/ Alpine bivy advice

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
hairy51 - on 02 Apr 2013
Hey All,

I'm after a bit of advice on keeping the costs down for an upcoming trip to the Alps in July. Last year we stayed in Chamonix and used the lifts/huts to get around. This year I'd like to try and cut the costs a little by bivying instead of using huts where ever possible.

I've done a bit of research on here and it seems that a sleeping bag rated to -10 should be more than adequate for what I need, including sleeping on the Col du Midi glacier. Kit wise, I have an alpkit PD600 & Hunka bivy bag which I'm hoping will do the trick, although I do run pretty cold. My bro is looking to get some new kit so is after some advice on what to get. We'd also be looking at staying around the Albert 1er hut to do the Aiguille du Tour.

So, assuming that the weather is ok, how cold can I expect it to be up there!? Any advice would be much appreciated.

Cheers

Hairy
Tim Chappell - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:


If you're planning to bivy in the valleys that's not too hard. Just find somewhere quiet and sheltered in the woods, near (uncontaminated) water, where you don't think you'll get caught. (They don't like people wilding it in the Alps.)

If you try bivying up high, at hut level or higher (2600m+), it could get quite trying. I wouldn't do it myself, on efficiency grounds. I suspect the better night's sleep you'll get in a hut--if you're lucky :-)--is worth paying for if you actually want to climb some routes without feeling like death warmed up.

At any altitude I dare say it's doable, but a bit weather-dependent. In bad weather at altitude in the Alps you *really* don't want to be outside, so if this is your plan take some spare dosh so you can get into a hut if things turn nasty.

Myself, I wouldn't consider it above 2500m.
bombshell - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51: I normally suffer in the cold, went the same time last year with my ME 0 lamina sleeping bag and was fine, though we did get caught in a few short but heavy rain falls and my closed gore-tex bivi saved me, ive been caught out with the hunka a few times!
Tim Chappell - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to Tim Chappell:


PS There must be thousands of howffs in the Alps, if you know where to look.
sopaz - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:
We bivied a few times while in Chamonix around August/September a few years ago. Just above the Albert 1er was fine (We took a small tent for two of us and a friend stayed in a bivi bag). Also bivied above the Gouter on snow which was fine with a compact -10 sleeping bag with three of us in a tent.

We planned to bivy near the Grands Montets but the weather was grim. We spoke with the cable car operator and he suggested we stay in the toilet of the cable car station!? We took the last car up and it turned out to be the best nights sleep we had! It's the only place they keep heated and was really clean and warm. Shared with some French skiers too so maybe quite well know?
garrett85 - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:

There are a load of good bivy spots on the rocks above the albert 1er, some of which have little stone walls around them for shelter. Not a bad idea either, because the last time I bivied around there the wind was the biggest problem.
Unless the weather's very bad I'd say a -10 sleeping bag is enough for summer. In any case it's usually less important than having some good insulation from the ground, and something to keep the wind off. Bring a decent mat and use ropes, bags or whatever for some extra insulation. Thermarests are decent, but having punctured two of them last summer on rocky bivies I'd say foam is a better bet unless you know you'll only be sleeping on snow.
Bruce Hooker - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:

Often the problem is it isn't cold enough to freeze the snow across the glaciers so any decent sleeping bag will do. A light tent is ideal Decathlon do a two man one which lacks the quality and weighs a few grams more than the flashy ones but is quite adequate for Alpine bivvying near huts, I've got one that I've used in the Alps with perfect results - you don't need anything capable of resisting a hurricane as if the weather turns bad you're going to head down to the valley anyway, unless you're superman, or bonkers.

If you really want to save money I've been quite comfy in those big thick orange plastic bivy bags that you used to find in climbing shops. The two man version is best, in general you will be warmer than in single bivvy equipment, and with a bit of care you can even cook in the entrance. I used one with a girlfriend of the time for a holiday in the Alps and she never complained - condensation is worse than with a proper bag but it soon dries when the sun comes out.

As said a wind break is good and above many huts or below the Aiguilles etc you'll find stone circles where people have bivvied for generation. One point: hut guardians are quite tolerant about people who bivvy near huts and come for a beer but it's best to not overdo things, if they are full up you are not costing them anything it's true. My brother hated huts because he said he couldn't sleep in them with the snoring and other night time activities so we often kipped outside them. As said above the Albert 1er there are some good spots and there is running water there too.
The Ex-Engineer - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51: I've used a Rab Quantum 400 and bivvy bag extensively in the Alps including at the Col Maudit (4035m) so you should be ok with a PD600.

As mentioned, there is no shortage of good bivvy spots around many of the huts or near the starts to popular routes.

However, I would tend to only bivvy where it makes the route easier or less demanding, rather than as a wider strategy for attempting back-to-back routes.
hairy51 - on 02 Apr 2013
Thanks for the advice all. We have a valley base in Chamonix for a couple of weeks, so the bivying would only be used to either shorten routes or save a few quid on the huts as we have two weeks there and want to make the most of it without breaking the bank. Definitely going to be heading back to the valley after any decent climbs for beer & sleep!

Might look into a cheap tent to give us a little more shelter...
Solaris - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:

Staying in a hut can be pretty miserable as well as expensive and the only times I've really enjoyed it are when I've not been getting up to do a route the following day.

Bivvying can be pretty miserable or it can be most enjoyable. It all depends on the weather and whether you kit is up to it; with good kit, even bad weather can be a kind of fun but you do need to be organized.
Robert Durran - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to Solaris:
> (In reply to hairy51)
>
> Staying in a hut can be pretty miserable as well as expensive and the only times I've really enjoyed it are when I've not been getting up to do a route the following day.

Yes, if the weather is good enough to do the climb it is generally good enough to have a pleasant bivy, often nearer the route than the hut (beating the crowds there from) and avoiding the expensive, snoring, stuffy general unpleasantness.
Tim Chappell - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:

I definitely wouldn't ever bivy if I could camp!
MG - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to Robert Durran: You two go to the wrong huts! Some are very pleasant with excellent food and guardians. With a bit of practice a good night's sleep os easy. Mostly in Italy rather than Chamonix though.
Tim Chappell - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to Robert Durran:

Snoring I grant you... but unpleasantness in huts? I've never experienced any. I've always had a good time socially in huts. I've found people really friendly. That's one of the things I like about huts.

As for stuffiness--literal stuffiness yes, I could hardly breathe in the Capanna Marco e Rosa on Bernina, but that was a lot to do with it being 3600m, the Hut Guardian having a truly disgusting tobacco in his pipe, and me not being acclimatised...

but *metaphorical* stuffiness, stuffiness as in "you offend against our Mountain Code, peasant"? I've never had that in the Alps. The only times I've encountered that sort of nonsense have been in England and Wales.
MG - on 02 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51: If there is any doubt about the weather, consider paying for bed night and self catering in French huts.
Robert Durran - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to Tim Chappell:
> (In reply to Robert Durran)
>
> Snoring I grant you... but unpleasantness in huts?.... As for stuffiness--literal stuffiness yes.

I was meaning literal stuffiness and the resulting unpleasantness. However pleasant the actual people are, being crammed head to toe with them in an airless bunk is unpleasant and not conducive to a good night's sleep.
kipman725 - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:

Yeah I have pitched a tent there for a couple of days while doing routes and it works fine. Take a shovel to dig the tent in deep (as deep as the tent) otherwise you don't get any sleep due to the high wind speeds at night. If there is a storm you won't be able to stay in your tent and it will be destroyed by the quantity of snow falling on it, in such (emergency) circumstances the hut will accommodate you for free. Check the weather in advance including the french forecast as it sometimes doesn't match the english. For example I have seen the french forcast very high winds which shut cable cars for days whereas the translation had no mention.

Sometimes the french police take the tents away as it is illegal to camp there but this is rare. Try to stick your tent in an existing tent hole as these should be away from where they like to land their helicopter for rescues etc. Don't leave any rubbish/poo.

-10 bag will be fine just make sure you have a very good sleeping mat as the ground is ice!
lowersharpnose - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:

IIRC, a reciprocal rights card gives you a discount of something like 50% on the price of the bunk in a CAF hut. There is no food discount, so maybe bring your own food .
Solaris - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to MG:

I wouldn't for one moment want to be thought of as criticising guardians, hut food, or the company of my fellow human beings when they are awake. (Take 5 gold stars, guardiennes of the Sirac hut and of the Salbit hut.) These can all be excellent reasons for staying in huts but Robert has given some even more excellent reason for not doing so.

What's your tip for sleeping well in a hut?

Kelcat - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51: I've bivied at 3900m with exactly the same kit as you & it was fine, even took a couple of layers off to sleep. My tip, take a shovel so you can make a hole/grave/wind shelter. Makes a world of difference. Oh & find a way to keep your boots a bit warmer (in sack for pillow).
MG - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to Solaris:

>
> What's your tip for sleeping well in a hut?

Get a bed near a window.
Don't take any nonense from other inhabitants - the window stays open.
In Italian huts pay the extra 3-4 Euro for smaller dorms.
Shoot anyone who rustles plastic bags
Al Evans on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to MG: Be very careful about using a cave made by an overhanging rock, there used to be a famous one below the Dru and one day it just fell and crushed to death the brother of a mate of mine. Check as far as possible that it is well supported.
Solaris - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to MG:
> (In reply to Solaris)

> Get a bed near a window.
Usually easier said than done.

> Don't take any nonense from other inhabitants - the window stays open.
Can require staying awake or being woken to ensure that it does.

> In Italian huts pay the extra 3-4 Euro for smaller dorms.
Even more expense; still no guarantee of a good night's sleep.

> Shoot anyone who rustles plastic bags
Involves being woken and could involve an extended forced bivi in a government hotel.

Robert Durran - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to MG:
> Don't take any nonense from other inhabitants - the window stays open.

Unless Brits outnumber all other nationalities in the dormitory, there is no chance of this happening without a serious risk of violence.
Mark / Alps - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:
Finding shelter from prevailing winds is easy in both those spots. Your gear sounds fine, personally I use a PHD which, if I remember right, is comfort rated to only +5 but is tiny and weighs about 400g. However, I have my usual climbing clothing for high routes which boosts insulation loads plus a few extra tips:
-Put a thin foam mat under inflatable mat if worried - personally I've never punctured one yet
-Eat hot food and have hot drink just before bed, not too much to drink or have pee bottle to hand
-Use a metal water bottle which becomes a hot water bottle at night and your drinking water in the day
-I use a silk liner ( also my hut sheet ) which is tiny, light and helps warmth.
-Make sure you can reach your brew kit from your bag for the morning cuppa
-Bivvy on a good forecast

Both places you mentioned are easy to access so you can have a luxurious bivvy
Solaris - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to Robert Durran:

I remember being woken by some continental types coming into our dortoir and a friend stating very loudly and firmly: "NO". The window stayed open! I've even known people tie a window open.

Last time I was in the Ecrins hut the guardian made a long speech after dinner. All very entertaining, especially when he told us to keep the windows open lest the dormitories became "comme l'enfer"!
Bruce Hooker - on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:

Let's not exaggerate, huts aren't usually that bad for sleeping :-)

As for guardians, they are variable, like any humans - I found a really miserable one in the Tete Rousse hut in 2002, they didn't seem to like us doing our own cooking although this was standard practice years before. Speaking to locals they confirmed that this was the trend, especially in crowded huts like on Mont Blanc, but the same year we had a really nice stay in the Torino hut. Recently on ukc someone complained about the Torino hut so it shows what it shows!

Coming back to the choice hut or bivvy, when I was climbing regularly in my youth it was mostly a question of price as even with an Alpine Club reduction it was dear for us, nowadays I would prefer huts. If you want to do an early start, 1 or 2 in the morning for example, I find it easier from a hut than from a tent and the evening in a hut has it's pleasures - the Couvercle hut with the view is hard to beat, and also it makes your sack a lot lighter if you don't take bivvy gear, tent, stove etc. which matters if you find the hut slogs hard!

A compromise is to go up out of season and use the winter hut if there is one. The Albert 1er winter hut is the old wooden hut built, I think, with money from the original Albert who was king of Belgium and a keen climber - a small room there has a name plate for his family IIRC. When I was there in May 2005 I was on my own, there are no guardians in winter huts, so I could choose the bunk I wanted, loads of blankets... No water though, I had to walk up to the bivvy sites above the hut where water can be found when the sun shines, and no matches to be found which was a pain as I'd forgotten mine... all old wood, lots of character.
ads.ukclimbing.com
Fredt on 03 Apr 2013
In reply to hairy51:

In 1970 I bivvied below the Couvercle Refuge. A blizzard ensued, and I was hunkered down preparing for a long night.
After less than an hour, I was disturbed by the guardian, who beckoned me to the hut, where he let me stay the night, for free.

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.