There are some alpinists who consider summer to be the only ‘off-season’ period for alpine mountaineering. It is indeed often in winter, spring and autumn that the combination of snow, ice, low temperatures and quiet mountains can give the mountaineer a spark of a big adventure, always tempered by the tougher mountain conditions and greater commitment.
In short, the going is generally tough, but the rewards can be great!
Whilst we mainly run private guiding trips for alpine mountaineering in autumn, winter and spring, we do also have a few group courses which are listed here:
Thanks for an amazing few days. You pushed me to achieve things I didn’t think I was capable of and taught me patiently. I have learnt loads and enjoyed myself enormously. Today fully type 1 fun. Escarra definitely a bit of 1 a lot of 2 and a tiny bit of 3! But overall the best day in the hills I’ve ever had.
Simon Everett, Chamonix North Faces & Multi Pitch rock, Nov 21
The easier mixed and rocky ridges of high summer are transformed in to bigger challenges in their winter garb and often just being out on the hill is both a privilege and challenge in itself. Some of the classic 4000m peaks including Gran Paradiso and Mont Blanc can be almost at their best in the autumn months.
For those of suitable experience, fitness and determination who are seeking a bigger challenge there are a fine series of North Faces ranging in size and difficulty to cater for most Winter Alpinists. From the Tete Blanche and Tour Ronde to the Chardonnet, Aiguille du Midi, Les Droites and many more. These North Faces give tough mountaineering experiences that are only suited to those prepared to embrace the concept that winter alpine mountaineering is hard work and not always ‘type 1 fun’ at the time!
Route Approaches, Lift Access & Winter Room Huts
Fresh snow in winter takes a long time to consolidate and where a glacial approach in summer is typically associated with crampons crunching on a frozen glacier, in winter it is more likely to be wading through thigh deep soft snow! This means that the mountaineer who can ski is likely to profit most from their time in the winter alpine environment, although snow shoes can be a reasonable alternative and often neither are necessary in the earlier autumn season.
By using the big 3 lifts of the Mont Blanc massif (Aiguille du Midi from Chamonix, Grands Montets fromn Argentiere and Hellbroner from Courmayeur) rapid access to 3300m+ is gained and, in good conditions and travelling on skis, some of the classic high Chamonix Goulottes can be climbed and the ski descent to the valley completed on the same day.
For those wanting to attempt the bigger faces or to spend more time up high in the magical winter alpine environment an overnight stay can be made in one of the various ‘winter rooms’ of the high mountain huts. For those who can’t ski or don’t want to carry skis over a climb, snow shoes provide the next best option and the greater times involved meant that an overnight in a mountain hut winter room is likely to be involved. This can be a fine experience in itself and give an insight in to the winter mountains outwith the times of the skiers and day visitors using the lifts.
See Our Article On Seasonal Alpine Mountaineering Conditions
Training & Guiding
As with all our courses there is a balance to be struck between ‘just’ going climbing and enjoying some brilliant routes and adding a more structured training element to develop your skills as a winter alpinist. This balance is directed by your aspirations and we provide a bespoke course accordingly. Please check out some of the suggested suitable winter / spring / autumn climbs below and the various options for training topics to be covered. Remember that the best training for going climbing….is going climbing!
“We had such a lovely time mountaineering with Rob off the Skyway Monte Bianco. Rob is an amazing guide in all respects— knowledgeable, fun to be with, and a great teacher. Couldn’t recommend him enough”
“Thanks again for a Chamonix wonder week Rob. It was a real pleasure having the opportunity to be out in the mountains with you. You did a sterling job mate and were good fun to be with. I hope we get the chance to do it again sometime. All the best, Matt”
Autumn Summit Climbs
Selection of Possible Climbs
Whilst any winter alpine trip in to the mountains is likely to be a physically tough experience there are a fine variety of routes offering good quality outings from those of moderate technical ability right through to the seasoned alpinist at home on technical ground on a big face.
Below we offer a selection of route suggestions that form a very rough progression in terms of overall difficulty and commitment. Many of these can be tackled in a day off the high Chamonix lifts whilst the larger routes often need several days to complete the approach, climb and descent. Your course itinerary will be tailor made according to your preferences for the style and difficulty of the routes:
- Traverse of Pointe Lachenal, PD
- Traverse Aiguilles Marbrees, PD
- Petite Verte, PD
- Cosmiques Arete, AD 4a
- Chere Couloir, II 4, 350m
- Tour Ronde Ordinary Route, AD
- Traverse Aiguille d’Entreves, AD
- Pellisier Gully, II 4 M5
- Gabarrou-Albinoni, III, 4+, 500m
- North Face Aiguille de Toule, AD
- Left Edge Route, AD, 350m
- Contamine Mazeaud, AD+, 350m
- Perroux Gully, III 4+ 5b, 350m
- Gully Variations, III, 4+
- Midi-Plan Ridge, AD
- Modica Noury, III 5+
- North Face Tour Ronde, D 350m
- Claire Chazal
- Rebuffat Gully, II 4, 350m Tour Ronde
- Fil a Plomb
- Aiguille du Chardonnet North Face, Migot Spur or Escarra Route
- Madness Tres Mince
- Charlet Ghillini
- Eugster Direct
- Lagarde Couloir
- Cecinel Nomine
- Winter ice and mixed climbs in the Aravis
The following relevant training elements may be covered on a Chamonix winter / spring / autumn mountaineering course according to your existing knowledge and enthusiasm to learn:
- Ice and mixed climbing techniques + good dry tooling options
- Winter climbing protection
- Simple and effective climbing ropework for pitching and moving together
- Glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques
- Avalanche hazard awareness and decision making
- Route selection according to current conditions
- Navigation including the use of a GPS
- Ski mountaineering techniques for ascent and descent to / from routes
- Transceiver use
Winter alpine mountaineering is not for the faint hearted and you should be fully aware before booking that every aspect of it is both physically and mentally demanding. Days can be up to 12 hours, or longer on a big North Face, and you must be prepared for this by being both very fit and determined to embrace the high mountain environment. You should also be aware that this winter / spring / autumn alpine environment contains hazards which are sometimes beyond the control of your Guide and be prepared to accept the risks associated with travel in crevassed and avalanche prone terrain and occassionaly threatened by ice / serac fall from above.
You will have ideally practised the skills of alpinism on a summer course and be already familiar with climbing, rope and equipment techniques. However if these skills are not already in place we can use valley cascades, lower glaciers, mountains and crags and put together a suitable training package.
“Just to say a big thanks from me and Chris for a brilliant few days ice & mixed climbing over the new year. It was exactly what we were looking for. I think we have both fallen for the world of mixed climbing and will definitely be trying some more soon by ourselves. I would recommend taking a course with Rob to anyone looking to try something new in the mountains. It was a brilliant way to get a head-start into a new area of climbing for us. Thanks again, Andy.”
Further Details & Booking
Equipment List, please refer to our Autumn – Winter – Spring Alpine Mountaineering Equipment List and be aware that out-with the high summer season you will need warmer boots (e.g your ski boots or La Sportiva Spantiks, Scarpa 6000m or similar), warmer gloves; a warmer duvet jacket and good quality face protection e.g. neoprene face mask, buff, goggles, balaclava and good jacket hoods.
Mountain Reports From Previous Summits & Routes Climbed in Autumn, Winter & Spring
28 December 2022, North Face Tour d’Ai, Leysin. Mountain Limestone Sport Mixed Climbing
Despite the recent thawing conditions with rain at low altitudes and mild temperatures, there are some activities that are pretty resilient to most conditions and the relatively new sport mixed / dry limestone mountain mixed routes above Leysin fit in to that category. We really enjoyed the mini north face ambiance with rapid approach on skis via the Leysin lift system. Then there is a rapid transition into steep and technical mixed climbing on the bolted routes of Casa de Papel (M6+) and the Voie de Droite (M7).
There are other routes on the face including the burly and trad Scottish route and the interesting mixed Harlin Route – which is a mix of trad and bolts. More info on that on the blog website of Simon Chatelan who it was good to meet at the base of the crag and thank him for these fine accessible new routes and inspiring topo to mixed climbing in SW Switzerland.
We stashed our skis at the col below the crag which made for a rapid and enjoyable ski descent back to Leysin with decent piste conditions all the way to the bottom which was impressive considering the piste runs through green fields for the lower third!
6 December 2022, Intro Winter Mountaineering & Snow Shoe Glacier Journey From Skyway Monte Bianco
Beautiful pristine fresh snow conditions on the glaciers on the Italian side of the upper Vallée Blanche, rapidly accessed from the Skyway lift. The cover is still lean but it’s early season – and great to be in the winter mountains, plus there is plenty more on the way! A great day with team New York doing some snow shoe journeys across the glaciers and some intro mountaineering with an easy ridge scramble and short snow couloir climb. More details and conditions update – including teams on the Marbrees & Grand Flambeau mixed routes here:
16 October 2022, Mont Blanc & Chamonix Mountaineering Conditions
Very close to the summit on this fine autumn attempt on Mont Blanc plus a general update on Chamonix alpine mountaineering conditions so far this autumn here:
Early October 2022, Winter Room At The Cabane de Moiry
Nice trip to the winter room at the Moiry Hut with rapid access to both the glacier and good training ridges and summits behind the hut.
Early October 2022, Zumsteinspitze – Rifugio Gnifetti – Monte Rosa Massif
A decent track in place through the crevasses on the glacier above the Gnifetti Hut, but no track from the Lysjoch meaning some solid trail breaking for Gavin, Eren & Alex, but a magnificent early autumn 4500m peak ascent here on the summit of the Zumsteinspitze:
The Rifugio Gnifetti is still open but the lifts from Gressoney are closed – but a 4 x 4 taxi option is available to give a good head start on the climb.
15 Feb 2022, Cascade du Dard, Sixt-Fer-Cheval
It was a bit snowy for ice climbing, but the route is a good choice in these conditions and we had a fine adventure culminating in a superbly steep final pillar of ice on the Dard…
30 January 2022, Big Snow Couloir Climbing In Les Contamines…
Brilliant day with Isabella climbing the Nant Blanc couloir in Les Contamines, with an enjoyable ski descent down the easy way off the back! Check out the details here.