On Belay With ... Jon Morgan

Posted by Jeremy Windsor on Nov 01, 2018

Welcome to "On Belay With..."! This is a series of short interviews with all sorts of folks involved in mountain medicine. In this post Dr Jon Morgan has answered the call! Jon is the only practising doctor in the UK who is also an IFMGA guide. For many years he has ran, skied and climbed at levels that most of us can only dream of! 

What was the last mountain you climbed?

Not quite the last one if you exclude the UK mountains that I have run up recently and the Cuillin Ridge in Skye, but the last Alpine peak I climbed was the Aletschhorn, 4190m in the Bernese Oberland, a couple of months ago. 

What does the perfect mountain day consist of? 

Pretty much all the things we had on the Aletschhorn. We were in the middle of another spell of perfect weather, just after fairly recent snowfall. We we're a team of 4 - me, Nicky (my other half), Nick Wallis and Martin Cooper and all knew each really well, so there was constant banter. We had acclimatised the previous couple of days on the Finsteraarhorn and Fiescherhorns, but this was the prize for the week- a remote and beautiful mountain, most easily climbed from a bivi hut. We were fortunately distracted by constant views of our objective looming above us on the hot flog into the hut, and bumped into a couple of skimo friends who came whizzing past us on their much lighter kit. All pretty sociable sitting around in the afternoon drying out boots and drinking tea in such a gorgeous place. The inevitable predawn start was admirably compensated for by perfect pinks on the summit slopes as we cramponed up 45 degree slopes with skis on our backs to the exposed ridge that links you to the upper slopes. A sneaky line skinning under rocks bit on top of monster seracs took us to the final slopes then a gorgeous easy mixed ridge to the top, with mind boggling views. And a 2000m descent on spring snow. To my mind ski mountaineering is where it's at. Oh and multi pitch rock climbing.

What's been your worst mountain mishap?

Four of us were caught in the mother of a storm on the summit of a c6000m peak in Pakistan about 30 years ago. Full electricity overload with simultaneous flash and bangs every few seconds, hail the size of golf balls, impossible to see the slopes we were trying to descend, as the flow of hailstones made the slopes just a river of ice. It was a real out of body experience looking down on myself and the others, observing our actions. It actually only lasted a few hours and we were lucky not to get electrocuted but it had enough intensity for one my climbing partners to look me in the eyes and say - "We're going to die aren't we?"

An early ascent of the Bonatti Pillar

What's been your best mountain day?

What only one? Can't pick between loads - here's a selection over the years.

1983 Charmoz Grepon Traverse with Dad. He introduced me to this game we call mountaineering and I have a lot to thank him for. Perhaps not including some of our tactics that day. Setting off with no head torches but large Eveready hand torches with we bit in our teeth for technical ground. No rock boots. No harness and multiple classic abseils with your M+S woolly jersey and Y fronts as only protection from rope burn. On returning to the hut continuing straight down to Chamonix on foot from the Plan de l'Aiguille then driving back to Geneva.

1989 Colque Cruz 5, Peru with James, Tim, Si, Stan. First ascent of the peak by a TD mixed route. Even had head torches and harnesses.

1992 Bonatti Pillar, Petit Dru with Stan - iconic route, iconic peak, as good as its reputation suggested. Unfortunately my rucksack had the same destination as the route itself in later years - fell hundreds of metres onto the moraine below...

1997 Mt Dolent with Martin, Stan and Nick - skinning up the Argentiere Glacier under the comet Hale Bopp, fit and acclimatised having spent all winter playing in Cham with no work. Then climbing the Charlet route, a classic TD to the summit of a peak that borders 3 countries, followed by a perfect spring ski down to la Fouly in Switzerland.

2005. The Eiger, 1938 route with Neil - a lonely November ascent with nobody else on the route and no tracks. One high bivi and in time to get the train down to Kleine Scheidegg on day 2. 

The Hinterstoisser Traverse on the Eiger's 1938 Route (Photo: Jack Geldard)

2012. Aiguille de la Republique. Banana Republic with Sophie and Ben. 26 pitch rock route up to F6c. Out there rock climbing. To my mind multi pitch rock climbing is where it's at. Oh and ski mountaineering.

2013. Chamonix Zermatt church to church on skis in a single push - the purists Haute Route, with Ben Tibbetts, Ben Bardsley and Misha. No lifts, no road transport, no ski lifts. This has only been done a handful of times by French and Swiss skimo racers. No Brits have done it, before or after.

2015. Grandes Jorasses, Colton McIntyre with Owain, Adam and John. Single push from the Leschaux to Boccalette Huts in perfect weather and conditions. A few hours kip then woke up to pouring rain! 

2018. Cuillin Ridge Traverse, Skye with Nicky. My 4th attempt, getting weathered off every other time. Almost beaten by the heat and dehydration but saved by a large melting snow patch and beers in the Slig at the end.

What mountain changed your life?

All of the above.

What's been your best bit of mountain kit?

My VO2max!

What makes a great climbing partner? Has anyone come close?

Constant ability to take the piss, calm in stimulating, sub-optimal situations and the knowledge that, not only do they believe in you, but also you know they'll be able to sort things out if you can't. I'm lucky to have many friends that fit the bill.

What's been your biggest mountain disappointment?

None really. They're all good training opportunities and the experiences go in the memory bank to tweak things next time.

What is your "dream" mountain objective? 

I'm a doer not a dreamer - dreams aren't real!

Give us a mountain "tip"!

Make the time for it now. You'll always be busy and you'll never be younger. You'll probably not be fitter in the future. Climate change will probably make your objective harder by delaying, even if it is just your attitude to long haul flights, in my case. Better to fail than not try. DMM sum it up with their T shirt - Climb Now, Work Later.

Dr Jon Morgan 

Thanks Jon!

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