Guided Alpine Climbing in the French Alps/Chamonix

Overview

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Olson Shawn Tiny

Father & Son in the Alps

By Shawn Olson

The French Alps in the area near Chamonix encompass the highest concentration of quality alpine routes in the world. There are classics here at every technical level, and at each of those levels there's a choice of rock, snow and ice, or mixed climbing.

Guided climbing had its birth here during the quest for the first ascent of Mont Blanc (Western Europe's highest peak at 15,771') which began in the late 1700's, and since then these peaks have drawn people from throughout the world to enjoy their beauty, challenge, and variety.

Of the countless fine routes in the massif, we list only a sampling of the possibilities, but they represent some of the very best in the region. Although listed singly, many climbs are accessible from the same hut or high camp and can be efficiently combined. When you give us a call, we'll be happy to discuss route selections and combinations with you.

French Alps classics, from left to right: Tour Ronde, Mont Blanc, Grande Capucin (rock spire on right), Pyramid du Tacul (lower rock spire), and Mont Maudit (upper right background).

French Alps classics, from left to right: Tour Ronde, Mont Blanc, Grande Capucin (rock spire on right), Pyramid du Tacul (lower rock spire), and Mont Maudit (upper right background). Dylan Taylor

If you don't already have routes in mind, we can help you design an itinerary of any length. You can join us for as little as a day or two, but especially if you have your sights on one of the high peaks or big routes, we suggest beginning with at least one preliminary climb to tune your skills and to acclimatize. If you'd like, you can also request being paired up with another climber of similar skills and interests.

Guided Alpine Climbing in the French Alps/Chamonix

Routes and Peaks

Routes are broken down into:

  • Non-Technical Ascents
  • Moderate Ascents
  • Intermediate Ascents
  • Difficult Ascents
  • Very Difficult Ascents

 

Non-Technical Ascents

The routes described in Level 1 are not technical and only require previous backpacking experience when climbing with a guide; climbers without complete knowledge of basic alpine skills should not attempt them without a guide. These ascents offer beginners an introduction to glacier travel and basic snow climbing.

Northwest Face, Mont Blanc du Tacul - Snow and Ice, 1 day

Heading up the Northwest Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul.

Heading up the Northwest Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. Michael Powers

After gaining the summit of the Aiguille du Midi by a remarkable 9000-ft. telepherique, we descend and cross the broad and gentle Col du Midi to reach the base of our route. Our climb offers easy to moderate cramponing on frozen snow and an excellent opportunity to learn about glacier formation and structures as we skirt large crevasses and surmount the final bergschrund. Stunning views over the Chamonix valley and the fantastic ring of peaks encircling the Geant Glacier.

Vallee Blanche - Snow and Ice, 1 day
The Aiguille du Midi stands at the northern edge of the huge glacial basin of the Vallee Blanche. Beginning from the Midi, we traverse the open snow slopes of the upper Glacier du Geant, then cross directly beneath the towering east face of Mont Blanc du Tacul, before climbing again through the more complex glacial terrain which leads us up to Point Helbronner, opposite the Midi on the southeastern edge of the Vallee Blanche. From Point Helbronner we take a spectacular and airy telepherique voyage back to the Midi, passing high above the route of our traverse, and from there return to Chamonix. An excellent introduction to glacial travel, the traverse of the Vallee Blanche offers superb views in the very heart of the Mt. Blanc massif.

 

Moderate Ascents

The ascents at this level are not highly technical, but the snow and ice routes cross major glaciers, and the rock ascents involve multiple pitches. You should have basic glacier travel, ice axe, and cramponing skills for these climbs.

Midi-Plan Traverse - Rock, Snow and Ice, 1 day

Climbers descending the Aiguille du Midi, with the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses in the background.

Climbers descending the Aiguille du Midi, with the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses in the background. Michael Powers

The Aiguilles de Chamonix tower above the town and present an awesome facade of granite pillars, tumbling glaciers, and icy couloirs. Our route travels the crest of this rampart between its principal summits, the Aiguille du Midi and the Aiguille du Plan. A fine snow arete and moderate mixed climbing lead to the summit of the Plan. From here we descend the broken Glacier d'Envers du Plan to the gentle ice of the Mer de Glace along a scenic route beneath the entire range of the Aiguilles. The maximum ratio is 2:1.

Mont Blanc, Gouter Route - Snow and Ice, 2 days
At 15,771 feet, Mont Blanc is the highest summit in Western Europe. Although the Gouter is now considered to be the easiest route on the peak, it is still a major climb requiring a high level of fitness and a range of mountaineering skills. On our first day a telepherique carries us to high on the northwest slopes of the peak. A trail then leads up above, steepening as we climb the Aiguille du Gouter on which stands the hut where we'll stay the night. Rising early the next day, we follow open slopes over the Dume du Gouter before ascending steeper snow and an exposed arete to the summit. Maximum ratio 2:1.

Tour Ronde, SE Ridge - Rock, Snow and Ice, 2 days

Beautiful views from the summit of the Tour Ronde.

Beautiful views from the summit of the Tour Ronde. Michael Powers

The summit of the Tour Ronde is one of the finest viewpoints in the massif, with an incredible face-to-face look at the Peuterey Ridge and Brenva Face of Mont Blanc to the west. The Southeast Ridge is a fine mixed route including both glacial, snow, and rock climbing challenges. From the Torino hut we reach the base of the Southeast Ridge via the Col d'Entreves. Our route then follows the ridge on steep snow and rock up to 5.3. From the summit at the head of the Glacier du Geant, we enjoy uninterrupted views of the Chamonix Aiguilles to the north, the nearby Dent du Geant to the northeast, and down the Mer de Glace to the spectacular Drus and Aiguille Verte. Maximum ratio 2:1.

Other Level 2 ascents include:

  • Petite Aiguille Verte - 1 day, 2:1 maximum ratio
  • Aiguille du Midi, Cosmiques Arete - 1 day, 2:1 maximum ratio
  • Aiguille du Tour, Table de Roc Spur - 2 days, 2:1 maximum ratio

 

Intermediate Ascents

These ascents call for more technical skill than the Level 2 climbs. They present challenges for climbers still gaining some of their initial experience, but who are thoroughly versed in the fundamentals of alpine technique. You should have solid intermediate alpine skills for rock, snow, and ice. Rock ascents are multi-pitch climbs up to 5.6 in difficulty, and snow and ice routes may have sections up to 60 degrees.

Mont Blanc via traverse of Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit - Rock, Snow and Ice, 2 days

Two climbers approaching Mt. Maudit after successfully climbing Mont Blanc.

Two climbers approaching Mt. Maudit after successfully climbing Mont Blanc.
Tim Connelly

Between the Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc lie the intermediate summits of Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit. The traverse of these summits is a rewarding high altitude climb offering significant mountaineering challenges as well as those of acclimatization and fitness. Starting from the Cosmiques hut below the Aiguille du Midi, we ascend the northwest face of Mont Blanc du Tacul, crossing high over its west shoulder to reach the Col Maudit at 13,250'. Here the route steepens as we ascend the north face of Mont Maudit, skirting just below its summit and then traversing to the Col de la Brenva where we gain the open summit slopes. Maximum ratio 2:1.

Pyramide du Tacul, East Arete - Alpine Rock, 2 days
A particularly fun route in an unusual setting high above the Glacier du Geant, the freedom of a fast and light ascent in rock shoes (big boots and glacier equipment left at the base) contrasts delightfully with the seeming remoteness of the surroundings. Six pitches of memorable climbing to 5.6 on excellent red granite. Maximum ratio 2:1.

Tour Ronde, North Face - Rock, Snow and Ice, 2 days

The North Face of Tour Ronde offers steep climbing on mixed rock, snow, and ice.

The North Face of Tour Ronde offers steep climbing on mixed rock, snow, and ice. Dunham Gooding

A superb introduction to the challenges and pleasures of the bigger, steeper alpine ice faces with some of the best views in the massif. From the base of the face the route sweeps in a virtually unbroken line of snow and ice to the summit, 1100 feet above. Maximum ratio 2:1.

Rochefort Arete, Aiguille de Rochefort - Rock, Snow and Ice, 2 days
The classic knife-edge snow crest that traces a sinuous and exposed line between the Dent du Geant and the Aiguille de Rochefort. The route climbs at first easily and then more steeply to gain the base of the Dent du Geant, a traverse on rock around then follows this supremely photogenic and memorable snow crest to the summit. Maximum ratio 2:1.

Other Level 3 ascents include:

  • Trident du Tacul, Voie Normale via East Face - 2 days, 2:1 maximum ratio
  • Aiguille du Chardonnet, Forbes Arete - 2 days, 2:1 maximum ratio
  • Mont Blanc, Grands Mulets - 2 days, 2:1 maximum ratio
  • Dent du Geant, Southwest Face - 2 days, 2:1 maximum ratio
  • Aiguille du Moune, South Ridge - 2 days, 2:1 maximum ratio

 

Difficult Ascents

These climbs require a complete repertoire of snow and ice or rock climbing skills, the ability to perform them without error, and excellent physical condition.  Rock climbing on these routes occasionally reaches a difficulty of 5.9, with ice to 60 degrees.

The Charmoz - Grepon Traverse - Rock, Snow and Ice, 2 days
The Charmoz and the Grepon appear from Chamonix as monolithic twin towers whose seeming inaccessibility has attracted alpinists for over a century. The ascent of this historic route presents delightful and very exposed rock climbing along the sharp, serrated crest. An outstanding alpine achievement, well deserving its fame. Maximum ratio 1:1.

Traverse of Les Drus - Rock, Snow and Ice, 3 days

The Aiguille du Dru (left) are an extension of the west ridge of the Aiguille Verte (centre)

The Aiguille du Dru (left) are an extension of the west ridge of the Aiguille Verte (centre). AAI Collection

Standing against the backdrop of the Aiguille Verte, the summits of Les Drus are the most impressive of all the rock spires visible from Chamonix. The traverse of the Petit and the Grand Drus high over the Mer de Glace is a long and rewarding climb on this most inspiring of objectives. Maximum ratio 1:1.

Mont Blanc, Brenva Spur - Rock, Snow and Ice, 2 days
The immense Brenva Face features some of the most challenging routes on Mont Blanc. The first ascent of this most prominent spur on the face in 1865 was a major achievement of its time and represented a psychological break-through because of its remoteness, length, and committing nature. The route climbs the Spur directly (first on rock, then on snow or ice) to reach the final serac barrier, before climbing broad slopes to the summit of Mont Blanc. Maximum ratio 1:1.

Other Level 4 ascents include:

  • Aiguille du Midi, Frendo Spur - 2 days, 1:1 maximum ratio
  • Aiguille du Midi, South Face - 1 day, 2:1 maximum ratio
  • Mont Maudit, Frontier Ridge - 2 days, 1:1 maximum ratio

 

Very Difficult Ascents

These include some of the most exciting and challenging routes in the Alps. You must possess advanced climbing skills and have extensive previous experience in the alpine environment, as well as excellent physical condition. Many of the routes require bivouacs, and some demand the ability to climb difficult rock (5.8) in mountaineering boots. Before attempting any of these climbs, we highly recommend that you warm up on one or more less difficult routes. Maximum ratio of 1:1.

Mont Blanc du Tacul, Gervasutti Pillar - Rock, Snow and Ice, 2 days
The Gervasutti Pillar on the east face of Mont Blanc du Tacul is the most aesthetic, continuous, and inviting of many parallel buttresses rising from the upper Geant Glacier. With over 2500 feet of technical rock to 5.10a, this climb has earned a universal reputation as one of the finest climbs in the Alps. Though the most difficult pitch is about 5.10a, most of the climbing is in the 5.6-5.9 range, largely in the thin cracks which lace the narrow crest. The spectacular final pitches traverse a thin, sharp, and very airy spine, making an unforgettable finish to a magnificent route.

Other Level 5 ascents (2 and 3 days each) include:

  • Grand Capucin, Swiss Route
  • Grand Charmoz, Cordier Pillar
  • Grandes Jorasses, Walker Spur
  • Mont Blanc, Innominata Ridge

 

Guided Alpine Climbing in the French Alps/Chamonix

Details

Program Cost Inclusions and Exclusions

Inclusions: Guide fee; lodging while in the huts; group gear (ropes and hardware).

Exclusions: Food, lodging, and local transportation for the client. They do include those expenses for the guide. Estimates on costs can be provided when you discuss your program with the Institute's program coordinator.

Alps - Map

Flight Information 

Most people fly into Geneva the day before the program begins, allowing time for travel and any equipment shopping that needs doing. Airport transfers are available from Geneva to Chamonix and take roughly 3 hours; please contact AAI's Travel Coordinator if you need assistance in arranging a transfer. Arriving a day or two early for your course and gettting a jump start on acclimatization will ultimately enable you to get more out of your course. Departure flights should be scheduled for the day after the last course day at the earliest.

Rental Equipment

For beginners and other climbers who do not have their own personal climbing equipment (or prefer to travel without it), there are a great many rental shops in town.  If you plan to rent gear or purchase equipment for your course, please allow several hours on the preceding day to take care of this.

Travel Insurance

We strongly recommend that you purchase comprehensive travel insurance that includes trip cancellation coverage.  Our climbers and trekkers have had good experience with Travelex, the company we  use, over many years. The Travel Select Plan covers climbers with the purchase of the Adventure Pak add-on.

Unlike many vacations that are less physically demanding, a climbing and trekking vacation can be ruined by an illness or relatively minor injury that occurs before departure. While you can still tour a city or head to the beach with a sprained ankle or a very bad cold (albeit, less conveniently), such an injury or common illness can stop you in your tracks short of your climbing or trekking destination.

Trip Cancellation

Trip cancellation insurance provides reimbursement of non-refundable program expenses in the event that an illness or injury prevents you or your traveling companion from going on your journey. It also protects you if a family member or business partner of you or your traveling companion has an illness or injury that prevents you from going on the trip. Coverage also is effective for many other listed causes.

Trip Interruption

You will also be covered for trip interruption (the value of the unused portion of your trip), if you or your traveling companion has to cut it short because of illness or injury so long as you purchase the Select policy along with the Adventurer Pak which covers mountaineering, extreme skiing, etc.

Guided Alpine Climbing in the French Alps/Chamonix

Cost and Dates

Cost:

4:1 (Climber/Guide Ratio) - $350/day
3:1 - $430/day
2:1 - $540/day
1:1 - $820/day

Dates:

Please contact the AAI office at 360-671-1505 or email at info@alpineinstitute.com to arrange dates for this program.


Vallee Blanche, with Dent du Geant in the distance.

Vallee Blanche, with Dent du Geant in the distance. Tim Connelly

Guided Alpine Climbing in the French Alps/Chamonix

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