A mini-guide to the best Alpine routes in Chamonix at AD/D grade.
Alpine grading is a little bit strange, and takes a lot into account.
It has also been around long enough to suffer at the hands of rapidly advancing standards of ice climbing and rock climbing ability, and technology.
I think there is an argument to suggest that it is a little bit arbitrary. For example, whilst both being AD in grade, a morning out on the Arete des Cosmiques (AD 3) is quite a different day to doing the Royal Traverse (AD+ 2), despite doing a similar level of technical moves, one will need several other skills the other doesn't require.
Furthermore, at 'D grade' routes start verging out a little bit to include routes of a pure rock climbing nature (such as Les Lépidoptères (D 5b) on the Peigne) or of classic goulotte style ice climbing (like the Chèré Couloir (D 4) or Escarra Gully (D+ 4)).
Having said this, it does give a way of looking at a good range of routes in a comparable fashion and for a lot of people coming out to Chamonix in the summer they will be looking at routes in a particular grade bracket.
For this article, I will look at the popular grade bracket of AD-D which is the grade of most classic mixed alpinism – having a look at some of the best routes of this grade around the area and hopefully giving people some inspiration as to what is out there.
I will break it down into day hittable routes, and then more committing routes to try and get round some of the issues with alpine grading above and for ease of planning logistics. I am also writing a separate article called Top 10 Chamonix Mid-Grade Classics that looks at a lot of the big, rockier routes that fall into the upper end of the D grade – worth a look for those wanting an extension from what they find here.
A lot of the routes in this section are very popular and by nature should be doable lift to lift in a day. Therefore they will tend to be centered around the Midi, Plan d'Aiguille and Skyway lifts. Good options for a morning out or if the weather is due to break.
Aiguille du Midi
Arete des Cosmiques (AD 3) - (AD): The classic Chamonix half day alpine adventure…
Midi-Plan Traverse (AD) - (AD): A big undertaking than the above and more conditions dependent – ideally you want good snow conditions underfoot.
Contamine-Mazeaud (AD+ 3) - (AD): An icy route that is often best spring and early summer. There is also the neighbouring Contamine-Grisolle and Negri that provide a similar experience. All on the Triangle du Tacul.
Chèré Couloir (D 4) - (D-): Most people's first foray into goulotte climbing, it holds conditions pretty well but is best early summer.
Aiguille d'Entrèves Traverse (AD- 4c) - (AD): The alternative (and arguably better) Italian version of the Cosmiques Arête. Slightly more approach time but equally scenic.
Freshfield Arête Southeast Ridge/East Face (AD 2) - (AD): The SE ridge of the Tour Ronde provides a good mixed arête early in the season with a healthy amount of snow – unfortunately the descent down drops out fast.
Tour Ronde North Face (D 3) - (D-): A classic, smaller icy north face that can be done in a day in spring and early summer. Later in the summer it might need an early start due to heat.
Pyramid du Tacul East Ridge (AD+ 5a) - (D-): A good intro to granite tower climbing at the heart of the Geant basin – can be approached from both Skyway and Midi in similar times.
Papillons Arête (D+ 5c) - (D): A good shorter day option on the rocky ridge leading down from the Peigne towards the lift station. Good climbing with a quick scrambling descent.
Peigne Normal Route (AD+ 4c) - (AD/D): A couple of options here. The classic normal routes is a good scrambling adventure where often route finding is the key. The SW ridge offers a good harder alternative at the top with a fairly stiff pitch of crack climbing to gain the summit.
Grutter Ridge (Classic) (D- 5b) - (D-): A more esoteric option, this can be done in a day by a relatively efficient team. A good alternative to the Peigne.
Aiguille de l'M North-Northeast Ridge (D 5b) - (D-): Highly visible from town, this can be easily accessed from Montenvers too. The crux is a thrutchy crack. The Couzy route on the M is also only a little harder so could be a good alternative.
Petits Charmoz Traverse (AD 4c) - (AD): A good lower elevation option for those seeking a similar experience to the Entreves or Cosmiques – albeit with less snow!
Mallory-Porter (AD+ 3) - (AD+): The Chamonix hamster wheel – a good option for those seeking an easy alpine experience in the winter and early summer. Despite being straightforward it is by far the longest route in this list and requires good snow conditions.
Traverse of the Perrons (AD 4a) - (AD): Another good ridge traverse that is great if the weather up high is bad or not wanting to pay for a lift. It is accessed from the Emosson dam, over the Swiss border above Finhaut.
Clocher-Clochetons Traverse (AD 5a) - (AD): The classic traverse route of this grade in the Brevent lift area provides a nice, short up and down route with a cool tyrolean traverse.
Index Southeast Ridge (AD 4c) - (AD/D): The tower above the Flegere lift of the same name provides several different routes of around this grade – all roughly 4 pitches.
Aiguille Perseverance Arête Sud Originale (D- 5b) - (AD/D): A more remote outing in the Aiguilles Rouges, accessed past Lac Blanc. It has two classic ridges – the NE and S that provide nice days out for fit teams.
Écandies Traverse (D-) - (D-): A long walk from the Col du Forclaz or the Arpette valley will allow you to do this classic ridge traverse in a day at the base of the Trient glacier.
Whilst none of these routes require a bivvi or sleeping on the route – they will, for most teams, require a sleep in a hut the night before due to needing good firm snow conditions or due to the length of the walk-in etc. I have outlined some of the classic routes by sector here – covering most of the Massif.
Tour & Trient
Accessed via the Albert Premier Refuge or the Cabane du Trient.
Arête de la Table (AD 5a) - (AD): A great way of climbing the Aiguille du Tour from the Albert Premier Refuge with an interesting rock feature that gives its name.
Aiguilles Dorées Traverse (D- 5c) - (AD/D-): The classic route of the Trient glacier provides a long route of ridge traversing – not to be underestimated.
Forbes Arête (AD 3) - (AD): The Aiguille du Chardonnet has two classic routes that fit in this bracket. This is the classic ridge traverse and is less conditions dependent than the following.
Migot Spur (D- 3) - (D-): A good intro to north faces style outings – good in spring and early summer.
Accessed via the Refuge du Argentiere.
Flèche Rousse Ridge (AD 3) - (AD): One of the few routes of this grade in the basin. This is the classic route of it's grade to reach the summit of the Aiguille d'Argentiere. Best in spring or early summer with good snow conditions.
Jardin Ridge (D 5a) - (D-): An alternative to the above that is more rock based than the previous route. There is also the Charles-Straton Ridge that runs parallel and provides a similar experience and leads the Aiguille d'Argentiere summit.
Couturier Couloir (D 3) - (D-): The classic way to reach the summit of the Aiguille Verte from the Argentiere basin. This big icy gully climb is best in winter to early summer. It provides a long day with a big descent down the opposite side of the peak.
Accessed via the Refuge du Couvercle.
Moine South Ridge (D+ 5c) - (D): A very asthetic route at the heart of the Massif that is rock based and provides stunning views in 360 degress.
Whymper Couloir (AD+ 2) - (AD+): One of the classic big mixed gullies of the massif is south facing and needs an early start – often good spring and early summer.
Jardin ArêteÂrete du Jardin (AD) - (D-): Another great way up the Verte and slightly less conditions dependent than the Whymper. It takes in all the 4000 tops of the Verte. There is also the Moine Ridge of the Verte that is usually used in descent but is predominantly rock based.
Les Courtes Traverse (AD 2) - (AD): A big approach and descent make this classic traverse a big day out. Being almost entirely on snow, good conditions are advised.
Les Droites Traverse (D- 3) - (AD+): Another classic of the Talefre basin that visits one of the Massif's 4000ers. It's a little bit trickier than the above with more up and downing around the various summits and gendarmes.
La Nonne Traverse (AD+ 5a) - (AD): A much shorter outing than the others in this list and possible for a fast team to do the same day as walking to the hut.
Accessed via the Torino Refuge.
Dent du Geant Southwest Face (AD+ 4c) - (AD/D): One of the most famous summits in the massif – most people will climb the normal route which involves pulling on fixed ropes. There is also the north ridge for more advanced teams that feels distinctly more exposed. Fast teams may be able to do the normal route in a day from the lift.
The Rochefort Ridge (AD 2) - (AD): Another classic. This ridge traverse is on both snow and rock and is particularly scenic. Can be combined with the previous route.
Kuffner Ridge (D 4c) - (D-): One of the massif's big snowy classics and a great way to climb Mont Maudit. Good early to mid summer.
Accessed via the Monzino, Conscrits or Refugio Quintino Sella.
Point de l'Innominata South Ridge (AD-) - (AD): from the Monzino hut, this route allows the wild south side of Mont Blanc to be experience at a modest grade.
Tournette Spur (AD+ 3) - (AD+): A big remote route on the wild side of Mont Blanc that is on both snow and ice. A good option for those wanting to visit a new part of the massif! Good early to mid summer.
Royal Traverse (AD+ 2) - (AD+): A massif route and one of the biggest you can do at this grade. It takes in a lot of ground going over the Domes des Miages, Aiguille du Bionnassay and Mont Blanc itself.
Petites Jorasses South Ridge (D-) - (D): a quiet adventure on the Febrouze basin that combines a night in the cool Gervasutti Bivouac hut with an interesting ridge climb on rock.
Preuss Route Southeast Ridge (AD) - (AD+): this route on the Aiguille Savoie above the Dalmazzi Refuge is an old school classic put up Preuss, the original free soloist.
Arête Mettrier (AD) - (AD): this ridge on the north side of the Domes des Miages is a good spring or early summer trip – skiers can use this as an approach to ski the north face. Done from the Plan Glacier Refuge.
Gallet Ridge (AD+) - (AD): another popular route to be done in spring on skis – this classic ridge on Mont Dolent is a great way of reaching the tri-national summit.
Aiguille Croux South Ridge (AD-) - (AD): a rocky ridge on the Aiguille Croux that sits behind the Monzino hut.]
More information and topos for most of these routes can be found in the new Rockfax Chamonix guidebook or across the JME editions Snow, Ice, and Mixed volumes.