Probably the most important factor that will determine your
success on a route is your psychology. In the Alps, just about
everything is pitted against you: heat, cold, conditions,
weight of equipment, fitness, acclimatisation etc, and it
takes a lot of inner strength to overcome these factors. The
best way to put yourself in the best psychological condition
is to be as prepared as possible in terms of fitness, knowledge,
and skills base. Most accident occur when people doubt their
capabilities, or have gone on when they knew they had pushed
too far. If you are content your training (physical &
mental) should stand you in good stead for a climb, then go
for it. If not, then perhaps it is best to downgrade your
plans to something that you would feel comfortable climbing.
There is always another day.
WEATHER & OBJECTIVE DANGERS...
In Chamonix there are lots of ways to get accurate weather
forecasts. The best is from the Meteo office of the Maison
de la Montagne. Anticyclonic (high pressure) conditions are
the most stable, and usually the wind speed at altitude is
much lower. If the reported windspeed at 4000m is 40km/h or
more, it is best to climb lower down until the wind has reduced.
The dangers of storms and lightning are well documented, and
the weather forecasts warn of these dangers. Climbers always
look for "beau temps" on the forecasts! Other objective
dangers, such as serac fall, avalanches, crevasses are dealt
with in other sections of this guide, but you must assess
the length of time you may be exposed to such dangers, and
your ability (if any) to deal with the consequences. As ever,
it is a balance.
SEASON OF THE YEAR...
Conditions vary massively throughout the year, and this will
have an impact on the clothing and equipment that you will
require. Before you choose a route, get advice on whether
it is climbable in the season you are planning your visit.
Also be aware that it can snow in the middle of August, and
be very hot on a clear day in the winter months. Another factor
in the season equation is that as the snow and ice melt back
over summer, the routes may become quicker to climb, but they
also are more prone to stonefall and some routes can totally
disappear. Always check to see if a winter route appears in
a summer guidebook!
FITNESS & ACCLIMATISATION...
Lots of people ask how fit they should be before they climb
in the Alps. The answer is simple; the fitter you are, the
more you will enjoy it. As a rough guideline, you should be
running (or equivalent) at least three times a week for at
least half an hour a session. With this minimum, you should
be capable of attempting most PD / AD climbs. Acclimatisation
occurs even when you are in Chamonix, and if you plan your
climbs carefully, it will increase to a good level for the
Alps after only two or three days.
Timings are crucial on a route. If you find yourself a constant
margin behind the timings, you are probably going to be fine,
though the conditions on the descent will be far from optimal.
If you are getting progressively slower, it's time to turn
back. The timings are there to let you know if you are safe
or not, and should not be ignored.
When planning a climb, the first consideration is where you
are going to start and finish. Huts are of great use in the
Alps, as they enable early starts without carrying bivouac
kit, stoves, etc. They are quite expensive, though cheaper
than hotels in town. Most do not have running drinking water,
so sell bottled water at about £3 a bottle. It may seem
expensive, but it is easier than hauling your own supplies
up the hill. Bivouacs are a self- fulfilling prophecy in that
if you are carrying the equipment, you will probably use it.
The kit is so bulky that it really limits the style of climbs
that you can do. However, bivouacs may be useful if you are
staying at the bottom of a route, leave the kit while you
climb, and pick it all up on your return. This enable you
to get a really early start on your climb.
Get advice on what equipment you will require for your planned
route, and if you have not got it, then you can investigate
whether you can hire or borrow it. If not, try another route!