Anyone familiar with 90s comedian Harry Enfield will remember his skit, Women: Know Your Limits. This is a 1950s spoof public broadcast announcement with a bold woman in its place.
Deliberately twisted, it plays in my head when tackling Gorge Alpine via ferrata in the Upper Valley. Instead of stepping out of your comfort zone, step out of your comfort zone as you zip-wire through caves or swing across canyons.
Of course, my gender is not inferior to the next person. But I do wonder how much I’ve been conditioned to believe that adventure sports are a bit off limits to me.
My High Rise Assault Course is ready for more advanced adventures. Trying to master his 4,000 m peak first.
A land made for mountaineering, Switzerland has thousands of summits, 48 of which are above 4,000 meters. The highest concentration (18) is in the scenic Saas Valley, part of the highest and most perfect Valais.
Throughout history, hundreds of explorers have made their mark by conquering perilous slopes and scaling vertices. Edward Whymper, Jack Balmat, etc. As was typical at the time, few women attempted the climb. In the summer of 1871, puffy-skirted British aristocrat Lucy Walker made her name as the first woman to reach the summit of the Matterhorn.
It was a landmark moment for women’s mountaineering, but more than 150 years later, there are still very few women involved in the sport. Of her 1,556 mountain guides in Switzerland, only 3% are women.
To address this imbalance, Switzerland Tourism, the Swiss Alpine Club, the Swiss Alpine Guides Association and Mammut teamed up last year to launch the 100pc Women’s Peak Challenge, inviting 700 women to climb all 48 of the country’s highest peaks. encouraged women teams to reach the summit. In her June of this year, her 80 women at the top of Breithorn broke the world record by forming the longest women-only rope team.
There was an outpouring of enthusiasm from women of all ages eager to try climbing for the first time, myself included. I’ve hiked above 5,000m, but never been roped or clipped to a carabiner. Plus, at 44, I’m more of a goat than a feisty spring lamb.
But middle-aged me wants to do just about anything, and I’m convinced that true adventurism rests more on mental determination than physical ability.
Another spur is the scenery. Set in an amphitheater of snow-striped sky-scraping mountains, the Sars Valley is as breathtaking as its dizzying high-altitude peaks.
A small car-free village where cattle in crumbling larch trees graze nearby cozy restaurants and flashy sports stores, Saas-Fee will be my base for the next few days. It is the starting point for various activities such as skiing. And rather ominously, it’s been said that climate change and the emergence of glacial lakes could make wild swimming more popular in the coming years.
Joining a team of four more women, my goal is to climb Allalinhorn, one of the most accessible 4,000m peaks in the region.
We are led by mountaineering guide Elsie Trishaw, who fell in love with the sport after climbing Mont Blanc with her father. Although she is small in stature, she is very tough and admits that her husband wooed her with a penknife instead of her wedding ring.
Despite having recently given birth, she buzzes with an amazing amount of energy when we meet.
The difference between hiking and climbing is the need for technical gear, she explains. Kit Going through her list, a light windproof jacket, trousers, gloves, a wool hat, sturdy boots (UGG definitely won’t cut it), and sawtooth crampons to grab the ice.
“Accidents are a series of bad decisions,” she says, and most rescue calls reveal unprepared hikers bravado and carelessness.
“Training to become a mountain guide involves learning how to deal with problems and how to make decisions.”
After hopping on the MetroAlpin (the highest cable car in the world) at Felskinn, we start our climb at Mittellallin station. Below us, the gray moraine fields collapse and we emerge into a soft snowy landscape.
Already at 3,457m elevation and only about 500m to go, at these low oxygen heights it could take about 2 hours.
Attach the carabiners to the rope and walk in line keeping a safe distance from each other. Progress is frustratingly slow at first. Tightening loose crampons and removing layers of sweat requires frequent stops, a bane to Elsie who urges us to keep moving before the snow melts and becomes dangerous.
Finally, break through the clouds and you can look back at the Mountain Martinet. The sight so unusual and unexpected is almost shocking. Layers of silky cumulus clouds swirl around our feet, stretching to the tip of the Dom (Switzerland’s highest peak) and the Matterhorn. On the jagged horizon, glaciers give off a metallic sheen.
Reaching the actual peak, where the wooden cross forms the frame for the obligatory group selfie, is surprisingly easy. But it’s the descent that causes me the most trouble. You struggle to find footing in stretches of loose debris, and you almost lose a nail when your feet crumple into the toes of poorly laced boots.
Luckily my fellow female climbers are sympathetic and offer only support, not smart remarks. I’m a little unsure. Or maybe you were too embarrassed to ask for help.
That night, over a celebratory pot of sticky raclette, I discuss the benefits of climbing the first 4,000m peak with a group of women. Along with the obvious confidence boost and camaraderie, there was the practical convenience of being able to borrow lip balm and forming a human screen whenever I needed to squat in the snow.
But most of all, I was able to confirm that once in the mountains, gender and age are irrelevant. There, true adventure knows no boundaries.
I made my limitations clear to Saas Fee.
For more information on destinations, visitsaas-fee.chSwitzerland Tourism has organized several 100% women’s tours, including climbing, hiking and mountain biking.look myswitzerland.com/en-ch/experiences/100-women