Winter Alpinism Couloir Climbing

Fitness level
Tech level
Number of guiding days
5
Guiding ratio
1:2

The Mont Blanc range has the highest concentration of winter alpine climbing objectives anywhere in the world, many of which are readily accessible with snowshoes or skis. On this unique specialist trip, you can sample the delights of technical ice climbing in a high alpine environment. The aim is to climb accessible ice couloirs in the AD to TD range – most routes have quick abseil descents, allowing you to return to your skis/snowshoes and enchain several routes from a hut base.

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£1695

Need further information?

In short, the week was excellent. Lots of info prior to the course – all very clear and helpful. Booking was straightforward. You were very responsive with any questions. The accommodation was good – all of the staff were incredibly friendly/helpful. Gavin was an excellent guide – he pitched it at the right level for me in terms of the grading of the climbs. I felt stretched, without ever feeling completely out of my depth. He was patient, calm and reassuring – he also made the most of the conditions on each day. All in all a great week – my climbing and alpine skills developed a great deal during the week which was my main motivation in booking the course. Thanks for organising everything.

Justin Moody

We had a great week, lucky with the weather, and had a great guide – very keen, safe and willing to share his knowledge. We’re never to old to learn! The hotel was friendly, helpful with a good breakfast & easy to get to the town. As usual with these trips i’ve come away with a bigger list of things to do. Thanks to you all.

John Venier

Trip overview

The Mont Blanc range has the highest concentration of winter alpine climbing objectives anywhere in the world, many of which are readily accessible with snowshoes or skis. On this unique specialist trip, you can sample the delights of technical ice climbing in a high alpine environment. The aim is to climb accessible ice couloirs in the AD to TD range – most routes have quick abseil descents, allowing you to return to your skis/snowshoes and enchain several routes from a hut base.

Recent Trip Reports:

This trip may be available on other dates through March and April – please enquire if your preferred dates are not listed.

Need further information? enquire about this trip.


Suitability

This is an advanced level trip. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 3 and Tech Level 4-5 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines below). You need to be an experienced ice climber, with ascents of Scottish grade IV routes (or equivalent, as a minimum) and some summer alpinism under your belt. This is a strenuous Alpine climbing week, that will definitely be hard work at times – often involving trail breaking in deep snow at altitude and steep ice and mixed requiring good arm strength.


Getting around…

Winter alpine climbing has the added complication/pleasure of potentially tricky access due to the deep winter snowpack. After a long warm spell, in areas that have been well skied, it’s often possible to approach routes on foot on a firm snowpack. More often however, you will need either snowshoes or skis to get around. Before using skis, you need to be a competent off piste skier with previous ski touring experience and be able to ski in control off piste, whilst carrying a heavy rucksack (~10-12kg – ie considerably more weight than a ski touring pack).  Both members of the team need to be at this level – if not, then the whole team must use snowshoes to work together and stay safe on the glacier approaches – these can be hired locally.


Guiding ratio

One UIAGM guide climbing with 2 clients.


Included in price

  • 5 days of guiding
  • All guides expenses
  • 4 nights accommodation in Chamonix including breakfast
  • 2 nights accommodation in alpine huts, including breakfast and evening meals
  • Local travel in the guide’s vehicle to complete the course itinerary

Excluded from price (see course factsheet for cost estimates)

  • Cable cars
  • Lunches and drinks
  • Travel to resort
  • Insurance
  • Equipment hire

Hotels

Our meeting point and Chamonix valley base is La Chaumiere Mountain Lodge, just 5 mins walk from Chamonix centre. The hotel is exceptionally friendly, catering for grass roots skiers, climbers and guided groups and is very conveniently situated: away from the hustle and bustle of Chamonix, yet close enough to walk in for a meal or a drink. Rooms are provided on a twin sharing basis, but if you prefer a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability. Hotel details can be found on our Accommodation page.


Huts

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).

Detailed Itinerary

Sunday

You should arrange outward travel on Sunday, arriving by 5-6pm latest in time for the briefing at your accommodation. Your guide will run through safety routines and kit checks, as well as hand out any rental equipment, before we go on to discuss your ambitions for the week, together with the current weather and mountain conditions and how these affect our planning. We’ll also have maps and guidebooks to show you, so if you’ve any further questions or last minute requests, then this is the ideal time to bring them up before we head on to dinner. PM Overnight in the valley.


Monday

Acclimatisation Climb

Ascent of a winter couloir near to the Grand Montets or Aiguillle du Midi Cable cars. Acclimatisation routes are chosen with our plans for the rest of the week in mind – so depending on weather and conditions, we may stay in a mountain hut over night or return to the valley.


Tuesday to Friday

Alpine Couloir Climbing – based in mountain huts for 2-3 nights, we climb as many high quality ice couloirs as possible! Hotel/hut nights are left open and flexible to make best use of the weather and conditions.

Below are a small selection of climbs from previous winter couloirs weeks. Numerous other routes are possible, but these give a good flavour of the climbing on offer and our depth of knowledge of the area.

winter alpine climbing in chamonix - vogler couloir aiguille du midiVogler Couloir – D , 250m , 5-6hr

The Vogler Couloir is a great, modern style ice climb on the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi.

Despite a fast abseil approach off the Cosmiques Arete, it is still quite a commiting route – as once the ropes have been pulled, there is only one way out – back up the line…

The initial pitches are the steepest, with some great quality ice climbing up a series of slabs, grooves and corners that form a natural drainage line down the face.

In it’s upper half, the couloir broadens to a snow ampitheatre, where a choice of two mixed climbing exits are possible. Both lead to the Cosmiques Arete, which is then followed back to the cable car station – or if skis are being used, then these can be left at the foot of the Cosmiques Arete ready for return in order to ski back down to Chamonix via the Vallee Blanche.

This is a great way to finish any ice route climbed during the winter months in this part of the range – but you do need to be a good skier to get down to Chamonix in one piece!


winter alpine climbing in chamonix - frendo-ravanel couloirFrendo Ravanel – II 5 , 500m

An excellent, varied and technical ice and mixed route. The difficulty of the crux depends on the thickness of the ice on this modern winter only line.

Despite the quick approach from the nearby Grand Montets cable car station, the Frendo Ravanel is still a long day. After crossing the bergschrund, a snow slope leads up to two short ice walls that gain entry into the mid section – a deep, atmosheric ice chimney.

Once up this, more snow leads up into the final ampitheatre, where various finishes are possible. The left hand finish is shown in the photos – brilliant thin ice and mixed climbing, reminiscent of a hard Ben Nevis face route.

After abbing the route, all that remains is to get to the valley – this is a hell of a lot quicker if you know how to ski!


couloirs-farraonFarraon – II 4+ , 400m

A companion route just to the right of the Frendo Ravanel, Farraon involves some tricky mixed climbing.

Like the Frendo Ravanel, Farraon is a winter route which shares the same short approach from the top station of the Grands Montets.

The climb follows a snow couloir for a few pitches, up into a steeper gully. This is climbed to an impasse, where a subsidiary gully on the left is taken up into mixed ground above.

The crux comes high on the route, where a steep step in the chimney system has to be turned on the left wall. From the top, it’s best to abb back down the route.


couloirs-tacul-pellisierGoulotte Pellisier – III 5+ , 220m

The Goulotte Pellisier is one of several modern winter ice and mixed routes on the East Face of Pointe Lachenal – which can easily be reached on ski or on foot from either the Aiguille du Midi, or after a night at the Cosmiques Hut.

The line of the route follows a steep corner gully for 4 pitches to the end of the difficulties.  From here it’s possible to either abb back down the line of the route, or continue up to the top of Pointe Lachenal and drop down a short snow slope off the back.

The climbing alternates between excellent narrow ice runnels and short, technical mixed sections providing plenty of variety and interest throughout.

The 4th pitch is the crux, with poorly protected thin ice and mixed moves up a corner groove.


couloirs-vent-du-dragonVent du Dragon – III 5 , 200m

Vent du Dragon is a brilliant, steep ice and mixed route on the north flank of the Cosmiques Arete.

Although short, this is a commiting route as the approach involves abbing off the bridge at the Midi cable car station down into the gully below – and the only exit is to climb back out again up one of the routes, all of which are quite difficult.

The line of Vent du Dragon follows a steep ice choked chimney leading up the centre of the face.

This is an outstanding pitch, with the crux right at the top – where an awkward squeeze chimney on the left leads into a mixed climbing finish.

The final pitch then heads up through a cave onto the last part of the Cosmiques Arete.


couloirs-tacul-perrouxGoulotte Perroux – III 4+, 350m

A companion route to the famous Chere Couloir, running parralel and to its left. The Perroux however, is quite a bit harder and has a very different character of climbing.

Whereas the Chere is a classic ice couloir, the Perroux is a modern thin ice and mixed route. As such, the difficulty varies depending on ice build up and it tends to come into condition after periods of bad weather.

The lower half follows a series of icy grooves just left of the Chere Couloir, the upper one of which is often quite run out and thinly iced. Above this, some tricky mixed moves lead into the upper gully and more ice/mixed ground, before a descent can be made down the abbs on the Chere.

We suggest you get hold of copies of ‘Snow, Ice and Mixed – Vols 1+2’. These are the Chamonix bible of winter alpinism, as many of the famous winter classics that we climb do not feature in the British guidebooks.

Climbing Conditions on Winter Routes – please note that for ice and mixed climbing in couloirs and on alpine faces, good weather and suitable climbing conditions are essential.

During the week, our guides select the best weather windows to make ascents – if conditions are not good enough to climb a proposed route, then the best available alternatives will always be offered.


Saturday

Return travel should be arranged on Saturday morning, after your final nights accommodation.

Early departures – if you choose to depart on Friday 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.

Location and Travel

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.


Arrival

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.

Fitness and Experience

Alpine Mountaineering is a strenuous endurance sport – ie to get to the summit involves slogging up hill for hours on end!  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.

Physical fitness
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 high, even with reasonable fitness (although the two don’t usually go together), good weather and perfect conditions.  If you are carrying any excess weight, then you need to lose as much of this 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.

Training

If you need to top up your fitness for this trip, please see our training advice page.


Tech Levels

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.


Fitness Levels

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.

Equipment

Alpine Ice Kit List

Equipment can take a real hammering in winter-time, so a substantial hardshell is preferred, rather than lightweight summer waterproofs.

Technical Clothing

  • Waterproof Jacket – full weight breathable model preferred
  • Waterproof trousers – durable model with 3/4 or full length side zips
  • Socks – warm ‘Smartwool’ type, plus thin liner socks and spares
  • Gaiters – made from breathable material
  • Wicking thermal baselayer tops – synthetic not cotton!
  • 2 fleeces – or equivalent insulating mid-layers
  • Belay jacket – down or synthetic insulation
  • Powerstretch tights or warm mountain trousers – should fit comfortably under your waterproof trousers
  • Thin inner gloves
  • Warm mountain gloves – Goretex or equivalent water/windproof model
  • Second pair of mountain gloves as above – one pair will often get wet
  • Hat or balaclava – must fit under a helmet.
  • Spare mittens – especially if you suffer from cold hands

Personal Items

  • 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+
  • Wallet and passport
  • Alpine Club/BMC card (if you are a member) and insurance docs

Technical Equipment

  • Rucsac 40-50l – to handle extra winter kit
  • Rucsac – superlight 15/20l model, for taking on long multi-pitch icefall routes (optional)
  • *Rigid 4 season mountaineering bootsAxe, Boot and Crampon advice
  • Harness, locking karabiner and belay device
  • 120cm sling and locking karabiner
  • Climbing helmet
  • Technical ice axe and ice hammer
  • Crampons – vertically orientated front points are best, or sharp new mountaineering crampons are also fine
  • Snowshoes or ski mountaineering equipment for Winter Couloirs/Norwegian ice climbing trips – please contact us for advice

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!

Purchasing Equipment
Backcountry UK in Ilkley offer an excellent mountain boot fitting service and general equipment advice.

Hiring Equipment
Please see our Equipment Hire page for more details.


Insurance

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

British Mountaineering Council. The gold standard in insurance for UK residents. Very competitive single trip or annual cover for all climbing activities. Use this link to book your BMC insurance.

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.


USA residents

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.

FAQ's

What happens to my deposit if I book a trip, but it isn’t confirmed to run due to insufficient bookings?

You may transfer your booking to different dates, a different course, or choose a full refund.

See our terms and conditions


Does Alpine Guides climb with customers from overseas, including the USA and Canada?

Yes!

See our info for overseas customers


How do I book a climbing trip?

For scheduled climbing trips it’s easy to book online, directly from your course page. For hire a guide/bespoke courses please get in touch for a quote.

More booking information


Can I book a single room on my climbing trip?

Yes – this can be done during the online booking process. Please add the single room option to your order, and we will confirm availability asap.

More hotel information


How do I rent mountaineering equipment?

You can rent certain items of specialist equipment from us, and the rest can usually be hired in resort.

Climbing equipment rental info


What happens to our plans if the weather is bad, or climbing conditions are poor?

We will make every effort to stick to the itinerary, but sometimes its necessary to change plans and select different objectives more suited to the prevailing conditions, or travel to a neighbouring area or sometimes even further afield.

A sound mountaineering decision - running away....!


Who goes on our trips?

We climb and ski with a broad range of ages and experience levels, and a large number of our customers come back year after year. We’ve guided 10 year old Ollie up the Old Man of Hoy in Scotland – now the youngest person to climb it. And 70 year old David has climbed the Matterhorn with us, as well as out-skiing people half his age!

The Matterhorn at 70 yrs young


What happens if I need to cancel my course?

If you wish to cancel you must notify us in writing, where upon the following charges will be applied from the date we receive your notice of cancellation:

  • More than 8 weeks (56 days) before start date – loss of deposit.
  • Between 4 and 8 weeks (28-56 days) before start date – 50% of course fee or loss of deposit, whichever amount is greater.
  • Less than 4 weeks (28 days) before start date – full course fee.

See our terms and conditions


Book Now

£1695