Mountaineering

Small libraries have been written about mountaineering here – stories of courage and tragedy and inspirational achievements. Modern mountaineering really took off first in Chamonix and it remains a mecca for alpinists. However, with the excellent infrastructure built up over the last century, it’s also a perfect place to try it at any level.

The classic book on the region is Gaston Rébuffat’s “Mont Blanc: The Hundred Finest Routes”  Though some of the routes are now out of date (notably the Bonatti Pillar, which fell off in 1999 – the scar on the Dru is still visible from our balcony) his carefully chosen selection and lyrical writing still make it essential. We have a copy at the chalet, and it’s widely available in both the UK and Chamonix.

 

“What an extraordinary creation this is, wrought by earth and time! Silhouetted against the snow and the sky, those granite aiguilles whose soaring lines and glowing rock make them seem overflowing with new vitality. Ice and rock together are a unity, the one bringing out the beauty of the other”

Gaston Rébuffat: The Mont Blanc Massif. The 100 Finest Routes

Looking for route information?

Summitpost’s Mont Blanc Group pages are comprehensive and well written – probably the best place to start if you have some ideas to research. She begins with a wonderful quotation from the Rebuffat book and an excellent outline of the valley from a mountaineers point of view.

Starting out in mountaineering

You can arrange a day or two with a guide yourself – many of them run courses for beginners. Discuss what you’d like to do, and they’ll make suggestions according to your ability and fitness level. A day or so out with a guide is truly memorable – their knowledge of the mountains allows you to go into places you could never dream of accessing otherwise.

Chamonix is full of spectacular mountain areas that are quite accessible to novices with a guide and good conditions, whether you’d like to try glacier walking or perhaps the more straightforward summits. Once again, I would highly recommend Neil Hitchings as he’s experienced, enthusiastic and patient. More guides and guide bureaux here.

A few suggestions

The Cosmiques Arete – not technically very difficult but with massive exposure and tremendous views:

Mont Blanc and climbers on the Arête des Cosmiques, seen from the Aiguille du Midi
Mont Blanc and climbers on the Arête des Cosmiques, seen from the Aiguille du Midi

The Domes Du Miage – a wonderful series of crests close to Mont Blanc.

Armchair mountaineering

We’ve got a good selection of books at the chalet from the thousands written about Chamonix – here’s a few I’d particularly recommend.
Starlight and Storms – Gaston Rebuffat
Poetic stories of the mountains from one of France’s greatest climbers. Well worth reading in the original if your French is up to it.
Solo Faces – James Salter
U.S. literary giant Salter fictionalises the story of charismatic sixties climber Gary Hemming. Bleak and beautiful writing.
Au-dela des Cimes (Beyond the Peaks) DVD – Incredible high definition filming of Catherine Destivelle on three climbs around the valley. Thesp-tastic narration by Brian Blessed in the English version! Happily, Catherine does her own English voiceover.

Blogs

Alpine Exposures
Incredible photography AND regular updates on conditions – this blog has something for everyone.

Chamonix Insider
Trey keeps you up to date on his lively blog with what’s going on in Chamonix and anywhere else that catches his eye.

Summitpost: Mont Blanc group
As well as route info, this has the most regularly updated trip reports

Alexandre Buisse
Wonderful photos, many around Chamonix – and a book for tips to improve your own…

Office de Haute montagne
Good info on mountain conditions if your French is up to it.