Quieter Times

The Alpine resorts of Chamonix and Zermatt attract thousands of climbers a year because of their showpiece mountains, Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn respectively. Both of these mountains are excellent objectives for an Alpine trip but can become very crowded.

It is possible however to find quieter places to climb in the Alps, places where Ibex, Lamergeier and Edelwiess can regularly be seen and mountains and routes where it is unusual to see other climbers.

Saint Gervais Les Bains where I am based for the summer is located twenty five minutes from Chamonix. From here we can reach Les Aravis in thirty minutes. This area is non- glaciated and is a fantastic area to go rock climbing and scrambling. The highest peak is Pointe Percee at 2750 metres. Limestone rock climbs of two hundred metres in length are located twenty minutes from the road or for those who fancy something a bit bigger there is the Traverse of Les Aravis. The Traverse takes two days, involves a bivouac or night in a mountain hut and contains lots of top quality rock climbing.

The Vanoise is located one hour and forty five minutes from Saint Gervais. This area is renowned for its quality skiing with resorts such as Val D’Isere and Meribel but it also contains top quality summer alpine objectives. For example, the Aiguille De La Vanoise provides a brilliant AD (Assez Difficle) rock ridge traverse as well as a large number of long rock climbs on its flanks. The highest peak in the area is the Grande Casse at 3855m. This mountains large north face is often viewed from the ski resort of Tignes. The most famous route on the north face is the Coulior Des Italiens. There is however an easier route on the other side from the mountain hut at the foot of the Aiguille De La Vanoise. Both mountains can be climbed in a two and a half day trip from Saint Gervais.

The Massif Des Ecrins near Grenoble is two hours twenty minutes drive from Saint Gervais. It contains the most southerly 4000 metre peak in the Alps, Barre Des Ecrins at 4101m. This area has something for everyone, heavily glaciated peaks, long alpine rock ridges, easier high mountain peaks and long rock routes in the mountains and in the valleys on both limestone and granite. Importantly, the area is renowned for its excellent weather. Briancon, the capital of Les Ecrins receives three hundred days sunshine a year so there is a very good chance of getting some climbing and mountaineering done.

The three areas mentioned above are all located in France. If you hunt around the same kinds of places can be found in Switzerland and Italy also.

Euan Whittaker
Dec 2011