Mission Island Peak – Help to Raise Awareness of Autism

This season Unexplored Scotland is proud to support Alex Barrat on his quest to climb a mountain in the Himalayas to raise awareness of autism. Here is his story:

So just how and why would you climb a 20.305ft snow and ice covered peak in the Himalayas?

It was a typical wet and windy Lake District day, when I was sat in my office thinking about how I was going to try and educate people about Autism. Im lucky enough to be the father of two amazing daughters, the youngest of which has high functioning Autism.

For those of you that don’t know Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.  People with the condition can also have difficulties with understanding speech and the rules of social interaction. They can also sometimes struggle to understand and deal with their own emotions.

The National Autistic Society help provide information, support and services for families affected by autism. They campaign tirelessly for a better world for autistic people.

As an Autism parent I’m often presented with a great deal of opportunities to be amazed and often humbled by my daughters determination and unique angle on life.

She faces a constant battle just to get through each day, every time she overcomes one of those challenges, it’s a time for me to be filled with admiration & joy.

It seemed to me that If she could face those daily challenges then I should face a challenge as well. I wanted to support the charity that was close to my heart and at the same time achieve something truly unique to help educate people about Autism.

I felt I needed to shout my message of Autism acceptance from the top of the world or at least as close to the top as I could get. It was then that I hit upon the idea. I would go to Nepal and climb in the Himalayas on behalf of my two daughters and The National Autistic Society.

I’m already very comfortable in the outdoors, I grew up in the lake district one of the most beautiful national parks anywhere in the world. Over the years I’ve been a hill walker, scrambler, caver and over the last ten years a scuba diver. A sport which I hope will hold me in good stead for the mountaineering challenge to come.

Scuba Diving and Mountaineering share fundamental similarities, they are both dependent on logical and pre planned thinking to achieve a goal. If you don’t make the right decision calmly and efficiently, there will often be no second chance and you can very quickly find yourself in a very serious life threatening situation. Both sports are dependent on the individuals reaction to atmospheric pressure, just at two opposite ends of the scale.

It seemed to me that the attributes required for succeeding in both sports were well balanced.

In both sports you need to be precise & level headed should the situation suddenly deteriorate.

  • They both involve managing environmental risk through trained use of skills, and equipment.
  • They are both fundamentally easy activities, but they require lot’s of training to avoid killing oneself.
  • They both have an exploratory element. Scuba diving and mountaineering are all about accessing terrain that most people will never see or experience.

I have always wanted to climb and now presented with this perfect opportunity, It seemed like as good a time as any to start.

The first thing I decided to do was make contact with my friend Shankar in Kathmandu, he runs his own trekking agency and I knew he would be more than up for an adventure.

I explained my idea and after much discussion it was he who suggested we climb Imja Tse.

Imja Tse is better known as Island Peak, it’s a 20,305ft snow covered mountain in Sagarmatha National Park of the Himalayas in eastern Nepal. The peak was first named Island Peak in 1951 by Eric Shipton‘s party since it appears as a towering island in a sea of ice.

Imja Tse was first summited in 1953 as part of a training exercise by the 9th British Everest attempt, an expedition that would later go on to conquer Mount Everest.

That famous expedition included Charles Evans, Alf Gregory, Edmund Hillary, Charles Wylie and Tenzing Norgay, accompanied by seven Sherpas.


Charles Whylie on the first ascent of Island Peak – Image Courtesy of Alfred Gregory Archive

It was Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary that would later go on that year to make the first successful summit attempt of Mount Everest. While Mount Everest is a mere six miles away to the north, our view from the summit would be blocked by the massive wall of Lhotse, ranked 4th highest in the world. Lhotse will tower an additional 2,300 m (7,500 ft) above our summit.

Shankar explained to me this wasn’t for the faint hearted, it was going to be a technical climb and it was most likely going to hurt. Apart from scrambling I don’t have much mountaineering experience.

I knew to achieve a successful summit this was going to be harder than anything else I had ever done before, but ultimately one of the greatest achievements of my life. We would after all, be following in the footsteps of legends.So after many emails and much deliberation It was finally agreed, we would climb Island Peak, the 1953 training peak for the first successful Mount Everest summit.

I started to research our summit route. Island Peak, is listed as an alpine pd+ grade climb.

We would need to climb in the alpine style, setting of from base or high camp with a backpack, summiting with a set of fixed ropes and back to camp all in one day.

I was beginning to have the realisation this is not an adventure you can do without the correct support. Shankar told me he had two friends who were also climbing island peak at the beginning of April and suggested we should join forces.

We needed to become a well prepared & organised team, at the bare minimum we needed one porter for every two climbers and one climbing sherpa to every two people climbing. Suddenly two had become eight and we had a mammoth task ahead of us.

I spent the next few weeks going over countless maps and youtube videos of the route and what obstacles lay in our path. It was going to take two weeks of trekking and acclimatisation just to get to the Imja glacier. We would need to pass Everest base camp and venture further into the east of the region.

Once we arrive at Island Peak, we have the option of starting the summit attempt from base camp at (16,690ft) and starting the climb between 2 and 3am. Our other option is to ascend to High Camp at around (18,400ft) to reduce the amount of effort and time needed for summit day.

However, adequate water supply and concerns about sleeping at a higher altitude may dictate starting from base camp. Base camp to high camp is basically a long hike but just above high camp their is some rocky steps which require moderate scrambling through a broad open gully.

At the top of the couloir we must traverse the stunning Imja glacier. There are a number of substantial crevasses along the glacier which will need to be crossed by fixed ladders.

These are a genuine cause for concern and have sometimes caused previous teams to turn back.

We must then proceed across the top of the glacier to the headwall, a 60 degree ice and snow covered slope. From here fixed ropes will be set for the strenuous ascent of 100 metres (330 ft) to the beginning of the summit ridge line.The climb from the ridge line to the summit is difficult due to the steep gradient and 250m traverse along a 1m wide ridge line to the summit peak which has a 6ft x 4ft summit  area.

I was under no doubt to achieve the summit and raise awareness I was going to need help.

I needed corporate sponsorship for equipment and I needed some serious winter skills training in order to safely complete the challenge I had set myself.

I contacted many of the leading industry organisations asking for sponsorship support with this project, most didn’t reply and those that did gave me a whole plethora of reasons why they didn’t feel it was suitable for their business. After probably my 50th rejection email I decided to try a different approach.

I wrote a letter to the worlds greatest living explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and explained to him my expedition idea. I took a chance and asked him if he would be patron of my expedition and he graciously agreed.  Re-energised by this amazing development I set about designing a new and detailed expedition proposal to send out to the equipment manufactures.

I decided I wanted this expedition to benefit the people of Nepal as well as support Autism awareness.  From the research I had done on our route to Island peak, I knew we would be passing Pengbouche primary school which had been set up by Edmund Hillary during the 1953  Everest expedition. Shankar had told me that schools in the mountain areas desperately needed pencils. I knew we could help, so I approached Derwent a local lake district manufacturer with a separate proposal asking them to donate pencils to the expedition. I’m pleased to say they agreed to support the school and have kindly donated hundreds of high quality pencils.

I then approached a number of UK businesses asking if they could donate the much needed winter skills course. Most did not reply and some of those that did were a little unhelpful.

One reply even said, “This event will not attract any attention” and that I would get more exposure getting an autistic person to climb the mountain.

The person replying clearly had no previous experience of autism. People with autism often live in the moment, they can sometimes be impulsive and often have no sense of danger, although not impossible, it would take more people and more resources than I had available to insure an autistic climbers safety. I’m more than used to people judging and being ill informed about the disorder.

It just makes me even more inspired to change peoples opinions about autism.

Felling disheartened, but not defeated I decided to try one last time. After a long search I came across the website of “Unexplored Scotland”  I very much liked what I saw, so I sent in my proposal.

They immediately wrote back to me and said they would be delighted to help support such a worthy cause with a donation of winter skills training.

A few days later I received the fantastic news that Vango, Goal Zero and Lifesystems had also kindly offered their support to the expedition.

I had been humbled yet again, these business and kind individuals had just restored my faith in humanity, and I began thinking for the first time we just might be able to pull this off.

So now I train everyday, walking my dogs in the hills and taking photos along the way. All the time looking forward to my winter skills training in the Cairngorms and ultimately my big adventure in the Himalayas.

Winter Mountaineering Scotland

Winter, just around the corner!

As Autumn in Scotland is in full swing Winter is not far now. It’s only a month or so when you traditionally start getting the first snow in the Scottish hills. We have therefore introduced another great season with 2 day Winter Skills Courses, 5 day Winter Mountaineering Courses and a winter camping on the summit of Ben Nevis.

ben nevis winterLast year we have introduced the summit camping on Ben Nevis and have had 2 excellent trips with very different conditions. This year we have 4 of those trips planned but would be happy to extend it. All the camping equipment is included in the price. We are still the only ones offering this kind of service.

As usual we also run the 2 day course every weekend from early January to early April. This will give everyone a chance to join a course and again I don’t think there is anyone out there offering a course every weekend.

The 5 course format has been running since 2011 and is a course with 3 days winter skills and 2 day expedition in the mountains with spending a night in a self-built snowhole. A great adventure to finish off a course.

MSR Remote 2 tent

Therm a Rest NeoAir All Season SV

Therm a Rest NeoAir All Season SVWe have purchased some more sleeping mattresses from Therm-a-Rest. The sleeping mats are fully inflateble all season mats. With a 6.3cm thickness they are more comfortable than any other mattresses out there. They are also designed to be good all season. So even in the winter you wouldn't feel the cold coming up from the snow.

This is what Therm-a-Rest has to say about the NeoAir All Season SV mattress:

Our cult favorite, four season, go-anywhere air mattress just got better. Now sporting the game-changing SpeedValve, our rugged All Season inflates up to three times faster and deflates instantly. Multiple layers of ThermaCapture technology make it one of our warmest and most versatile NeoAir mattresses. We also added a Regular Wide size to maximize sleep surface without adding length. Stuff sack and repair kit included.

  • Fast Inflation: SpeedValve pulls in surrounding air to amplify your breath, inflating the mattress in half the time of traditional valves.
  • Year-Round Warmth: ThermaCapture reflective layers reflect body heat and baffled construction retains warmth.
  • Comfortable: 2.5 inches (6.3 cm) of stabilized loft and supple, 75D polyester top provide exceptional comfort.
  • Faster Deflation: Auto-reversing SpeedValve deflates mattress in a flash.


MSR Remote Tent

New Tents for 2017

For 2017 we purchased some new high quality tents for our clients. We decided have a selection of MSR Access 2 and MSR Remote 2 tents. These tents are all season rated and after some testing in pretty wet and windy conditions we have come to the conclusion that they are worth every penny. Here are some details of the tents.

MSR Remote 2

A strong, four-season refuge for two mountaineers, the Remote 2 tent offers the protection you need with the livability that keeps you levelheaded for days or weeks in the harsh alpine. Built to withstand fierce winds and heavy snow loads, the double-wall tent features a sturdy central-support frame and nearly indestructible Easton® Syclone™ poles. Reinforced guy-out points provide reliable tension, and snow flaps seal out spindrift. With its spacious interior and gear-harboring vestibule, the Remote 2 tent becomes a secure haven when you’re hunkered down on the side of a mountain. Compare MSR's all-season tents Robust

  • Design: Unique central-support frame combines with ultra-durable
  • Easton Syclone Poles to withstand severe conditions and heavy snow loads.
  • Reinforced Guy-Out Points: Prevent fabric tears and keep double-wall tent well-tensioned in ferocious winds.
  • Spacious: Larger floor plan and extra headroom create a generous interior for 2 climbers in bulky winter gear, while the large hooped vestibule with snow flaps shelters climbing equipment.
  • Easy Setup: Color-coded pole clips for quick tent setup in any conditions.
  • Additional Features: DuraShield™-coated fabrics and taped bathtub floor; two internal pockets; multiple reflective guy points.

MSR Access 2 Ultralight

MSR Access 2MSR Access 2 Ultralight packed[/caption]MSR Access 2 Ultralight packed[/caption]An ultralight, four-season solo tent, the Access 1 winter touring tent was built to meet the needs of backcountry skiers, splitboarders and snowshoers. Lighter than a mountaineering tent, but warmer than a three-season backpacking tent, it offers ample comfort on cold winter nights, yet remains light in your pack while skiing or hiking. The tent features a central-support frame that withstands overnight snow loading, and offers generous space inside for bulky gear. Ideal for the protected winter conditions found near tree-line, the Access 1 tent strikes the perfect balance of winter-grade warmth without the weight.

  • MSR Access 2 tentUltralight Warmth: Limited mesh on the tent body keeps in all that hard-earned warmth on cold nights, while the tent’s light design keeps you nimble while on the move.
  • Easton® Syclone™ Poles: Cutting-edge composite materials resist breaking in challenging winter conditions.
  • Robust Frame: Central-support frame optimizes interior space and resists snow loading.
  • Quick Setup: Perfect for cold environments.
  • Additional Features: DuraShield™-coated fabrics and taped bathtub floor; one door; one internal pocket; multiple guy points.

Gift for Reviews

We understand that everyone’s time is valuable and appreciate great reviews from our customers. Over the years we had a number of 5 star reviews. To continue this trend we still offer quality premium outdoor adventures and courses.

As a small appreciation for the effort we offer a MSR foldable spork to anyone who leaves a positive 5 star review on TripAdvisor and/or our own site at the tour pages. All you need to do is fill out the review, let us know on mail@unexplored.scot and tell us what colour you want (subject to availability). We also need your postal address.

MSR Foldable Spork colours are blue, lime green, red and grey.


Thin but rock hard snow on Ben Nevis

Conditions on Ben Nevis were really hard snow with a lovely crust. Just perfect for crampons. A lot of the snow has been stripped away over the last 2 weeks with milder climate and some rain at summit height.


Changes for the 2017 Season

At Unexplored Scotland we already provide some great Tours and courses in the Highlands of Scotland. We already provide more and better quality kit to our clients than most other outdoor providers out there. For this year we made some small changes to our kit list.

Mountaineering Rucksacks

Lowe Alpine Mountain Attack

In past years it was our clients’ responsibility to turn up with an adequate 35-45 litre rucksack on our winter skills courses. This has worked to a large extend. However there were some occasions that people turned up with rucksacks either too small or without any attachments for ice axes. This made it then a little trickier to carry all the additional kit like crampons, ice axes and helmets.

Therefore we have decided to offer now a selection of mountaineering bags. We acquired mostly Lowe Alpine bags which have compression straps to carry ice axes and enough capacity to carry all the kit needed for the hills. Below is a list of all the bags we have now.

  • 2 Lowe Alpine Alpine Attack 35-45L

  • 1 Lowe Alpine Mountain Attack 35-45L

  • 2 Lowe Alpine Mountain Attack 45-55L

  • 1 Mountain Technology Ossian 50L

This should give people a choice on what they want to use and they are all really conformable and very simple sacks. The rucksack is provided without any additional cost to our clients.

Sleeping Bags

sleeping bagAnother improvement is that from now on we offer sleeping bags on all our overnight tours and courses. The sleeping bags will be either 3-4 or 4 season synthetic fill bags, which will be good to use at our winter and summer overnight trips. Additionally we also hand out sleeping bag liners for hygiene reasons and we can wash them much easier than the sleeping bags.

Since we have made our costing for our 2017 trips last year and have not considered investing in sleeping bags and the additional work of washing we have decided to have the sleeping bags as an additional option on all our over night trips. This means that for a small fee people can hire the sleeping bags. This will also give us the opportunity to monitor the need for sleeping bag hire on our trip.


Extreme Snowshoeing?

After some of my friends have always been raving over using snowshoes I decided to try them out myself and got myself some top of the range MSR Lighning Ascent snowshoes.

snowshoe in Core an CisteLast week some of the snow was pretty fresh and soft and on the way out from Easy Gully in Coire na Ciste it was quite apparent that it's pretty hard work falling through the deep snow all the time. On Sunday I decided to take my snowshoes along and we stomped straight up the Corrie towards Easy Gully. Even walking uphill was easier than going downhill the previous day without the snowshoes. Even going up the gully at around 30-35 degree it was easier than cutting steps.

My conclusion is that it is a great way to get going on fresh soft snow and even on neve and much easier to walk up steep hills than just with your boots. Also no need to cut trail and rotate the leader around. However, nothing extreme about snowshoeing unless you would do cartwheels or barrel-rolls with them on.

Summit pose on Ben Nevis

First Ben Nevis Winter Camping

Ben Nevis CampingWe had our first Ben Nevis Winter Camping trip last week on 9-10 February. I had the idea to run this trip last year to offer something different for my clients. Something that is more of an achievement than just walking up the highest hill in Scotland. In the past I have run several winter ascents to the summit of Ben Nevis. However, they are just the same as what everyone else offers and it’s always a bit of a rush to the to the summit in time. With camping on the summit you don’t need to worry about the timing too much since you will stay up there anyway. So you can start walking a little later than usually. You also spend some more time on the summit so you might even get a view.

Back to our first trip. We started off walking just before 10am from the North Face Car Park and walked straight up the new path and then along the Allt a’ Mhuilinn path towards the C.I.C. Hut. We turned off to the path going towards the Red Burn before we got to the Hut and walked in sunshine further up the hill. Once we got to the zig-zags it was quite apparent that it has become hard work with heavy packs to get to the summit. The conditions couldn’t have been much better for a winter ascent though and we plodded up the hill. After a total of 7 hours of walking we reached the summit successfully and got on with pitching the tents. It was pretty cold with around -10C and a chill factor of below -20C. Just melting snow and bring it to a boil took almost an hour. Eating took considerably less time.Then straight into the sleeping bag to sleep.

winter ben nevisThe morning saw less wind and even a few occasions with a view from the summit down towards Carn More Dearg and Aonach Mor. After a quick breakfast we headed down again and it only took up 1:30 hours to get back to the red burn where we had a quick rest and then continued back down to the North Face Car Park.

Even though it was quite windy at night at it was pretty cold this trip was a total success and will certainly keep it in the programme.