So you’ve sampled winter action in the UK, decided you're ready for the next step and booked flights for the Alps – but where to start? Chamonix-based Mountain Guide Tim Blakemore suggests five alpine peaks suitable for a first trip to the Alps.
Equipment: walking axe, rope, crampons and glacier rescue equipment. If in any doubt of your mountain skills and knowledge, you know the score: hire a guide.
Pointe de Vouasson 3,489m (F) via left bank of the Aiguilles Rouges glacier valley
This peak can be climbed over two days using the Aiguille Rouges hut (2,810m) as your base camp. Lying above the wild and beautiful Val d’Herens and village of Arolla (Swiss Valais Alps), it is an ideal first, first-peak. Day one is spent walking through the tree-line, higher alpine meadows, and finally the chaotic moraines of the Aiguilles Rouges glacier. After booking into the hut you can spend the afternoon practising your rope work for the next day’s adventure.
Start the summit day around dawn to take advantage of the night’s refreeze. The way is well-marked (though it's advisable to check out the first 20 minutes of the route the night before) – you follow old moraines until you reach the glacier proper. Here, don the rope and head north-west across it before summiting on a nice rocky peak (700m; three hours). Return via the same route.
La Louette 3,548m (F) via the South-East Ridge
Staying in the Arolla area, this peak offers another two-day adventure, this time based from the superb Dix Hut, which is reached via the Pas de Chevres. This pass itself makes for a good outing; it's reached from the village by following old ski pistes then good, well-marked trails. It culminates at a rocky col, which is vertiginous on its western flank. Luckily, it has been excellently equipped with ladders, which are straightforward to climb or descend – and if needs be a safety cable is in place for via ferrata equipment.
The summit is easily reached on day two by following the (fast-disappearing) glacier in a south-westerly direction before gaining the south-east ridge and then the summit itself. Return via the same route.
WATCH: Alpine Mountaineering in Arolla on BMC TV
Tete Blanche 3,429m (F) via the Glacier du Tour
The Mont Blanc massif has a hardcore reputation but there are plenty of accessible alpine peaks for beginners. Tete Blanche can be reached from the Albert Premiere Hut, which in itself makes a good, non-glaciated target for a hut walk. Start in the tiny village (and ski resort) of Le Tour. Here a lift can be taken to save a bit of energy and time at the start of the day. A well-worn and marked trail leads around the hillside (look down to your right for marmots) before joining an old moraine and leading directly to the hut.
For the next day, a dawn start should be okay (those climbing the Aiguille du Chardonnet will have left around 2am!). A good track is normally in place on the Glacier du Tour and it is a good idea to stick to it; later in the season, crevasses can open up here. The Tete Blanche is easily reached in around three hours of walking in incredible surroundings. Return via the same route.
La Tresenta 3,609m (F) via the Glacier di Moncorve and North-West Spur
This peak lies above Valsavarenche in Italy’s Gran Paradiso national park. One of the great attractions of this area is the abundant wildlife. It was originally stocked as a hunting ground for King Victor Emanuel II and the park was created to protect the iconic ibex from poachers. Nowadays they are doing very well and you stand a good chance of seeing them.
From the road head at Pont, walk through pine forests and open ground for about three hours before reaching the distinctive Vittorio Emanuele II hut, where you can sleep in the afternoon sun.
You are likely to have summit day to yourself (the vast majority of the people in the hut will be heading towards the Gran Paradiso) so it’s worth checking the route down towards the glacier the day before. Follow the glacier in an easterly direction before heading south-west at around 3,200m to gain the north slope, then the North-West Spur, which leads to the summit in around three hours. Return via the same route.
WATCH: Alpine Essentials DVD trailer on BMC TV
Breithorn 4,164m (F) via the South-South-West Flank
Now that you’re well-acclimatised and the weather is settled with little wind and visibility for miles: it’s a good day to go ‘high’. The Zermatt lift system allows you to access incredible glacial terrain and in effect you ‘gain’ a day every time you use it – it doesn’t come cheap though! The Breithorn is easily seen from the Mattertal and is an ideal first 4,000m peak. The route is entirely on snow and it can be busy, but the views are magnificent.
Take the Klein Matterhorn lift and gear up at the pistes. Rope up and duck under the piste markers onto the Breithorn Plateau. Head east-north-east towards the Breithorn Pass (3,842m). Now head north to the south-south-west Flank, which is normally well tracked. The rimaye (crevasse where the glacier is pulling away from the mountain) is sometimes a little open here but normally easily passed before gaining the summit in around two hours. Return via the same route.
Tim Blakemore is an independent, international (IFMGA) mountain guide based in Chamonix, France. He enjoys working at all levels, from novice through to expert and is a current trainer and assessor of mountain guides.
For more information on how to join in the adventure with him go to: alpinemountainguides.com
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