Mountain adventures for your first visit to the Alps
Climbing mountains, crossing glaciers to get to them and staying in mountain huts. Fine views and a splendid ambience. Adventurous and demanding mountain challenges. All these things come together in the Alps and can be achieved when choosing the right objectives on your first holiday to these mountains.
First time climbing in the Alps? What skills will I need?
There is always something for everyone. Typically, for those coming from the UK it helps to have some experience of summer scrambling or winter mountaineering. Roped climbing at a climbing wall or outside can also help prepare you for your first trip to the Alps.
Equally, you can learn many of the essential skills during the course of a week whether it is using an axe and crampons for the first time, walking roped-up together as a team across a glacier or along a ridge, or scrambling wearing big boots and a rucksack.
What is there that I can climb?
Alpine mountaineering objectives can be put into 2 categories. Firstly, there are peaks that are technically easy, typically of a snow and ice nature, but which are at a high altitude. Secondly, there are lower altitude peaks that have more technical ground, rocky ridges providing some fine situations and some great scrambling and easy climbing. One category allows you to experience the grandeur of progressively higher mountains as you acclimatise and get used to the big mountain feel. The other category adds technical interest and exposure and allows for skills to be acquired while holding back on the altitude and commitment of the bigger peaks. As you improve and gain experience in both camps your eyes start to search for higher and more challenging objectives!
How does Alpine mountaineering happen?
Mountain routes in the European Alps can be attempted quite comfortably compared with other mountain regions of the world. The mountain refuges built and run by the Alpine Clubs of each country allows you to have a good night’s rest after the approach walk and be in a good location for the route the following day. ‘Alpine starts’ (often 4am-6am) are infamous to all alpine mountaineers. Yet an early start, climbing the mountain in a good time and getting back down to hut or valley before the afternoon stormy weather kicks in are all part of a routine you aspire to when climbing alpine peaks.
In the main summer alpine climbing season most of the mountain huts that we use are guardianed so a team of staff provide half-board catering and sleeping accommodation with duvets or blankets. It’s a simple life-style and the novelty of staying in mountain huts becomes very much part of your alpine experience.
Where to go?
Many of the famous mountain areas can easily attract your attention when deciding where to visit first. Chamonix, Zermatt, Mont Blanc … and the Matterhorn? These are the names you will have heard of and they will capture your attention. Indeed they are the great places to begin alpine mountaineering. However, it can be equally good or better to get away from the crowds and the ski-lifts by being based in a number of lovely alpine valleys with a more traditional feel.
The Chamonix Valley and Mont Blanc Massif
Spectacular and impressive, and a Mecca for mountaineers. It is a bit busy at times, but perhaps it’s reassuring on your first alpine trip to have a few people around? Good not to go too remote too soon…
The scenery and locations you’ll find yourself in are astounding and various. Great glaciated peaks and numerous spires of rock can seem impossible and intimidating. Yet amongst these fine peaks are plenty of objectives for the novice alpinist to gain a summit as well as learn about alpinism at the same time.
The significant help of mechanical lift installations allows you to spend less time on approaching routes. More time and energy is saved for the climb itself. You can also choose between routes that only take a day round trip, returning back to the valley each evening, or routes that would require a night in a mountain refuge. You can achieve a lot in a week around Chamonix!
Arolla and the Val d’Hérens
This area, centrally located in the Swiss Valais Alps, is a great valley base surrounded by numerous good peaks set in a more traditional alpine setting. What is special about Arolla is that all the mountain/glacier approaches start from the road-end amongst trees and villages. Also you generally find yourself climbing some of the highest peaks around. Indeed, a whole week of alpine mountaineering can be done by walking directly from the village.
With fine, steady routes to ascend the main peaks and with no mechanical lift installations to aid progress, this region lends itself to learning about the whole alpine journey. From valley to summit, and back. Climbing mountains entirely on your own feet gives a splendid sense of achievement.
After the initial warm-up day on a glacier, all the mountain journeys involve a good approach walk to a mountain hut where we would stay for one or two nights.