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Jon H

Can you help with beta on Chamonix?

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In about a week I'm heading off to Chamonix for almost 3 weeks of scaring myself silly up in the mountains. I've got some thoughts/questions running through my head and would welcome your opinions and beta on any of the these topics. On some of the questions, gear topics for instance, I've already made up my mind, I'm just curious to hear the opinions of others. Feel free to answer as few or as many as you want... I'm a beggar so I can't be a chooser :)

 

1. I'll be there March 29 - April 13. I don't have a handle yet on "expected" temps in town. We'll be camping (can't really afford hostels) so are we going to be cold and miserable the whole time?

 

2a. Speaking of camping - I haven't found a single camp site that's listed as open. Almost every single one shows an opening date sometime in May. To top it off, I've e-mailed maybe 5-6 different sites and none of them have even responded (it's been a week at least). Anyone have a line on any camping site that's A) affordable and B) actually open?

 

2b. If paid camping isn't an option, anyone have a line on where we can [relatively] safely poach a site? If we have to be out at 7am every morning we'll do it, even though it's not desirable. If we're gonna poach though, we'll need a place to store gear - are there any gear storage services where we can access our storage at any time of day?

 

3. Anything cool to do in town (or the surrounding areas) on a rest day? Maybe a cool and very exposed via ferrata? Not sure if a VF would actually hold appeal for someone who's been out on proper alpine climbs for 5-6 days in a row, but it might be cool to do just for the experience? You tell me.

 

4. For the sake of argument, on routes big enough to be a 2-day affair, does anyone bother with bringing a Firstlight (even assuming there is a large enough ledge)? Or do most people just carry a bivy bag each? Or just a sleeping bag and dry it out that night in town?

 

5. Is there a general preference for horizontal or vertical frontpoints in the alps?

 

6. Where do the snowbunnies hang out? :kisss:

 

I'm happy to hear any and all input, even the inevitable "yer gonna die!!11" comments.

 

Thanks!!

 

(Paging Powdherb, Dane, etc...)

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Most of the camping will be closed until it warms up. Especially, as there is still snow on the ground and when melted it is rather soggy. IIRC, most of the poaching sites are in the woods which will probably still be snow covered.

 

You are really better off at hostel or a Gite d'Etape (my favorite is La Tapia). Besides you need some where to ditch your crap while up high. Leaving crap in a car is not a good idea - unless you want someone to take it.

 

BTW the camping is up valley from Cham. and IMHO and pita unless you have a vehicle or like to hop the train back and forth.

 

Temps in town can be found via weather.com, weather underground etc.

 

As for some thing fun in town, I usually hit the bars or get a good bottle of wine and relax. The other if clear is to take a walk and see something that you will not be climbing, like the Dru. Or make a day trip and ski the Vallee Blanche.

 

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Check out the CosleyHouston.com web site (professional guides) There is a section "Alps Advice" with helpful information for climbing in the Alps...it helped me out a lot. Summitpost.org also has some good information on specific climbs. Hope that helps and have a great time!

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You are going to freeze your ass off this time of year. There is still snow in the valley floor. When the sun is out around noon life is good...hard frost here when it is clear like last night...when it rains or snows ..and it will life will suck.

 

Ice is hard in the gullies..verts.

 

You could store sheet in the bike "lockers".

 

But I would rethink the tent thing and get into a hostel. Save the tent for up high to avoid the cost of huts....but dude the camping there is above 10K and full on winter. It is the middle of ski season here!

 

The storms that roll through up high will make Alaska in May look easy.

 

We were stuck last week on the Midi for two days after a bad forcast (a dozen of us half guides and mtn Police)...if you were out side and unprepared for a full on Alaska blow you would have died. Simple as that. People were pinned down in huts all over the range that week. @ 50 to 100 Euro a night.

 

It is winter climbing here now and will be through April. More so than the Rockies (Canada )this time of year because of the added height of the peaks.

 

Huts and the lift WCs are what makes it possible to climb here in winter. That and being acclimatised, fit and fast.

 

But today it is almost summer in Chamonix. Good luck on your trip!

 

 

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Like everyone has said there is no real camping that time of year. The ski station by the brevant lift is the cheapest hostel and a good place to meet people. Plus you can leave your gear there for free when you go out to play on a multiday trip. There are some free unmanned huts that time of year. Which makes the price of the lift tickets and paying for a hostel not so bad if you can go spend 3-4 nights in the mountains at a time. Depends on the weather.

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2nd the hostel by the Brevant. Very cheap and she'll let you keep gear there as long as you want in the attic.

 

Climb the Rochefort arete and stay in the winter hut at the top of the Grand Jorasse. Of course you'll be in a unheated 'hut' at almost 14,000 ft, but it's free!

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Dude do not camp. You are crazy. Save up all you can before you leave; eat ramen, sell your TV, take the bus, do anything to save enough for a cheap Gite while you are there. You will have SUCH a better time.

 

I like The Vagabond it is (or was) a dirtbag climber kind of place that is 60% pub, 40% hotel, and cheap IF you skip the "half board." 5 minutes from town, 10 to the midi station. By beta is pretty dated but friends I have sent there in the intervening years have liked it. Walk out there and check it out.

 

The thing about the Vagabond is that if you are cool with them, they will be cool with you. The reverse is also true. In other words prices vary.

 

We got friendly with the girls behind the bar and the owner, and they would let us store our stuff for free while were out for overnights. Don't know if that was a general policy but they made us feel special. Buy them a few drinks on your first night. The favor may be returned.

 

BTW, In general, never pay for breakfast, even if you stay elsewhere, it's never a good deal. Find the supermarket and stock up on bread, nutella, etc for your breakfasts.

 

Another way to save money: buy all the bars and other trail food that you want here, and haul them over. Everything costs 2 or 3X as much there.

 

Soon, though, you'll be packing a tin of pate' and strapping a baguette to the outside of your pack like the rest of us. Beats power bars any day.

 

There are (or at least used to be) some huts that are "self serve" this time of year too, if you're looking for an acclimation climb you can skin/snowshoe up there and sleep in them for free. Just a roof over your head, though, nothing fancy. These are generally up the valley and not near the midi or mer du glas.

 

Run up your credit cards, have a great time, climb safe, and if you really want to increase your chances of fun and survival, hire a guide, but only this specific one: Francis Kelsey. He's American, he likes his job, and he 'gets' us. http://www.nosiesta.com/

 

Francis was the first American to become a certified Chamonix Mountain guide. Great guy, will set up a customized mountaineering course for you (He taught me and a couple buddies how to alpine climb back in the day. Great base education, way fun, best money I ever spent though I didn't really have it. :)

 

What's cool about Francis is he and actually likes climbing fun stuff with clients, and will suggest interesting routes according to your ever-increasing abilities. Unlike the french guides we kept passing, who always seemed like they were pissed off they inherited this shit job from their dads. No fun.

 

I have never hired a guide before or since, but I'm so glad I did that first time. Just sayin.

 

PS: To answer your crampon question. Mark Twight gave me some advice about crampons for my first time in chamonix: Bring classic semi-rigid mountaineering crampons like Charlet S-12's. He was right. Unless you're a hard man like Dane and want to do the Supercouloir on Mt. Blanc du Tacul, you'll be mostly climbing snow and frozen snow, not water ice.

 

Cheers!

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I like The Vagabond it is (or was) a dirtbag climber kind of place that is 60% pub, 40% hotel, and cheap IF you skip the "half board." 5 minutes from town, 10 to the midi station. By beta is pretty dated but friends I have sent there in the intervening years have liked it. Walk out there and check it out.

 

 

Beware the Vagabond. Stayed there a few years ago and the bar was rockin late into the evening every night. Not so easy to catch the 1st Midi lift in the morning.

 

I agree with Friedrichs other advice though. I got by without a guide while there, but they can make logistics a lot easier.

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Summer, horizontals might be perfect. Or if the plan is snow- easy mixed routes like the Cosmic arete. Plan on any ice this time of year (winter) and you will get a new definition of "hard" ice.

 

Have both here now and used both...just sayin, if you have a choice.

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Yup, will be bringing both but will probably be using mostly the Cyborgs. Bringing the ST's primarily as a backup for when I do something stupid and lose a crampon so the trip doesn't go to waste.

 

All this talk of bullet hard ice makes me wish I ponied up for a set of your ColdThistle picks. Got a pair with you in Cham that I can demo?

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How is Chamonix treating you? I think I might be there around the start of July!! Woot Woot.

 

From what I have read it is fairly easy to get around town on foot, and get to the base of the trams on foot. I'll be there solo without a car, so I figured I'd get a hostel downtownish, sound about right?

 

I am interested in doing some mountaineering while there. Does anybody have any experience about finding english speaking partners there, or about climbing solo. I would love to try the Three Mont Blanc route, which looks quite doable from a solo aspect, but is there anything that I am missing?

 

Also, how did people actually get to Chamonix? Fly into Geneva then take the shuttle? Fly to Paris and take the train? Any advice on any maters would be greatly appreciated!!

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Fly to Geneve take a shuttle bus to Cham. Leaves from the airport and dumps you off where you want in Cham. For a partner, goto the guides office and put a note in the book. I soloed the triple cols route years ago in late June and found the route not technically hard just a long day up high. The alps did not have much snow this winter and the spring was warm. As such, cracks and shrunds are open.

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I flew into Paris and took the train - that was pretty straightforward - there is an Air France shuttle (whether you flew in on AirF or not) that takes you from the airport to the Gare de Lyon (main train station). I know of one person who took the metro from the airport to the train station, but that sounded like an epic with all the gear.

Flying into Geneva and taking the bus to Cham seems like the easiest way to go, but for me it ended up being cheaper to fly into Paris by several hundred euros.

Finding english speaking partners is not too bad, the OHM has a book for "partner finding" that you can sign in or get people's contact info. I've heard the library is quite good for that too.

I was in Cham for all of April and things are looking very bare for the time of year. "Worst snow year in 50 years" I was told. It can only be looking worse.

 

As far as Hostels go, we found the Chalet Ski Station to be pretty nice and cheap, the owner, Veronique is extremely nice and will let you store your stuff in the attic for free while you're away climbing. Showers are .75 euros, but other than that it's 14.50 euros/night. Pretty inexpensive, considering camping is around about 10 euros/night.

 

Have fun and be safe

Edited by EastCoastBastard

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Alright I'm flying into Geneva- that sounds the most straight forward. Just a few questions. I assume since Cham is the hub of all outdoor activities that I'll easily be able to get MSR canister fuel. I would really prefer not to have to go out and buy a liquid gas stove and buy liquid gas there, and instead just buy a canister there.

 

The second Q pertains to ice axes. I am going solo, and know nobody there so I was just thinking about taking a BD Venom. Is it worth my time to bring a pair of Vipers instead, incase I meet somebody looking to do something a little more interesting?

 

It's my first time truly traveling with an intent to climb, and granted its only going to be for a week, but I don't want to show up and not have the right gear. Any advice on that matter?

 

Thanks guys, I appreciate all the help!

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I'd say travel with luggage you can manage. If you can easily fit the technical gear in your luggage - bring it. If not - maybe not.

 

Particularly if you are going to Cham, and not planning on going anywhere else for any other reason, bring as much as you can. But even still: the biggest cost of your trip lies in the airfare and other "logistics." The cost of ice tools is relatively little, even if you have to buy a pair of ice tools on a bulletin board or even brand new at a climbing shop. I have not been there for 20 years and don't know about the MSR canisters, and I'm sure somebody else here can give you good advice. But even if you have to buy a new stove it won't change your trip. And if you meet somebody who is ready to climb there is a big chance they will have that other stove that has canisters available on the street.

 

I have met people in California, Nepal, and New Zealand for some of the biggest climbs in my climbing career. If you are ready to climb, you'll probably have a good trip.

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Finding gas will not be a problem. Snell's is probably the most frequented shop. Bring both your tools, leave the long ax at home. Instead bring a ski pole. One of the most popular excursions is the Chéré Couloir on Mt. Blanc Du Tacul. A nice little WI3 that now a days gets the shit beat out it. But if you want to do the Triple Cols it is a nice little warm up / acclimatization route. In fact, that is what I did, climbed the Chéré one morning after riding the telépherique up, relax that afternoon and when took a walk over to Mont Blanc the next morning.

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I would bring your technical tools, and as other said, be ready/prepared to climb anything. However, I was just there in April (left the 28th) and all of the ice climbs were beat to hell, esp the chere couloir. 7 - 10 parties/day and above freezing temps will do that.

I would go planning on doing some alpine rock.

 

 

Also - are you familiar with the UKClimbing forum? If you aren't, I'd join and put up a looking for partners post - lots of people go there looking for partners - I met the best random partner I've had on there (to climb in Cham). And made arrangements with several more that fell through.

 

Edited by EastCoastBastard

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