241 Squadron Air Cadets Go Alpine

© Nick Harvey
In July a team from 241 Squadron Air Cadets based in Wanstead & Woodford (London) consisting of cadets Mike Cross, Jay Bhadresha, Ajvir Sandhu, Carl Gbeho, Will Browne and Rob Fothergill, put their skills to test on classic Alpine routes in France, Italy and Switzerland. They were led by Flying Officer Nick Harvey, Pilot Officer Matt Davies and Adult Warrant Officer Lee Morris. Two years of extensive training which included regular trips to Scotland, the Lake District, the Peak District and Wales paid off when the team summited the Dent du Geant (The Giant's Tooth) a 4,000m peak in Italy, renowned for its technically difficult climbing.

Ajvir Sandhu, Carl Gbeho and Lee Morris on Petit Aiguille Verte – PD, Mont Blanc Range © Nick Harvey

The trip was made affordable through many fund raising events such a litter picking and grants from charitable trusts. The team organised a sponsored climb where between them they climbed over 200 rock pitches in one day.

The team travelled to Chamonix in the squadron's new minibus on the 21st July after an early 2am start. Over the two weeks they camped to save on costs and to gain the full Alpine Experience. On the mountains we were looked after by fully qualified mountain guides from Alpine Guides Ltd. For the first week the team were split into a ratio of three cadets to one mountain guide. Working in such small teams enabled us to refine our skills and got us moving proficiently at speed over ice, rock and snow whilst roped together. All this learning though, did not stop us from doing several serious routes, one of which involved an early rise at 4am in order for us to tackle the famous Swiss Aiguille de Tour with a summit height of 3,542m. It was also another major learning curve with the guides coming off our ropes and simply supervising. Our work however was not restricted to movement in boots and crampons. On the Friday of the first week the team survived 8 pitches of gruelling rock to reach the top of a cliff which offered superb views of the Mont Blanc massif.

Jay Bhadresha and Rich Cross on Aiguille du Midi © Nick Harvey

It wasn't all hard work and no play however, on Friday night the team hit the streets of Chamonix to celebrate a good first week having completed five alpine routes and then to look forward to the week ahead.

For the second week we were joined by yet more guides so the ratio went down to 2:1. We were now proficient budding alpinists, and this enabled us to steer clear of the common beginner routes of the first week, and move on to some more aggressive and challenging feats.

Most of the second week was spent in Italy where we experienced more multi-pitch rock faces and had our summit attempt at the Dent de Geant (4018m).

Mike Cross, Rob Fothergill and Nick Harvey on the summit of Aiguille du Tour (3542m) - F+, Mont Blanc Range. © Nick Harvey

We were pretty set on the idea of climbing Mont Blanc but by the latter half of the trip, we had changed our minds. We would have done Mont Blanc by the over crowded Gouter Route, a long unexciting slog up a snowy gradient. The conclusion was that we were here for adrenaline stirring routes, and with some of the best mountaineers in the world as our guides, it would be almost a waste to drag them up it. This is why our 4,000m peak was decided on as the Dent de Geant, the South West Face. From a distance it matches its translation, the Giant's Tooth. A large featureless slab of rock with a tricky approach across varying terrain crossing notorious rock fall sites, this was much more like it!

The teams set off from the Torino Hut in Italy at 5am, sheer excitement overruled in our minds the fact that we were up at this hour on our holiday. The trip across the glacier to the foot of the peak was tiring; we were after all a good 2.5 miles above the sea floor. Then began a technical climb up a mixture of snow ice and rock being very careful with our foot placements after seeing several climbers ahead of us knocking off rocks as they travelled. We reached the base of the 'tooth' at around 11am, six hours of work and the hardest was yet to come. Hauling off massive fixed ropes we approached the summit; and exhausted, around two hours later, we reached the top. It was an emotional time for the team, after two years of training in the UK, further training in the previous week and eight hours of climbing, we had reached the pinnacle of our mountaineering careers to date.

Rob Fothergill and Jay Bhadresha on Cosmiques Arete, AD (Aiguille du Midi) © Nick Harvey

The remainder of the week passed in a blur with our final route on Friday, being the Cosmiques Arête. From here all that was left was to pack our kit and head on home.

The general consensus was that this trip was by far, the most exciting and exhilarating of our lives. Now we look forward to progressing our skills and hope to return next year this time possibly without guides, to renew our skills and learn more. We are proud of the comments that the guides left us with, our enthusiasm, resilience and fitness levels were often praised, and this is proved by a short blog on the Alpine Guides website (, along with pictures. Sgt. Jay Bhadresha went as far to say that "pretty much anything is possible if you put your mind to it", after all, two years ago most of the cadets had never visited the mountains before.

This is a summary of our two weeks in the company of Alpine Guides Ltd (, based in Otley, West Yorkshire, run by Rich Cross and Al Powell. Our guides included Rich Cross, Al Powell, Olly Allen, Matt Dickinson, Jon Bracey and Johny Baird.

Cosmiques Arete, AD (Aiguille du Midi) © Nick Harvey

You can read the Alpine Guides blog about our trip and see more photos at


Monday: Traverse du Crochues (2840m) - PD, Aiguilles Rouges Range: Acclimatisation climb - roping up, intro to moving together on alpine terrain - some cadets climbed independently on easier bits.

Tuesday: AM approach Cabane D'Orny (2811m) - Switzerland, Mont Blanc Range, rain + snow showers on walk in. PM. Indoor ropework session – roping up for glacier travel, ii. Outdoor glacier session on the Glacier D'Orny – axe and crampon work, roped glacier travel.

Wednesday: Aiguille du Tour (3542m) - F+, Mont Blanc Range: Putting first 2 days training into practice - cadets climbed independently all day from start to finish, with supervision from guides. Direct belaying, moving with runners + moving together on snow with hand coils were covered during the day.

Thursday: Petit Aiguille Verte – PD, Mont Blanc Range: Cadets climbed for the most part independently, with exposed pitches lead by the guides. Short pitching techniques, direct belaying over spikes + with Italian hitches, plus lowering & abseiling techniques in descent were covered. PM prussicking session at Col de Montets – on both slabby and overhanging terrain.

Friday: Asia (5c+) & Eperon Sublime (5c), Aiguilles Rouges Range: Multipitch rock climbing day, introducing time saving techniques on multipitch routes. Multipitch abseil descents, stacked abbs & prussick backups also covered. One group did some supervised multipitch leading.


Monday: Rock climbing at Arnad, Aosta Valley, Italy. Routes: Diretta Banano 5C+, Bucce d'Arancia 5B+, Diedro Jacod 5C+, Rossa e il Vampiri 6B

Tuesday: Traverse of the Entreves PD+ / AD (Nick – Bettemborg Route, Point Adolph Rey, TD+)

Wednesday: Dent du Geant AD

Thursday: Sport Climbing Mon Ross, up to 6A+ Lead coaching near Aosta, up to 6A

Friday: Cosmiques Arete, AD (Aiguille du Midi) (Nick – Venus, 6B Dalmazzi area, Italy)

241 Squadron: Lee Morris, Rob Fothergill, Jay Bhadresha, Matt Davies, Mike Cross, Carl Gbeho, Nick Harvey. Front: Ajvir Sandhu and Will Browne. © Nick Harvey

241 Squadron Air Cadets

If you want to find out more about the Air Training Corps visit and

About the author Ajvir Sandhu (16 years old)


I started in the mountains around three years ago on my bronze Duke of Edinburgh expedition in the Lakes. From here I progressed my skills in Wales (Snowdonia) and Scotland (Cairngorms and the West Coast). Most of the last two years which has also seen some climbing on Stanage Edge has been training for a major trip to the Alps from which I have just returned. I would like to return to Chamonix sometime next year possibly unguided but working with the likes of Rich Cross and Al Powell was quite something!

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27 Sep, 2007
I think that is FANTASTIC! I spent a few years in the Air Cadets before coming to university. There were so many oppertunities to go out there and do stuff! The best was when I spent two weeks in Grantown-on-spey doing all sorts of things from climbing and mounatin biking to walking in the Cairngorms and kyaking down the spey! Cadets is great!
27 Sep, 2007
Brilliant! Well done. Good photos too.
27 Sep, 2007
Hope they've sent that off to their local rag. When I worked for the Ilford Observer (which covers W&W) I'd have given them a big write-up given the quality of the pics.
27 Sep, 2007
We certainly have. Current publicity stands at: Ilford Recorder Wanstead & Woodford Guardian RAF News Air Cadet News (next edition) London Wing Website HQ Air Cadets Website Of course, they all pale in comparison to recognition from the climbing community and UKC!
27 Sep, 2007
Ah, the mightly Ilford Recorder. Yesterday's News - Next Week!
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