Countless routes – whether alpine trad classics, multipitch sports climbs, or so called plaisir (“fun”) routes, which are easily accessible and well protected with solid bolts – can all be discovered in the European Alps.
Apart from the unique granite in the Mont Blanc range and the marvellous limestone in the Dolomites you will travel to beautiful landscapes with impressive glaciers, peaceful meadows and canyons with bubbling rivers. Traditional habits, reserved people and a modern infrastructure all make the Alps one of the major climbing destinations in the world.
Plan the trip
Flights can be booked with all major airlines to Geneva, Grenoble (France), Milano (Italy) or Zurich (Switzerland).
At all airports you can rent a car. Chamonix, the French town at the foot of Mont Blanc, can be easily accessed by train, and also most of the climbing spots in Switzerland can be reached by train or local buses. For the Dauphiné or the Dolomites a rental car offers you more flexibility.
Where to stay
All over the Alps there are lots of refuges, usually owned by various alpine clubs, which offer delicious food and budget rooms for around 40–50 $ incl. breakfast and dinner. For your convenience you will only need a light tick or sleeping bag. Those refuges are the most suitable solution for climbers, because they are already close to the climbing crags.
Campgrounds can be found in almost every village and cost between 10 and 20 $ per person and night. The hotel capacity, however, is enormous and offers you from budget rooms up to a five-star lounge everything you can imagine.
The best time to go is from mid June to beginning of October.
For the Mont Blanc area the early season is preferable due to the conditions of the glaciers. The popular north faces of the Dolomites usually don’t offer good conditions before late July. For south facing slopes fall is the perfect time.
Rock quality and climbing style
The granite in the Mont Blanc area is unique in the world and of rare quality with excellent friction, hand and finger cracks. Yosemite climbers will find it very easy to climb because the cracks are often laybacks and corners which take gear very easily. There is not so much “strict” jamming as you might know it from the US.
The steep pocketed limestone walls in the Dolomites offer you sustained and demanding climbing. Sometimes very well protected with solid bolts, sometimes airy run-outs but always in a beautiful landscape. The rock quality can vary, but the topoguide rating system prevents you from the worst.
In the Dauphiné – which is in the very Southwest of the Alps, you can find a bit of everything: granite, limestone, glaciers and last but not least more than 300 days of perfect weather.
Weather forecast and rescue
A reliable weather forecast exists nearly everywhere and should be consulted before attempting a longer climb. Helicopter rescue is available but not during bad weather conditions. So first aid can be necessary in case of an accident.
Remember the emergency numbers 112 (inter-national), 118 (Italy) or 1414 (Switzerland).
Due to the lack of reliable English guidebooks it is very difficult to localize the best spots. Up to now topoguide.de, too, offer only a German version of their popular guidebooks, but at least the topos are easy to understand and self-explaining.
If you plan a pleasant round trip to the European Alps, we highly recommend these ultimate guidebooks from topoguide.de.
These books set new standards in terms of first class quality information. And they prevent you from the places you should not go to. Both books cover more than 500 routes in the major areas like Dolomites, Mont Blanc, Bregaglia, Dauphiné and the Northern Alps. The authors climbed all routes themselves and described them in a detailed manner, illustrated with colorful and impressive pictures. The guides are written by climbers for climbers. Reliable topos, info on the necessary gear, a little bit of history, topical stories and first hand information from insiders. The concept is very similar to what you know from the supertopo books.
50 meter double ropes, helmet and the usual standard climbing gear are taken for granted.
For granite climbs two sets of camming devices and some nuts are highly recommended. For limestone routes one set friends, some nuts and 10–15 runners are enough.
Some glacier approaches require at least one ice axe and crampons, prusik slings and 2–3 ice screws. For the regular approach in the lower areas, however, trekking shoes are enough.
In every area you will find many climbing guides waiting to show you their best spots. All villages have such an office.
The best area for English speaking climbers is Chamonix. In case of bad weather you can reach the Dauphiné within a three hours drive.
The Dolomites are also quite accessible because most of the routes can be reached in a few minutes to one hour from the main roads.
Betzenstein (Germany) January 2010
Nicole Luzar & Volker Roth
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