/ Your top tips for an alpine beginner!

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ralphio - on 25 Apr 2013
We're off to the Alps for the first time this summer (last teo weekd in July). Had a couple of winters in scotland, have read a few of the most popular instruction books and have practiced skills such as crevasse rescue so we're both feeling fairly confident. Thinking of heading around Saas Fee or Arolla and sticking to PD stuff.

I'm just after any general tips that people may be able to offer? Stuff that might not been mentioned in the books that you wished you knew on your first visit to the alps!

Many thanks...
Skyfall - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

It's all about speed, speed and speed...

Don't carry too much. Consider your gear requirements v carefully (then throw half of it out!)

Be prepared for v early starts. Aim to be back to the hut by midday'ish.

Get used to the hut environment.

If you find yourself caught on a route in crap weather you've probably done something v wrong.

Jon

ps: did I mention speed?



GridNorth - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Don't be tempted to carry things for just in case. "Light is right" in the alps. Practice moving together efficiently. The more difficult the ground you can do this on the faster you will be. Speed and light packs go hand in hand. Use the huts then you don't need to carry bivi gear. Many UK climbers equate Alpine summer with UK winter, this is a mistake, the alps are drier and warmer. I tend to rely on soft shell alone and only carry a very lightweight waterproof top and at times I don't even bother with that. It is possible to climb major North Faces, including a bivi, with no more than a 30 litre pack so take that as your target although that could be a little ambitious in your early days and 40 litres may be better.
lowersharpnose - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Use huts if you can afford it.

Prune your gear.

Speed is more often about not stopping rather than going fast. Minimise or eliminate stops - to take off/put on layers, drink, eat etc. Pick an 'all day' pace and keep going.

OTOH, make sure that you know where you are going.

Sunglasses/goggles & suncream are essential.

Drink plenty.

MG - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Sounds like you are well prepared

-It's mostly walking and easy scrambling, so enjoy that and be good at it.
-Speed, yes, but that doesn't mean sprinting everywhere. It's more being efficient with everything and keeping a steady, maintainable pace.
-Don't be intimidated by other ropes, who will mostly likely overtake you if it is your first season.
-Pick something reasonably short and <3600m for your first peak so you can be sure you do it - this will give you a lot of confidence. Not getting up your first peak will dispiriting (but if this happens, don't be put off).
- Taking a comparable route but is not a "voie normale" is often much quieter and more enjoyable.


Have fun - alpinism is the most fun its possible to have in my view.
MG - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to MG: Walk to huts in trainers.
LJC - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Start out cool, you'll soon warm up, even at 4am it can be quite mild.

Deal with things before they become an issue - sort your boots before you blister, don't soldier on. Sort out layers so you're not sweating out or freezing. It's better to stop and spend 5 minutes having a faff so that everything is organised, than spend 20 minutes later on trying to rectify a tangle etc.

Regular liberal sfp lipsil applications.

1l of water should be ample if you are well hydrated to start with and not sweating all day.

Don't go for technical difficulty to start with, the real challenge is the whole day, the logistics etc. Measure your self against the guidebook time. It's better to have shaved 2 hours of the standard time, than have added 2 to a harder route and missed the final cable car down.

Don't leave your gloves in the hut...
Guy - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Be flexible in your plans, weather is a major factor in the big hills so pay attention and plan for the good spells. If you are mobile consider changing areas if the forecast is poor where you are, a couple of valleys away there may be a totally different climate.
Move fast and light.
Take ear plugs for the huts.
Get up very early, "you will rarely regret an early start in the mountains".
Bradders - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:
As others are saying its all about speed, the main consideration is you will take less time if you are more efficient. Setting up belays (if needed), eating while gearing up/belaying, basically trying to cut out the faff.

The other top tip i was told about on my second season was drink about a litre of water before setting off and then take a litre with you. This means you dont get dehydrated through the day. Routes are big and you stop thinking correctly while dehydrated, also finding/getting to water near a summit is often impossible. I personally find that some of the main effects of dehydration/mild altitude sickness are very similar.

Bradders
ericinbristol - on 25 Apr 2013
ericinbristol - on 25 Apr 2013
ralphio - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: All great advice. Thankyou. Keep it coming!

One of the main things i'm having difficulty deciding is wether to stay in huts or Bivi. As ever we're trying to do things as cheaply as possible so the idea of the bivi is quite appealing. I'm aware of the pro's and con's of each. How grim is it biviying between 2000m - 3000m? Really looking forward to doing some alpine routes but don't want to ruin it for ourselves if biviying isn't all that feasible. Also, I can't speak a word of French. If booking a hut over the phone do they generally tend to speak some English?
GridNorth - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Huts are not cheap although you could get 50% off if you join the Austrian Alpine Club UK which also includes insurance for rescue, medical and repatriation costs. It would only take a few minutes to learn enough phrases in French to get by. A bivi can be one of the most pleasant experiences in the alps but personally I would save that for on a route which is not likely to be a requirement at PD. The thing about biviing INSTEAD of staying in a hut is that you have all that extra gear to carry and in many cases up and down the route. If you can stash gear and collect it on the way down it's feasible though.
Mr Fuller on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: In my experience, a hut can make the difference between getting up two routes in two days or getting up one, being knackered, and going down on day 2. I'm willing to pay £40 for an extra peak considering the total cost of the trip. Generally, I'm a tight git, but on holiday I definitely have the 'Euros aren't real' mentality and spend fairly freely. That's something for you to decide. I usually ask in the local language (French/Italian/German) whether they speak English and invariably the answer is 'yes, of course'.

Don't set out on a route tired. After 4 days 'on' I always need a day off. If the 5th day has bad weather then great, but if not then I now rest anyway: you won't have fun climbing when exhausted. Your brain needs a rest as well as your body.

Beware heat stroke. A plod up to a hut with a 15 kilo bag on in 30 °C is a good way to do yourself in if you're not careful. Wear shorts for the approach (if non-glaciated) and drink a lot. Do some easy running in the UK when it's hot (middle of the day, when it's sunny) to get yourself used to it.

At altitude you won't eat as much. So, don't carry tonnes of food. However, once down in the valley, eat as much as you can, and eat proper food. 500 g dry pasta between two each night is not unreasonable.

Chocolate is cheap on the continent but I've never found a good cheap energy bar or cereal bar. I try to bring them over from the UK to save money (plus there's no substitute for 19p flapjacks from Home Bargains!)
LJC - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: RE: Bivis, I think if you plan wisely you can have just as much of a good time bivving as staying in a hut.

Find somewhere with good lift access and a 'short' walk in. Make sure the weather forecast is good. Often the lower level huts have a free water supply - it might not be marked as drinking water as the hut wants to sell over priced bottled stuff, but in my experience it's always been fine. Avoid drinking large quantities of glacial melt water because the fine suspended particulate can give you belly ache (apparently). Don't camp too close to a hut, or if you do, make sure they cant see you! And don't pollute their water supply with anything human, soapy or foody.

Plan single day routes which can be done with minimal gear and have an easy return to your camping spot.

I've used huts and bivvis, summer and winter, up to 3500m or so, and had a great time either way. The planning is the important part.

Most huts I've used have spoken enough English, but trying a little French/Swiss-German/Italian always goes down well. I've heard of people offering to help the hut guardians with washing up etc and getting free pudding or beer, that might be worth a punt. If you sleep in a hut, get there early and shotgun a window side bunk and refuse to let anyone close it (they get hot and smell). Don't forget to take your boots off when you arrive and put them in the boot rack.
AndrewHuddart - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to LJC:

on the subject of bottled water:

We foolishly didn't ask for the price and started drinking bottled water. We later found out that it was CHF 12 per 1.5L bottle in a SAC hut in March. Daylight robbery.
LJC - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to AndrewHuddart: Ouch. I remember a certain hut in the dolomites which was 5e for .5l, but by the time we got there, I don't think anyone would have complained at 10x that price.
In reply to ralphio:

Don't ab off sh*tty old tat.
Tim Davies - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Get fit! The difference between two god weeks and being trashed after two days.
Yanchik - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Practise descending steep ground quickly and confidently while facing outwards.

Y
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Simon4 - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: all of this advice is good and practical, but as far as I can see, it seems to miss a some important points out :

1) arrive in good time at a hut, don't leave it till the last possible minute and consider doing the approach from the valley in the cool of the morning rather than in a blazing afternoon
2) use the spare time at the hut saved by resting and drinking lots so you are primed to go and maximally rested for the next morning
3) if (as will almost invariably be the case), you are starting the route in the dark, go some way up it in the afternoon with just boots and ski-sticks and try to memorise as much as you can and think how it will look in the pitch black.
4) in the morning, if your recce the night before showed that you go up a beaten track for the first hour, if you suddenly find yourself on loose, untracked, ground, DON'T persist and assume it will all come right. It won't, go back till you are on the track again
5) in addition to studying your route of ascent, pay equal attention to descents/bail-out points. Try to make sure that at least at first, if you climb by a hard route, there is a straightforward descent. Also at first, try to go for routes that you can simply turn around and descend if it all goes South or someone just can't continue
GridNorth - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Nearly forgot. Don't eat yellow snow.
Simon4 - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to GridNorth:
> (In reply to ralphio) Huts are not cheap although you could get 50% off if you join the Austrian Alpine Club UK whic

Worth pointing out that the reduction is only for the hut nights, for food (or beer or wine if you are rich/decadent), the price is the same, indeed most guardians make most of their income from this.

GrahamD - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Get fit
Travel light
Research your objective (and alternatives) thouroughly
Get up early
MG - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

> One of the main things i'm having difficulty deciding is wether to stay in huts or Bivi.

You will get conflicting advice on this. Mine would be to use huts if can afford to, and to prioritise this above another beer etc. Most wardens will speak sufficient English to take a booking.
RockShock on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

1. Pick up something easy and with cable car access for acclimatization. In Saas, Allalinhorn is perfect for that. On the other side of the ridge in Zermatt, Breithorn is the way to go.

It costs a lot, but you will probably suffer even if that's only two hour plod to the peak. And in few days it will pay off on the next peak.

2. As other suggested, get to the hut early on previous day and then reckon the first two hours of night ascent (preferably recording track on GPS if you carry one)

3. Keep suncream and lipstick always handy and apply frequently.

4. As other suggested, avoid frequent stops. In summer, Camelbak is good solution for hydration - unless it's really cold it should not freeze if the hose is protected with neoprene etc. I always carry additional 0.5L bottle in the backpack in case Camelbak freezes.

5. Be confident but don't underestimate even the easiest route. Until you are down in the valley you need to keep concentrated and prepare for risk (crevasse, rock fall, etc) - not to be scared, but to keep focused.

6. For me, half of the fun in Alps is in research leading to it. At least four months in advance I know all my targets (including reserve ones/lower peaks) inside out. I have the GPS tracks from previous years downloaded (mind you that glacier routes change every year, but anyway useful thing), pictures from various sides analyzed and rough plans for emergency descents talked (also, I know which descents to avoid...) . This not only gives me added security but also makes me feel prepared - and if I feel prepared, I feel more confident and I enjoy more.

7. Research the weather at least one week prior to coming and then every day possible. I normally use the following sites:
http://www.meteoexploration.com/im/#_search
http://www.mountain-forecast.com

Checking every day is essential, as sometimes the weather windows move so by observation you know the trend and can modify plans accordingly.

We'll be around the area roughly same time, so see you on some of the peaks!
Robert Durran - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to Simon4:
> 1) arrive in good time at a hut, don't leave it till the last possible minute.

I assume "it" refers to the valley and not the hut!

If the hut warden is waking up people for your route at a particuar time, consider getting up half an hour or an hour earlier and getting a head start, particularly if you have recced the approach to the route the previous afternoon (highly recommended).

Bivvying is massively cheaper and especially recommended if you are coming back to the same point so you don't have to carry bivvy kit on the route (actually, having to carry bivvy kit on the route can be reassuring because you are less likely to die if it all goea pear shaped - minimal bivvy kit can be very light). Bivvy as near the route as possible; there will often be good spots just before you get on the glacier with meltw*ter supply, you will get quickly ahead of other people on the route and your route day will be shorter.
MG - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to RockShock:
> (In reply to ralphio)
>
> 1. Pick up something easy and with cable car access for acclimatization. In Saas, Allalinhorn is perfect for that. On the other side of the ridge in Zermatt, Breithorn is the way to go.
>
> It costs a lot, but you will probably suffer even if that's only two hour plod to the peak. And in few days it will pay off on the next peak.


I would say this is seriously bad (and expensive) advice. Trying to go to 4000m+ as a first peak will likely just result in feeling miserable and ill. You will get the same benefit from walking up a lower peak.

If you are in Saas, there are a few bivi huts (bunks, blankets, may be a stove) that are cheap/free and a good half way house between expensive huts and biving.
Solaris - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Lots of sound advice above. A few other things:
1) Begin with routes that take a very obvious line: guidebook descriptions tend to be very brief indeed by UK rock standards, even on harder routes, so good route-finding ability is an important skill. Don't blindly follow the crowd, though on popular easier routes, it's usually right. Lots of time can easily be lost going off-route. You could practice route finding (and moving together) on long, easy mountain rock routes in the UK - which would be good general fitness training, too.

2) Practice climbing up to Diff in big boots whilst carrying a rucksack before you go.

3) Be very wary about going out after recent snowfall: guides have to earn a living from the mountains, so on trade routes, if there's no "path" it's too early.

4) You say you plan to stick to PD stuff. Fair enough, but Fs aren't to be sniffed at, especially when learning safe movement in glaciated terrain and when acclimatising.

5) When you reach the summit, remember that you've still got half the route to do.

6) Never be deterred from "giving the mountain its best": there is no shame in retreating.
Robert Durran - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to Simon4:
> 1) arrive in good time at a hut, don't leave it till the last possible minute.

I assume "it" refers to the valley and not the hut!

If the hut warden is waking up people for your route at a particuar time, consider getting up half an hour or an hour earlier and getting a head start, particularly if you have recced the approach to the route the previous afternoon (highly recommended).

Bivvying is massively cheaper and especially recommended if you are coming back to the same point so you don't have to carry bivvy kit on the route (actually, having to carry bivvy kit on the route can be reassuring because you are less likely to die if it all goes pear shaped - minimal bivvy kit can be very light). Bivvy as near the route as possible; there will often be good spots just before you get on the glacier with meltw*ter supply, you will get quickly ahead of other people on the route and your route day will be shorter.
Solaris - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to MG:
> (In reply to RockShock)
> I would say this is seriously bad (and expensive) advice. Trying to go to 4000m+ as a first peak will likely just result in feeling miserable and ill. You will get the same benefit from walking up a lower peak.

Very sound as a general principle, but the Breithorn is very short and the view is inspiring - even if the cost and the potential crowds are anything but.
EeeByGum - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: I would say forget about English ethics of climbing.

If you are climbing a popular trade route and you aren't clipping pitons and bolts, you are off route. Take only a small selection of nuts and friends but lots of draws.

Pull on gear through hard sections. Speed is more important than pride and getting to the top is the mission, not style.

On the easier pitches, move together. Pitching is a serious waste of time.

We found racking our gear on a bandana speeded up belay changes. Others may disagree.

You shouldn't need a rucksack bigger than 35 litres even if you are bivying.

Have fun. I envy you. Children have put a stop to Alpine expeditions for a while.
Simon4 - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to EeeByGum:

> .... lots of draws.

and especially slings, for example have your abseil tat out and arranged as slings that you are prepared to sacrifice if need be.
RockShock on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to MG:
> (In reply to RockShock)
> [...]
>
>
> I would say this is seriously bad (and expensive) advice. Trying to go to 4000m+ as a first peak will likely just result in feeling miserable and ill. You will get the same benefit from walking up a lower peak.
>
> If you are in Saas, there are a few bivi huts (bunks, blankets, may be a stove) that are cheap/free and a good half way house between expensive huts and biving.

Good point, I need to clarify my post. I normally try to get above 3000 before coming to the Alps - so indeed for someone coming straight from Britain something lower is a good option - thanks for pointing this out.

However I rest my case that even 3500 peak (ie: Mettelhorn in Zermatt)won't save you from suffering later on, so anyways an easy and short 4000er should be first on the list (and both Breithorn and Allalinhorn meet the criteria).

Cheers
RS
ralphio - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to GridNorth: If joining the Austrian Alpine club does this get you 50% off in France and Switzerland as well? Or just Austria?
GridNorth - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Yes. France, Switzerland and Italy although I have no first hand experience of using it in Switzerland. As someone else pointed out the discount is for accommodation only. You pay full price for the food and drink. People who complain about this cost should bear in mind that in most cases everything has to be flown in. Discounts only apply to club huts so for example the Cosmiques hut above Chamonix is privately owned so discounts do not apply. Not sure how many other huts are private, I've not encountered any. It's also possible to purchase a reciprocal rights carne from the BMC but unless you intend staying in huts a lot it's probably not worth it.
ralphio - on 25 Apr 2013

> 7. Research the weather at least one week prior to coming and then every day possible. I normally use the following sites:
> http://www.meteoexploration.com/im/#_search
> http://www.mountain-forecast.com

This was another thing I wanted to ask. Over here we're used to checking MWIS, Met Office and SAIS. Will bookmark the above two links but are there any other weather websites people would recommend? The plan was to check the weather on the drive down and just head to whichever area has the better weather at that time.



James Gilbert on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

I think nearly everything has been said...

I'd just reiterate, start very easy and low - especially if you've never been above 2000m. F routes can be fine, as mentioned.

On rock routes, take a reasonable amount of ab tat, one of the few things that doesn't weigh much!

Absolute minimum gear is a must, I agree with the 35L rucksack limit. British climbers with huge rucksacks is a cliché in the Alps but is still quite frequent.

I personally would definitely stay in huts rather than bivvy on a first trip but it's a personal choice. And finally drink lots and lots of water.
Solaris - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Weather patterns in the alps are very different from the UK, and even checking on the way down is likely only to be helpful in informing you where to avoid because of too-recent storms. And, the weather forecas will matter more for when you are acclimatised, and en route forecasts are unlikely to be reliable that far ahead.

One of the down-sides of climbing in Switzerland as opposed to France is the poor quality and under-availability of (mountain) weather forecasts. French guides' offices have detailed mountain forecasts posted every day and these can be extremely helpful. And if you want generally reliable weather, the Ecrins would be a better area than most to head for, especially for a first season.
Slarti B on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to GridNorth:
> ( As someone else pointed out the discount is for accommodation only. You pay full price for the food and drink.
A compromise between comfort, pack weight and cost is to sleep in the hut but cook your own food. No need for sleeping/bivvy bag and mat. A small stove(eg pocket rocket) with a few packs of noodles or flavoured couscous is pretty light and you can leave spare kit in the hut while you climb.

At the huts I have stayed at in Ecrins they seemed happy to take ordinary BMC cards for discount though I have AAC for discount and rescue.



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Petarghh - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

First season you learn the skills.

Second season you make your mistakes.

Third season you start to climb !

Dont skimp on lifts

Dont skimp on huts if you can

Climb every day, don't sack it off because of clouds, just rationalise and adjust your objectives.

Suncream needs to go EVERYWHERE !

Day route 20L pack, Overnighter (with bivi, not a hut) 40L pack. if you don't have enough space, you have too much kit!

Could think of loads more.. Everyone does funny stuff when they first go out. I Laugh at stuff i've done now and think how stupid i must have looked :)


Pete.
john spence - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Been to Arolla three times, good place to start. Huts are good and,with the exception of the Moiray hut, the food is very good. I'm pretty sure that you cannot cook your own food in Swiss huts...it is the guardians main source of income.Good campsite and the local sports shop, Bournissan sports can help with weather info, accommodation and local info'.
Best hut in the area is the Dix hut,it features in the BMC dvd "Alpine Essentials" which is worth a glance.
alasdair19 on 25 Apr 2013
Food in the moiry was good 3 years ago. Very flash new hut.

You.probably.have time for a.trip to skye or the Ben which would be good training up observatory and.down tower would be good training. Then ne buttress and castle.

Aroma with no lifts will be vastly cheaper than sass with them. The road is at 2000m
alasdair19 on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to alasdair19: dehydration is My major problem, early.to huts is key for this. When planning increase length, difficulty or altitude not 2 or 3 at the same time! Bivvy huts are fantastic please pay for them. They tend to be very much club huts. The bouquetin one in arolla is particularly nice.
prog99 on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to alasdair19:

> Aroma with no lifts will be vastly cheaper than sass with them. The road is at 2000m

Thought they were free in saas if staying in the valley? I remember them being eye wateringly expensive though a few years ago.
mattrm - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

1 - Get fit
2 - Stay in huts (yeah it's expensive, but it's nicer)
3 - iodine tablets are handy (incase the private hut charges stupid money for water but there is water in the loos, grim yes, but for 6 euros for 500mls)
4 - Acclimatise properly - straight up a 4000er means you'll have a grim time
5 - Go light, but don't skimp too much on gear
6 - Start easy, initially even an F will be a big day
7 - Get fitter
8 - Recce the start of the route the afternoon before
9 - Drink and eat often (gels are good)
10 - Get even fitter (see a theme here?)
Get up early, if you ask you'll generally get an early breakfast (esp in private huts, they'll try and put you at 5am, unless you ask for 4am)
11 - Pull on gear and use the fixed stuff
12 - If you're on a popular route and there's no fixed gear/tat, you might be off routes
13 - Overtake if you can
14 - You're never fit enough...
Hannes on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: If you haven't learnt to move together now is the time. You need to be happy climbing on scrambling terrain with a shorter bit of rope between you when it is appropriate. Learn when it is appropriate and when it isn't to rope up (and moving together).

Take it easy with altitude and drink plenty.

Ibuprofen should be in every first aid kit

When starting out, if the weather is looking the slightest iffy turn round so you don't turn into a human popsicle.
Orgsm on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Don't think it is just Scottish winter, on a grander scale. Dress for warm temps, but ave a lightweight primaloft gilet or jacket in case the weather turns unexpectedly. If you can, listen to the guardian, for advice. I went up to a hut a few years back, plan was a 3400m acclimatisation day, then a 4000m traverse . He said bad weather second day, and best to do fist day. So we did without acclimatisation, and were fine.
ralphio - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to Hannes:
> (In reply to ralphio) If you haven't learnt to move together now is the time. You need to be happy climbing on scrambling terrain with a shorter bit of rope between you when it is appropriate. Learn when it is appropriate and when it isn't to rope up (and moving together).
>
Have practiced moving together on a few ridges but knocking off a few of the ridges in the Ben beforehand sounds like a good idea.

David Barratt - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Sure you'll have a great time. went to Saas Fee last year. I can't recommend highly enough that you should climb Weismeiss via Almageller hut. The scramble up the ridge is just incredible, especially if you set off sufficiently before sunrise.
Orgsm on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Sort your gear out the night before. Sharps are kept in the entrance, if staying in a hut, know where yours are. Put your harness on before you head out. After "breakfast" you'll then be good for a rapid exit from the hut.
Babika - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:
For me an altimeter is an essential bit of alpine kit.

Its very motivating knowing how much left to go to the summit (especially in thick cloud) and it serves as an instant weather barometer in the hut which helps you know whether a front is coming in and weather deteriorating i.e if you wake up at a much higher altitude than you went to bed, the pressure is falling fast. Not ggod
Somerset swede basher - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

1. Go on walks in the UK where you do lots (>1000m) of ascent wearing a big pack. You will have more fun and get more done if you are fit. If you are short on training time work on m of ascent not distance.
2. Do go light on kit but don't skimp on food, take plenty and eat it all.
3. Water is heavy, don't carry more than 1l but look for opportunities to refill if possible. Start well hydrated.
4. Start an hour earlier than you think you need to.
5. Get efficient making and tying off coils at home.
6. Just because its snowy doesn't mean its cold. If you're sweating your wasting water so take some clothes off. Don't be surprised to be down to a base layer if below 4000m in the afternoon.
7. Study the guidebook, maps and photos. Know what other routes are around you. (we refer to this as 'beta-loading'!)
8. Have both rock and snow objectives so you can be more flexible.
9. If nobody else is on your trade route ask yourself 'why not?'.
10. Practise pulling your mate out of a crevase before it happens for real. We used a tree in my parents back garden, its harder when they are loading the rope, as they would be, so practise like that.

Have fun
Robert Durran - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Carry a straw (which weighs almost nothing) for sucking up small trickles of water - dehydration is your worst enemy (apart of course from storms, stonefall, seracs, crevasses......)

Don't believe all those people telling you to take a tiny sack. Don't carry more than you need, but being able to rummage a bit for stuff will save faff and time - speed is your best friend.
Solaris - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to Robert Durran:
> (In reply to ralphio)
> Don't believe all those people telling you to take a tiny sack. Don't carry more than you need, but being able to rummage a bit for stuff will save faff and time - speed is your best friend.

Well said. And what you really need can be less than you think you need on your first season.

ralphio - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Thanks for all the advice. Its been really helpfull. Bit daunting all the planning but sure it will all be worth it.

Not that I hope to use them, but what are the emergency phone numbers in France and Switzerland in case it all go's belly up?

I know I can get phone reception in most mountain areas in the UK but whats it like in the Alps?
Dino Dave - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: if you have 'Alpine Mountaineering' by Jack Goodlad, the emergancy numbers are towards the back of there along with other good information. Great book if you don't have it!!
Dino Dave - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to DavidRex: can't remember the numbers of the top of my head though, sorry
almost sane - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Plan for lots of options - weather, conditions, logistics, how well you are.
Don't go with the view that you are doing route x on day 3 - if the weather turns or if you are struggling physically, you could get into a lot of trouble very quickly.

Equally, don't miss out on some beautiful places just because they are not on your grade or altitude dream list. You may find a peak of 3,600m is bonny and quiet whilst its near neighbour at 4,050m is bonny and heaving with people.

If the weather tuns bad when you are on the hill, you will be more comfy in a hut than bivvying.
almost sane - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

There are some quiet huts. There are some quiet routes. They are called Late June and Early July.
Other quiet routes and quiet huts are to be found in the area known as September.
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almost sane - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:
Emergency phone numbers throughout Europe from a mobile 112

Including the UK.

This was an agreed protocol in addition to the national emergency phone numbers like 999.
Simon4 - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: If you need to ask all these questions, you haven't a hope of doing anything in the Alps, you are an inferior worm and will die within a week from lightning strike, avalanche, storm or dropping into a crevasse, or possibly all of these at the same time - and will really not be any loss to anyone ***

*** - none of this is true, but this thread has been altogether too constructive and helpful. We need the requisite quota of sarcasm, sneering and personal abuse to restore the balance.
George Ormerod - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

The beer in the Co-op is the cheapest way to get hammered and infinitely cheaper that drinking in any of the bars. Don't forget to save your bottles - they have a deposit on them.
Hardonicus - on 25 Apr 2013
In reply to EeeByGum:

> We found racking our gear on a bandana speeded up belay changes. Others may disagree.


Racking gear on a bandana will speed up gear selection due to it's proximity to your eyes but will result in neck ache.
LJC - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Mobile reception is usually excellent since the mobile companies have been subsidised to provide service by various European governments. But I wouldn't rely on it!
swoe on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: as LJC said mobile reception is usually very good. In Switzerland 1414 will connect you directly to the REGA (Swiss SAR) operations centre. They will probably be faster in organising a mountain rescue than the guys at 112.
Helicopter rescues are incredibly expensive, exspecially in Switzerland - make sure your travel insurance will cover these costs up to several 10.000 Euros. This insurance is also included in the membership with the german or austrian Alpine Club.

There are two great websites to check route conditions:

for Switzerland
http://translate.google.de/translate?hl=de&sl=de&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fgipfelbuch.ch%2Fgi...

for France & Italy http://www.camptocamp.org/



RockShock on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to swoe:
> (In reply to ralphio) as LJC said mobile reception is usually very good. In Switzerland 1414 will connect you directly to the REGA (Swiss SAR) operations centre. They will probably be faster in organising a mountain rescue than the guys at 112.

This won't work in Valais (ie: Zermatt, Saas). REGA doesn't operate there and, as far as I remember Air Zermatt has the 144 number, to be confirmed on-site with the tourist office.

Additional things that I remembered:
- print yourself a small (A6 double sided) card with hut telephones, timetables of postal buses and trains etc - make sure it's up to date)
- book the huts well in advance. For July it's already late, so do it now!
Somerset swede basher - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to Hardonicus:
> (In reply to EeeByGum)
>
> [...]
>
>
> Racking gear on a bandana will speed up gear selection due to it's proximity to your eyes but will result in neck ache.

Brilliant!
MG - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to RockShock:

> - book the huts well in advance. For July it's already late, so do it now!

Sorry to keep contradicting you but that is really only true for a few really popular ones (Mont Blanc ones in particular). Most huts can be booked a couple of days in advance or even on the day.
Simon4 - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to MG:

> Most huts can be booked a couple of days in advance or even on the day.

Not only that, it is quite a bad idea to book too far in advance (although huts don't seem to mind WHEN cancellations come, as long as they DO come), as it commits you to a route/area when the weather might be crap.

It is of course polite and important to cancel if you are not going to arrive (and easily done by phone and increasingly, email).

Robert Durran - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Unless you are American and therefore used to not being able to see your feet while climbing, the bandolier may well not be worse the annoyance.
RockShock on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to MG:
> (In reply to RockShock)
>
> [...]
>
> Sorry to keep contradicting you but that is really only true for a few really popular ones (Mont Blanc ones in particular). Most huts can be booked a couple of days in advance or even on the day.

If you can book a hut few days in advance, you can also book earlier and then modify the reservation/cancel as needed.

If you are, however, planning on Monte Rosa/Dom/Matterhorn/Mont Blanc etc - then you risk being without accomodation. You can always cancel the booking and it's easier to make a modification if you already made a reservation and want to change the dates, than trying to make a last minute reservation...

After all, we're looking for general advice here: and my advice is to be prepared in advance and not to loose flexibility. Advance booking gives you precisely that.

Cheers
RS
michaelmurray - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

We had a great week in Saas Fee on our first trip to the Alps.

If you stay in the area (even in a campsite) you should be able to get a "Citizens Passport" which gives you free access to all the lifts making the whole trip a lot cheaper if you want to climb some of the bigger peaks.

We spent our first day learning crevasse rescue skills on the Hosaas glacier which helped with acclimatisation. If you're already confident with that you could look at staying at the Almageller Hut and having a day out on the Dri Horlini with a traverse of the Weismiess the following day.

There are plenty of other good PD grade 4000m peaks around too: Alphubel, Lagginhorn, Nadelhorn etc.

The Hohlaubgrat on Allalinhorn is a brilliant day out with a nice easy descent to the metro if you're feeling like a slightly more challenging route at the end of the trip.
Mark F - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Just to emphasize... don't underestimate the strength of the sun at altitude. I remember coming back from one of my early alpine climbs looking as though my head had been roasted slowly in a microwave. Take factor 30+ and apply it regularly, also don't forget lip protection, glacier glasses and a sun hat. Drink loads before and after your route, or expect to be leaping about in the middle of the night with cramp.
cuppatea on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

So, loads of speed, bottled water and sunscreen...
Pete Pozman - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: We went to the Alps 25 years ago as fairly strong climbers and I'd read loads of books. We are lucky to be alive. Personally I wouldn't have done it any other way, on the basis of what doesn't kill you makes you strong. But as you're asking advice and based on what my mate said, having gone on to do a lot more in the Alps than me, I'd recommend that, like him,you spend a hundred quid or so and go to Plas y Brenin and do one of their courses for preparing for the Alps. Or go on one of their alpine trips. It'll cost a bit more but you'll make progress faster and you won't die. If you've never experienced Alpine exposure what about going to the Dolomites or North Tyrol and doing some Via Ferrata. Very exciting and you get to do some sizeable peaks. Don't skimp on acclimatising at about 3000 metres on easier ground (Facile) getting used to crampons and practice crevasse rescue on a glacier near a telepherique station or hut. Be prepared to spend a day or two getting your techniques really good. Remember no matter how strong you are altitude will bring you down, literally to your knees, if you don't work up to it. Last tip: always have a good breakfast. Have a good time.
Robert Durran - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to Mark F:
> (In reply to ralphio)
Drink loads before and after your route.

Yes.
Also, some are recommending carrying only a litre of water. On many routes it might well be worth carrying more than this - dehydration may well slow you down more than the extra weight (and speed is your friend). At the risk of further enraging the tiny rucksack brigade, may I suggest it can be worth carrying a very small cooker, gas cylinder and pan even on long day routes. You can melt far more snow with it than it weighs itself and have a welcome rest while it does so. In conjunction with your bivvy bag, it might even save your life in a storm!
Robert Durran - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to Pete Pozman:
> As you're asking advice and based on what my mate said, having gone on to do a lot more in the Alps than me, I'd recommend that, like him,you spend a hundred quid or so and go to Plas y Brenin and do one of their courses for preparing for the Alps. Or go on one of their alpine trips.

Or, cheaper, go on your first trip to the Alps with someone who has been before and gained a bit of experience; you are likely to get much more done, get much less frustrated, have fewer epics and not die.
MG - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to Robert Durran:
and gained a bit of experience; you are likely to get much more done, get much less frustrated, have fewer epics and not die.

On a serious note, the OP should note that however it is done alpine climbing is risky. The possibility of dieing is much higher than in most activities, regarldless of exerpience, competence etc.
ralphio - on 26 Apr 2013
In reply to RockShock:
> (In reply to swoe)

> Additional things that I remembered:
> - print yourself a small (A6 double sided) card with hut telephones, timetables of postal buses and trains etc - make sure it's up to date)

This is something we were thinking of doing. Was going ti have a cars for each resort with a couple of acclimatisation routes, three or four bigger routes, campsite and bad weather alternatives. Then depending in weather we could drive to a resort at the drop of a hat and be ready to go.
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Pete Pozman - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Nice campsite at Saas Gruund. Watch out for herpes simplex if you're susceptible (cold sores) get some lip specific sun blocker. I didn't cover my lips, chin and the tip of my nose and without realising I got down off the snow to find these bits of me had turned into Otzi the iceman. Next day my lips were boiling.
kean - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Great thread! My tip is get all nerdy with a set of digital kitchen scales. It's great fun finding out your Nalgene bottle is heavier than your Hydration pack, or your nice cotton T-shirt that you were thinking of taking up to the hut is a whole lot heavier than your long-sleeved technical top etc etc...I've got Excel spreadsheets of gear weights (now that's just TOO nerdy!). "It's the grams that make the kilos"
HardenClimber - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

lots of good advice.

1) you don't need as much as you think
2) if you can be disciplined, slightly more space in a rucksac is nice (ie 30-35l)
3) have a dump before you set off from the hut. try to get it done early (there is usually a scrum after breakfast, so you skip it then have to stop later, loosing time & fouling the environment)
4) put some suncream on before you set off (in the dark). Gives you a bit of leeway when the sun rises.
5) take some sugar & teabags and buy jugs of hot water in the hut...usually much much cheaper than 'water' etc & they'll give you cups etc
6)don't go to be 'dry' - you won't make it up in the morning.
7) have some light shorts to walk up in. and a sun hat.
8) if you take a platypus type thing take a closure cap, otherwise you might find it awkward to get you March tea

Aim to do one or two easy routes to start with and stay high (rushing up and down a 4000'r with lifts won't help acclimatisation is likely to be unpleasant and will cost... (options from the Almageller are good & it's a nice hut - pleasant walk up stay a night do a route, second night and then over Weismeiss).
A lot of huts want to be paid in cash.

Camp-sites will often not charge / discount for nights 'away'. some want receipts (tricky if you've not used a hut). Some say hey want receipts. Some just take your word (bit like booking the huts, there really is still quite a lot of trust).

If using huts always worth booking...as said they really are quite happy if you cancel (unless you've booked a large group...).

The Moran guide book is good!

Remember, it is meant to be fun.
Be flexible with your goals / objectives.
sbc_10 - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Don't put carbonated water in your platypus.....the altitude creates the same effect as a fire extinguisher.... as I found out....DOH!!!!
Alii - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

As the uplifts in Saas Grund/Saas Fee are free if you're staying in the valley, in your position I'd :

- camp at Camping Mischabel

- get some Coop value beer (not actually too bad for lager)and stash in the river, securely in a mesh bag

- start on the Jegihorn VF (3200m, free lift up and down)

- Allalinhorn (free lift on metro train, back down to valley/beer)

Then take your pick from the Nadelhorn, Weissmies, Lagginhorn, Alphubel, Strahlhorn.

I wouldn't skimp on huts as the lifts are free (take your own water up). Weight won't be a problem on these routes (PD), I'd even think about taking a short rope and very minimal rack.

Great fun to be had.

Cheers, Ali
rholdswo - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Again, some very good advice. One thing I haven't seen though is make sure you are really happy with your gear, and make sure that you have checked it all. My first trip to the Alps included escaping from a long ridge route, including abbing off tat we had to leave behind. My prussick cord was 4mm which was ok as prussick but when we were forced to ab off it, it looked very thin indeed around that sharp granite spike. I have only ever used 6mm since.

We have always camped and loved it but theremost downsides: weight, weather, washing, though we have found that the nearby huts were only too happy to let us sit inside in bad weather (even let us cook on our stove in there).

Speed is vital, but I concur it is about doing things well rather than hurriedly. Well organised ropes and belays save huge amounts of time.

Black Diamond guide plates/petzl reversos are invaluable (i prefer the former).

Fitness is an obvious one but I am specifically (though not exclusively...) working on my calf muscles in preparation this year.

Have a great, safe, time; it really is the most amazing experience.
ralphio - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: regarding maps, what scale do you find is the best? For Scottish winter i've always used the Harvey 1:40000 maps. Was thinking of going for 1:50000 for the alps but not sure if this would provide enough detail for navigation in a range as potentially dangerous as the alps. Would 1:25000 be better?
ScraggyGoat on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

1:50,000 or there abouts is fine. On technical ground you will be 'route-finding' as opposed to 'navigating', on approaches and below the snow line nearly all paths will be worn and clearly marked flashes of paint on the rock.
jcw on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Route finding. Guide books can be confusing. You see vague directions and the a detailed description of some pitch and you keep looking for it. My experience is to say "where would you go if you were doing the first ascent?" That gives the general line and it is only when you get to some questionable difficulty that you see why the book goes into a splurge of detail.

Learn to move short-roped together. Put the rope on when there is the slightest risk of crevasses.

Start out on the route approach even in dubious weather. It often improves and you can always turn back if it doesn't. As one old guide said when he and his client and us two were the only ones to leave the hut "vee old guides vee go, vee see". We got our route and he got his (and the fee)"

Check, check and double check your abseil points and never hesitate to back it up even if it means losing a sling or nut or two
cannichoutdoors - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Sounds like you have a good grounding are ready for the next step.

Photocopy pages from the guide - saves a lot of weight.
Consider the size ranges of your rock gear sideways as well. PDs require only a few bits of pro and some slings to be carried.
Cams are very quick to place and some have inbuilt extenders.
Have a couple of extenders made of 8-10ft of tat tripled - you can ab from it if necessary.
A 30m 8mm rope suffices for most things until you are doing pitch climbing or significant abseils as most routes below AD are scrambling or walking, but lots of it.
French technique will save your calves on those long snow climbs.
Take toilet roll.
Choose easy low popular targets first. Gives you confidence, practice at moving together and glacier travel, and you'll enjoy it more. You'll also see how the guides move.


Simon4 - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio:
> Would 1:25000 be better?

It depends. The French IGN maps are of very high quality, equivalent to OS (with the exception that they are not systematic about putting grids on) so yes I would get 25000 in France, the Swiss 25,000 always look like the 50,000 blown up large, rather than giving any greater resolution. As to Italian maps ....

pneame on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to jcw:
> (In reply to ralphio) Route finding. Guide books can be confusing. You see vague directions and the a detailed description of some pitch and you keep looking for it. My experience is to say "where would you go if you were doing the first ascent?" That gives the general line and it is only when you get to some questionable difficulty that you see why the book goes into a splurge of detail.

Excellent advice - I've more than once found myself in the "oh, the last few hundred feet were the first sentence, not the first paragraph". A rather demoralising experience when you find that the "tricky bits" weren't even worth mentioning
whiskydon - on 29 Apr 2013
In reply to ralphio: Bruce Goodlads book is a must, even with 30 years experience I found numerous nuggets of wonderful info. We flew to the Alps last year with 35 litre 15 kg sacs inc rope, tech kit and bivvi gear, Drink lots before going onto the hill.
David Revill - on 01 May 2013
Hi, I have lived in the French Alps for the last 3 years and can offer a couple of non-technical snippets. firstly (if not mentioned before) don't forget your ear-plugs for use in a hut, huts can be similar to a herd of wild boar having a snuff taking party by midnight. I've woken up exhausted at 5am and it really affects your capability, so I go to bed early and plug-up.

Secondly, don't get caught into the trap of following others, they don't always know any more about the area/conditions than you do, take friendly advice but just add it to your planning, don't rely on it (the guardians are different however).

Do be robust and make an effort to overcome the initial fear associated with being in an unfamilier area, it is very easy over 3,500mts to be overwhelmed by the size of everything, but it's surprising how quickly you will settle in to a pace and start enjoying it.

PS: Don't forget to keep your head up, its an adventure not a slog and there are wonderful new views with every step.

Good Luck
wellmn - on 01 May 2013
In reply to ralphio:

Don't know if anyone has mentioned this. But remember that the climb is less than half done when you reach the summit. Don't lose concentration on the way down. That's when you are at your most vulnerable. Not an experience that British climbing really prepares one for.
jcw on 02 May 2013
In reply to wellmn: Yes, and carefully note the landmarks, particularly on the approach for the descent
LJC - on 02 May 2013
In reply to David Revill:

> Secondly, don't get caught into the trap of following others, they don't always know any more about the area/conditions than you do,
>
Further to this point, never assume that fast, gnarly looking, continentals will be fast or gnarly. If they are on an F route with you, then they could well be of a similar (or lesser) experience level. I've made this mistake a few times and ended up behind some REALLY slow climbers.

It's much better to be the first on the route and hold other people up than be the one held back with ice or rock raining down from above. If you need to overtake, do so. Obviously you can be polite, but expect some rude looks or comments, and do it anyway.

If there are multiple parties on raps off a route, go last, so you don't get debris kicked down on you.

It sounds a bit cut-throat written like this, but at the end of the day you have to put your climbing and safety first and foremost, without unduly inconveniencing or endangering others.

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