WRITTEN BY ANNE ENSOLL & WENDY DODDS
This is the first in a new series, where we'll be giving you an insight into the reasons behind the decision to hire a Mountain Guide.
Wendy Dodds is a fell running legend. Now in her 60s, she is still competing at the highest standard. As a sports medicine specialist, she also travelled with several British Olympic and World Championships athletics squads. Last year she had her first taste of Alpine mountaineering.
Do you have any memories of adventures in the outdoors as a child or teenager?
I was introduced to the mountains as a child by my mother. Initially we went walking, and then when I was about seven we started skiing. My main weekday activity was swimming, but at weekends and in the holidays we went to the mountains of Northumberland, the Lake District and Scotland.
What do you remember about your outdoor adventures when you started doing them independently?
As a student I was introduced to orienteering, and in 1972 Val Pacey, a top orienteer, suggested the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon (now the Original Mountain Marathon or OMM), never before completed by a women’s team. My training was to walk the Pennine Way in ten days. Since then I have done a mountain marathon every year, and have been a fell runner for the last 40+ years.
My first experience using a rope was with three friends on the Skye ridge in 1976, but after the initial foray the weather was not kind, so we left, returning the following year to find the same again. During two years working in Aberdeen I regularly explored the Cairngorms on foot and skis, and at times went further afield. Long distance ski races and ski-orienteering were fitted into winters.
Over the years trips to mountains throughout the world have resulted in bagging peaks (highest in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt, 2nd highest in Ecuador), occasionally with scrambles, some via ferratas, but no serious climbing.
When did you first think about hiring a Mountain Guide?
My Mountain Marathon partner Sarah suggested the Matterhorn and my appetite was whetted when I got my first sighting whilst going round the Tour of Monte Rosa. For me I knew that I needed serious preparation, so plans were made for 2017, with me doing two courses with the Austrian Alpine Club, Alpine Skills in Wales and Winter Mountaineering in Scotland.
Sarah and I signed up with Chris for two days of Alpine preparation in April 2017, and Chris gave us the ‘OK to go’. (But we realised that there was still a LOT of opportunity for doing better!) I decided that it would be good for me to have some additional training with Chris in the Alps during July 2017 as Sarah already had experience of mountaineering in the Chamonix valley.
July 2017 was my first true Alpine climbing trip. I had three days of hard walking to acclimatise and get used to wearing mountaineering boots every day, before linking up with Chris for serious Alpine training. We had a superb day on the traverse of the Aiguilles Crochues at 2840m, which is a bit like the Skye ridge. The next few days the weather wasn’t good, so we had to alter plans to go to the Torino and Cosmiques huts. Instead we went to Argentiere and tackled the Petit Aiguille Verte, in conditions resembling a Scottish winter, wearing all the clothes that we had with us. This suited me as I could not see the exposure, and it was my first time of using crampons on rock rather than just on snow. Our next success was the Weissmies, my first 4000m alpine peak. Returning to Chamonix we did the Cosmiques Arête on a beautiful day and we were able to see all the fresh snow that had fallen in the previous three days.
Will you be hiring a Mountain Guide again?
I’m looking forward to another, longer, Alpine adventure with Chris in July 2018, with the aim of ascending a few 4000m peaks (possibly including the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, conditions permitting). Whatever the outcome I know that it will be enjoyable, exhilarating and challenging.