Our Essentials alpine mountaineering course in Chamonix is taught by British mountain guides. It’s designed for uk climbers who already have rock or ice leading experience and now want to climb in the Alps. This is a short, intensive 3-day course – covering the essential skills needed to operate as an independent team in the Alps. Ideal as a short training course, or skills refresher, before an independent alpine climbing holiday. **Free climbing equipment rental is included with this course**
The training covers the essential skills of glacier travel, crevasse rescue and moving together – as well as other areas such as acclimatisation, route planning, hazard awareness, alpine weather and conditions, using huts etc. During the course you will have the opportunity to discuss your future plans with our guides, making use of their experience to select suitable objectives for the rest of your trip.
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This is an introductory to intermediate level trip. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 2-3 and Tech Level 3 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines below). To get the most out of this course you need to have some pitched trad leading experience on rock (or in winter), plus some experience using crampons and an ice axe.
One UIAGM guide climbing with 4 clients.
Included in price
- 3 days of guiding and instruction
- All guides expenses
- 3 nights accommodation in the Chamonix valley, including breakfast and evening meal***
- 1 nights accommodation in mountain huts, including breakfast and evening meal
- Local travel in the guide’s vehicle to complete the course itinerary
- Equipment hire: ice axe, crampons, helmet, harness and belay kit
Excluded from price (see course factsheet for cost estimates)
- Cable cars
- Lunches and drinks
- Travel to resort
Our meeting point and Chamonix valley base is Chalet Tissieres in Les Bossons, just 5 mins by car/bus from Chamonix centre. The chalet stands in its own 2000m2 alpine garden with stunning panoramic views of Mont Blanc and the entire Chamonix valley. It offers simple but comfortable shared rooms, a large lounge/dining area, honesty bar, and a huge balcony for al fresco dining on warm summer evenings: a great place to relax after a big day in the mountains. The chalet serves a buffet breakfast and varied 3 course evening meal***, with special diets catered for upon request. Rooms are provided on a twin (or occasionally 4-6 person) sharing basis, but if you prefer a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability. ***The chef has one night off each week – this day will include bed and breakfast only, but the chalet will recommend an alternative local restaurant. Hotel details can be found on our Accommodation page.
For overnights in the high mountains, we will use mountain huts. For more info please read the Using Alpine Huts article which provides an overview of typical facilities, average costs to help you budget for lunches/drinks, and general info on hut etiquette.
(NB ‘Course Only’ Options are also available. If you’d like to book a place on the course only and arrange your own accommodation, then please get in touch).
You should arrange outward travel on Saturday, arriving by 5-6pm latest in time for the briefing at your accommodation. Your guide will run through kit checks and safety routines, as well as hand out any rental equipment, before we go on to discuss everyones goals and aspirations for the course, together with the current weather and mountain conditions and how these affect our planning. Overnight in the valley.
Glacier Travel and Moving Together – at the Grands Montets above Argentiere. The day starts with a cable car ride from Argentiere up into the Grands Montets. A wide range of skills can be covered depending on experience levels within the group, but the key focus for the day is learning how to cross glaciers safely, plus an introduction to moving together on alpine terrain.
We start with a recap of existing skills – looking at different ways of tying on the rope (at the middle and the ends), movement skills using crampons and ice axe etc, before looking at glacier travel.
First we practice taking in and tying off coils and how to sort the correct rope separations for glacier travel.
It’s important to know that different rope separations are required for different numbers of climbers in a team, so we teach quick ways of measuring out lengths of rope and organising the various tie in points along the rope.
However, roping up is only half the story – as avoiding falling down a crevasse in the first place is better than knowing how to get yourself out again(!) – so it’s equally important to practice travelling safely and working as a team whilst traversing through glaciated terrain.
Arete du Belvedere
After lunch, the focus switches to moving together on rocky alpine terrain.
Using skills learnt in the morning, we head down the glacier for a few hundred metres to the foot of the Grands Montets NE Ridge – known as the Arete du Belvedere – which we then climb to get back up to the cable car, coaching and teaching en route.
This is a good, short and interesting climb with plenty of teaching opportunities, that takes us right back to the cable car station!
Finally, if time allows, we may head to the valley and do a short prussicking session at a valley crag to finish off the day.
Overnight in valley.
Ascent of La Vierge/Flambeau North Ridge – and crevasse rescue training.
Day 2 starts with a trip through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Courmayeur, where we take the cable car up to the Torino Hut on the Italian side of the range. In the morning we cross the glacier and climb either La Vierge South Ridge or the Flambeau North Ridge, in order to get to grips with moving together on a wider variety of alpine terrain.
Areas covered include;
- moving together on rock and mixed terrain
- moving together on snow
- short pitching
- direct belaying
- descending techniques.
Where appropriate, we encourage you to take the lead on the rope or climb independently alongside the guide, in order to develop sound judgement in real situations – see alpine advice article and alpine ninja article.
Crevasse Rescue Training
In the afternoon we do a crevasse rescue session, covering skills appropriate to your ability and experience.
If someone on your rope falls into a crevasse, then get down on the ground immediately and dig your axe and crampons in to hold the fall. If they can’t simply climb out with the aid of a tight rope, then you have three rescue options:
- A Group Haul – this is a safe, simple solution with 3 or more rescuers.
- Self Rescue by Prussicking – the victim prussicks up the rope to escape the crevasse.
- A full blown Crevasse Rescue – 0nly once you’ve exhausted 1 and 2 do you go on to 3!
For those with experience building snow belays, we may also cover advanced crevasse rescue skills before heading to the Torino Hut for the night.
After a communal evening meal in the hut, our evening briefing looks at using alpine huts, alpine weather forecasts and alpine route planning – preparing for the climb on Wednesday.
Aiguille Marbrees from the Torino Hut.
On the final day we put it all together, by climbing an interesting route with a variety of challenges to deal with.
We encourage you to take the lead as much as possible – finding a route across the glacier, dealing with crevasses and other hazards, climbing the route and then descending safely.
Whilst approaching the route we also identify and evaluate key alpine hazards and how avoid and minimise the risk they present. On the route the focus is on smooth and efficient climbing style, moving quickly and safely, judging conditions and changing between different techniques as the terrain changes under foot.
On the way back to the hut, we’ll have chance to cover any remaining areas you want to look at before heading down to the valley.
Tue PM – Return to Chamonix, course debrief.
Return travel should be arranged on Wednesday morning, after your final nights accommodation
Early departures – if you choose to depart on Tuesday night, please leave plenty of time for repacking and airport transfer. You will typically be back at the hotel by 4-5pm at the latest, so choose a flight departing Geneva after 9-10pm.
We base ourselves for the week in the famous French resort of Chamonix, in the shadow of Mont Blanc. Chamonix is one of the most famous Alpine centres in the world, with an unparalleled range of quality climbing across all grades and styles, and much of it with convenient cablecar access.
The most common way to reach Chamonix is fly to Geneva, then take a shared taxi transfer to the Chamonix valley – transfers will drop off at the destination of your choice, but must be booked in advance.
Flight and transfers
- Fly to Geneva with numerous budget airlines: for an overview of the best options check out the excellent Sky Scanner flight comparison website.
- Airport transfer from Geneva to Chamonix: Mountain Drop-offs offer the best all round service, with regular reliable transfers through the season. They offer a shared minibus taxi service which meets you in the airport and drops you off at the door of your hotel. Book your transfer here and use promo code ALPGUID to receive a discount on your journey.
- Alternatively hire a car at Geneva airport (1.2 hrs drive to Cham): www.arguscarhire.com / www.holidayautos.co.uk
Other travel options
- Driving from UK, take the ferry or Eurotunnel to Calais/Dunkerque, then 9-10 hours driving on the French Autoroutes (budget approx 80 Euros each way in tolls).
- Euroline coach UK to Chamonix (takes 1 day): www.eurolines.co.uk/en
- Eurostar train from the UK to Lyon, then onward train service to Chamonix (excellent fast service): www.eurostar.com/uk-en
Further information and travel links can be found on our Travel Planning page.
Alpine Mountaineering is an endurance sport – ie to get to the summit involves climbing uphill for several hours. Therefore, your fitness and power to weight ratio are very important factors for success. Another important factor is altitude, which people react to in different ways and finally, you need the appropriate technical climbing ability for the trip – please check that you have the correct fitness and tech levels for your trip using the Tech Level and Fitness Level descriptions below.
This is a key factor – you must be at the minimum Fitness Level quoted for your course (see descriptions below). However, the fitter you are the more you will enjoy it and the greater your chances of success. Being fit also helps you to recover more quickly between climbs during the week.
Your power to weight ratio
What shape you are has a big impact on your likelihood of success! Eg are you slim and athletic, a normal build, a bit overweight, or 1-2 stone or more overweight? If you are considerably overweight, your chances of making it to the summit are not good, even with reasonable fitness (although the two don’t usually go together), good weather and perfect conditions. If you are carrying some excess weight, then you need to lose as much as possible before joining the trip.
Your personal acclimatization rate
All of our alpine trips involve an acclimatization climb at the start of the week, but everyone responds to altitude in different ways and personal speeds of acclimatization vary widely between individuals. Past experience is a fair indicator – so if you have coped Ok at altitude before eg. on a previous alpine trip, Kilimanjaro, or on a high altitude trek, then this should be good news. Conversely, if you have had problems or been slow to acclimatize before, then you definitely need to come out early, in order to pre acclimatize before the week starts – please contact us for further advice about this.
If you need to top up your fitness for this trip, please see our training advice page.
Please make a self assessment against these levels, and refer to the trip suitability requirements.
Tech Level 1
Hillwalker/scrambler. You have UK hillwalking and perhaps summer UK scrambling, or European via ferrata experience – but no rock or ice climbing, or previous alpine mountaineering experience.
Tech level 2
Novice climber. Indoor or outdoor sport climbing experience / seconding traditionally protected climbs at V Diff – Severe standard / winter hillwalking or mountaineering using an ice axe and crampons / alpine glacier treks or alpine peaks to F standard.
Tech Level 3
Intermediate climber. Leading single or multi pitch trad rock climbs at Severe – VS / ice climbing experience seconding routes to Scottish grade 2 – 3 / familiar with multipitch abseil descents / alpine peaks at PD – easy AD standard.
Tech Level 4
Experienced climber. Leading multi pitch trad rock climbs at VS – HVS / multi pitch winter climbs to Scottish grade 4 / alpine peaks at AD – D standard. If you mainly climb with guides or seldom lead climb, you have extensive experience seconding at this standard.
Tech Level 5
Very experienced climber. Regularly lead multipitch E1+ trad rock / ice and mixed routes at Scottish 5+ or WI5 / alpine routes at grade D and above. If you mainly climb with guides or seldom lead climb, you have very extensive experience climbing at this level.
Please make a self assessment against these levels, and refer to the trip requirements. These are cardiovascular (CV) fitness and activity levels eg. running, cycling, hillwalking or competitive sports that get your heart and lungs working for extended periods of time (not strength training in the gym!).
Fitness Level 1
You do 1-2 hours of training/cardiovascular sport per week. Eg: you should be able to climb Snowdon from Pen y Pas in around 2 hrs carrying a day sack, or Bow Fell starting from Langdale in the Lake District in about 2 1/2 hrs.
Fitness Level 2
You do 2-3 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you should be happy doing either a 3-4 hour hillwalk, cycling 30 miles or mountain biking 2-3 hours without being exhausted. Eg: you should be able to walk from Ogwen Cottage in North Wales up Glyder Fach – Glyder Fawr – Y Garn – Ogwen in ~5hrs. Or in the Lake District Langdale – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Angle Tarn – Langdale in ~ 6hrs.
Fitness Level 3
You do 3-4 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you are happy doing a 5-6 hour hillwalk, 50 mile cycle or 3-4hr mountain bike ride without being totally exhausted. If you are into challenges – then the thought of doing a road sportive, or training to do a 1/2 (or maybe even a full) marathon, wouldn’t seem too ridiculous. Eg: you should be able to do the full Langdale Horseshoe: Langdale – Pike of Stickle – Angle Tarn – Bow Fell – Crinkle Crags – Pike of Blisco – Langdale in a day without finishing up exhausted.
Fitness Level 4
You do 4+ hours CV training/sport per week. A 70+ mile cycle ride, or 20+ mile hillwalk on a weekend would hold no fears. If so inclined, you might be the kind of person who has done longer road sportives/challenge rides, a ~3.30hr marathon or other similar endurance events. Keen hillwalkers who happily knock off 3-4+ munros in a day also have this kind of fitness and endurance.
Fitness Level 5
You do 5-6+ hours training for competitive sport per week, have a background in the same, or you are annoyingly talented! Either way, doing a 100 ml bike ride or about a 3hr marathon wouldn’t be unreasonable.
Summer Alpine Kit List
Above all, alpine climbing kit needs to do the job, but be as light as possible. We work with various manufacturers including Arc’teryx, whose products we can thoroughly recommend.
- Waterproof jacket – lightweight breathable model
- Overtrousers – with long side zips
- Socks – warm ‘Smartwool’ type, plus thin liner socks and spares
- Gaiters – made from breathable material (or trim fitting trousers with ankle volume adjuster)
- Wicking thermal tops – long sleeved and light colour is ideal!
- Fleece mid layer – or equivalent light insulating layer
- Mountain trousers – light/mid-weight windproof softshell model
- Thin gloves – windproof ‘hardfleece’ model is good
- Warm insulated gloves – wind and waterproof
- Warm hat – must fit under a helmet
- Spare warm layer – fleece or lightweight synthetic belay jacket
- Water Container – at least 1 litre
- Headtorch and batteries
- Map, compass and whistle (optional, but a good idea)
- Personal medications and blister kit – zinc oxide tape, compeed, painkillers etc
- Sun Glasses – CE rated 3 or 4 with side protection
- Goggles – for windy/snowy conditions
- Sun and lip cream – factor 30+
- Sun hat
- Wallet and passport
- Alpine Club/BMC card (if you are a member) and insurance docs
Hut Overnight Items
- Small wash kit
- Spare lightweight t-shirt/socks/pants
- Silk sheet sleeping bag liner
- Ear plugs
- (Hut slippers for indoor use, and blankets/duvets and pillows are provided by the huts)
- Rucsac – 35/45l is perfect for general use
- Rucsac – superlight 15/20l model, for taking on long multi-pitch rock routes (for technical courses/private guiding)
- *Rigid mountaineering boots – Axe, Boot and Crampon advice
- Rock boots – must be comfortable enough to wear for several hours (can be hired in resort if nec)
- Approach shoes or trainers
- Trekking poles
- Harness, locking karabiner and belay device
- 2 prussik loops + karabiner – if in doubt, bring 3m of 6mm climbing cord!
- 120cm sling + locking karabiner
- Climbing helmet
- Crampons with antiball plates
- Ice Axe classic type for intro and general mountaineering courses
- Technical Ice Axe and Hammer – required for parts of the Tech Alpine/Cham Alpinist/Ice and Mixed/North Faces courses
Your guide will have ropes, climbing rack, first aid and survival equipment.
*Boots: These are VERY important to the success of your trip! Its best to have your own boots and break them in well before the start of the trip – see advice below.
Recommendations and Advice
Visit the Knowledge Base section of our website or our blog for equipment advice. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please get in touch!
Backcountry UK in Ilkley offer an excellent mountain boot fitting service and general equipment advice.
Please see our Equipment Hire page for more details.
For this trip you must have specialist travel insurance providing medical, emergency search/rescue and repatriation cover for the following activities: rock climbing and mountaineering in glaciated areas requiring the use of ropes, up to 5000m altitude. We also strongly recommend that you purchase cancellation cover, in case you’re unable to attend your trip due to personal circumstances or injury.
Please arrange your insurance as soon as your trip is confirmed to run.
Insurance for UK residents
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This gives you reciprocal health care in European countries. You can apply for an EHIC card online here or from most Post Offices. You need an EHIC in addition to your travel insurance.
European residents (non-UK)
Austrian Alpine Club. Available to all European residents. AAC insurance is cheap and works ok for minor accidents and rescues, but is not as comprehensive as many other insurance providers. The medical cover included would not be enough for complex treatment or a prolonged stay in hospital. It also doesn’t include cancellation cover. If you choose to use AAC we recommend you take out extra medical cover with another provider, to ‘top up’ the AAC medical limit, as well as a separate cancellation policy.
Travelex. For US citizens – a range of policies with comprehensive cover.
For any nationality
Global Rescue. Cover offered to all nationalities via a combination of GR membership and their separate insurance policy.
If you choose an alternative provider, or if there is any doubt about the scope of your chosen policy we recommend that you send your insurer the link to the relevant Alpine Guides trip webpage, and ask them if cover extends to those activities and has the required components (search/rescue, medical, repatriation and cancellation). It’s worth mentioning that rescue and medical expenses in Switzerland can be significantly more expensive than in other countries, so a decent level of cover is required for Swiss tours.
We recommend that you send us your insurance details before the trip commences, and they must be brought to the course briefing at the start of your trip. However, we cannot check the detail of every individual policy, and it is your own responsibility to ensure you are adequately insured.