Please check the kit lists under the ‘Useful Information’ link. There are kit lists relevant to all the different activities from sunny rock climbing to an Antarctic Expedition.
If you are still in any doubt please contact us well in advance of your course.
If you are buying a lot of new kit prior to your course try to get out in to the hills in advance, ‘break it in’ and get used to it. This is particularly the case for Mountain Boots and rock climbing shoes which should be tried at home and ideally in the hills prior to your trip to allow for any problems and changes required.Category: Equipment
Does ‘Carre Neige’ (the ski insurance you can buy with your lift pass in Chamonix) cover you for ski touring?
No. We can provide specific information about what activities will be undertaken and in what areas but we can’t check individual policy details. It is your own responsibility to arrange an appropriate policy once you have all the relevant information about the course details from us.
Good question! UK residents are well served in this department with varied & comprehensive policies offered by the British Mountaineering Council (BMC). Choose your activity, choose your area, specify your dates and you will get a quote on their easy to use dedicated website. Another option is to take an annual policy if you have several trips planned. Non UK residents will have to find another provider offering policies suitable for their own needs but with coverage for the relevant activities & areas. Here are a few options to include in your search but please note that these are not personal recommendations as each individuals circumstances vary and they will want to create their own insurance solution. Also please note that some of the policies may offer maximum pay outs e.g. for search & rescue, below the actual cost of a large / complicated rescue, thus still leaving a large bill to pay.
- Global Rescue Insurance
- American Alpine Club
- Snowcard (only for UK residents)
- Austrian Alpine Club Membership (UK section)
There are clearly many other providers of adventure travel insurance. Please just check the policy coverage is accurate and sufficient for the details of your trip. Please do let us know if you find other policies which work well and we can add them to the list.
Yes. As per our booking conditions, it is essential for you to arrange your own insurance to cover at least the mountain elements of your trip. Exact policy details vary widely but as a minimum you should ensure that emergency search & rescue insurance; emergency medical expenses and repatriation are all covered as well as trip cancellation insurance. Insuring for loss of theft of your personal items is also recommended. This policy needs to be relevant to both the nature of the activity e.g. climbing, mountaineering, off piste skiing, ski mountaineering as well as the Geographical area e.g. many of our courses climb peaks over 4000m in the European Alps.
Zermatt – Schwarzsee return lift costs: Adults: sFr.33 Plus the cost of your Guide at approx half price. Discounts for holders of SwissRail Pass (25% off) and Half Fare cards (50% off).
Overnight stay at the Hörnli Hut: sFr.150. Small discounts for members of national alpine associations e.g. Alpine Club, BMC A.A.C, C.A.F. Plus the cost of your Guide at the same price. Prices for half-board (overnight accommodation, dinner and breakfast) are c. 150 CHF and 450 CHF for a double room. Check out the huts reservation page via the link below:
You can pay with Euros in all Swiss huts; some, not all, also accept credit cards and REKA cheques but cash is generally best.
If you need to spend a night in Zermatt we can book good quality and value accomodation to suit a variety of budgets. We often use the bahnoff hotel which has a mixture of rooms including dormitory style accomodation from 40 sFr. Again you will need to cover the cost of your Guides overnight stay in Zermatt at a discounted rate.
Lots. Unless you are an experienced mountaineer you will need to prepare for the physical and mental challenges of the Matterhorn well in advance. Rock climbing, scrambling and big days hill walking will all contribute majorly to this in terms of your fitness, agility, sure footedness, ‘head for heights’ and ability to know and manage your own kit efficiently. Training in the gym or in other cardio sports is better than nothing as supplement but in no sense as an alternative to mountaineering based training. The hills and crags of Snowdonia in North Wales and the North West Scottish Highlands provide superb opportunities for sustained days scrambling which will be excellent initial preperation once combined with some alpine and higher altitude training in the
week or 2 prior to the ascent. There are many alpine areas which give excellent mountaineering training suitable for preparing for the mountain. The most obvious two in terms of the volume, quality and accessibility of high altitude rocky alpine routes are the Swiss Valais and the Chamonix Valley.
Acclimatisation (and preparation) to try a technical four and a half thousand metre peak should be taken over at least a 5-6 day period, ideally with at least one other 4000m peak climbed and a night spent sleeping at around 3000m.
Go light! Please check our Summer Alpine Kit list for more information. Brief summary given here:
Quality pair of summer alpine mountaineering boots (e.g Scarpa Freney XT GTX, Sportiva Trango Extreme,) crampons, mountaineering ice-axe (c.50cm), harness with Screw gate karabiner and 8ft sling, helmet, rucksack (30-45L), head torch with fresh batteries, warm and windproof top and bottom layers, waterproof top and bottom layers, warm hat, thin gloves, medium gloves, 1-2.5 Litres of liquid, variety of snacks, sun glasses, very small tube sun cream, Insurance details, Cash (Swiss francs) for hut, Mobile phone…ear plugs for the hut!
With a 0400 breakfast at the Hornli Hut and allowing for good conditions, a well prepared party and an average amount of time waiting for other parties the ascent will take 4-6 hours and the descent 5-6 hours. Longer than this and the team risk getting stuck high on the mountain, moving slowly in bad weather or just running out of steam descending in the heat of the afternoon.
Route finding is one of the major challenges of the Hornli Ridge as the actual crest is rarely followed , especially in the lower half. Getting off route means the rock is not well travelled and will be of poor quality (re-trace your steps back to where it was solid and try again). There is a narrow ‘strip’ which is the normal route and where the rock is well used, slightly paler, scratched by crampons and generally more solid than the rest of the mountain! Sticking to this can be difficult in anything other than perfect conditions. Snow / ice / dark / cloud / rain can all add to the difficulty of finding the right line. Other parties off-route present a considerable stone fall hazard to other teams on the mountain.
Due to the length and sustained nature of the route and despite it’s popularity the Hornli Ridge is a committing undertaking requiring both good conditions and good weather. With too much snow and ice on the lower sections the climbing will be much more time consuming and only very fast parties could successfully complete the climb in a day. To be caught out high on the mountain in an afternoon thunderstorm would be an ‘adventurous’ experience at best. Terrain that can be swiftly negotiated when dry can become painstakingly slow and difficult in a storm. The Matterhorn is no place to be caught out in bad weather. With this in mind parties attempting the ridge should be fit and acclimatised, practised at moving on similar rocky, mixed and icy terrain in ascent and descent and wait for good conditions and good weather. These are most often found in the traditional alpine ‘high summer’ , July, August and the start of September.
The technical grade for the Hornli Ridge (Normal route from Zermatt) is UIAA III which equates roughly to British V.Diff or U.S. 5.4. There would be a few sections harder than this without the considerable aid from the fixed ropes put in place by the Zermatt Guides. This grade is based on perfect conditions of dry, ice free rock on the steep sections. For those not familiar with these numbers the Hornli Ridge includes very sustained scrambling and a few short (less than 25m) pitches (rope lengths) of the lowest grades of rock climbing. These may feel fairly straightforward on a warm day with sticky rock climbing shoes but can feel a lot harder in the cold / dark / with bigger alpine boots and a rucksack on.
The more relevant grade is the overall Alpine Grade of Assez Difficile (AD)
The technical difficulties of the Hornli Ridge are not great. The real challenge lies in the the length and commitment of this magnificent sustained major alpine route. All the hallmarks of a big ‘mixed’ alpine day will be encountered in abundance. A pre-dawn start; intricate route finding; sustained scrambling; short rock pitches; using fixed ropes; loose rock; snow and ice; Descending, traversing, abseiling / lowering in descent. A long day on the hill.
Position: Lat/Long Reference, 45.97980°N / 7.66020°E, Swiss – Italian Border
First Ascent: E. Whympher, F. Douglas, DR Hadow, C Hudson, M Croz, P Taugwalder (Father & Son), 14 July 1865
Hornli Ridge: Vertical height gain of 1220m from the Hornli Hut (3260m)
Italian Ridge: Vertical Height Gain of 650m from Carrel Hut (3835m), and another 1000m from the Abruzzi Hut (2802m)
Classic ‘High season’: Early July – early September
It depends how much time you have for the ascent. When people try and rush to the summit on the first few days of their trip, their chances of getting AMS are unacceptably high. People who spend 2 weeks over the whole trip usually have a very good chance of acclimatising well, summiting safely and even enjoying the tough summit day. Climbers on 6 day trips usually acclimatise sufficiently to safely attempt the summit towards the end of the week but everyone is a little different when it comes to high altitude acclimatisation and the important thing is to listen to your body and act accordingly.
Yes. You will need good quality alpine mountaineering boots suitable for taking crampons and warm enough for climbing in snow in temperatures well below freezing. You will also need, crampons, a harness, ice axe, helmet and rope. To state the obvious, you also need to know how to use it all!
f you or someone else on the mountain has a serious injury or is suffering from altitude sickness you should call for a mountain rescue. Before doing this take as good immediate care of the injured person as possible and establish the following information. Your location (description and map co-ordinates, for additional accuracy examine the smart phone applications that may be able to give you these if you don’t have a GPS) & altitude. The casualty’s name, age & sex; the nature of their injuries / illness, level of consciousness. Current weather, wind speed and direction at your location.
In the Chamonix Valley a mountain rescue service is provided by the Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne, (PGHM) an extremely professional branch of the French military. If you are near a hut, contacting the hut staff or using the emergency telephone in the Vallot Hut may be the easiest way of raising the alarm. There is also a generally good mobile phone reception on the mountain and if you need help you should call one of the following numbers to try and arrange a rescue. Put these numbers in to your mobile phone now:
Chamonix PGHM: +33(0)220.127.116.11.89
European emergency number is 112
Aosta Valley Mountain Rescue: +39 0165 230 253
Italy Valle d’Aoste Emergency number is 118
There is no guarantee that a rescue helicopter will be able to come straight away, or even at all in poor weather. This may mean that no one is coming to rescue you and therefore you need to be prepared by having some basic survival equipment, as a minimum, a ‘group shelter’, spare warm clothing and basic first aid kit.
Stay together and descend. The entire upper mountain is glaciated, which means that there are crevasses and the party should stay roped together because of this. You also need to look after each other as people suffering from tiredness may slow down and are especially vulnerable to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) induced by the high altitude environment. The only proper cure for this is descent.
Strong winds, above around 50km/hr, can make the upper mountain a dangerous place due to the cold, getting blown around and the loss of a helicopter rescue option. Poor visibility in thick cloud means crevasses and steep snow slopes can not be negotiated efficiently. Fresh snow can present an avalanche risk and rain will elevate the stone fall risk in the Grand Couloir. Alpine electrical storms present a very real danger to the mountaineer. Any one of these weather factors are likely to result in being forced to retreat, or not leaving the hut at all, on summit day. Poor weather can be dealt with to a greater extent lower on the mountain, approaching the huts and for the training phase but good weather is required to climb Mont Blanc!
Even in high summer the temperature is usually below freezing point and often around -5C to -10C. On a calm sunny day this temperature can feel pleasant and a short break can even be taken on the summit to admire the views and enjoy a sandwich. However with cloud and wind chill this can feel seriously cold and any skin exposed to the wind will need to be covered to avoid frost nip. Ascents outside the main summer season take on a much more serious feel as the mountains climate is more akin to Arctic or Himalayan conditions than classic summer alpine. Temperatures as low as -40C have been recorded in winter.
The classic season to climb the mountain on foot is during the summer months of June – September. Ski ascents are usually made from late March to May. The most amenable weather is usually during the ‘high summer season’ although the mountain and huts can get very busy in late July and August. Autumn often provides cool but fine stable weather and, with the closure of the huts meaning a greater degree of self reliance, an ascent at this time of year can provide a fine ‘expedition feel’. A tougher ascent but often with good conditions and a quiet mountain. Not many people climb Mont Blanc in winter due to the Arctic like cold, serious weather and deep snow giving very tough trail breaking and an increased avalanche risk.
Yes, but so is driving along the busy motorway to get there…. By hiring a Mountain Guide and receiving the benefits of their wisdom, accumulated from climbing many mountains before, a lot of these hazards are strongly reduced. By spending some time mountaineering training and acclimatising at the start of a Mont Blanc week you are increasing your own margin of safety. There are however some hazards that are beyond the control of the Guide. The crossing of the Grand Couloir on the Gouter Route and passages beneath seracs (ice cliffs) on the 3 Monts Rout present objective hazards that can only be minimised with awareness and swift travel. Even then they cannot be eliminated and folk should be fully aware of these inherent objective hazards when deciding to climb Mont Blanc.
No, there is no requirement to hire a Guide and, happily, in the mountains we are all free to climb as we please. However if you do not already have the mountaineering skills described above, and want to maintain a reasonable margin of safety then yes, you would be strongly advised to hire a fully qualified IFMGA Mountain Guide. Not only will they offer you a training and acclimatisation programme and look after you on the mountain they will also arrange other aspects of the ascent like planning the schedule, booking the huts and often making difficult decisions about whether or not it is safe to continue in the prevailing weather.
Via the ‘normal route’ the ascent is made on a rough rocky path, up to the Tete Rousse Hut and, in normal conditions, this should be a fairly straightforward walk. The next section leading to the Gouter Hut, often climbed in the dark, is steeper and involves some rocky or mixed (snow and ice on the rocks) scrambling sections. This is never hard ‘climbing’ but it is necessary to use your hands for the steeper sections and crampons are often worn, giving a fine mountaineering feel. This is the most technically challenging section of the route as, above the Gouter Hut the way ahead lies entirely on snow. The terrain up to the Vallot Reguge is mainly quite easy glacier walking whereas the impressive final sections of the ‘Bosses Ridge’ has some steeper snow slopes. These are sometimes icy and call for steady crampon work. The final narrow section of summit ridge is a little exposed but there is normally a good track and this provides a superb and fitting climax to reaching the summit.
Climbing Mont Blanc from the Aiguille du Midi / Cosmiques Hut involves a longer and steeper ascent on snow and ice. There is one sustained steep snow or icy slope of about 60m to reach the shoulder on Mont Maudit and overall this is a more challenging route. The Italian route on Mont Blanc from the new Gonella Hut is generally not as steep as this ‘3 Monts Route’ but is very long and passes through some big glacier country giving a serious overall feel to the route. There are many other routes up the mountain but they are all technically harder than the main three mentioned here and all require a lot more mountaineering skill to climb.
Whilst, on the normal routes the technical difficulties are not great it is very strongly recommended that you have a good level of experience climbing in crampons and travelling roped together on a crevassed glacier as well as the more general mountaineering skills of looking after yourself and navigating. If you don’t have this experience but hire a Mountain Guide to run a full Mont Blanc course (usually at least 6 days) you can usually develop sufficient skill at the start of the course to go on and climb the mountain with the Guide.
You need to be fit and fit in the right places! The summit day involves around 12 hours of almost constant exertion at high altitude. Whilst this is a generally tiring day there are also specific demands placed on your cardio-vascular system and leg muscles. This is best trained for by going hill / mountain walking or mountaineering. Working out in a gym is a lot better than nothing but is not a replacement for the real thing. The physical challenges of climbing Mont Blanc are often widely under estimated resulting in a lot of folk ‘running out of steam’ and having to turn around on the mountain. It is not uncommon for even very fit people like marathon runners to describe the summit day as the hardest thing they have ever done. Don’t be put off if you think you are ‘more of a tortoise than a hare!’. It is never necessary to go very fast on the mountain, more just to be able to keep moving for about an hour and a half at a time (before having a very brief drink / snack stop). It is hard to get a feel for the way the high altitude will effect you without actually trying it but be aware that it is extremely important to not get exhausted on the climb and completely run out of steam on the descent. So, in addition to a high level of general fitness, stamina and determination are also required to climb the mountain with some style and a decent safety margin.
A Mountain Guide will enhance your time in the mountains. They can enable you to achieve your goals with a greater margin of safety and pass on some of their massive experience of climbing, mountaineering and skiing. In the company of a Guide you will become a better, safer mountaineer and have a great time in the process.
If you are unsure about whether to hire an instructor or guide, think about it this way: Most folk are happy to spend hundreds of pounds on equipment yet sometimes lack the necessary skills and experience to get the most out of it. Traditionally, some UK mountaineers have had a reluctance to use guides and instructors and had an approach to mountain safety that was over dependent on equipment. Kit is easy to buy but skills and good experiences are hard won. Hiring a Guide is not an alternative to a mountaineering apprenticeship but it is a very good way of accelerating and stimulating your skill levels and ability to do some great climbs.
- There are many good reasons why people hire Mountain Guides:
- To enable them to achieve their specific objectives in the mountains
- To gain training, experience and advice
- Because they want to pass on the planning and organisation of their mountain holiday to a professional
- Because they have limited time and want to get the best out of an area
- Because they have few or no suitable climbing partners
To find out more about Guides and Guiding visit the website of the British Mountain Guides
John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)
“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s also unwise to pay too little. When you pay too much you lose a little money, that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. It can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it’s well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that, you will have enough money to pay for something better”
Most professional people employ the services of other professionals to provide skills they are not familiar with. Hiring a Mountain Guide is no exception to this and in terms of the overall cost of your holiday, in relation to what you are likely to achieve in the mountains, hiring a Guide can be a very sound investment.
The actual cost of a Guide generally works out cheaper than many other professionals you will be used to hiring. If you are in any doubt about the level of training, time, commitment and investment required to become an IFMGA Guide check out the website of the British Mountain Guides.
Considering the nature of the activities you will be undertaking with a Guide you want someone who is trained and assessed to a very high level and has a wealth of experience to base crucial safety judgements on. Make sure you are familiar with the different mountain qualifications available because many people call themselves ‘guides’ but are far from being actual IFMGA Mountain Guides. They may be cheaper but is this something you really want to economise on?
If you are mountaineering in certain European Alpine countries, notably France, Italy and Switzerland it is the law of the country that professional Guides must have the IFMGA carnet.
The majority of Guides will be self-employed and need to pay for a variety of insurance requirements; membership of their national guiding association; provide and maintain a range of mountaineering equipment and run a serviceable car. Guides work long hours doing a physically and mentally demanding and relatively dangerous job.
It is however the best job in the world!
Guides can provide you with a day in the mountains that could be the experience of a lifetime. They are very good value!
An International Mountain Guide holds the IFMGA or UIAGM award. This is the highest qualification in the world for guiding people in the mountains and relates to mountaineering, climbing & skiing activities. In some European alpine countries it is a legal requirement to hold this award to lead people in high mountain or climbing terrain.
Members of the IFMGA have qualified through rigorous training & assessment programmes run over several years by 20 different countries around the world including the UK, USA, New Zealand, Canada and the original alpine nations of Switzerland, France, Italy and Austria.
Even before being allowed to start this exacting training & assessment process candidates must amass a large amount of personal rock & ice climbing, mountaineering & ski experience and climb various big alpine faces often including routes like the North Face of the Eiger.
During the training process ‘Aspirant’ Guides are required to work alongside an experienced qualified Guide to develop some ‘on the job’ experience. This is a very valuable practical part of the Guides training and represents part of the hundreds of days climbing & skiing and training to become proficient enough to wear the famous IFMGA badge.
Guides will often know one area particularly well but have the skills to work in many different mountain areas around the world and many Guides have a remarkably extensive knowledge of different mountain areas as well as different styles of mountaineering & skiing. Guides are bound by the IFMGA charter and specialise in looking after people in high mountain terrain and enhancing their experiences, providing guidance, training and good company on all journeys in to the mountains.
- Keep your personal gear well organised and arranged according to the system of the hut eg Ice Axe, trekking poles & boots stored in the boot room.
- Crampons & other technical gear can stay in your pack which goes to the sleeping room as long as they are well packed away.
- Sort your equipment ready for the morning the afternoon / early evening before. Don’t leave it until the morning or late in the evening when people are trying to sleep.
- Have your head torch handy for entering / leaving the communal sleeping room without turning the lights on.
- Identify your allocated bed on arrival, lay out the blankets and leave some personal gear on the bed to indicate to other hut users that it has been taken!
- Get up promptly in the morning, fold blankets & remove all items from the room. Other people may be staying in bed & having a later breakfast.
- In the event of not sleeping well due to the altitude / temperature / snoring etc try to relax and just rest as much as possible!
- Very light silk / polypro sheet sleeping bag liner
- Plenty of cash to pay the bill for you (usually around 45-60 euros but can be more for example on Mont Blanc) and the Guide (usually around 30-45 euros)
- Alpine Club membership card if you have one
- Very little else – keep your bag as light as possible!
Toilet bags / bathroom products are not required as invariably there are very limited washing facilities.
Alpine Huts (Refuge in French / Rifugio in Italian and Hutte in German) add an extra dimension to many of our alpine courses and allow a very early start to be made often with quick access to the glacier or start of the route.
Staying in a hut can be a great pleasure combining the opportunity to be out in the mountains during the night / very early in the morning with a social & hospitable evening, often with great hearty local mountain food. Huts generally provide 3 course evening meals and a relatively basic breakfast of a hot drink with bread, butter & jam. Some huts, particularly in Switzerland, provide more extensive breakfasts!
Huts also sell snacks, chocolate, drinks etc which can be bought to take in to the mountains. They also serve lunch, hot drinks as well as beer and wine. Some huts have no running water which means bottled water needs to be bought. This can be expensive but remember it has to be brought in by helicopter!
Sleeping accommodation is provided in communal rooms with anything from 4 to 40 beds, so come prepared with earplugs! Huts provide basic toilet / bathrooms although sometimes washing facilities are limited or non-existent if there is no running water at the hut.