Probably the most important factor that will determine
your success on a route is your psychology. In the Alps,
just about everything is pitted against you: heat, cold,
conditions, weight of equipment, fitness, acclimatisation
etc, and it takes a lot of inner strength to overcome
these factors. The best way to put yourself in the best
psychological condition is to be as prepared as possible
in terms of fitness, knowledge, and skills base. Most
accident occur when people doubt their capabilities,
or have gone on when they knew they had pushed too far.
If you are content your training (physical & mental)
should stand you in good stead for a climb, then go
for it. If not, then perhaps it is best to downgrade
your plans to something that you would feel comfortable
climbing. There is always another day.
WEATHER & OBJECTIVE DANGERS...
In Chamonix there are lots of ways to get accurate weather
forecasts. The best is from the Meteo office of the
Maison de la Montagne. Anticyclonic (high pressure)
conditions are the most stable, and usually the wind
speed at altitude is much lower. If the reported windspeed
at 4000m is 40km/h or more, it is best to climb lower
down until the wind has reduced. The dangers of storms
and lightning are well documented, and the weather forecasts
warn of these dangers. Climbers always look for "beau
temps" on the forecasts! Other objective dangers,
such as serac fall, avalanches, crevasses are dealt
with in other sections of this guide, but you must assess
the length of time you may be exposed to such dangers,
and your ability (if any) to deal with the consequences.
As ever, it is a balance.
SEASON OF THE YEAR...
Conditions vary massively throughout the year, and this
will have an impact on the clothing and equipment that
you will require. Before you choose a route, get advice
on whether it is climbable in the season you are planning
your visit. Also be aware that it can snow in the middle
of August, and be very hot on a clear day in the winter
months. Another factor in the season equation is that
as the snow and ice melt back over summer, the routes
may become quicker to climb, but they also are more
prone to stonefall and some routes can totally disappear.
Always check to see if a winter route appears in a summer
FITNESS & ACCLIMATISATION...
Lots of people ask how fit they should be before they
climb in the Alps. The answer is simple; the fitter
you are, the more you will enjoy it. As a rough guideline,
you should be running (or equivalent) at least three
times a week for at least half an hour a session. With
this minimum, you should be capable of attempting most
PD / AD climbs. Acclimatisation occurs even when you
are in Chamonix, and if you plan your climbs carefully,
it will increase to a good level for the Alps after
only two or three days.
Timings are crucial on a route. If you find yourself
a constant margin behind the timings, you are probably
going to be fine, though the conditions on the descent
will be far from optimal. If you are getting progressively
slower, it's time to turn back. The timings are there
to let you know if you are safe or not, and should not
When planning a climb, the first consideration is where
you are going to start and finish. Huts are of great
use in the Alps, as they enable early starts without
carrying bivouac kit, stoves, etc. They are quite expensive,
though cheaper than hotels in town. Most do not have
running drinking water, so sell bottled water at about
£3 a bottle. It may seem expensive, but it is
easier than hauling your own supplies up the hill. Bivouacs
are a self- fulfilling prophecy in that if you are carrying
the equipment, you will probably use it. The kit is
so bulky that it really limits the style of climbs that
you can do. However, bivouacs may be useful if you are
staying at the bottom of a route, leave the kit while
you climb, and pick it all up on your return. This enable
you to get a really early start on your climb.
Get advice on what equipment you will require for your
planned route, and if you have not got it, then you
can investigate whether you can hire or borrow it. If
not, try another route!