through knee deep
snow while breaking trail on the way up to the Strahlhorn (PD) from the Britannia Hut on our
“acclimatisation” day! The next day we climbed the Allalinhorn from the Britannia Hut via the
Hohlaubgrat (AD) a short but highly recommended route with only one short section of rock and
ideal for an acclimatisation day if the conditions are suitable.

                                                With a dodgy weather forecast we descended to
                                                the valley and commenced one of our many “faffs”
                                                over what to do next – too many routes to choose
                                                from! We opted to drive over to Arolla as neither of
                                                us had been there before and went up to the Dix
                                                Hut, a charming little hut with very friendly
                                                guardians. We had planned to traverse the Mont
                                                Blanc de Cheilon, but it was chucking it down at
                                                0400; at 0700 it had stopped raining, but visibility
                                                was about 10 feet; but at 0855 the cloud started to
                                                lift. Ten minutes later we had left the hut and that
                                                night we were back in Saas Grund enjoying a
                                                much deserved beer after having snatched one of
                                                the most enjoyable alpine routes I have done. The
                                                E Ridge (up) is a fabulous AD- rock ridge that goes
                                                on and on and the descent of the SW Ridge (PD) is
                                                pretty good in its upper part too.

                                                Following a day in the valley, Ade and I, along with
                                                Simon Hall and Dougie Allen (RN), did the short
                                                traverse of the Breithorn from the Klein Matterhorn
                                                cable car. This is a very enjoyable mixed AD ridge,
                                                which was ideal with the day’s weather forecast.
       Breithorn Traverse                       We were being buffeted by strong and very cold
winds by the time we reached the end of the narrow ridge and were glad we had heeded the
forecast and not attempted anything of more epic proportions. The next couple of days saw more
poor weather in the valley and a lot of snow being dumped high up.

The weather had improved for Tuesday of week 2, although the ridges were still out, so I opted to
climb with another group from the RN and we walked into the Dom Hut to traverse the Dom via the
Festigrat (PD+) and N Flank (PD). With 1600m of ascent from the hut and over 3000m of ascent
back to the valley, this is a long day out!

Mandy enjoyed her AMP course, which started with some techniques and a long walk into the
Britannia Hut in horrible conditions, followed by an ascent of the Hohlaubgrat in the deep snow that
I enjoyed on the way to the Strahlhorn. A “rest” day meant 8 hours of AD rock! close to the hut,
with an ascent of the Strahlhorn the following day. Finally more techniques and a well deserved

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