mountain guiding, rock climbing, Mountaineering course, chamonix climbing, Chamonix mountain guides

Why Chamonix Climbing is So Good

Chamonix

Chamonix has such a reputation and history for alpine mountaineering and climbing. Is this reputation founded on something real or is it just hype because it’s at the foot of Mont Blanc and close to Geneva airport…? Well here are a few reasons why climbing in Chamonix is pretty good.

The Access

Here we’re abseiling into the South Face of the Aiguille du Midi. High alpine granite with zero approach.

The cable cars in Chamonix take you up to wild locations which would require many hours of hiking without them. The number and variety of climbs accessible with short approaches is pretty much as good as it gets. Thanks to the short approaches, you get to spend a lot more time climbing and improving your alpinism and less time hiking. The Aiguille du Midi takes you to 3842m with many objectives, Brevent, Flegere, Grand Montets, Montenvers and Le Tour all access interesting and different areas.

Views

The Aiguille de Toule view. An easy, short climb but what a view!

The views in the Mont Blanc range are wild and spectacular and sometimes a bit frightening. You’re often surrounded by towers of vertical granite, seracs and glaciers. On the Aiguille Rouges side of the range the view over Europe’s highest peak with green alpine meadows is majestic. The routes like l’Index, Cocher – Cochon, Aiguille de Crochues traverse or the Chapelle de la Gliere are some of the best panoramic viewpoints.

Views from Les Perrons traverse.

Quality

Perfect granite climbing on Le Contamine route on the Pointe Lachenal.

The quality of the technical climbing in Chamonix is some of the best anywhere. The high mountains are golden granite with aesthetic ridges, faces and corners with cracks that allow protection and good climbing. The Aiguille du Midi, Envers des Aiguilles, Pointe Lachenal, Pyramid du Tacul, Pointe Adolphe Rey, Grand Capucin, Argentiere Glacier and Orny are all world class climbing venues to name a few.

The lower mountains are Gneiss which isn’t as perfect as the granite but has many great intermediate level routes. Les Perrons, Vallorcine, Les Cheserys, Flegere and Brevent are all super Gneiss venues.

A bit further down the valley below Chamonix, there are many limestone peaks offering a different experience and many quality climbs in remote locations. The Pointe Percée, Croix de Fer and Col de la Colombiere are all super spots for multi-pitch limestone climbing.

High quality multi – pitching on the Gneiss of Les Perrons
Chamonix, Ski touring, freeride, off-piste, backcountry, Alpine Energy Guiding, mountaineering & ski adventures, Andrew Lanham Mountain Guide, Chamonix, Aosta Valley, Swiss, lyngen alps

Training for the mountains in the city…

How to prepare for this?

Living here…


Living in the mountains, I’ve failed to appreciate the practical reality for people living busy lives in the city. Training for the mountain by actual skiing or climbing is obviously not an option.

Copenhagen is where I found myself this autumn for 6 weeks. It’s flat, cold, rainy and grey in November. Needing to train for my winter guiding season of skiing, touring and alpinism, I too experienced the challenges most city-dwellers face in preparing for the mountains.

Climbing is not a battle with the elements, nor against the law of gravity. It’s a battle against oneself. “Walter Bonatti”

Motivation

Motivation is probably the biggest stumbling block. The solution is to have a goal. Something that will get you out running in the rain, sucking wind on some dark stairs, embracing the suffering. Without anything to aim for its hard to get out and push yourself. Excuses are plentiful and valid; work was tough, you’re tired, the weather sucks, being social is important, and you did have a good training day last week so you can slack off a bit now, etc… The answer is to commit to something that scares you sufficiently to prioritise your preparations. It could be a Haute Route ski tour, a 4000m summit or a skiing trip with friends that love long, hard days on the slopes.

Activities

Activities that you enjoy or at least don’t hate are the best. Have fun! Find some friends to join you and or join a club / class. Choose maybe two things and be realistic about what you’ll actually do. The mountains involve a lot of uphill and require general cardiovascular fitness but also leg power and athleticism.

Guiding, I see people that are good athletes (eg. gymnasts) that don’t have good long cardio and can’t keep walking for 8 hours. I also see people that run multiple marathons that lack the leg power, balance and core strength for high steps, scrambling and changes of pace on the Matterhorn for example. That is why one needs both athleticism and cardiovascular fitness for mountaineering, ski touring and skiing.

When away from the mountains I choose the climbing gym combined with some weights and bodyweight exercises 2-3 days per week for strength and athleticism. For cardio, I do running and interval training on stairs 2-3 days per week. Sometimes both on the same day.

Activity options could include:

  • cross training (cross-fit) + running
  • gymnastics + cycling
  • squash + treadmill and stairmaster
Running laps on the power station / dry ski slope of Copenhill in Copenhagen on a November evening.

Consistency

Consistency is much more important than intensity! The body adapts slowly and if you make training a fun habit rather than a chore then it will pay off. If you set your goals too high for each training session, you simply won’t do them because it seems too much at the end of a long day. Also if you break down your body too much, your recovery will be slow and you’ll quickly loose motivation. Go for a 30 mins run rather than doing nothing at all even if it seems trivial, the consistency will keep you motivated and remind your body to adapt.

Be realistic

Be realistic about the size of the mountains you will be climbing or skiing and the length of time you’ll need to be active. Often ski tours or alpine climbing days can involve 1500m of up-hill and down on rough terrain with a backpack at altitude for multiple days. Running a half marathon on the flat ground at sea level doesn’t necessarily translate to climbing the Dufourspitze or ski touring the Haute Route for example. In training search out rough terrain, sand, hills, stairs etc.

Test yourself

Often days in the mountains will be 6 to 12 hours so from time to time it can be good to do some long endurance sessions to see if your body is prepared for extended efforts. Some endurance test ideas could be:

  • A long hike or run
  • A long cycling trip
  • A gym marathon, just go to the gym and spend 5-6 hours doing easy cardio, some light weights, swimming, it doesn’t matter, just keep going for a long time.

Test yourself uphill because the mountains are brutally steep when you’re not used to it. Possibly try the following:

  • Find stairs that are, say 50m high in altitude gain. Hike / jog 30 laps at a good speed to make 1500m of height gain. See how long it takes you. 500m an hour is decent. Fit alpinists can generally do about 1000m in an hour and top trail runners about 1500m in an hour.
  • Most gyms have a “stairmaster” stepping machine where you can test yourself.
  • Few things are as relevant for mountain fitness as just how good your legs are at stepping you upwards and downwards.

Skills

Skills take time to learn and nothing beats doing the actual thing for skills development. That said; being athletic, strong and having good balance goes a long way in most mountain activities. If you plan on doing alpine climbing then indoor rock climbing is great. For skiing and alpinism some dynamic leg and balance training is helpful.

Consult a professional

These are my opinions from many years of mountain climbing, skiing and guiding. I am not however a personal trainer or sports scientist. It would be advisable to consult a professional before starting any training program.

The greatest danger in life is not to take the adventure “George Leigh Mallory”

Check out the general Fitness, Ski and Climbing level pages on the website. Each trip has the relevant level required.

Mont Blanc, Aiguille du Midi, Aiguille Verte, Mountaineering course, Chamonix ski guide, haute route, chamonix climbing, Chamonix freeride, Chamonix mountain guides, Swiss mountaineering

This summer’s mountains

Its been a summer with much precipitation but also many days alone on nice summits in short weather windows and good snow conditions with little rock-fall danger. Here are a few photos from the sometimes sunny and warm season.

The summer started for me with two trips up Mont Blanc, both of which were cold but with great snow conditions and summit success.

Sunset from the new Refuge du Gouter

Sunset from the new Refuge du Gouter

some are up early for the sunrise shot over the Mont Blanc range

Some are up early for the sunrise shot over the Mont Blanc range

 

In July and August I spent some time in the Swiss Valais, these shots are from the Dufourspitze, Nadelhorn, Mont Blanc de Cheillon, l’Eveque and the Wiessmies:

Climbing on the Rifflehorn, acclimatizing for the Dufourspitze in the background

Climbing on the Rifflehorn, acclimatizing for the Dufourspitze seen in the background on the left with Liskamm to the right

sunset with the Matterhorn and the flag of the Monte Rosa hut silhouetted

Sunset with the Matterhorn and the flag of the Monte Rosa hut silhouetted

arriving at the Dufour summit

The last steps before the Dufour summit

sun rising on faces of Lenzspitze and Nadelhorn

The sun’s first rays on the faces of Lenzspitze and Nadelhorn

the Mischabel hut guardians enjoying a morning stroll on Ulrichshorn

The Mischabel hut guardians enjoying a morning stroll on Ulrichshorn

smiles and photos on the summit of Mont Blanc de Cheillon

Smiles and photos on the summit of Mont Blanc de Cheillon

morning views on the traverse of the Weissmies

Morning views on the traverse of the Weissmies

a party on the summit ridge of the Weissmies

A party on the summit ridge of the Weissmies

some good rock climbing on l'Eveque SW ridge

Some good rock climbing on l’Eveque SW ridge

climbing l'Eveque with the ridge of La Singla behind and Mont Blanc far away to the right

Climbing l’Eveque with the ridge of La Singla behind and Mont Blanc far away to the right

 

Some trips to the quieter areas of the Mont Blanc range, finished off the summer guiding for me. Here climbing on some of the granite in the Orny area.

Fun scrambling on the Aiguille de l'Arpette

Fun scrambling on the Aiguille d’Arpette

Laurie getting stuck into some perfect granite

Laurie getting stuck into some perfect granite

 

P1030606

Great climbing on sunny aspects of the Purtscheller.

 

P1030614

Don’t forget your chimneying skills!

We then started on some mountain ice and mixed, in great condition after the snowy summer:

abseiling down to climb up to the Aiguille du midi again...

Abseiling down to climb up to the Aiguille du midi again…

climbing the profit-perroux gully, high above the Chamonix valley

The profit-perroux gully, high above the Chamonix valley

Laurie exiting the crux pitch

Laurie exiting the crux pitch

enjoying the last pitches up the Arete des Cosmiques

Enjoying the last pitches up the Arete des Cosmiques

Guillaume in a mixed route on the Tacul triange

Guillaume in a mixed route on the Tacul triange

...some traffic on the Schmid route on the Matterhorn.

Some traffic on the Schmid route on the Matterhorn.

...the suns rays interrupted by the Hornli ridge.

The morning’s rays interrupted by the Hornli ridge

...the view down the Hornli ridge with Zermatt below and the north face to the left.

The view down the Hornli ridge with Zermatt below and the north face to the left

 

Thanks to everyone I climbed with for a good, safe season, hope to see you again next year!

 

 

 

 

Mont Blanc range, Mountaineering course, Chamonix ski guide, haute route, chamonix climbing, Chamonix freeride, Chamonix mountain guides, Swiss mountaineering

autumn sunrise

There is something special about the moments when the sun rises and sets, the change from light to darkness or from the chilling early hours of the morning to the first glowing rays of warmth cast from the distant horizon promising clarity and comfort. As people who enjoy being outside in the mountains we often have the pleasure of witnessing these moments when the rotation of the earth combined with the light of a star passing through the earth’s atmosphere paints some of the most beautiful pictures.

morning light on the Chamonix granite from the Noire de Peuterey to the Mont Blanc du Tacul

morning light on the Chamonix granite from the Noire de Peuterey to the Mont Blanc du Tacul

 

The sun wakes up Italy from the Dent du Geant

The sun wakes up Italy from the Dent du Geant

Sunset over from the cliffs of Kalymnos

Sunset over from the cliffs of Kalymnos

 

The sun goes down in a blaze in Chamonix

The sun goes down in a blaze in Chamonix

The same sunset a few minutes later

The same sunset a few minutes later

 

Courmayeur, Ski touring, freeride, off-piste, backcountry, Alpine Energy Guiding, mountaineering & ski adventures, Andrew Lanham Mountain Guide, Chamonix, Aosta Valley, Swiss, lyngen alps

Powder days are here again!

Hearing about dry mountains and thin snow cover from my sweaty bungalow in south-east Asia, I wasn’t too optimistic about the skiing this January. Arriving home to an unpredictable snowpack thanks to the constructive metamorphism of December’s meagre snowfall lurking beneath the new layers in the two to three thousand metre range on northern aspects and a general lack of covering confirmed my doubts.

Skiing the trees in Italy last December, yesterdays conditions were similar..

Skiing the trees in Italy last December, yesterdays conditions were similar..

However, since new year the snow has been falling in the Alps and yesterday was a good powder day in Courmayeur, Italy. The snowpack is a bit thicker over there and we had a great day in the trees. With careful route choice and some local knowledge the skiing in the Alps is quite good now.

Here’s Erik’s new little edit from a fun day last April:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKJRJYFHvQs&w=560&h=315]

Weissmies, Mountaineering course, Chamonix ski guide, haute route, chamonix climbing, Chamonix freeride, Chamonix mountain guides, Swiss mountaineering

End of season summits: Weissmies traverse, Mt. Blanc de Cheillon traverse, Gran Paradiso

With shadows lengthening and becoming more defined on the alpine landscape, fresh snow dusts the summits and the leaves change colour as the mornings come with a crisp freshness and the shy sun takes early refuge behind the horizon, leaving the natural world to dance on its last touches of warmth before the darkness lays down its cold, calm blanket.

The autumn can be one of the most pleasant times to climb in the Alps. With decent weather one can climb the classic summer routes and with the new snow and colder temperatures it is often an ideal time to climb some of the steeper ice gullies or north faces in the Mont Blanc range.

The end of the summer and early autumn have included the following ascents:

Weissmies traverse

This is an aesthetic and varied traverse of moderate difficulty on one of the 4000m summits surrounding the Saas valley.

sunrise above the Allmageller Hut, nearing the start of the climbing

sunrise above the Allmageller Hut, nearing the start of the climbing

the Mischabel chain across the valley just after sunrise

the Mischabel chain across the valley just after sunrise

The exceptionally snowy summer makes it possible for teams to gain more height on the snow than is possible in most years.

The exceptionally snowy summer makes it possible for teams to gain more height on the snow than is possible in most years.

The team putting on crampons on the subsiduary summit.

The team putting on crampons on the subsidiary summit.

the summit ridge

the summit ridge

the Weissmies summit

the Weissmies summit

 

Mt. Blanc de Cheillon is one of the less famous summits of the Valais mountain range due to the fact that it doesn’t quite reach 4000m but is a very worthwhile objective with an imposing pyramid form above its plunging north face, bordered by seracs on both ridge lines. The traverse is an excellent journey up the expansive glacier below the Serpentine and along the airy east ridge to the summit, the descent by the west ridge is easier than the ascent. It’s an AD rated climb taking between 6 and 8 hours from hut to hut.

sunrise from below the Serpentine with the Pigne d'Arolla in the foreground and the Matterhorn in the distance

sunrise from below the Serpentine with the Pigne d’Arolla in the foreground and the Matterhorn in the distance

Mont Blanc de Cheillon east ridge

Mont Blanc de Cheillon east ridge

 

Gran Paradiso is the highest summit entirely in Italy, not sharing its summit with France or Switzerland, more importantly it’s an ideal climb for beginner mountaineers, requiring more fitness than technique even though the scramble to the summit virgin Mary is exposed. The view is exceptional and the challenge not negligible.

an autumn afternoon approach to the Rifugio Chabod

an autumn afternoon approach to the Rifugio Chabod

taking in the first views of the objective

taking in the first views of the objective

view from the well equipped winter hut

view from the well equipped winter hut

everyone on top!

everyone on top!

 

 

 

Dru, Mountaineering course, Chamonix ski guide, haute route, chamonix climbing, Chamonix freeride, Chamonix mountain guides, Swiss mountaineering

10 minutes of sunshine on the Dru

The couloir nord des Drus caught my eye on a walk in the Aiguilles Rouges this October, it looked to be in very good condition. We then had rainy weather for a while and the Montenvers train was closed. Recently Jon Bracey did the route and seemed to think it was in tip top condition. With the train running again, I managed to motivate aspi guide Guillaume Thebaudin into heading up there.

Always a cool feature the Dru..

At Montenvers station I bumped into the young Scot, Ally Swinton, who had just been on the Leseur route and confirmed general good conditions.

After sharing the bivy spot with some friendly guys from the mountain rescue, we headed up to the bergschrund, starting up the couloir at five o’clock. At eight o’clock Guillaume started his lead on the famous Nominée crack, with his combination of dry tooling, french free and aid.

Looking down the approach couloir, great conditions!

Guillaume on the Nominée crack

The next two pitches into the main gully were excellent, airy mixed pitches.

Traverse at the top of the second mixed pitch.

Ambiance guaranteed

In the S of the upper couloir

The team getting our 10 minutes of sunshine for the day at the breche

We arrived at the Breche des Drus at two forty five and then rappeled the couloir and the N couloir direct which is uuuh.. steep.. We were back at the bivy before dark for a relaxed dinner and good sleep.

High quality route, the mixed pitches are not to be underestimated. Take a No. 4 camalot or two..

Aiguille de Chardonnet, climb, alpine climbing, Alpine Energy Guiding, mountaineering & ski adventures, Andrew Lanham Mountain Guide, Chamonix, Aosta Valley, Swiss, lyngen alps

Autumn on the Chardonnet

With this calm autumn weather I thought I’d better get off the couch and climb some mountains. I chatted to my friend Guillaume who was keen to check out the Gabbarou route on the Chardonnet N face. The approach is long especially with the fresh snow we have at the moment but it’s always a fun face to climb and the summit is really beautiful so I signed on.

Autumn sunset from the Albert Premiere hut

After taking a good couple of hours to snowshoe across the glacier du Tour to the bottom of the face we decided to take the Escarra start to the route as that way we could quickly access our snowshoes on the descent and we could assess avalanche conditions on the descent route. With some deep snow, we arrived at the foot of the Escarra 4 hours after leaving the hut.

The route turned out the be good with nothing really difficult. Two and a half hours later we were on the top and three hours after that back at the hut enjoying the afternoon sunshine before heading down to Le Tour.

Guillaume walking up to the hut

The start of the Gabbarou gully

In Gabbarou gully

Guillaume on top

Grandes Jorasses north face, climb, alpine climbing, Alpine Energy Guiding, mountaineering & ski adventures, Andrew Lanham Mountain Guide, Chamonix, Aosta Valley, Swiss, lyngen alps

Winter Alpine Climbing 2011

Some mixed / ice alpine climbing in winter and autumn 2011 with my friends Tomas Muller and Olivier Ballari

Aiguille du Moine, climb, alpine climbing, Alpine Energy Guiding, mountaineering & ski adventures, Andrew Lanham Mountain Guide, Chamonix, Aosta Valley, Swiss, lyngen alps

A Cracking Summer

This summer I did quite a few high quality crack climbs. Here are some of  them:

With Jonno, I started the season with one of my favourite routes, 5 great pitches of very fun cracks on Brevent, I think it’s the fourth time I’ve done it, it’s so fun. Ignoring the official topo it’s a 6b bolted pitch to warm up on followed by a 6c+ and three 6c’s. These four pitches are the money.

The corner which is the 3rd and 4th pitches of Premier du Corvée

Next route was on one of the coolest features in the range, the Petit Clocher du Portalet.

Petit Clocher du Portalet

We weren’t feeling quite man enough to get on Etat du Choc which is supposed to be amazing. So chose a nice looking line up the middle of the east face, Esprit du Clocher. It started with a rude 6a+ pitch.

The 6a++ pitch to get off the deck

pitch 2

We stretched pitches 3, 4, 5  into two 6c ish pitches which were excellent cracks with a difficult move left followed by a pumpy traverse and full gas below on pitch 5.

pitch 3-4

Jonno in the pumpy traverse

L’Envers des Aiguilles was the next stop with New Zealand mountain man, Stefan Sporli for the routes: California Dream and Chloe. We found a few quality pitches in California Dream!

Nice corner hands to fingers on California Dream

I was really happy to get into the hills with my good friend Olivier again after he had taken a bad fall and broken his pelvis last year. A brave guy! Back climbing difficult trad routes not long after a drawn out recovery. We headed up to Les Flammes de Pierre, to do Le Feu de la Rampe. It was a descent route with an excellent crux pitch in the middle!

Chunks of ice that have fallen from the tongue of the glacier a long way up!

The face

The excellent pitch, a soft 7a, good times!

another view of same pitch

With Oliv, we then fell upon a gem of the range, in the Argentiere area on Le Minaret. The route’s called Versant Satanique.

pitch 2 is where the good stuff starts

parallel cracks run like train tracks up this face

getting amongst it behind the big characteristic flake

perfect 6c cracks above the flake

the start of the last pitch

top of the last pitch

We rapped the route and walked back to Argentiere which made it a long day with more than 2500m total down-hill walking for the day, ouuff! Maybe a good idea to sleep in the hut…

For gear we thought wires, double rack of camalots until no.3 and one no.4

A week or two later Oliv was sur-motivé and suggested we do Sale Athée on the Moine. I looked at the topo and laughed at him as it was rated 8a… He explained that was just the last pitch and non-obligatory. So with some hesitation I agreed and off we went. Leaving from the first train to Montenvers, we stashed sleeping bags at the station and did the three-hour approach to the base of the route.

Half way through pitch three was where it started looking like we were in for an excellent crack climb. It just got better from there on..

a bit of added drama for the camera here I think..

this pitch was a 40m hand crack, one of the best pitches I’ve ever climbed only tainted by the four bolts or so right next to the perfect crack for red and yellow camalots… oh well

not fingers and not hands…

the airy 7a traverse..

We had a great time and called it a day at the foot of the bolted 8a slab which takes you to the very top as it would just be twenty metres of A0 for us…

For gear we thought wires, double rack up to no.2 camalots and one no.3.