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In July 2021, Switzerland Tourism, outdoor brand Mammut and Elliot Brown will support the British adventurer Olivia Jane as she adds a milestone to her mountaineering career: the iconic peak of the Matterhorn.
22nd July 1871, Lucy Walker became the first woman to reach the summit of the Matterhorn. Climbing firmly against the grain, Lucy was undeterred by the stiff Victorian attitude of the day; at a time when a woman's place was still seen as firmly in the home, she made it to the top of the 4,478 metre peak in style, fuelled by a diet of champagne and sponge cake (she sounds like our kinda lady!)
Exactly 150 years later, to the day, Olivia is set to pay homage to Lucy's pioneering expedition, following her footsteps (and footholds) to summit Switzerland's most notorious peak.
This is far from being 'just another mountain' to Olivia, reaching the top will be the realisation of a life-long dream. Having spent her childhood in Zermatt, Switzerland - the same village that was the base for Lucy Walker's Matterhorn ascent in 1871 - she has always had this peak in her sights. Her family bred St. Bernard dogs to support the mountain rescue teams in the area which is where her passion for mountains and adventure grew.
Olivia will be documenting every step of her journey on Instagram and of course she'll be wearing her EB Kimmeridge for the expedition. Switzerland Tourism called her up to find out a bit about her childhood, her love of the outdoors and the endless hunt for adrenaline:
Growing up, you spent a lot of time in Zermatt. Was climbing the Matterhorn something you’d always wanted to do?
My family had a photography shop in the centre of Zermatt, so I spent most of my childhood out there. I’d literally wake up to the Matterhorn every morning. It was a big part of my family’s life. Me and my grandad would do these local walks, up to this viewpoint to the Matterhorn, and I remember standing with my grandparents saying, “I’m going to climb up there one day.” The Matterhorn is super special to me. It’s the one I’ve always wanted to do. To me, it’s the most iconic mountain, and it was always the one that I wanted to climb.
I’d literally throw myself into anything as a kid. I’d just play in the mountains, or go down to the river, and I’d never feel scared.
How did you get into climbing and mountaineering? Did the attitude of your surroundings influence you in any way?
I climbed a lot with my grandfather when I was growing up. Later at University I joined the mountaineering and climbing club and that’s where it really started. I tried to tag along with friends who were a lot better than me and watched how they’d climb, trying to learn the rope skills and gaining more and more confidence.
I specifically remember watching a documentary about five years ago with Gwen Moffat in it and she really inspired me. I feel it’s a lot more the norm now for female mountaineers and climbers to scale big mountains.
My first big Alpine route took place around the same time and I completely fell in love with it, because it was so challenging. I don’t know if words can describe it. It makes me speechless every time I get out there. Those routes in the Alps… they’re big. It’s out of this world.
I believe females have the same capabilities as males in the mountains—and we bring a great vibe to mountaineering and climbing in this century.
Getting to the top of the Matterhorn isn’t just a casual walk. How do you train for something like that? What are the sort of things you’ve got to think about?
I’ve got to make myself fit enough to give myself the best chance to summit. It’s a lot easier to train with a goal.
I’ll be prioritising mountain fitness and efficient movement skills. I’ll try to mimic the same sort of rock movement - practising on grade 2 or 3 scrambles, and Vdiff climbs, but carrying a rucksack and wearing mountaineering boots, whereas normally on something like that, you’d wear climbing shoes. I want to get used to moving on these climbs with a pack on my back - because it can be quite awkward. I try to almost simulate the situation.
In addition, I’ll do strength training and loads of cardio-vascular training, to help with the altitude, and plenty of big, long days on the hills. But despite a lot of training and tough experiences that build your confidence, you can’t be overconfident.
I used to think, “Okay, we’re at the top now, it’s so easy to get down.” But it’s not - going down is the most challenging part.
But it’s not only the physical challenge. How do you deal mentally with something like that? It must get pretty daunting at points.
There’s only one way up, and one way down, so I just try and stay very focussed, and very calm. I don’t overthink too much. Being a little bit scared is healthy, but not to the point where you freeze up. I know the risks are there, but I don’t think about them and while doing things naturally, I am getting into that ‘flow state’ and can try to just enjoy it. Besides, I will be supported by an experienced mountain guide from Zermatters.
And there is that feeling at the end - I usually get a bit shell shocked, and I need a bit of time to get my head around what I’ve just done - but for me, it’s doing it. It’s the adrenaline. That’s what I crave in my life.
And instead of relaxing – well I guess I do relax in my own time - but I’m always thinking about what my next adventure is. That’s what keeps me alive. It keeps me going. It’s like my grandma - she’s 80 and she’s still walking in the hills. I always say to her, “How are you still going?” and she says, “It’s because I’m not sat there doing nothing.”
If I can do it, anybody can. They’re my words of wisdom.
To keep up with her training schedule and to see what it takes to complete this kind of climb follow Olivia on her social channels and the #lucywalker150 hashtag on Instagram for updates.