Matthew Graham

Matthew Graham's picture

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Postgraduate research student at University of Edinburgh

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My interest in hillwalking and the outdoors more generally stems from days spent walking with my family, and particularly my dad and brother, as a child and teenager. Coming from Newcastle and having family in Middlesbrough, both the North Yorkshire Moors and Northumberland were in easy reach, with we also indulging in the the occasional trip further afield to the Lake District and the Scotland. After brief trips to the North West Highlands and the Lake District formed the main highlights to a pre-university gap-year largely spent sitting in front of a computer working in an engineering consultancy, I came to Cambridge with the vague intention of pursuing hillwalking more seriously.

I joined the university hillwalking club in my first year and very quickly my vague intention progressed to a full blown passion for the mountains. In the following four years I spent many enjoyable days walking amongst hills and mountains of varying stature. As well as regular trips to UK's upland regions, particularly the Lakes and Snowdonia, I gained my first Alpine mountaineering experience with trips to the Arolla region in the Swiss Alps in 2010 and to the Ecrins National Park in France 2011.

Although I was initially a little apprehensive when Dave asked if I'd be interested in joining the expedition, I'm very glad I overcame those doubts and got involved in what turned out to be such an amazing experience. Although the organisational challenge of preparing to spend over two weeks self supported in such a remote region did at times feel a little overwhelming, thanks in no small part to Dave's excellent leadership and the commitment of all the team members, we did somehow manage to get everything done largely without hitches. I remember setting off for Heathrow for our outwards flight feeling a sense of achievement of having got even that far!

The first day we spent in Kyrgyzstan buying supplies in Bishkek was undoubtedly the toughest for me. In Bishkek the combination of the blazing sun beating down on us, lack of sleep and the slight feeling of helplessness at being in a country where you are unable to converse with most people you meet, making for quite a wearing beginning to the trip. The physical demands of the next couple of days were high, with we having to lug all out kit up the valley to our base camp site from our drop-off point at the road head, however for me this was countered by the excitement at this point of actually being among the mountains.

Standing at the top of a mountain with the world spread out around you is always a breathtaking experience, but the remoteness of the peaks we were climbing made the views that bit more spectacular. Summiting the peak we nicknamed the Molar was a particular highlight for me, it's prominent position in the view from base camp having made it a very tempting target. Our post-mountaineering tour around Kyrgyzstan also provided many special memories in particular the warm hospitality of some of the Kyrgyz families we met.

Overall the whole trip was a unforgettable experience, and I am extremely grateful to all my fellow team members for their hard work in making Dave's dream a reality and for their companionship whilst in Kyrgyzstan. I would also like to thank the wide range of organisations and people which provided help, both financial and logistical, in making the expedition such a success.

Having now graduated from my undergraduate engineering degree at Cambridge, I've now moved north of the border to Edinburgh to climb lots of Scottish mountains pursue a PhD in Neuroinformatics. A random selection of non-mountain things I enjoy include making bad origami models, running and reading excessive amounts of fiction.