Lifestyle Travel Doctor on Ice
Doctor on Ice
Written by Mr Peter McClelland
Friday, 02 November 2012



Everyone knows that work-life balance is a wonderful thing and there are many different ways of achieving it. And if you decide to get away from sick people and hang off the end of an ice axe on a slippery glacier while roped to your wife, you won’t be the first. Dr Peter Bentley, Medical Services Manager of WA Red Cross Blood, has recently returned from a trek in the French Alps where he did just that.

“It was an amazing trip called the Haute Route, eight days beginning in the valley of Chamonix in France and ending in Zermatt, Switzerland, with picture-postcard views of the Matterhorn. Bentley-Peter-Dr-Summit-Tete-Blanche Oct12300x200The walking was reasonably challenging and the altitude takes some getting used to even though we went up quite gradually and the highest point was just below 4000m,” Peter said.

“It was a walk in the park for our guide, Dan Griffiths, who summited Everest in his mid-50s, climbed the seven tallest mountains on all seven continents in seven months and ended up in the Guinness Book of Records! Three of us went on the trip, a lawyer friend and my wife Marece, who’s a better trekker than I am. She’s done the Camino de Santiago in Spain, 900km of pretty tough walking. I prefer to have a bit more luxury now and then.”

Whether ‘trekking’ is the right word for traversing crevasses and vertical walls of ice with crampons on your boots is debatable. There were long days of hard walking followed by distinctly chummy dormitory accommodation at night. And, just to add a dash of danger, throw an avalanche or two into the mix.

“We got there a couple of days early and decided to get acclimatised by setting off on a six-hour walk. There were the three of us and two fit young Israeli guys who’d just finished their military service. That’s about the right size for a group when you’re roped together and leaping over crevasses. The days varied between four to nine hours walking and we’d sleep in remote huts with spectacular views. It was pretty basic dormitory style with a capacity for about 90 people so it was definitely a case of snuggling up at night.”

“I’d planned to climb Mt Blanc at the end of the trek but there’d been some avalanches and 11 people were killed. The guide’s son was on the mountain when it happened and was very lucky to survive. It became pretty obvious that the climb to the Mt Blanc summit was too technical for me with lots of ice wall traversing due to the avalanches.”

From a personal and professional point of view, it’s inherently rewarding to embrace physical and mental challenges. The sense of achievement is palpable and there’s always the chance you’ll bring back something of real value to the demanding discipline of medicine.

Bentley-Peter-Dr-and-Marece-Bentley-geared-up-for-the-glacier Oct12180x220“It’s important to do something different from your everyday job where you’re sitting on your bum every day. It’s never too late to learn new skills and it gives you a sense of achievement that carries through to the rest of your life. If anyone out there is thinking about doing something like this, I’d say ‘bite the bullet, go and do it!’ You will need a relatively good level of fitness because you’ll enjoy it a lot more and it won’t kill you while you’re doing it.”

In a bid to outrun Old Father Time, Peter’s walking boots have notched up quite a few miles in the last few years.

“I did the trek to Everest Base Camp a couple of years ago and that’s probably the most demanding one I’ve done. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is pretty spectacular and so is the Cape to Cape in South West WA. It’s stunning down there and you can do it in a civilised way by staying overnight in hotels.”

And Peter Bentley does more than mere walking. He’s been known to break into a brisk trot now and then and he’s preparing to do that again.

“I’m planning to do the Berlin Marathon next year. If you commit to running a marathon it makes you stick to a healthy training regime. I’ll always remember the first one I did – it was such a good feeling and I thought, ‘I can do anything now’.”