Calum Muskett: 5 things I wish I'd known when I started alpine climbing

Posted by Becky McGovern on 03/04/2016
Tim Neill on Direct on Direct Cupucines. Photo: Calum Muskett

The alpine season has a habit of creeping up on us and being here before we know it. Advance planning is the smart way to make your alpine dreams come true. We asked Calum Muskett to share five things he wished he had known when he first started out.

Calum is a 22-year-old alpinist based in North Wales. He specialises in alpine rock climbing but also loves the colder adventures you can have mixed climbing in the Alps and further afield. Calum’s alpine adventures have taken him to the Mont Blanc Massif, Bernese Oberland, Dolomites, Ratikon, Torres del Paine and Fitzroy.

Over to Calum:

1. Play to your strengths
A lot of first time alpinists fall into the trap of tackling unfamiliar terrain because they think it looks easy or gets a low alpine grade. This often means that both climbers will rope up and move together over terrain that may be better either pitched or soloed. A classic example is the Frendo Spur, every Brits favourite route to have an epic on! Relatively straightforward climbing but lots of it and some awkward route finding. Stick to what you know; if you’re a rock climber start off on shorter more technical rock routes and if you’re a winter climber shorter more technical mixed routes. Remember that moving together can be very dangerous and is technically quite a difficult skill.

2. Look after yourself
Being ginger provides a whole host of problems, the most notable being the ginger hair. Despite the apparently reflective qualities of my white skin I still burn to a cinder; lips, nostrils and eyelids. In fact, after walking on a glacier for the first time, I looked like I’d had Botox injections to my lips and had fallen into a pot of red blusher. Copious amounts of sun cream, lip balm and radical aviator sunglasses (optional).

3. Stay hydrated and fuelled
At altitude you burn calories and use up fluid at a rate of knots. Eat before you feel like eating and drink as much as you can. Don’t be lazy, use that stove to melt snow! Many people often mistake altitude sickness with being dehydrated, under fuelled and over sun burnt.

4. Wake up early
To be fair, I think I’d always known this and still struggle to adhere to it; I thought it was just a phase as I went through my teens – I was mistaken. Waking up early is the way forward for alpine climbing. By first light you’re already well on your way and have given yourself time to play with. Snow slopes and objective dangers have often firmed up overnight and you can get back down in time for a drink and a pizza. The exception to this rule would be on technical shorter routes where it’s often best to give the rock a chance to warm up.

5. Go to a BMC Alpine Skills Lecture 
Learning skills from other people is a great way to add to your arsenal of tricks.  Learning new stuff gives you a range of perspectives to call on and makes you more adaptable to new situations. As we know, alpine climbing has a tendency to readily throw new situations in your path. Also, I've heard the two presenters at this year's BMC Alpine Lectures are real dudes.

Catch Calum at the BMC Alpine Skills Lectures

Calum is presenting this years lectures with Steve Long (International Mountain Guide). Steve has been mountaineering for over 30 years and has climbed in every continent. Steve directed Conville Trust Alpine courses for several years and still teaches Alpine skills every year. Highlight ascents include the Dru in winter, Cerro Torre, Low’s Gully (Borneo), and an epic attempt on Great Trango.

Are these lectures for me?

The lectures are for people new to alpinism looking to further develop their skills. Calum and Steve will cover:

  • Places to go and when to visit them
  • Preparation: fitness and acclimatisation
  • Valley accommodation, huts and bivis
  • Alpine hazards and how to manage the risks
  • Techniques for effective movement

Berghaus free prize draw

The lectures are sponsored by Berghaus and there will be a free prize draw each night with a chance to win lots of Berghaus goodies!

Dates and venues

All lectures start at 7.30pm and last approximately two hours with a halfway interval.

Chester: Tuesday 26 April
University of Chester, Room 107, Binks Building, Parkgate Road, Chester, Cheshire, CH1 4BJ.

Sheffield: Wednesday 27 April
Sheffield Hallam University, Collegiate Campus, Room HC.0.06, Heart of the Campus Building, corner of Collegiate Crescent and Broomhall Rd

Sheffield location map

Newcastle: Thursday 28 April
Newcastle University, Lecture Theatre 1, Herschel Building, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE1 7RY.

Birmingham: Tuesday 3 May
University of Birmingham, Guild Council Chambers, Guild of Students, Edgbaston Park Road, Birmingham, B15 2TU.

London: Wednesday 4 May
University College London, Christopher Ingold XLG2 Auditorium, Christopher Ingold Building, 20 Gordon Street, London, WC1H 0AJ.

Southampton: Thursday 5 May
University of Southampton, Room 1067, Building 58 (Murray Building), Hampshire, SO17 1BJ.

Buy your tickets now

Tickets cost £5 BMC members, £7 non-members and £3.50 if you purchase 10 or more. Tickets can be purchased from the BMC online shop or by telephoning the BMC on 0161 445 6111.

WATCH: The Alpine Essentials DVD trailer on BMC TV

WATCH: The BMC Alpine Lecture Buxton 2014 on BMC TV

WATCH: BMC Ambassador Calum Muskett on BMC TV

WATCH: Ueli Steck, the alpine machine, on BMC TV


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