Welcome to "On Belay With..."! This is a series of short interviews with all sorts of folks involved in mountain medicine. Joining us at the belay today is Dr Chris Sloan. Chris is a DiMM holder and Anaesthetics Trainee based in Sheffield.
What was the last mountain you climbed?
I had a week of annual leave last week and spent it in Scotland. We had planned a kayaking trip with a group of friends, but as the Covid rules got stricter our numbers got smaller and smaller! Unusually for Scotland, on the first day of the trip we found a lot of empty rivers and dry conditions so we decided to take one of our non-climbing (but strong and outdoorsy) friends for a proper mountain day out. Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis seemed like a fun plan and the 3 climbers in the group agreed that we could probably drag anyone up a scramble and few pitches of Diff!
The northern aspect of Ben Nevis. North East Buttress and Observatory Ridge are on the left whilst Tower Ridge is on the right. The start of the route is obscured by the shaded Douglas Boulder. A fine setting for a wonderful climb!
In typical Scottish style the dry weather ended just as we got to Tower Gap and we finished the route in the rain and walked down in the dark. Luckily our judgement was right and our friend was crazy enough to have actually enjoyed her experience. There was plenty of water in the rivers the next day.
What does the perfect mountain day consist of?
I love long routes, with enough difficulty to feel like actual climbing, but easy enough so you can move at a decent pace and get a feeling of achievement by finishing on top of something big. A nice ridge climb with plenty of exposure and fantastic views on a clear alpine summer day normally fits the bill!
What's been your worst mountain mishap?
Luckily, I’ve never had any serious injuries in the mountains. Probably the worst mishap I’ve had was about 10 years ago on a route called the Arbengrat on the Obergabelhorn in Switzerland. As a young and inexperienced alpinist in search of that perfect mountain day I picked a nice long alpine ridge traverse. We had a lovely day out climbing but moved too slowly, arriving at the top of the abseil part of the descent in the dark. We spent a while contemplating whether to continue, but decided that starting the abseils in the wrong place and failing to find the next anchor would be unpleasant. We weren’t carrying bivi kit so spent the night shivering until the sun came up and the way down became obvious.
Perfect conditions in the Vallée des Encombres
What's been your best mountain day?
Like most of the people you’ve asked this question I struggle to pick only one. I did have a rather perfect mountain day a couple of winters ago when a friend who lives in a ski resort invited me for a mountain day out. We spent a day ski touring in the Vallée des Encombres near the 3 valleys in France. Unsurprisingly my friend, and the group of seasonnaires I was with, were all way better skiers than me so I was skiing at my limit all day in a perfect valley full of untracked powder under blue skies. That one takes some beating.
What mountain changed your life?
There’s an obvious answer to this one. Last year me and my girlfriend went on a trip to Ecuador to climb Cayambe, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. I had the romantic idea of proposing to her on top of a mountain. After the first climb I realised I had made a mistake. I was never going to convince her to take off her gloves at that temperature, let alone put on a ring!
I quickly changed my plans and chose a nice warm lodge with a view of Cotopaxi instead. She said "Yes"!
Cayambe (5790m) - an volcano in Ecuador that lies 70km to the north east of Quito
What's been your best bit of mountain kit?
Probably a Rab Superlite bothy bag, it’s much smaller than my old one so I carry it more often. A bothy bag really improves morale when the weather is bad. They’re also fantastic from a mountain medicine point of view, if you’re travelling light and relying on movement to keep warm then having one of these amongst a group can make a huge difference if someone sprains an ankle and can’t keep moving.
What makes a great climbing partner? Has anyone come close?
You have to enjoy the same kind of routes and share a similar attitude to risk, that way you can motivate each other to climb harder without anyone getting pushed into dangerous situations. Yes, see above!
A remote valley in Himachal Pradesh - beautiful but a little disappointing!
What's been your biggest mountain disappointment?
The biggest expedition I ever went on was one of Martin Moran’s unclimbed peak trips in the Indian Himalayas. We spent weeks carrying kit into a remote valley looking for a suitable unclimbed peak. We found a likely looking mountain and I was fit and climbing well. The day we set out to do the peak I developed a case of Traveller’s Diarrhoea and was too ill to summit. The rest of the team were successful.
What is your "dream" mountain objective?
I frequently dream of having a life where I can spend more time in the mountains and less at work, I don’t mind which mountains. I’ve already taken a lot of time out of medical training to go climbing, reaching ST4 after 12 years. I really should finish being a registrar before I quit again, to work as a locum and go climbing!
Currently with international travel limited I’ve been doing some of the routes from a new guidebook called ‘Mountain Rock’ by Steve Broadbent. Finishing the 100 British multi-pitch classics in the book would be a great objective.
Give us a mountain "tip"!
Focus on the fun rather than the grade.
When I was a kid, I didn’t think I was into sports. One of the things that attracted me to climbing was that it’s so different from the competitive team sports I disliked. You can pick your own challenge, work on it and succeed. Nobody cares if your challenge is V.Diff or E9 as long as you have fun getting there!
What do Karen Greene, Stuart Allan, Edi Albert, Abigail Forsyth, Jon Morgan, Tom Yeoman, Marika Blackham, David Cambray Deakin, Jon Ellerton and David Hildebrandt all have in common? They have all taken part in "On Belay With...". If you would like to join them please get in touch!
If you would like to find out more about mountain medicine why not join the British Mountain Medicine Society? See this link for details.
The Birmingham Medical Research Expeditionary Society (BMRES) and the British Mountain Medicine Society (BMMS) have joined forces to organise the 2021 Altitude Research Conference. The face-to-face event will take place in Birmingham on the 11th September. Speakers will include Peter Bartsch, Jo Bradwell and Chris Imray. There will also be presentations from members of the UK's leading research groups as well as ample opportunity for researchers, young and old, to present posters and short talks about their work.
Further details can be found here.