Why put it down to luck?
Why not get enough experience under your belt elsewhere and come back to Mont Blanc when you have the skills to tackle one of the world-class grand courses. With a number of Alpine seasons in the bag and the company of a good mountain guide, once in a lifetime routes like the Innominate Ridge or the Brouillard Ridge should be well within your grasp. The Alps are thick with top quality alternatives to the normal route up Mont Blanc and with the right guidance and skill-set there are lots of quality routes to progress through. We’ve picked three to get the thought process rolling.
Weissmies - Sass Grund (grade PD)
This snowy giant is the perfect introduction to high Alpine peaks. It has all the essential elements to kick-start your Alpine mountaineering career but with none of the hassle you’ll experience on Mont Blanc. Located in the Swiss Valais area it is easily reached by flights to either Genève or Zurich from where trains straight off the concourse whisking you effortlessly to a short bus transfer and your valley base in Saas-Grund.
The approach involves a good days walk (great for acclimatization) to get you to the superbly positioned Almageller Hut. You’ll then overnight at the hut and make a pre-dawn start to ensure stable snow conditions. Boulder fields then a pleasant rocky scramble lead onto the South Southeast Ridge. This is followed first on rock and then a narrow snow crest to the summit. The descent is down the West Northwest Flank which is essentially a steep snow slope followed by a dramatic glacier. Cable cars then give access back to the valley.
Saas Grund is the perfect base for a first season in the Alps there are lots of peaks at the easier end of the grade scale including other 4000m peaks. There are also plenty of training opportunities including lower level walks and Via Ferrata routes. The season runs from June through September depending on snow conditions and hut opening and closures.
Monte Rosa - Zermatt/Gressoney/Macugnaga/Alagna (grade PD II+)
Mont Blanc might be highest but Monte Rosa is bigger, way bigger. Within its massif it has eight of the Alps’ 4000m summits, two of which hold second and third place in height terms respectively. The brilliance of this mountain is there is ample opportunity to lose the crowds. There are lots of superb huts and the quality of the climbing is world-class allowing the climbers to be spread out thinly over multiple options. The normal route up the highest summit, Dufourspitze, is a tad harder than the normal route up Mont Blanc, but if you’ve been preparing for Mont Blanc you’ll have no problem climbing it and the slightly elevated technical bits make it a more interesting proposition.
- Monte Rosa covers a huge area and can be accessed from many valleys however, first time round, Zermatt, is probably the best base. There are no cars allowed in the area and so from the UK the best option is flights to either Genève or Zurich and then train links direct to the village.
- Monte Rosa’s height means you really will need to acclimatize before you make an attempt. Your guide will advise you on this but there are plenty of options from Zermatt including fine 4000ers like the Breithorn, Castor and Pollux, and lots of other lower level options. The normal route up Monte Rosa (Dufourspitze) from Zermatt is up the West Ridge. It involves a very long tiring glacier walk followed by the crossing of a narrow snow crest and a final exposed rocky scramble to gain the summit. You will overnight at the large but beautifully situated Monte Rosa Hut and make the usual Alpine pre-dawn start.
- Zermatt is one of the world’s premier mountain resorts. There is a magnificent array of peaks to climb there it including the Matterhorn, Dent Blanche, Ober Gabelhorn, Dent d’Herns and the Zinalrothorn. To aid acclimatization there are lower-level peaks, and the option to do some summer skiing and some world-class lift serviced mountain biking. The Monte Rosa hut is open from April to facilitate ski mountaineering ascents of Monte Rosa but for mountaineering ascents the season runs from June through September.
Aiguille Verte – Chamonix (grade AD III)
The Aiguille Verte is a real Alpinists’ mountain. It shares the Chamonix Valley and the same magnificent outlook with Mont Blanc but, by its normal route, is a far greater challenge. The route is committing, a full grade harder, the approach is longer and the hut that services it is smaller and more relaxed, which in total makes its ascent one of the most sought after and rewarding in the Alps.
- Chamonix is located in the Haute Savoie region of the French Alps on the boarder with Italy and Switzerland. It is on a main AutoRoute and can be reached fairly easily by car from the UK. This is a good choice if you plan to spend an extended period of time in the valley, however for short length trips, flights to Genève and then mini-bus transfer to the valley are the best option.
- The Aiguille Verte is a magnificent mountain and a very rewarding summit to reach. Like many mountains of this calibre however there are a number of technical challenges and risks that need to be safely negotiated. For this reason you will need to have had prior experience of major Alpine peaks and you will need to have acclimatized well and covered other comparably technical ground immediately before your ascent. Your guide will discus this with you and will most likely program one or to training peaks with you beforehand.
- There are two normal routes on the Aiguille Verte, the Whymper Couloir and the Moine Ridge. Which one you attempt will be chosen by your guide on the day depending on conditions. The Whymper Couloir is the most straightforward but when bare of snow, or when the sun gets on it, is highly prone to stone fall and so can easily be rendered unsafe. One likely scenario is that you climb the Whymper Couloir in the early hours when it is frozen solid and then descend the Moine Ridge later in the day when the sun is up and stone fall is present. To enjoy the Aiguille Verte you need to be happy moving efficiently over steep snow and extended periods of rock scrambling. The start of the climbing is accessed via a long glacier walk up the Mer de Glace and an overnight stay at the Couvercle Hut. Just visiting the hut itself is an incredible experience as it is set amongst a breath-taking range of famous peaks including the Grandes Jorasses and the Les Dru. If you also manage to summit the Aiguille Verte you will have bagged a once in a lifetime achievement.
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