Chamonix Mont Blanc Rock Climbing
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This area is a super-popular destination for climbers from many countries, because it offers a combination of advantages:
- lots of English-speaking partners available
- no rental car needed to access the best climbing
- great alpine granite multi-pitch
- great alpine ice / snow / mixed routes [see more]
- great ski mountaineering + super-steep couloir descents
- highest peak in western Europe
- quick convenient access to serious alpine terrain by mechanical lifts and cog railways.
- lots of information English-language
There's so much climbing of each variety, it's difficult to get a handle on all the options and places.
. . (For first-time visitors from outside continental Europe, useful overview of the different kinds of climbing modes, with detailed descriptions of the famous + popular routes on each area, is the new guidebook: Chamonix, by Boscoe + Geldard, 2016 Rockfax.com).
. . snow, ice, mixed - Some of these kinds of routes are linked from this MP area page.
Here's a start on dealing with the places ...
Areas -- Some of the climbing sub-regions around Chamonix include
... (N to S on southeast side of valley) ...
- Tour glacier basin - [see this area page] - Giant glacier up north by the boundary with Switzerland. Usually accessed by hiking up (to the Refuge Albert 1er hut) from the village of Le Tour (but for ski touring often from the Grands Montets lift by way of Col du Passon). Popular peaks include: Aiguille du Chardonnet, Aig du Tour, Aig Purtscheller.
- Argentiere glacier basin - [ map N45.9422 E6.9977 ] - N side is famous for granite and alpine routes and ski touring. S side is famous for ice routes and super-steep ski descents. Usually accessed from the Grands Montets and Lognan lifts and the Refuge d'Argentiere hut, also by hiking up from the town of Argentiere. Popular peaks include: Aiguille d'Argentiere, Aig du Genepi, Petite Aig Verte, and N faces of Les Courtes, Les Droites, Aig Verte.
- Charpoua glacier basin - [see this area page] - Under the SW side of the Aiguille Verte overlooking the lower Mer de Glace. Accessed from the Montenvers cog railway. Popular peaks include: Les Drus (Grand + Petit, or traverse), Diamant des Flammes de Pierre, L'Évêque, Cardinal, Aiguille Verte.
- Talèfre glacier basin - [see this area page] - Giant glacier on the NE side of the lower Mer de Glace glacier and the Leschaux glacier. Normally accessed from the Montenvers cog railway. Popular peaks include: Aiguille Verte by Whymper Couloir, Aiguille du Moine, and S faces of Les Droites + Les Courtes.
- Grandes Jorasses - [ map N45.8699 E6.9910 ] - giant intimidating ridge, visible from all around the Mont Blanc massic, but remote from Chamonix, along the Italy frontier NE of Mt Mallet and the Arete de Rochefort (which are already a ways NE from the Dent du Geant and the Pointe Helbronner lift top station and Rifugio Torino hut).
- Envers des Aiguilles - [see this area page] - SW from the lower Mer de Glace glacier, forming the ESE side of the SW-NE ridge of the Aiguilles de Chamonix. Usually accessed from the Montenvers cog railway and the Refuge de l'Envers hut (or sometimes from the Refuge de Requin coming down from the Aiguille du Midi lift). Popular routes include: Le Marchand de Sable, Amazonia, Aiguille de Grepon E face, Lower Slabs.
- Aiguilles de Chamonix - [see this area page] - the dramatic peaks hanging above the SE side of the town of Chamonix. Usually accessed from the Plan d'Aiguille lift and hut (perhaps sometimes from Montenvers?). Popular peaks + routes include: Aiguille de Blatiere, Arete des Papillons, Aiguille de l’M, Grands Charmoz.
- Midi - Tacul - [see this area page] - routes around the high west side of the Geant glacier (upper Mer de Glace) using the Aiguille du Midi lift for access or descent. This area is frequently crossed by ski mountaineers in winter and spring. Popular climbing peaks + routes include:
. . . the Midi: Arete des Cosmiques, South Face, Midi-Plan Traverse, Frendo Spur;
. . . others: Grand Capucin, Pointes de Lachenal, Trident du Tacul, Pointe Adolphe Rey
- high frontier over East by Italy - [see this area page] - [ map N45.8461 E6.9315 ] - peaks along the SE and S of the upper part of the Mer de Glace or Geant glacier, ranging from Mt Mallet south to Tour Ronde. Often visited by ski mountaineers. Usually most easily accessed from Pointe Helbronner lift up from Italy, connected with Rifugio Torino hut. Popular peaks include: Arete de Rochefort, Dent du Geant, Aiguille d'Entreves, Tour Ronde.
- Mont Blanc + nearby high peaks - [see this area page] - Armies of people with minimal alpine climbing experience try to reach the top of the highest peak in non-far-east Europe. As of 2017, the "normal" route starts from the cog railway up from St-Gervais-les-Bains (nowhere near Chamonix). Popular routes to MB from Chamonix include "Les Trois Monts Blancs", and the Arete Nord de Dome du Gouter / Grands Mulets glacier (especially for ski mountaineers). Other climbing peaks include: Mont Maudit (by Kuffner Arete), Aiguille de Bionassay (traverse from Refuge Durier), Dome du Gouter.
- Tré la Tête area - [see this area page] - the S end of the Mont Blanc massif, around the Tré la Tête glacier. Usually reached by hiking up from Les Contamines (a long ways from Chamonix) to the Refuge des Conscrits hut. Popular peaks include: Domes de Miage, Aiguilles de Tre la Tete, Aig Lex Blanc, Aiguille des Glaciers.
... northwest side of valley ...
- Aiguilles Rouges - [see this area page] - Peaks and cliffs on the Northwest side of the Chamonix valley. Lower summits and different rock types than the more famous peaks and routes across the valley, but has great views of them. And the less-committing-less-alpine multi-pitch rock routes are popular with visitors. Most of the popular routes are accessed from the Brevent + Planpraz lifts and the Index + Flegere lifts.
... low all around ...
- Valley crags - [see this area page] - There are several worthwhile cragging sites with different rock types: including Vallorine, Barberine, Gaillands, La Joux, etc.
Season? Key limitation on when to climb or ski around Chamonix is the opening and closing dates of the high-mountain lifts and railways. Unfortunately in recent years the operating dates of the Grands Montets / Lognan and Brevent / Planpraz and Index / Flegers lifts have been significantly shorter than the seasons for good climbing and skiing (thought the Aiguille du Midi lift and Montenvers railway tend to operate much wider range of seasons). Of course it's still possible to do some high-mountain climbing, provided you get access the old-style way, by hiking up carrying your gear from the valley floor.
The other limitation is that with warming, the glaciers are changing -- often with new and larger gaps that make it difficult to access ice or rock routes. Or temperatures are so high that the surface of snow/ice does not refreeze well during the night, or rock-fall from melting becomes too dangerous too early in the day. Both of these problems tend to push the alpine climbing season earlier (like toward May-June instead of July-August) -- when gaps and crevasses and bergshrunds/moats at base of rock walls are still bridged with seasonal snow, and temperatures are cooler.
Equipment: Many popular multi-pitch rock routes require up to 50 meter rappels to descend. So most experienced Chamonix climbers climb with double ropes. Bringing only a single 70m with you on the airplane to save baggage charges is not going to get you back down to the bottom.
Bolts: There are lots of stories about how Europe has gone over to sport climbing. It's true that most popular multi-pitch rock routes have two-bolt anchors at the top of each pitch for a belay station. And the slab sections of modern routes have some intermediate bolts for protection. But the famous Chamonix granite cracks do not have bolts. You're expected to carry a Trad rack and hang in there and place your own protection.
Crampons + Ice Axe for rock? Even if you're doing a pure rock route, access to the rock might be over snow, and sometimes making the transition from snow to rock requires some "engineering".
Guidebooks: Nowadays most recent guidebooks for most kinds of climbing or skiing around Chamonix Mont Blanc have an English-language version.
More info: Every aspect of visiting and sleeping and eating and climbing and skiing around Chamonix has been repeatedly discussed on English-language web forums or blogs. A big European website with detailed info + reports about many rock and ice/snow and ski routes around Chamonix is "c2c": camptocamp.org
alternatives? Chamonix has such a combination of advantages, lots of overseas climbers sometimes assume that virtually all the worthwhile climbing in "alpine" categories is in the Chamonix Mont Blanc area. The down-side is that it can be crowded, touristy, and expensive.
Some alternatives within a few hours driving, to help alleviate the crowding:
- for alpine ice routes: northeast Ecrins around Pelvoux, north Oisans around La Grave.
- for alpine granite: the Italian side of Mont Blanc (e.g. Rifugio Dalmazzi), also the Ecrins + Oisans (but need to be selective for sound rock, and the style of granite is different from Mont Blanc).
- for multi-pitch granite: Valle dell'Orco (northwest Italy).
- for ski mountaineering + super-steep couloirs: All over the northern French Alps (if get the French guidebooks), but much requires more labor to access than Chamonix with its lifts.
. . (These alternatives could also be useful to know when the Chamonix weather turns wet).
. . (When all those are wet also, some Chamonix locals head for sport-climbing Finale Ligure. Marseille + Calanques + Toulon might also work, but longer driving).
The nearest major international airport is Geneva, Switzerland (GVA). This airport is actually on the border between France and Switzerland, so it is possible to rent a French car from the French side of the airport and drive it to Chamonix without going through France (but that would be much longer and more complicated than driving the first few kilometers through Switzerland).
Classic Climbing Routes at Chamonix Mont Blanc
Days w Precip