“Want to go to Chamonix to the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy?” I messaged Vincent.
“Sure” came the reply.
And so we went.
It was the 3rd year for the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy in 2014, and I finally managed to attend after I couldn’t go in 2012 and 2013. And I was very happy that my friend Vincent from Hamburg, a very talented outdoor photographer, came along. Sharing these kind of adventures is always nice, even if there’s no lack of like-minded people at the event so going on your own is no problem. This year there were about 400 budding alpinists taking part in the clinics, which ran from Friday to Sunday with plenty of surrounding programme down in the valley. I was in Chamonix, the alpine capital of the world where hardcore alpine climbs are so easy to reach thanks to the teleferic.
I picked three clinics from the 18 different ones on offer: Technical Mountaineering 1 & 2 and Alpine Climbing. Attentive readers likely have seen my love for climbing & mountaineering develop in the past years and I wanted to use the opportunity to learn from some top UIAGM Guides before some more trips to the mountains this year.
Our Guide in the Technical Mountaineering 1 clinic was Maciej Ciesielski from Poland, an UIAGM Guide and Arc’teryx athlete. It was a good introduction clinic and we learned about short roping, walking as a rope team, building a crevasse rescue anchor and more. We pondered around on the Valle Blanché glacier and did our exercises there and time flew as we went back up to the Aiguille Du Midi just as the afternoon thunderstorms started to arrive.
Friday evening was Seminar night and I visited the Alexandre Buisse & Peak Designs clinic which was OK, didn’t learn too much new info but it was good to refresh the existing knowledge. Next was a session with two Arc’teryx employees about dressing right for the mountains, which was pretty good. Materials and different garments were discussed, and one had the option to check out a garment’s warmth performance with a heat camera. And thirdly was a clinic with LYO Food and Ines Papert. I had the luck to sit next to Ines and so we chatted a bit, which was pretty cool. The LYO presentation itself was the best of the evening, too - good infos delivered in a humours way that got everyone laughing.
On Saturday I was in the Technical Mountaineering 2 clinic which was superb. Steve Hartland, a British Mountain Guide, did an outstanding job with our group of six on the Pointes Lachenal Traverse. After inquiring about our experience and expectations we headed up to the Aiguille Du Midi, where we roped up and walked the snow arête down. Here we separated in three rope teams and I had the good fortune to rope up with James, an experienced mountaineer from the UK. We walked across the Valle Blanché glacier and the made our way up to the start of the Pointes Lachenal Traverse, which started with an easy climb on snow and ice.
On top Steve explained about running belays and proper rope technique and then I set off leading the group. We had a short rock section which we traversed with running belays, a quick rappel, a bit of mixed climb with running belays and then walked across a col. Here we had the option of an easy rock climb or to go around and climb the snow & rock slope. We opted for the latter because we were running out of time, and James and me again led the way, placing a couple of pieces of protection along the way. We made it to the top, just underneath the real summit, where we had a quick hydration & snack break waiting for the rest to make their way up.
Once everyone was up it was time to go down - the weather already started to turn and we still needed to cross the glacier and get up to the station. So walked down across the snow slope, jumped over a Bergschrund and walked back in the alpine trot. At the start of the snow arête up to the station James and I shortened the rope as the first lightnings started flashing and loud thunder was engulfing us. Standing on a snow arête is a rather inconvenient place to enjoy the beauty of a thunderstorm, so we quickly made our way up to the base station.
Safely back in the ice cave we were happy that we made it and had such a fine day. Steve debriefed us and then we headed down to Chamonix. I walked back to the B&B, had a nice cool shower and then slipped into some less warm clothes before heading back to the base station, where the Arc’teryx Mountain Dinner started. Vincent and me sat down with some friends, heard their stories about their days and enjoyed the good food. As we were slightly tired we went back to the B&B and so missed out on the Alpine Movie Night, which we heard was a good success.
Sunday was the last day of the event, and it seemed there were less people around than the previous days. In my Alpine Climbing clinic I was with Tim Blakemore, a BMC & UIAGM Guide, Jvan Tresch, an Arc’teryx Athlete, and a Dutch participant - which was a sweet ratio of Guides & customers! As the weather around the Aiguille Du Midi looked rather bad we went up on the other side of the valley to the Les Aiguilles Rouges - it was nice to see the valley from the other side. We arrived up in the mist and descended to a rocky outcrop where we practiced placing protection and building anchors for a bit.
After that we did the La someone route with a variation start. I climb the first pitch in my Scarpa Rebel Ultra GTX boots which was a good introduction to climbing in boots, but for the subsequent pitches switched into my Scarpa Techno X which was a good decision - they were easier to jam into the cracks and I had less difficulty climbing some of the harder sections. Overall the route was a good introduction to alpine climbing - I led three out of four pitches, belayed the second, placed lots of protection and had Tim around to give me tips. We did four pitches before we headed back to the valley, where it quickly started to rain - a refreshing change to the 35°C we had the days before.
After the rain Vincent and me went to check out the town a bit, had a Pizza with some fellow climbers and then the packing for the early start back home started. So how did I like the event? Easy: It was great. The mountains around Chamonix offer some superb climbing, hiking and mountaineering and should be on anyone’s bucket list, I’d say. Add in a very well organized event with good guides, world-class athletes and hundreds of like-minded people and you have a great atmosphere and a happening which is well worth visiting.
I enjoyed the possibility to go on tours with three different guides - this gives you the possibility to find a guide to your liking for future trips you want to do in the mountains. I can recommend all three of my guides, they were very knowledgable, friendly and had a good sense of humour. And as clinics at the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy range in price between 35€ and 95€ it is a lot cheaper than what you’d normally pay for a day out with an UIAGM Guide. Also the whole surrounding programme at the event was enjoyable, as was the possibility to try the latest gear from Arc’teryx, Scarpa and Petzl - very convenient for those that don’t own any mountaineering gear yet.
Speaking of mountaineering, in my opinion the event is a good place for hikers & backpackers to pick up some skills to take their trips into the mountains. Learning the rope skills for crossing glaciers and easy climbs is useful for those who like to encounter the beauty of glaciers (and the knowledge how to rescue someone in case of a crevasse fall!) and steeper terrain, or learn rock climbing from Professional climbers.
Bottomline: If you’d like to experience the beauty of Chamonix’s mountains, learn valuable skills, meet like-minded people for future trips, try out the latest gear, meet different UIAGM mountain guides, chat with world-class alpinists and climbers and have a very good time, attend the next Arc’teryx Alpine Academy. You can follow them on Facebook to stay up to date about the next year’s event or check their website. If you want to go - be fast with reserving the clinics you want to attend. The popular ones sell out in minutes, with the other clinics being sold out usually within a day or two.
Logistics: We stayed at the Chalet Haute Bohème B&B which is a 20 minute walk from the Aigulle Du Midi base station and 5 minutes to the local climbing crag. It’s a fine place with superb breakfast (banana pancakes!), a hammock in the garden and the ultimate views on the mountains and was 75€ a night. We flew into Geneva and took the Mountain Drop-Offs Shuttle Taxi to Chamonix, which was a smooth and fast ride. 26€ one way was a good price, too. There’s several Pizza places in town which have decent food around 10€, wine and beer is obviously super-affordable! In town you’ll find dozens of gear shops as well as a Grivel store where you can pick up ice axe, crampons and more. As an attendant at the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy you get some discounts on the cable car ride up, and also get some discounts for accommodation and the shuttle taxis.