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Peak Transfer | Rock Climbing for Beginners in Chamonix – Chamonix Crag Guide
6th July 2015

Rock Climbing for Beginners in Chamonix – Chamonix Crag Guide

Given Chamonix’s reputation and with the climbing world cup taking place here next week hopefully one or two of you will be inspired to give climbing a try. It would be rude not to right? Many people find themselves in the same situation in Chamonix, they are in a bar talking to one of the many outdoor folk and mention they would really like to get into climbing and ask the question, Where is the best place to climb outdoors. Having got into deep conversation with said person about the amazing climbing around you find out the crag they have recommended is full of multi-pitch trad routes all graded 6’s and 7’s which the likelihood as a beginner have absolutely no hope in hell of climbing (whether that be due to lack of ability, knowledge or appropriate gear).
To save you the hassle we at Peak Transfer & Vertical Gear have come up with the Basics you need to know and the best beginner crags in the Chamonix Valley.

What you need to know

Guide/ Instructors

If you are a complete beginner we strongly recommend getting a guide or rock climbing instructor to learn the basics. As you can imagine there are plenty of these available in the Chamonix Valley that offer private and grouped instruction for half a day or longer. If you can get a group of you together it can make learning really cost effective. They also tend to supply all the required equipment as well so you dont have to commit and beg, borrow or buy all the equipment yourself! Here are just a small handful of companies offering guides and instruction in Chamonix Valley.

Grades

Most of Europe tend to use the French numerical Grading System. The grades are based upon technical difficulty and how strenuous the route is. This systems starts at 1 which is very easy (easy scrambling) and increases with difficulty. Each of these numbers are further divided into a,b and c where a is the easiest and c is more difficult. A + can also be added to show added difficulty of a route. Therefore, grades would ascend like this 5c+, 6a, 6a+, 6b, 6b+ etc.
The French grading is as follows:

  • Grades 1 – 3c Ideal for Novices tend to be easy scrambling, usually of staircases of rock withbig holds and many rest points
  • Grades 4a – 5a ideal for Beginners usually have decent hand holds and comfortable foot placements on slab or vertical rock
  • Grades 5b – 6b ideal for Intermediate climbers usually requiring some technique and experience.
  • Grades 6b+ – 7a+ ideal for Advanced climbers… or just those with an athletic ability and sticky fingers and toes.
  • Grades 7b – and above for Expert/ elite climbers…. to us mere mortals it just looks like a smooth blanc wall of nothing… do people seriously climb up this?!?

Types of Climbing

There are quite a few different types of climbing and not all can be guessed by their name alone! The media are the worst for this thinking free climbing is for daredevils climbing big walls without a rope. When it actually means something quite different. We have broken these into styles, types of climbing and protection.

Styles of Climbing

There are two styles of climbing:

  1. Free Climbing – where you only use your hand and feet to climb a rock. No Climbing Aids are used to get up only holding or stepping on natural features.
  2. Aid Climbing – is the use of fixed or placed aids (pulling or standing on) to ascend a rock. These can be to pull on fixed ropes, iron cables,

Climbing Techniques

  • Top Roping – As a beginner you will usually be top roping, this means the experienced friend or instructor will lead and place a rope for you at an anchor at the top so you do not have to worry about clipping into quick draws etc.Top roping for beginner rock climbing in Chamonix
  • Lead-climbing – Is where a climber a climber tied into a dynamic rope and periodically clips into protection they have placed (traditional) or into a quickdraw clipped to a fixed bolt/ anchor (sport). This is to protect them incase of a fall where a belayer can catch them on the rope.
    • Sport Climbing – requires permanent fixed protection including bolts and anchors which enable a climber to place quickdraws as they ascend the rock.
    • Traditional (Trad) climbing – is where they is no permanent fixed protection on the rock and therefore the climber places temporary protection themselves before clipping into it.

      Sport climbing in Chamonix Mont Blanc with Peak Transfer

      Sport route with fixed bolts allowing quickdraws to be placed.

  • Bouldering – are short routes or boulders (usually less than 4m) where a harness and rope are not required to climb but a bouldering mat (small crash mat) is definitely recommended.Peak Transfer went Bouldering in Chamonix Mont Blanc
  • Free soloing – where a climber ascends the wall without the protection of a rope or harness. Unlike bouldering Free soloing is usually involves climbs a lot higher where risk of falling can result in injury or death. This should not be confused with free climbing which just means that you do not pull or step on aids to climb.

Equipment

For basic ‘sport’ rock climbing you will need the following equipment

  • a climbing harness (young/ small children will need a full body harness)Climbing harness for beginner rock climbing
  • climbing shoesPeak Transfer climbing shoes
  • a cowstail (sling permanently attached to belay loop and screw gate carabiner to harness)
  • approximately 12-15 quickdrawsQuickdraws are needed for rock climbing for beginners in Chamonix
  • dynamic climbing rope (usually 10mm thick and at least 60m long but crag and pitch dependent)
  • belay deviceQuickdraws are needed for rock climbing for beginners in Chamonix
  • a helmet is highly recommended (rockfall and falling can result in nasty head injuries its ALWAYS recommended to wear a helmet).

Safety

Emergency Contact Numbers:

  • Ambulance/ Emergency medical assistance: +33 (0)4 50 53 46 20
  • Call all emergency service from mobile on 112.
  • Secours en Montagne / Mountain rescue: +33 (0)4 50 53 16 89

Common sense is key to climbing.
When learning, always climb with either a professional (i.e. instructor) or an experienced friend. Don’t hesitate to question your instructor or climbing partner no matter their experience level, a good partner won’t mind you questioning their methods or checking safety.

  • Make sure when climbing you are always ‘safe’ and secured to the rope or an anchor via a ‘cows tail’ at all times!
  • Double check your knots and anchorsKnot needed to tie in for rock climbing
  • Make sure rope is long enough (double the length of the pitch you are climbing so that you can get back down safely make sure the belayer ties a knot at end of the rope or you both tie into the rope at each end so they don’t accidentally run out of rope and drop the climber! The photo below demonstrates this…Runout rope Peak Transfer
  • Be aware that the bolts and anchors fixed to routes may be very old and not fit for purpose (although usually this is not the case at popular climbing spots). Never trust your safety on ONE single bolt. It is best practise to be attached by TWO independent bolts!

Before you climb

  • Get a guide book! There is nothing worse than getting to a crag looking at what you think is an easy route (looks are generally deceiving in climbing) and knocking all your confidence because you have actually tried to climb a 7a+ route by accident. Guide books will inform you how to get to a crag, about the crag, best time to climb, any nearby bars, huts or cafes and most importantly have a picture illustrating where all the routes are, an explanation of the route and its grade. We would personally recommend ‘Crag Climbs in Chamonix’ by Burnier & Potard. Although we have recently learnt the English version has just gone out of Print and maybe a bit more tricky to get hold of. If that is the case check online or pop into the many bookshops on the high street of chamonix most of which stock a number of different climbing guides.
  • Check the weather
  • Take note of the direction the crag is facing for sun/ dampness. North faces are generally in the shade and take a long time to dry after rain compared to a south facing crag will be in the sun a lot of the day and will dry quicker after rain than other facing crags.
  • Make sure you have all of the required equipment and you have a long enough rope for the crag you’re going to climb. Sounds like a given but you will be surprised what can be left in the car boot or the kitchen table when you open your bag at a crag.Safety equipment on harness ready for rock climbing Chamonix
  • Try to climb with someone a slightly higher grade or experience than you so you can learn from them.
  • Check your equipment is not damaged, needs replacing (i.e. belay loop is not frayed, rope has not cuts or tears in it, hardware does not have signs of rope wear)

Best beginner crags in Chamonix Valley

Le Fayet

Le Fayet du bas is a small beginners crag located in the Parc Thermal. Located in this park with plenty of green space and woods its perfect for a half or full day out combined with other activities and a picnic. A firm family friendly day out. It can get very busy in the summer but you can avoid crowds and the heat by climbing early in the mornings
Access: The crag is less than 5 minutes walk from the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains-Le Fayet train station or if you would prefer to drive follow the route blanche to Le Fayet and then follow signposts to Parc Thermal. As you drive through Parc Thermal you will see the crag on your left just past the swimming pool and a children’s play park on your right. You can park for free at any of the recognisable car parks.
Rock Type: Granular gneiss
Aspect: North West facing
Routes: 22 routes from 20-40m of grades 3b to 5c

ServozServoz Rock Climbing for beginners in Chamonix

Is a really convenient crag with a lot to offer, including good holds (known as jugs), multi pitch, single pitch of varying grades. There are even some overhung routes for those of you feeling adventurous! Right next to road opposite (name of cafe) where you can get all sorts of weird and wonderful delights including a Marmot burger if you’re that way inclined (yes they really do serve this).
Access: From Route Blanche turn off at Servoz towards the Gorges de la Diosaz (D13). The area is Plain Saint Jean, before you get to Servoz village you will see the crag on the right hand side of the road opposite the small cafe/restaurant on the left. Just park in the gravel car park. You can get the Mont Blanc Express to Servoz but it is a 2km walk to the crag.Peak Transfer went Rock Climbing in Servoz
Rock Type: Schist
Aspect: West Facing
Routes: There are 27 routes some of which have multiple pitches ranging between grades 2c to 7c. Most routes are at 4 and 5 grades.

Les Chavants – Les Houches

A very small crag but a perfect beginners spot with easy routes and some really interesting climbing, even if it’s just for the day. Again its very convenient crag in a great location to make a day of it. Located next to the park, botanical garden, woods and lake in Les Houches its perfect for a picnicking and other activities such as biking etc or any non-climbers that would like to tag along.
Les Chavants in Les Houches Rock Climbing with Peak Transfer
Access: Get off the Route Blanche at le Houches, continue through the village. Pass the Prarion gondola on your left, straight over a roundabout, take road on the right. You will see the lake and park on your right where you can also park in gravel car park. You can see the crag at the far end of the field.
Rock Type: Gneiss
Aspect: West facing
Routes: 11 easy routes approximately 20m high with lots of beginner friendly holds. Graded mostly as 3’s and 4’s but a couple of 5c’s as a challenge.

Les Gaillands

Beginner Rock Climbing at Gaillands in Chamonix with Peak TransferProbably the most popular crag in Chamonix, mainly due to its central location and offering a lot of versatile climbing from slabs, to cracks, to overhangs. The stunning surroundings of the lake high ropes, cafe and access to hiking and mountain biking routes. Not to mention Mont Blanc as a backdrop its peak reflecting in the lake.
Access: Just under 2km from Chamonix town centre you can walk or catch the bus towards Gaillands (le Vert hotel) signposted from Chamonix centre. You will come to lakes on both sides at which point if you look to your right you will see the petit and grand gailland crags. If you would rather drive there is plenty of parking in the car park or on the road following the same route described previously.Gaillands Park in Chamonix Mont Blanc
Rock Type: Gneiss
Aspect: South / South-East facing
Routes: Over half of the routes are graded 5+ and lower. Pitches are of varying length so you may need a few for bits of gear than normal (check your guide book!).

Vallorcine

Great rock and varied climbing this popular crag is ideal for new budding climbers and novices learning the ropes. Although not as quickly accessed as the other crags mentioned a 15-minute walk in (this is still considered quite short for hike in by typical climbing standards). You get a lovely view of the Vallorcine valley and its beautiful inhabitants
Access: From Chamonix follow signposts out of town towards Argentière and Martiny (Switzerland). Pass the Col des Montets and continue along the main road until you reach the village of Vallorcine. Turn right at Vallorcine towards the train station, cross over the tracks and keep to the right you will see a path on your left  after 50m heading towards the crag in the distance. You can also get the Mont Blanc Express to Vallorcine and continue using the same directions on foot mentioned previously.
Rock Type: Granite (thought to be the best in the Region by some!!!)
Aspect: North-East facing
Routes: 25 routes, up to 100m high

For last minute bookings call our transfer hotline: +33 (0) 679 851 810