/ An alpine apprenticeship

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Bluebird - on 29 Apr 2014
All, after a winter on a few instructional sessions in the Highlands for the first time, I enjoyed myself so much that I've decided I want to set myself on an alpine apprenticeship. I've given myself 10 years which at the end of I want to have climbed all the alpine biggies. Rather than just paying for someone to drag me up there tomorrow I want to do it right and with mates. I've identified Weissmies as my first target to work towards but after that I'd love for someone to offer direction on what to do next and the order to do it. I have time and resources and more than that a love of climbing in the mountains. If you could start again what would be the best way to savour and experience everything the Alps has to offer (apart from retiring and living there, sadly)
Thanks
cyberpunk - on 29 Apr 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

When you are in the Alps and the weather is crap. Instead of walking around the gear shops put a bag on your back and walk to some huts. This keeps you fit, and you learn the area.
Get good with Google earth for researching mountain areas and routes.
Write down a list of routes you want to do. And have alternatives for these in case conditions are not good.
Get good a skiing, as in ski touring.It opens up the mountains in the winter.
The Ex-Engineer - on 29 Apr 2014
In reply to Bluebird: I went to University and joined the Mountaineering Club. I wouldn't wish to do anything different.

My problem wasn't the apprenticeship, that was easy, it was getting past the journeyman stage once real life and a job got in the way.

Simon4 - on 29 Apr 2014
In reply to Bluebird:
Well that is quite a wide question!

One obvious option after (or for that matter before, as it is not glaciated), the Weissmies is the Laginhorn (in fact the Weissmies is not a glacial route if approached from Almagelleralp). Equally for a worthwhile, but straightforward 4000m peak, the Grand Paradiso is worth looking at, for preference NOT by the very crowded Voie Normalle.

Presumably, however, you are not looking for a list of routes in ascending order from easy to much more serious. Nothing wrong with Cyberpunk's advice, obviously you need to know (and practice), standard stuff like crevasse rescue. You have to get the overall feel of the Alps, their size and seriousness and how conditions and weather can change and how suddenly very frightening things can seem, also how things like huts and cable cars tick.

The best way almost certainly would be to go out for one season with modest objectives in terms of seriousness and escapability. If you can persuade more experienced Alpinists to take you along and help you that can be good (being a pretty girl might help with this, but is probably not anything one can alter), if you are certain that they ARE as experienced and sensible as they claim .

It is also very important to be aware how debilitating altitude can be if you get to it too fast. Above all, never be afraid to turn back on an Alpine route - the mountain will always be there next year, the trick is to make sure that you are (the exception to this is where you are on a committing route - then you HAVE to finish no matter what, which is why it is so serious. But that really is a more advanced stage of Alpinism).

Don't get obsessed by particular routes or tick lists (which is not at all the same as not having objectives), if something is not realistic for whatever reason, find something else worthwhile to do rather than sitting around moping - so that from every Alpine trip you come back with an achievement, even if it wasn't the one you wanted.
Post edited at 17:22
Mark / Alps - on 29 Apr 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

If you haven't seen them already the '4,000m peaks of the alps' by Martin Moran and also 'The High Mountains of the Alps' by Dumler and Burkhardt are very useful / inspirational. They can be used to plan what routes you want to do when.
In addition to previous suggestions from posters I would say:
- Follow the good weather / conditions. Be prepared to move around rather than sit out bad weather. A two to three hour drive is usually all you need to find better weather.
- Loads of peaks below 4,000 metres are fantastic
- Perhaps join a climbing club with members who go to the alps.
mysterion on 29 Apr 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

For some ideas what to do after Weissmies and Lagginhorn look at my wishlist, optimised for soloing 4000ers up to easy AD (Alphubel and Aletschhorn need some clarification re glaciers). Think I will go for some Swiss Plaisir Alpin stuff after that rather than Mont Blanc, etc.
Solaris - on 29 Apr 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

I think Martin Moran's AC guide to the alpine 4000ers has a rough graded list - that might be useful for clarifying objectives.

For overall inspiration and a sense of what you're taking on, Will McLewin's "In Monte Viso's Horizon" is worth keeping by the loo.
Simon4 - on 29 Apr 2014
In reply to cyberpunk:

> Get good a skiing, as in ski touring.It opens up the mountains in the winter.

Well although I said your advice was mostly good, this bit, though valid, is a bit like saying "in order to get good at Alpinism, become an Alpinist".

You are quite right that developing ski-touring is very useful for Alpine climbing (as well as being very worthwhile in itself), but to develop ski-touring skills takes as much effort as developing Alpine climbing skills.
Bluebird - on 30 Apr 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

useful - many thanks everyone. I have several of the books mentioned, which has lead me to Weissmies... it sounds like in the first instance I need to spend a few weeks playing lower down just to tune in and obviously learn the core skills to then start building on, taking instruction as necessary. Alos, a few have mentioned the value of "doing stuff" when the weather closes in and refining objectives which I'm sure will be extremely valuable/great opportunity to consolidate some basic skills.
Will take a look at Avon MC also. much obliged.
Solaris - on 30 Apr 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

> ... it sounds like in the first instance I need to spend a few weeks playing lower down just to tune in...

And not just to tune in: there are many wonderful routes on excellent mountains below 4000m that are well worth doing for their own sakes.



rinch - on 30 Apr 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

Wiessmies was the first 4000 I did so sounds like a good place to start. But I had done a good bit of messing about on the mer de glace beforehand to practise all the crevasse rescue techniques and general glacier travel stuff that you need to be comfortable with.

I suggest you buy freedom of the hills, if you haven't already, and practise everything in it that seems to fit with your objectives.

I'd also say don't get fixated on ticking 4000ers. I tend to pick a refuge that has a few interesting routes nearby. Research all the routes that you think might be within your level and make the final call at the refuge once you've chatted with people there about conditions and what everyone else is planning to do. If you get a book like "Snow Ice and Mixed" (which covers the chamonix valley) you'll see that every refuge has loads of possibilities and you can adapt to the conditions. If you can add additional time to try out techniques on short sections near to the refuge that's good too.

Weather really matters. Walking in the rain may be the norm in the lakes but I wouldn't attempt anything serious without really good weather in the Alps.
Simon4 - on 30 Apr 2014
In reply to rinch:

> I'd also say don't get fixated on ticking 4000ers.

Blasphemy! Stone the heretic!
Dave Wynne-Jones on 01 May 2014
In reply to Solaris:

Good point Andrew.
I spent about 10 years on an Alpine apprenticeship. It was in Chamonix and I was apprenticed to Gaston Rebuffat via his "100 best routes" book. It's effectively a graded list of quality routes with plenty of incidental advice on climbing along the way, as you know, but Bluebird could find that early in the season those routes are still likely to be uncrowded and in good condition.
Jasonic - on 02 May 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

You could take your kids on holiday to the Alps and do a couple of peaks whilst there. It is not essential but a few days with a British Mountain guide would pay dividends. Tidy, fast ropework is worth learning- you can practice this on Welsh scrambles/ enchainments of easier climbs.

You might find a local club is running a summer meet.

Simon4 - on 02 May 2014
In reply to Dave Wynne-Jones:
> I was apprenticed to Gaston Rebuffat via his "100 best routes" book. It's effectively a graded list of quality routes with plenty of incidental advice on climbing along the way

As long as you treat it as a source of inspiration and ideas, don't for God's sake view the "100 longest queues in the Mont Blanc Massif" as an accurate description of how to go about a climb or any sort of route description.
NottsRich on 03 May 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

Go to the alps for a few weeks or ideally months at a time. Don't waste time on lots of shorter trips unless you have to.

Enjoy summer and winter alpinism, but maybe start with a summer season first.

Hopefully your mates are as motivated as you? Get them inspired with picture books like '100 Best...' etc.

Remember it's meant to be fun! Best of luck.
Bruce Hooker - on 03 May 2014
In reply to Simon4:

> As long as you treat it as a source of inspiration and ideas, don't for God's sake view the "100 longest queues in the Mont Blanc Massif" as an accurate description of how to go about a climb or any sort of route description.

I have to disagree on this, I've always found it pretty usable... some ice climbs have changed a bit and a few climbs have simple fallen down but all in all it's still an amazing book. Just check on an update before the climb. The top end no longer corresponds to latest achievements but anybody climbing at that level doesn't really require being told that!
Bruce Hooker - on 03 May 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

Here's an account of my first blunderings in the Alps... note in particular the amount of time between climbs, weather is rather critical.

http://www.windmillweb.info/climbing/alps69/alps69.htm

(some of the site has problems with recent browsers, I'm trying to fix it)
Bluebird - on 03 May 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

most enjoyable - rests duly noted!
recommended books purchased.
thanks everyone
David Rose - on 03 May 2014
In reply to Bluebird:

Once you're past the beginning, don't get too fixated with the Mont Blanc massif. Many climbers do - and so miss out on the many other worthwhile Alpine regions, including the Oberland, Ecrins and Paradiso, all of which are great for rock as well as big mountains. Search out lesser-known but mighty objectives: such as the Nesthorn, the Grivola, Monte Dizgrazia, the Klein Wannenhorn, the Bietschhorn, the Ailfroide and the Pic Sans Nom.
ads.ukclimbing.com
Simon4 - on 04 May 2014
In reply to davidoldfart:

Could I add the delightful region of the Engandine in Eastern Switzerland to that list of less known areas (to the Brits that is!). Has a small but very impressive, Alpine massif that looks perfectly transported from the high Alps around Chamonix or the Oberland, while being choc full of glorious and fairly uncrowded upper valleys for walking in.
jcw on 06 May 2014
In reply to Simon4:
Re Rebuffat. There are few of the routes which have queues. No 38 Aigs Mummery and Ravanel for example. Who on Ukc has done that? And use the original work. the Ukc wish list hodge-podge which passes for that work is a travesty of it.
Simon4 - on 06 May 2014
In reply to jcw:

Well it depends on the routes.

I have heard the Frendo spur sardonically referred to as "the UKC spur", while the queues on the Cosmiques or the Petite Aiguille Verte could rival Oxford Street on the opening day of the sales (and probably has as many people posting to Facebook or Twitter "I'm on a route").

It is true that there are far less people on the Italian side, where the routes are much more serious and remote, but as Rabbitfat was French, he wasn't very interested in these strange foreign lands, just generally putting "here be dragons".
jcw on 06 May 2014
In reply to Simon4:
Yes, there are always the honey pots where your mates have done the in route, but there's plenty in there which you won't find anyone on including the Italian side.
Simon4 - on 07 May 2014
In reply to jcw:

Well I had another look at the original Gaston, it is certainly pretty French biased. Italy very much an afterthought, mostly including only those routes that had really a big name, that he couldn't ignore.

My highest route was 89, yes, mea maxima culpa, I was sad enough to look.

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