Choosing a Route

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What route? What time of year? When to start? Who with? … the million dollar questions for deciding which route to attempt. Below the main considerations have been broken down into manageable sections. Just remember, whatever your decision, the route will still be there next year. If you are not 100% sure that your decision is correct, don't attempt it!


The reason that these grades have been outlined above, is that it is important to understand the grades, and the style of climb that you are attempting, as it will determine what equipment you take and whether it will stretch your abilities or should be within your grade. Always be aware that conditions can be very different from the guidebook description as a result of the different seasons, glacial movement, rockfall, or due to the weather.

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.


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.


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 guidebook!


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 be ignored.


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!

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