/ What can a novice do for a week in the alps?
Got a little holiday and money saved up and am thinking about taking my first trip to Chamonix. Just wondered if there are any alps veterans available who may be able to advise me in this area!
Unfortunately I have no regular climbing partner at present (although climbing regularly at the local wall and crag) and even less in the way of friends who might consider mountaineering as a good way to spend their holiday entitlement. I was hoping that someone could recommend me a few good 'introductory' routes or peaks that are challenging and yet soloable.
I'm more concerned about crevasses and vertical sections that are not easy to overcome solo than about cold and a little discomfort, and tough (but soloable) routes would not bother me either.
As you can probably tell I am completely new to the alpine game (aside from a great deal of reading) but I feel that if I wait and wait for the perfect time and/or partner then I'll never ever get there, and it would be better to just head over and see what I can accomplish by myself.
Any advice at all would be most welcome, and if you happen to be in Chamonix when I get there I'll happily buy you a beer or two!
I think you might be better off doing a course, in all the circumstances. Otherwise you could easily either waste the whole week, or get into very serious trouble.
If you are alone then rule out glacier travel, and therefore pretty much anything alpine in Chamonix. You could do the voie normale routes on the Belvedere or Floria in the aiguille rouges for example, but these will feel more Welsh than alpine, which is missing the point. As David has said above, learn the skills you need with an experienced partner or on a course. You may then be able to team up with someone also looking for a partner in Chamonix, but make wise choices.
Phil, I quite sympathize with your situation and ambitions. I see from your profile you are not totally inexperienced. Quite clearly I agree with all the advice and conventional wisdom already stated. Also take into consideration that I am not up to date on conditions in the mts nowadays. Nevertheless, I think there are some possibilities if conditions are good notably the snow. For example I don't think you would come to much harm on the Tete Blanche, Petite Fourche, Aiguille du Tour, particularly since there would probably be lots of people around. On the other side of the hill, from Champex in Switzerland a walk up the valley to Pte d'Orny,, Aiguille des Ravins Rousses and Pointe d'Arcy would make a nice outing, stopping at the hut if you want. From the Italian side at the end of the Val Veni Le Petit Mont Blanc would be a worthwhile trip: long walk up, nice tiny bivvy hut and a quite smart snow summit. And finally if you want to splash out the Zermatt Breithorn, 4,000er is doable solo off the teleferique from Italy. As too the Grand Paradis, another 4,000er but I'm less sure. But please check with others. Perhaps Jon can chip in.
My 17 year old daughter climbed the Gran Paradiso with me. Just a snow slog. The Breithorn is of course also accessible via the Zermatt cablecar. I suspect the Tete Blanche could have many crevasses.
Many of the prime routes in Chamonix are pretty technical, especially for a novice. That's not to say there isn't plenty to go at. I've only been to Chamonix and Saas Fe so far but enjoyed them both. I found that Saas Fe was a good introduction. Seemed like you could find a partner in both.
I've done routes in the Aiguille Rouge on the opposite side of the valley to Mant Blanc, and think you could find some things to do there. I haven't seen a walks or scrambles guide for the area.
There are a lot of technically easy things to do, but I am loathe to recommend going up and down a glacier by yourself as the prospects of falling down a hole are quite grim.
If you can run to a guide a recommendable trip would be the Aiguille du Chardonnet via the Forbes arete. It was my first alpine peak, and is a little bit interesting, but not so high as to require acclimation
There are always people on here looking for a partner and you can often find people once in the Alps too. You may be able to get onto the Conville course which is great and economical and usually leads to lots of potential partners ( not sure of upper age limit ). Also worth trying climbing clubs.
There are some routes you could do around Chamonix. These would not include the Tour / Tete Blanche because of crevasses etc. However, the routes would be mostly 'climbing in the alps' as opposed to strictly 'alpine climbing'.
A visit to the Mer de Glace to get in some crampon and ice axe work. Lovely to explore itself and also walk up to visit areas such as the Couvercle and Envers huts. Depending on conditions the normal route on the Moine is mostly a scramble with some rock climbing sections. A rope for possible short abs on descent may be useful. The small snowfield / glacier at its base is very amenable with care.
Los of walks, potential scrambles around the Aiguilles Rouges. You may need crampons and / or an axe but the traverse of the Crochues is an easy but very exposed route. Climbing to around V Diff in short sections. Belvedere and Floria as others have suggested. Petit Mont Blanc is great but check conditions first.
You could ascend to the Aiguilles de Gouter, again check conditions. Perhaps do some of the awesome walks to suss out possible areas and routes for when you do have a partner. For example the Balcon Nord and Balcon Sud.
However, I strongly recommend finding someone to go with. Whatever you choose to do, always check up the current conditions of routes / hut access at the OHM (Office de Haute Montagne).
You can have a good time in the mountains around Chamonix by yourself. I've done this several times for a week or more when my partner has had to take off early.
Depends on your experience and (for a few of these below) how happy you are with exposure. But these below are all away from wet glaciers and can all be done by foot from the village. Eg. if you ignore cable cars and trains the walk in from Chamonix to Ag Gouter summit is a great 2 day expedition (camp at Tete Rousse site) to almost 4000m.
Ag du Belvedere
Scrambles on ridge around Brevent
Ag Gouter (short bus to Les Houches)
Mer de glace walk (only on dry glacier)
Balcon walks both sides of valley scramble up whatever takes fancy
More techy scrambles (need backup ab rope):
Ag Moine (or at least Couvercle hut VF kit for ladders?)
Ag LíM (or at least the col before final scramble)
Ag Pelerins (depends on conditions very exposed)
From Italy (take bus through tunnel)
Petit Mont Blanc (3 days total from Chamonix)
Thanks so much to everyone for all the advice. Totally take on board the points made above re. gaining experience etc. and don't want to come across as someone who doesn't appreciate the advice or who would disregard important safety aspects.
I'm keen to get as much experience as possible before the trip and will certainly look into what courses are available. The only limiting factor is of course my budget which is the only reason I would rather not go down the course/hiring a guide route if possible.
Will certainly look into hooking up with a partner for the trip, my only concern would be that my inexperience would potentially slow down a more proficient climber and end up ruining their trip. Don't want to be baby sat!
Sit in the Argentiere campsite, spend money, watch rain.
Conville course is great, alternatively find a friend- possibly on here & share a guide for a couple of days to learn the basics. Alternatively look at mountain rock routes in the Alps.
Before any Alpine trip we often go to North Wales to practice Alpine skills- no crevassess but you can do plenty of link ups of classic climbs, scrambling using short pitches/moving together and working on efficiency.
Wales is definitely in the cards sometime in the next few months. Hopefully work on some more challenging stuff in the snowdon area and link up a few climbs as you say.
Go to the pyrenees.
Seriously, Cham on your own as a novice won't be fun.
I'm afraid I think some of the more gung-ho responses here are irresponsible. Anyone visiting the Alps having not climbed there before will be awestruck by the scale and seriousness, so may well not leave the valley other than for easy strolls along paths. However, I can't believe people are suggesting peaks such as the Moine and Pelerins. For a novice to attempt them solo would be an unjustifiable and very big risk.
A week on a course will embed some of the basic and crucial techniques, such as glacier travel and crevasse rescue; moving together; rapid multi-pitch abseil descents; self-arrest; and what kit you need for what routes. If you have a little more time, you could stay on and climb with people you meet on the course. It's very easy either to have a wretched time in the Alps or to get killed. And by the way, the Breithorn may be near the cable car, but it's a heavily glaciated 4,000 metre peak. Falling down a deep, icy hole near a cable car station is just as fatal as doing the same somewhere more remote.
Get some decent guidebooks, walk up to huts and get chatting to people.
I've had enforced solos in the Alps a few times when partner has bailed and there always seems to be someone else in the same boat who wants to hook up.
Most people are doing the easier or classic routes - although of course Cham is a bit more hardcore than some other areas.
It's true you could find things to do solo around Chamonix but it would really be missing the point of what Alpine climbing is about, unless you are a total loner who prefers his own company, but this doesn't sound like what you are saying. You can pick up a partner on the spot but again this is pretty risky as there's nothing worse than climbing with someone you don't get on with - a week doesn't leave much time for a second chance. So I'd say try as hard as you can to find someone else you get on with, even a complete alpine beginner, climb and walk together in Britain between now and the summer and then just go for it.
People always say "go on a course" these days but that seems such a pity, like having your first sex with a prostitute, the first time is always so special and by definition it only happens once :-) If you find someone with a bit of Alpine experience it is unlikely you'll hold him, or her, back if you are fit, at your age you should be, just make sure get in a lot of hiking and hill slogging with a alpine weight ruck-sack before you go - a lot of alpine climbing is slogging, technically you shouldn't have a problem.
So I'd say you've got 6 months to go, find a partner, you won't regret it.
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