Beginner Alpinism - no UK rock experience?

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
 simplyawful 07 Feb 2021

Hello all

Got a beginners question, have searched but not found an exact match (apologies if I've missed)

To what extent is it possible to get started with alpine routes without significant UK rock experience? Say only grade one scrambles (CMD Arete etc). I am moving to France later in the year (Langeudoc) and am keen to do some summer summits in Pyrenees / southern Alps, sticking to F, perhaps PD. The idea was hire a guide to show some crampon / glacier travel techniques then just set off on the easiest peaks.

Will I be extremely limited if I have zero roped ice / rock experience to date? There are crags near where I'm headed (Le Joncas extremely close) but to be honest dry rock doesn't appeal in the same way (no offence!). I suppose what I'm asking is whether this is an essential skill to get under my belt before committing to the cost and drive time of going alpine.

Any thoughts greatly appreciated

 Doug 07 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

Many French climbers start in the Alps with no/little rock climbing experience. Consider joining the local branch of the French Alpine Club once you get to France.

 pdone 07 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

There are peaks which you can walk up without even scrambling but you will expand your scope considerably if you have some decent scrambling experience.  Many peaks - particularly at PD - require extensive scrambling for which the use of a rope for some sections might be wise - and for peace of mind.  As you intend hiring a guide for glacier travel techniques, include some peaks of the sort you are interested in - you will soon find out what is involved and what techniques, skills and equipment are needed.

Good luck.

 simplyawful 07 Feb 2021
In reply to Doug:

Thanks - greatly appreciated. 

I assume at some more advanced point, rock experience would become essential? Say when moving beyond PD? When would you say this kicks in?

 simplyawful 07 Feb 2021
In reply to pdone:

Thank you very much - without wanting to pick your brains too much, are there any specific peaks which you'd recommend? On here I seem to see people mostly talk about Gran Paradiso (which seems fine but for the very end) and the Breithorn (which looks like a walk); both of these are sadly wrong side of the alps. What about in the Ecrins / Pyrenees ?

 mysterion 07 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

PD is an overall grade.

If you are concerned about rock check the UIAA grade within the route description - UIAA I is around scramble grade 2, UIAA II is around scramble grade 3.

Rock grades above that tend to fall within overall grade AD.

Scramble grade 1 is equivalent to the rock you might find on the most difficult *walking* grade in the Alps - UIAA I on an F or a PD should be a very natural progression for you.

Post edited at 15:11
In reply to simplyawful:

I'm no expert, but I've dabbled and been on the JCMT courses. It's my impression that there are quite a lot of 'paper alpinists' out there - folks who read books and decide to give it a bash (I'm not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, just an observation) - and they've done more than me!

Guess it depends what type of alpinism you want to do. What I would say, judging by the novice climbers of the JCMT course, is that you'll feel more confident and capable if you know how to handle ropes and if something goes wrong, you'll have a better repertoire of skills to help get you out of a bad situation. Plus you'd just enjoy it more? Maybe. Latching onto someone more experienced once you have learned the basics would be wise.

I wouldn't let a lack of experience/skills stop you, if I were you, just play it safe and make good decisions. Getting a guide for your first few trips sounds very wise. After that find trustworthy partners.

 simplyawful 07 Feb 2021
In reply to mysterion:

Thank you, very helpful

 simplyawful 07 Feb 2021
In reply to sharpendadventures:

I'll bear that in mind, thanks. 

 SouthernSteve 07 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

Moving well on easy rocky terrain, even if you don't have much ropework experience is very useful. There are snowy peaks that avoid that need and routes such as the summer Haute Route that mean you can get into the mountain environment and have a great time. Are you happy with exposure - that is something that rock-climbing usually finds out quickly and is a useful in the Alps.

 pdone 07 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

> Thank you very much - without wanting to pick your brains too much, are there any specific peaks which you'd recommend? On here I seem to see people mostly talk about Gran Paradiso (which seems fine but for the very end) and the Breithorn (which looks like a walk); both of these are sadly wrong side of the alps. What about in the Ecrins / Pyrenees ?

Rather than suggesting specific peaks for you I think if I were in your position I would consult guidebooks for the areas you are interested in, particularly so called 'walking/scrambling' guidebooks as these will likely describe routes up that area's 'easy' peaks.  Reading these for a particular route you can usually get a good idea of the sort of things you will meet on a route. 

I would suggest at first you avoid anything involving a glacier - unless with a guide.  Any glacier, even one graded F, will demand proficient ropework especially if things go wrong and someone falls into a crevasse.

As you plan to hire a guide, make it clear to them that you plan to do peaks in future guideless and so want them to teach/show you glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques; otherwise they might just take you up a glacier without teaching you much at all.  Similarly, ask them to show you basic ropework on rocky terrain.


 Doug 07 Feb 2021

The reason I suggested joining the CAF is that most local groups offer various courses & organised outings many of which are aimed at beginners. For instance my local branch has this on its programme

In reply to simplyawful:

Pic Coolidge in the Ecrin.  A fairly long glacier approach and a scramble / steep walk - perhaps like Jack's Rake - to the summit.

 Rick Graham 07 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

Doug is offering good advice IMHO .

I think he has  lived in France and Scotland .

Tbh most problems seem to be caused by alpine novices having UK rock climbing skills but no alpine experience.

 Al Randall 07 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

Start slow. Start small.  Take your time to acquire the necessary skills.  Take care not to fall into the trap that many aspiring British Alpinists do of carrying far too much gear.  We all had to start somewhere.  The fact that you have identified and acknowledged your weakness's is a good starting point.  Above all have fun, climbing in the alps is one of the most rewarding experiences life has to offer.

Rick makes a good point and it was a trap I fell into. I foolishly thought that because I was climbing Extreme UK trad I could manage anything the alps had to throw at me.  I was wrong.  My first alpine experience nearly killed me and put me off alpine climbing for 2 or 3 years. Thankfully I tried again and was far more circumspect which led, eventually, to a very successful and rewarding alpine career.

Good luck.


Post edited at 18:05
In reply to simplyawful:

Pico Aneto should be good for a start.

I did it in a pair of brashers...then went on to do Maladeta..Pic de Posats.

Ps..crampons and ice axe needed though.

Post edited at 20:12
In reply to simplyawful:

The idea was hire a guide to show some crampon / glacier travel techniques then just set off on the easiest peaks.

It's unclear from the above, but if you are thinking of doing Alpine peaks alone, I'd think again. Perhaps you aren't, but I'd just point out that it's no good learning crevasse rescue skills if you don't have someone on the other end of the rope. There are no doubt a few big snowy peaks with easy routes where you don't cross or walk up glaciers, but on most you can't avoid glacier travel. Most non-glacial peaks are rocky and you need scrambling skills, and more often than not the rock is rubbish crumbly stuff if it isn't steep enough to need roping up. Don't mean to put you off, but just don't imagine you can do this stuff on your own.

In reply to simplyawful:

> ...but to be honest dry rock doesn't appeal in the same way (no offence!).

Offence taken!

Nothing to add other than stay safe and have a great time.  I could not believe the scale of the Alps the first time I saw them as a climber a couple of years back.  Mindblowing.  Such an awesome theatre for all sorts of great pursuits.

 Dom Goodwin 07 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

Perfectly possible. I only started rock climbing as I needed it to get up harder Alpine peaks.  There are big easy peaks such as the Bishorn, which are perfectly possible without much roped climbing experience. But you do need to be competent with ice axe and crampons and it's good to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the principles of glacier travel. There are plenty of small easy peaks to get started on too, just build up slowly. Obviously helpful if you can find more experienced people to tag along with.

Oh and don't go up the Breithorn normal route. The full Breithorn traverse is a very fine mid grade mountaineering route. highly recommended for experienced Alpinists, but the Breithorn normal route from Klein Matterhorn is a tedious plod, usually very crowded, where you cheat by using a cable car to get virtually to the top, so pretty pointless really. Gran Paradiso is much nicer.

Post edited at 23:46
 Jasonic 08 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

Hello- I think Doug's suggestion is the best joining the local CAF- there are many easier peaks in the Ecrins, Pyrenees but even at PD, glacier travel & scrambling often best done with a competent partner. Alternative is to start with a guide- many guides have long working/friendship relationships with clients-

I thought Gran Paradiso was an easier day than Aneto- another possibility;

 Alfrede 17 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

Hi. Quite a lot of good advice here already so I won't add to that much. (Though a few misleading ones as well. The Breithorn trade route, despite the crowds, is a delightful walk with amazing views and just the kind of Alpine excursion you could safely take on even now but the Traverse, which I did last summer, is a full on Alpine rock ridge requiring a fair bit of experience! I would confirm that, if you are living over here, joining the local CAF is a no-brainer option. I have been a member locally for 8 years now.) Anyway, to the point. I am an experienced but rather ageing Alpinist living in Foix in Ariege and am often on the look out for companions, particularly for easy glaciated peaks which I can't do solo because of the crevasses. I would be very happy to take on (for example) the Gran Paradiso or Piramide Vincent or the Signalkuppe with you any time without further training. (I have already done Allalinhorn, Weissmies and Alphubel which would be fine peaks for you to do as well.) I will be in the Alps most of the summer and have two weeks planned on my own in the Ecrins in early July but I live in the Pyrenees and do a lot there too all year round. If you are living in the south of France it may be well worth making contact. Where exactly are you going to be living? I would be happy to offer you a bit of basic instruction in return for help with the rope through the glaciers. (I used to be a professional instructor though retired now.) The Ecrins are superb and there is lots for you to do there, including easy high glaciated peaks. The Pyrenees are wonderful for walking and scrambling up to 3000m+ but the glaciers no longer exist in the summer. If you are interested then reply to me here and I will send more details. Bonne fortune with your move whatever, Alf.

 tallsteve 17 Feb 2021

 If you're under 25 the Austrian alpine Club (Brittania Section) offer alpine courses at a huge discount.  My daughter did the Glacier 1 course and had a fun week, with a 50% discount.

Glacier travel is a key skill as previously stated.

Routes at PD level require little actual climbing or abseils for that matter and can often be a snow plod.  AD can be varied requiring abseils and short climbing sections (3 - 4m) at about VDiff.  e.g the Cosmiques Arrete AD in Chamonix has a long abseil (which can be avoided) and the crux is a nasty 4m scrabble (VS HVS?) up a flat wall with diagonal crack.  The rest is just a scramble on mixed snow and rock and easy short climbs.

Most popular alpine routes have bolted belay and abseil points pre set up by guides wanting to hurry clients along.

There are objective dangers that you have no control over no matter how skilled; rock fall, avalanche, hidden crevasses, so there's a certain amount of randomness.

Being fit and skinny are also a must.  Days are long, often with less oxygen, packs potentially heavy.  A 1500m climb is pretty normal.

 Coolmax 17 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

Another shout out for the Austrian Alpine Club. They have an active UK branch that organises training courses and mountaineering meets in the UK as well as Austria.

 simplyawful 25 Feb 2021
In reply to Alfrede:

Hello Alf

Many thanks for your informative and useful reply. I will be in the Herault area from May onwards, very happy to provide any more details you need in a message or similar (not an experienced UKC user so unsure how this works)

Best wishes, and thank you again for your message


 Darron 25 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

All the advice you need above. The only thing I would add is that moving quickly and efficiently is often more important than technical ability. Get fit is sound advice.

Have a good time!

 maxsmith 26 Feb 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

It's well worth getting some training (either informally by joining a club or hiring a guide).  If not you will find yourself in situations where you are soloing (climbing unroped) because of a lack of knowledge rather than because you are comfortable soloing.  Hope that makes sense, in my opinion learning slowly is a good approach to alpinism/climbing - enjoy the journey.

 Alfrede 02 Mar 2021
In reply to simplyawful:

hi again, sorry a bit slow to reply. If you are in Herault you are not very far away and it would be possible to get together in the Alps or Pyrenees. I am still recuperating from my broken ankle but should be fit by May/June. If you are interested and want to get in touch you can contact me direct on I climb a lot but enjoy scrambling and easy peaks as well and am particularly on the lookout for people to do glaciated snow peaks with as I have all the gear and expertise but need a heavy weight on the other end of the rope! With regard to your other scrambling question on the other post, I cant comment on the area of Herault as I dont know it but there are endless scrambling crests down here in the Pyrenees and guidebooks covering them. Au revoir till the summer then, Alf.

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