Rock Climbing & Mountaineering, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
Lots of different possibilities: hire a guide for one or more days, or have a basic training first.
"Getting acclimatised before starting" is also here a golden rule.
Equipment: All info at the "Maison de la Montagne", just next to the Tourism Office.
This is a very do-able mountain to start out on. It takes only a few hours to climb, and has great views of the area and you get to over 4000 meters of altitude.
Stay at the Couvercle Hut for a real mountaineering experience. Watch for crevasses!! Many new and giant ones opened up during the summer of 2003. Check with the Chamonix tourist office or Maison du Montagne (across the street) for current conditions on this mountain.
We did see some people who were very lucky and fell into one. Why were they lucky? If they had not fallen into the crevasse when they slipped, they would have ended up where their packs did - hundreds of meters down the side of the mountain/glacier and perhaps seriously injured or worse.....
Only attempt this mountain if you are experienced, or with other experienced climbers or a guide! Be sure to have the proper equipment - crampons, ice axes, ropes, harnesses, gloves, warm boots and layers of warm clothing.
This peak is one of the 'Trois Mont Blancs' - a set of 3 mountains often climbed together culminating in the highest one. They are: Mont Blanc du Tacul, (4248'), Mont Maudit (4465') and Mont Blanc itself (4808' or 4810' depending on who you ask!).
Equipment: At the maison de montagne office you can find the weather conditions and forecast posted in english each day or go to www.chamonix.net for the english version on line.
Snell Sports, Coquoz Sports and Alpine Land (and others) in town will rent gear such as crampons, ice axes & mountain boots. If you have never crossed a glacier before, do yourselves a favor and hire a mountain guide. A list of guides (english and french speaking) can be found on http://www.chamonix.net/english/mountain_guides/guide_intro.htm
These guys do it all - from off piste & heli ski & snowboard to full on high altitude mountaineering - they are professionals of long and high standing.
The owner/founder is famous Himalaya veteran Russell Brice - spending every summer high on Everest with clients, he lives and works the rest of the year in Chamonix (well, Argentiere actually). If you want to ski, board or climb with the best, look no further.
They also have a very strong relationship with the Mont Blanc Helico - if anyone can squeaze you a booking when everyone's trying to fly into off-piste powder heaven, it's Chamonix Experience
Equipment: If you don't have all the gear, they can rent or sell it to you. Basics in winter include an avalanche transceiver (get new batteries!) and a probe and shovel but ask for a kit list for every trip - even if you know what you're doing - the Chaine de Mont Blanc is a seriously dangerous place if you're ill prepared!
This is definitely more involved than a standard hike, since you need to have knowledge of glacial travel and crevasse rescue techniques to go it alone. If you do, then there are plenty of places to go here. If you don't then you need to hire a mountain guide to go. The Mer de Glace is an easy starting place, or also the Glacier of Argentiere (accessed from Lognan) also leads to some wonderful mountains. The routes change from year to year, season to season as the glacier moves and crevasses change - so moving over the glacier is a different experience each time. Summer is the best time to hike (crevasses are easy to see) otherwise, mid-winter is better for ski-touring as long as there has been a good snow-fall to make bridges. Always rope up in winter!!!
Equipment: Crampons, ice axe, rope, ice screws, carabiners, harness, gore tex clothing, layers of warm clothing, gloves (even in summer since if you fall in a crevasse or when night hits, it gets cold quickly), good hiking boots, back pack and bivvy gear (but you can also stay at mountain huts), and a good trail map (and compass). You can go on day hikes or overnight.
Just a short distance from the center of town is an 'ecole d'escalade' - an area of rock made up as a 'climbing school' by the local mountain guides. The area is completely bolted and full of 1-3 pitch climbs to practice on.
Local school children can be found here on Wednesdays practicing climbing or 'flying fox' rappels across the beautiful spring fed lakes. Families also like to come here for the moderate routes. Great area for beginning lead climbers to build confidence. Gets crowded in summer so try for early AM or late afternoons then!
When you get to the top of the climbs, there are good views of the Mont Blanc Massif. Also on sunny days even in late Fall or early Spring, the temps here are warm enough to climb (as long as the sun is out).
Great thing about this is if you are short on gear and transportation, you can still get to this spot by walking about 10-15 minutes. In fact, if you have just your harness and shoes with you and no ropes or gear, try going down and talking to people and see if they'll let you have a climb or two. Various languages can be heard daily at Les Gaillands - French, English, Swedish, Italian, German etc. people all climb here.
Equipment: All you need to climb here is a 60m climbing rope (50m works on most climbs - check guide book), harness, shoes and about 12-13 quick-draws and a locking carabiner or two if you want to set up a top rope or rappel from the top (abseil).
The range of climbs starts at very very easy (French 3+, which is similar to US 5.4) and goes up to about French 7c (US 5.12d). Most routes (about 60%) are in the French 5+ range, which is about 5.8 or 5.9 - plenty of moderate climbs here to enjoy.
Guide books available in French or English at local book stores - "Crag Climbs of the Chamonix Valley" or "Guide des ecoles d'escalade de la vallee de Chamonix" list the Gaillands area and several other local areas.
Quickie Guide to French climbing terminology -
Corde =rope - shout this out if you are tossing a rappel rope down from on top
Degaine = Quick draw
Relais = belay station
m'assure = belay me
mousqueton = carabiner
casque = helmet
baudrier = harness
sangle = sling
sec = take up the slack in the rope
donne mou = give slack (slang term)
moulinette = top rope
en tete = lead (the climb)
The climb up to the summit on a normal route (Gouter, Mulet or Aig. du Midi) is not to difficult for a experienced mountaineerer. The difficulties on this routes are depending on the conditions on the mountain and on the weather. There are plenty of books where the ascents are descripted.
If you are not a mountaineerer, you could search a mountain guide (not so cheap...) to go up with him. Another option would be to enjoy the view to this mountains, a good place is for excemple the Brévent, a mountain which you can reach comming from Chamonix by cable car.