It was a case of fourth time lucky for a University of Cumbria lecturer who has just completed a gruelling traverse below some of the highest peaks in the Alps.
The Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route straddles French and Swiss Alps and is rated as one of the most famous high-level ski tours in the world.
“My first attempt at the Haute route ended with me in hospital for three days needing surgery for severed tendons after taking a bad fall on the first day,” Ambleside-based outdoors instructor Peter Waite-Shores said. “On both the second and third attempts we were forced to turn back because of a high risk of avalanche.”
The trip can take up to ten days to complete and few manage to make the journey without incident. Just weeks after Peter’s journey eight people died while making the attempt.
Most people who tackle the haute route hire a guide because of the high mountain and glacial terrain but Peter and Tom Swannick (an expert skier with numerous first descents in Greenland to his name) teamed up for a fourth attempt.
Starting in Chamonix and staying in high mountain huts overnight, the 180km route offers fabulous ski mountaineering. Peter, who lives in Burneside near Kendal, took 5 days to complete the challenge following the spine of the Alps and finishing under the north face of the Matterhorn in Zermatt.
“We didn’t stick precisely to the usual route which enabled us to ski numerous 4000m peaks along the way,” Peter said. “One of the high points of the trip was skiing the glacier D’Arpette Couloir on the north face of Pointe D’Orny. To do this we took advantage of the spectacular snow conditions and climbed Pointe D’Orny then abseiled into the top of the main north couloir, completing snow stability tests to assess the avalanche risk before packing away the ropes and descending what was to be the best ski descent I have ever undertaken!”
Peter says he had to call on his two decades of experience spent operating in the high mountains as well as the Antarctic (he spent 18 months with the British Antarctic Survey) but enjoyed conditions described as ‘legendary’ by a guide friend. Next year he is hoping to explore new ski tours in Albania, Bosnia and Serbia.
But while others are taking time off, his summer is already looking busy.
“In two weeks’ time I finish here at the university for the summer and will then drive to the Balkans to lead an expedition into the Accursed Mountains of Northern Albania to explore new routes on a series of unclimbed rock faces,” Peter said.
He will rejoin the university at the start of the autumn term doubtless with more inspiring stories to share with outdoor students at Ambleside.