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Want to hire a guide in Chamonix, what to climb? First timer

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Want to hire a guide in Chamonix, what to climb? First timer

Postby qwimjim » Sun Apr 20, 2014 6:19 pm

I've no mountaineering experience but have done a fair amount of sport climbing, and a little bit of guided ice climbing. If I was to hire a guide for two days in Chamonix, what would you reccomend as a good first mountaineering experience? I'd ideally like something that covers a bit of everything (glacier travel, snow, mixed rock/ice, etc) but most important is I'm a photographer and a jaw dropping view would be great.

From looking at photos I think Aiguille Verte would be the best choice from a photographer perspective but unfortunately not exactly somewhere for a beginner :) What about Aiguille du Tour, Aiguille de la Nonne, Mont Blanc du Tacul.. are these all realistic objectives? Which do you think would be the best experience and/or give the most impressive views?

Any other suggestions would be very much welcome!
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Re: Want to hire a guide in Chamonix, what to climb? First t

Postby rgg » Mon Apr 21, 2014 12:43 pm

I don't know Aiguille de la Nonne, but Aiguille du Tour and Mont Blanc du Tacul would be fine.

For Aiguille du Tour, you don't need a guide for two whole days: You can make arrangements to meet your guide in Refuge Albert Premier the evening before the climb, and then hike up there by yourself. It's cheaper that way. To the refuge it's a hike - no hands required. You can hike up from the valley floor, or make use of the lifts to shorten the hike. Next day you'll leave at the crack of dawn, or a bit earlier even. Shortly above the refuge the route goes onto the glacier. In fact there are several different glacier routes to choose from. There are actually a N and a S summit, with a big drop between the two. Most people climb the S summit. Some sources claim they are equally high, others say that the N summit is higher and I think so too. Yet the rocky scramble to the south summit is a bit easier, and therefore it is climbed much more often than the N summit.
Image
Sunset on the Aiguilles Rouges from Refuge Albert Premier

Given that you've got no mountaineering experience, for Mont Blanc du Tacul you'll need the guide for two days. The first one is a short one, just cross the glacier from the Aiguille du Midi cable car to Refuge des Cosmiques. The normal route to Mont Blanc du Tacul requires no real rock climbing, just a very short scramble at the top.

Another suitable mountain would be Petite Aiguille Verte. Thanks to the cable car, it can easily be climbed in a day. It's a nice mix of glacier and rock. I wouldn't recommend it if you didn't have a bit of rock climbing experience, but since you have more than just a bit of that, I think you'll like it. And the views are outstanding. Best to start early, i.e. as soon as the cable car starts operating, for it's a popular little peak and that way you're ahead of the rest.
Last edited by rgg on Mon Apr 21, 2014 1:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Want to hire a guide in Chamonix, what to climb? First t

Postby qwimjim » Mon Apr 21, 2014 12:56 pm

rgg wrote:I don't know Aiguille de la Nonne, but Aiguille du Tour and Mont Blanc du Tacul would be fine.

For Aiguille du Tour, you don't need a guide for two whole days: You can make arrangements to meet your guide in Refuge Albert Premier the evening before the climb, and then hike up there by yourself. It's cheaper that way. To the refuge it's a hike - no hands required. Shortly above the refuge the route goes onto the glacier. In fact there are several different glacier routes to choose from. There are actually a N and a S summit, with a big drop between the two. Most people climb the S summit. Some sources claim they are equally high, others say that the N summit is higher and I think so too. Yet the rocky scramble to the south summit is a bit easier, and therefore it is climbed much more often than the N summit.

Given that you've got no mountaineering experience, for Mont Blanc du Tacul you'll need the guide for two days. The first one is a short one, just cross the glacier from the Aiguille du Midi cable car to Refuge des Cosmiques. The normal route to Mont Blanc du Tacul requires no real rock climbing, just a very short scramble at the top.

Another suitable mountain would be Petite Aiguille Verte. Thanks to the cable car, it can easily be climbed in a day. It's a nice mix of glacier and rock. I wouldn't recommend it if you didn't have a bit of rock climbing experience, but since you have more than just a bit of that, I think you'll like it. And the views are outstanding. Best to start early, i.e. as soon as the cable car starts operating, for it's a popular little peak and that way you're ahead of the rest.


Thanks, do you think a guide will just meet me at Albert 1er and take me up Aiguille du Tour with me having no mountaineering experience, etc and not require an extra day beforehand to work on basic skills (crampon, ice axe, etc)? Any idea what I could expect to pay for this?

So between Aiguille du Tour, Petite Aiguille Verte, and Mont Blanc du Tacul.. which would you most highly recommend for a first time experience and photographer?
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Re: Want to hire a guide in Chamonix, what to climb? First t

Postby rgg » Mon Apr 21, 2014 1:47 pm

I don't know the prices in Chamonix, as I've never hired a guide there.

The glacier crossing for Aiguille du Tour is an easy one. When you hire a guide, make sure that you clearly explain what exacly your background is, i.e. sports climbing, but no mountaineering or glacier skills.

I would be hard pressed to chose between the three, since they all bring something different to the table.

When it's a glacier experience you're looking for, no doubt Mont Blanc du Tacul is the best. SInce the first day is short anyway, there is plenty of time to practice glacier skills. If you want to learn more than just the bare minimum, clearly say so when you're making your booking, and when you meet up with your guide, remind him of your wishes, for those that made the booking may have forgotten to pass on your specific details and may just have said that you wanted to climb Mont Blanc du Tacul.

For a mixed experience with a bit of scrambling, go for Aiguille du Tour - having done a fair bit of rock climbing, you'll think a rope is unnecessary for that, but with a guide he'll want to have you roped up, since he's responsible. The glaciers are easier than for Mont Blanc du Tacul. The slopes are mostly real gentle, and while there are some crevasses, it's not as serious as Mont Blanc du Tacul.

For a mixed experience but with real climbing (nothing hard, mind you, still somewhere in the lower 5th grade, but quite exposed in places and everybody ropes up), go for Petite Aiguille Verte. The glacier crossing is the shortest of the three, but you still get to see crevasses up close and personal.

As for the photographic possibilities, I think all of these are great peaks to climb.

For more information about prices, about the particulars of meeting a guide at a refuge and what exactly the consequences are of coming from a sports climbing background but not having glacier skills, I suggest you send an e-mail to the OHM.

Oh, and if you agree to meet your guide somewhere up in the mountains, make sure that you either bring your own gear or make a crystal clear agreement on what you bring and what you don't, so that your guide brings everything else that you'll need. What you don't own, you can buy or rent it in Chamonix. Among other things, you'll need crampon compatible boots, crampons, gaiters, ice axe, harness, a locking carabiner or a couple of screw gate carabiners. For Aiguille du Tour and Petite Aiguille Verte you need a helmet too, for Mont Blanc du Tacul that's less important, though it doesn't hurt. If you want to take it a step further and learn basic crevasse rescue skills, you'll need an assortment of webbing and carabiners - you can ask your guide to bring all that.

By the way, for these three peaks, a guide can take more than just one individual client. I don't know how many, probably that depends on the peak. On Aiguille du tour perhaps just two, but on the others it will be more. The OHM can tell you.
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Re: Want to hire a guide in Chamonix, what to climb? First t

Postby qwimjim » Mon Apr 21, 2014 4:20 pm

Thanks! That's really helpful, it would be nice to learn how to rope up for glaciers, crevasse rescue, etc.. but I'm not sure if that can be learned in 1 or 2 days? Decisions decisions :)
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Re: Want to hire a guide in Chamonix, what to climb? First t

Postby rgg » Mon Apr 21, 2014 10:55 pm

The basics of learning how to rope up and traveling on a glacier are easily learned. As for crevasse rescue, you can have the guide show you a couple of techniques and you can try your hand at prusiking. Maybe you've already used that when rock climbing, but in case you don't know, that's the technique you'll need when you have fallen into a crevasse and getting rescued by whoever is topside isn't going to happen, for whatever reason. It's what the guide will do should he fall into a crevasse himself and you, as his client, are following - unless you didn't manage to stop yourself in time and follow him right into the same crevasse. That would be bad, obviously, to say the least.

For practicing you don't have to fall into a crevasse first, you can just let yourself be lowered down. And just for prrusiking, no glacier is even required, just something high to which you can tie a rope, with a decent stretch of air beneath it. Think stairwell or bridge. Somewhere between 5 and 10 m is fine. If you've got someone near where you live to show you how, you can then practice prusiking before ever going on a glacier. The main difference happens when you're almost at the top. In case of a real crevasse, it can be a problem to get over the rim, especially if the rope has cut deep into the snow on the edge of the crevasse. There are techniques to overcome that too, and the guide can explain. But explanation alone can never substitute for real hands on practice.
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Re: Want to hire a guide in Chamonix, what to climb? First t

Postby chickentikka » Tue May 20, 2014 6:29 pm

Rgg gave some great advice.

If you go up to Aigle make sure you go with a guide. It's quite exposed as you exit the facility. So literally your first few steps on crampons will be scary as Hell (for the uninitiated) and you'll want to be tied to someone who knows what they are doing. If he wants to test you out at "plan" first the midway station your guide can do that. You can also perhaps walk around a bit there to get your bearings before going way up top.

Another fun thing that is simple and will get you lots of scary entertainging exposure is "Via Ferrata" Just google it and you'll see some great options there.
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Re: Want to hire a guide in Chamonix, what to climb? First t

Postby jphadfield » Fri May 30, 2014 2:42 pm

I had my first foray into Alpine Mountaineering several years ago and day 1 was off the glacier at Albert. Aguille du Tour and Aguille Vert are definate possibilities for a first outing and are offer stunning views and real intro to the Alps.

I go back to Chamonix at least once a year and use the same mountain guide every time (I also climbed with him in Scotland just last week too). He is based in Chamonix and IFMGA registered. His name is Tim Blakemore of Northern Mountain Sports, you'll find him on Google and his website has some amazing blog entries and photos to get you excited (I'm in a couple too!).

I would strongly suggest letting your guide pick a route and peaks rather than going with a plan; as well as avoiding disappointment is the weather doesn't play ball, local guides will always know the best spots away from the crowds and can tailor to your ability and interest.

For getting to know about ropes and techniques etc. I would recommend a taster course at a climbing wall where they can teach you basics such as 'tieing in' and belaying, but this isn't necesarry as your guide will give you a much better level of instruction.

That said, there's a book I love called Alpine Mountaineering by Bruce Goodlad (another IFMGA guide) that gives the perfect into and is really easy to follow (you'll learn a hell of a lot in a couple of hours read!).
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