Mount Everest Summit hibu

 

 

I've spent many years training for expeditions to the most extreme places in the world. In this training, I aim to be a rounded alpinist, not exactly excelling in any one particular skill, but honing a broad yet focused set of tools to help achieve my goals and future projects.

These tools include winter and mixed climbing, climbing at altiude, paragliding speedflying and speedriding, skiing, and a general mountain judgement that I rely upon to keep me safe while in less than ideal situations.

While I achieve many of my 'high points' during 'training' (for example, my Scottish winter grade is something I could never hope to replicate at high altitude), the following are bigger trips and projects where I have had to call upon a plethora of moderate skills to achieve an ultimate goal that as a whole has been quite an undertaking.

Beyond this list, there are thousands of miles on the bike, and hundreds of hours under paragliders and speed wings, and countless km's on an ever rotating cohort of trail shoes.

 


Riding Giants & Future Projects

Since 2018, I've been working with a small number of partners on an evolving project combining flying and climbing.

These projects are focussed upon a number of objectives in both Europe and eventually the Himalayas as my concept of paralpanism (the combination of alpinism and paragliding/speedflying) evolves.

I've grouped these projects into a broad project I call #ridinggiants, but ultimately, this pinnacle objective is made up of two smaller trips which will eventually culminate in my most challenging expedition to date.

My first two projects are focussed on crossing the Alps, both in a fast and light style combining running, flying and some alpinism. This project is the inital test piece for project number two; a second crossing of the Alps using some innovative aviation technology.

The third piece of the puzzle is a daring flight from the heart of the Himalayas which hasn't yet been attempted, and is something I hope can push the boundaries of paralanism a little further beyond its already incredible scope..

For updates on this adventure, please follow along on my Instagram or on the blog.

 

Riding Giants

Run and Fly the Alps 2022

In June 2022, I headed to Slovenia at the far Eastern end of the Alps to start my #ridinggiants project which has been in the works for a number of years. This is the first project of three which aim to combine running, alpinism and paragliding.

For the run & fly, I aimed to traverse the length of the Alps to France whilst making 15 run & fly attempts. The idea is very simple; to run up a mountain and the fly back down, essentially the same basic premise that created the sport of paragliding.

In theory, this was a very simple exercise however in reality it was far from easy. The project took place over at least 2 distinct European heatwaves which meant many of the runs taking place in 25 degree temperatures even at elevations over 2,000m, and many of the flights were subsequently made in very thermic air which thoroughly tested my flying skills on a number of occasions.

As far as I'm aware, no one has taken on such a project in the Alps or elsewhere (transiting across a mountain range running and flying). The main difference with this project was the running element which was only made possible with very recent equipment. I used the latest single skin paraglider technology, alongside other ultralight flight equipment. The X-Alps and a number of committed pilots have all made crossing the Alps by paraglider quite common, however these crossings are generally made using cross country paragliders and walking. Running with a paraglider only truly became possible when Dudek created the Run & Fly, however Skyman have since created the Speed which I used on this project and so alongside the AirDesign Le Slip and the Ultimate Direction SCRAM, I went for a very, very long run and fly.



The 14,705m elevation gain was covered in 67.2 miles. I have written a comprehensive report for all those interested in the project available here: To Run and Fly.


Alternatively, for those who prefer images, I recorded a few stories for each stage of the project which are available as highlights on my Instagram page: Run and Fly Stories.

 

Run & Fly Project

The Alpine Spring 2017

In late April 2017, I set out with two friends to the heart of the French and Italian alps to climb, fly and ski some of the highest mountains in Europe. Setting up our first base in the remote village of Alagna, we spent a couple of days skiing and speedriding whilst the weather cleared for our first foray into the thin air. We headed for the Bivouac Felice Giordano, an incredibly situated refuge from which we were able to look out over Piramide Vincent and the North Eastern hills of the Aosta Valley. After a sleepless night at 4,167m we skied over the back of the Balmenhorn and gradually made our way to the summit of Parrotspitze (4,432m).

This trip was a baptism of fire for me. It was the first time I had had the opportunity to be immersed in a number of elements of classic alpinism. For some reason or other, Parrotspitze was my first alpine 4,000m peak, it was the first time I had ski toured outside Scotland, the first time I had done any ski mountaineering with kick turns done in anger; indeed, this was also the first time I had even seen a touring ski, let alone used a pin binding. The Bivouac Felice Giordano was the first European refuge I had ever stayed at, and Alagna was the first time I managed to do any meaningful speedriding in the big mountains. Outside of mountaineering, this trip also happened to be my first visit to Italy and the first time I had driven a car outside the UK. As far as trips go, I learnt far more on this extended European voyage than any other trip to date.

Alagna turned out to be just the start of the adventure. Next we headed for Cervinia whilst the snow was dumping in the high mountains. A short week of skiing here gave me my first proper off piste turns in the occasional patch of waist deep powder.

After the weather settled, we headed back to the mecca of alpinism, Chamonix. Here, we took our skills to the big mountains with speedriding from the Grands Montets, the Aiguille du Midi, and a leisurely tour down the Vallee Blanche.

The weather never cleared enough for us to attempt to speedride from Mont Blanc, so instead, we left the wings in the car and headed up the mountain via the classic Grands Mulets. Leaving the hut at 4am while avalanches crashed around us, this was the scene of my first kick turns on an incredibly steep, crevassed path, while roped up, in the dark. A fine apprenticeship to the dark arts of ski mountaineering.

For a flavour of the action, our trip video can be watched here: The Alpine Spring

 

Speed Riding

Ben Alder Speed Climb 2016

In June 2016, I set out to make the fastest ascent of Ben Alder, a remote hill in central Scotland. The challenge was to make the journey from the nearest main road, however the challenges involved push this adventure closer towards mini-expedition than microadventure. Choosing the shortest route, I had to walk a valley, climb and descend a col, cross a moderately rough Loch Ericht on a lightly modified inflatable boat, and then after a long loch walk, climb the mountain via a long and discontinuous route. I then repeated the journey clocking almost 26 miles over 12.5 hours.

A comprehensive write up is available on the Ben Alder dispatch blog.

 

Ben Alder

Everest Yell Expedition 2012

In May 2012, Matthew became one of the youngest Britons to summit Mount Everest.

After many years of training, preparatory climbs and sourcing funding, I was given the green light in March 2012 to head back to Kathmandu in Nepal and make the long journey to Everest. Illness, altitude sickness, avalanches and general lassitude from spending 10 weeks in a tent all took their toll on the team. 4am starts to climb the Khumbu ice fall were tough, but the long slog from Camp 1 to Camp 2 along the mostly flat Western CWM were markedly harder. Dry conditions forced the Sherpas to elongate the route up to Camp 3 which was to be our first evening on oxygen. We didn’t realise at the time, but upon waking up at camp 3, we wouldn’t sleep again for over 36 hours. In that time, we would climb to the desolate moonscape of Camp 4, wait for nightfall and then start the climb to the roof of the world. As a team, we climbed the final few meters of the mountain watching the sun rise over the plains of the Tibetan Plateau and into Bhutan. We summited the mountain and looked out over the world. It isn’t possible to entirely explain what summiting Everest means in words. An expedition to the lofty peak means something different to any climber who has been lucky enough to set foot on the mountain. Worlds such as euphoria, extreme fatigue and exposure, lucidity and surreal emptiness only go so far in describing what it’s really like to be standing in such a place; the rest can only truly be understood by those who dare to venture up into the clouds.

Gaining support for the expedition was almost as difficult and painstaking a process as the climb itself. The quest to gain funding whilst demonstrating exactly what the return on investment would look like took close to 3 years; two years as a full time job. After countless rejections, perseverance paid off with Yell Group announcing that they would sponsor the climb as part of their corporate rebranding strategy. At the same time, I announced that the expedition would be in support of Global Angels, a charity championing global children’s causes. Any charitable funds raised from the expedition would go directly to Global Angels’ water foundation which aims to provide every child on the planet with access to clean and safe drinking water.

The 2012 Everest expedition was kindly sponsored in full by hibu (formerly Yell Group). Osprey, AMG Group, Maximuscle and Trekmates all made the most welcome contributions in the form of kit, clothing and nutrition support.

The 2012 Everest expedition was kindly sponsored in full by hibu (formerly Yell Group). Osprey, AMG Group, Maximuscle and Trekmates all made the most welcome contributions in the form of kit, clothing and nutrition support.

To view more details of the expedition, please visit the Everest 2012 dispatch blog.

I have written an account of the expedition on Everest along with the journey up to the summit which is now available at many good bookshops. Further details of Dare to Dream can be found here on the books page.

 

Mount Everest Summit

Baruntse 2011

Following the earlier 2011 trip to Kyrgyzstan to climb Peak Lenin, I tried my hand at high altitude climbing once more in an attempt to climb both Mera Peak followed by the 7,129m Baruntse. This expedition was much more of a success than that which we endured on Lenin, but it wasn't without the extreme difficulties typically faced whilst climbing a relatively remote Himalayan peak.

The picture on the left mostly sums up the situation on Baruntse. Once you have made it to the remote far north of Mahakulung, you spend a couple of weeks acclimatising and generally teetering about on some incredible big mountain terrain. This terrain is exposed and breath taking. The main difficulty is the fact that once you reach 7,000m, you then need to traverse a long gradually ascending ridge, the start of which is shown in the photo. The exposure is severe, and the risk of going through a cornice is very real. Unlike on Everest where you generally start using supplementary oxygen from around 7,000m, on Baruntse, you reach 7,000m but still have a lot of climbing ahead of you, despite the summit only being 129 vertical meters above.

Of all my mountain climbs, this remains one of my favourites thanks to the remote setting, the incredible climbers on the team, and the fact the Sherpa I was climbing with thought we were too slow to reach the top. This meant I spent as much energy as I had available trying to reach a goal I didn't believe was possible until all of a sudden to the complete surprise of both my Sherpa and me, the summit came into view and we ran out of ground to climb. The elation and release of emotions from hours of seemingly pointless climbing was simply overwhelming.

To view more details of the expedition, please visit the Baruntse 2011 dispatch blog.

 

Baruntse

Peak Lenin 2011

In 2011, I embarked upon my first expedition to Kyrgyzstan, part of the former Soviet empire. Going to climb Peak Lenin, a 7,000m mountain, I was immediately overcome with insignificance in a place where there is nothing for scale and the differences in culture are everywhere. The country is enormous, and entirely different from regular life in Europe. I had no idea what to expect in this relatively unheard of country, but regardless, I was overly unprepared for what I was presented with. With only a week of Scottish mountaineering behind me and only modest amounts of travelling to western countries, this was a . The sheer enormity of the country is breath taking. This month long expedition in 2011 was an initiation like no other.

Once I had mostly overcome the reality that is Kyrgyzstan, a deeply beautiful, but equally poor country, we reached the mountain itself. There was no scale to be found, and I didn't have a reference point for the size of the mountain in front of me. I soon suffered from mild high altitude pulmonary oedema (fluid on the lungs), and despite a quick foray up the mountain with an enthusiastic young Russian guide, I never really adjusting to the altitude or the place. “I was out of my depth, and I suddenly realised just what climbing the world’s highest mountains requires.”

With a seemingly endless scope for mountain adventures, Kyrgyzstan is certainly a place I would like to revisit with more mountain and worldly experiences under my belt.

To view more details of the expedition, please visit the Peak Lenin 2011 dispatch blog.

 

Peak Lenin