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Peak Transfer | Safe Mountain Hiking in the Alps – Chamonix, Courmayeur & Saint Gervais
19th July 2015

Safe Mountain Hiking in the Alps – Chamonix, Courmayeur & Saint Gervais

Mont Blanc sits tall and broad upon the surrounding landscape ideally located on the French, Italian and Swiss border to spread itself into the three beautiful countries. Whether your in the Chamonix Valley, Aosta Valley (like Courmayeur), or l’Arve Valley (such as Saint Gervais or Megeve) there are fabulous views, remarkable rock formations and imposing glaciers on every face of Mont Blanc. These prominent features lure the inquisitive and adventurous up above the valley floor to the high alpine passes of the mountains to get a rather alternative perspective. However, with this urge for increased altitude the effect of weather, terrain and environment become more intense than what many may be used to at the valley floor. Therefore thorough planning and adherence to mountain rules and etiquette are essential to staying safe when exploring in the mountains. Here are our 10 tips for safe hiking in the mountains:

1. Hiking Fit

At the end of the day mountain hiking is an endurance sport and really needs to be treated as such. Although you are unlikely to be running 40 miles up and down the high mountain paths at great speed (unless your Kilian Jornet) you need to pace yourself appropriately for the length of hike your planning. Having a realistic understanding of what your capable of currently is fundamental to a safe and enjoyable hike when at altitude. Hiking at excessive pace or hitting the wall just ends up slowing you down in the long run.

2. Good Planning

Good planning is half the challenge! Yes, a cliche we know but so true when in the mountains. Yes, most paths and trails are maintained and signposted but trust me that does not stop you taking a wrong turn!!! Always consult literature if possible such as maps, guide books, internet or even hire a guide. This will inform you of length, altitude difference and trail condition/ difficulty of a route so you can plan a route to suit yourself or the weakest member of the group. Another thing to consider is to get a local up-to-date weather report at the altitude you are planning to be at as the weather can be significantly different at altitude and can change in a heart beat. You can find these online or at the local tourist office.Good planning is highly recommended when hiking in the Alpes

3. Take all the Hiking Essentials

Make sure you are equipped to deal with whatever the mountain can throw at you, even if there is not a cloud in sight! Hot or cold, sun or rain as well as food, water and a first aid kit for injury or emergency etc. For a comprehensive list of what should be in your pack when hiking in the mountains see our ‘Hiking Essentials in the Mountains’ article. Nigel Dooit a local IML (International Mountain Leader) said, “Something I’d always have in my pack…..I guess would be my binoculars which really help people to appreciate the sheer scale of there surroundings by picking out the odd Bouquetin or routes on Mt Blanc for example. Most important item would probably be your phone to call in rescue in case of emergency………never hike without it!” Nigel is a member of Chamonix Hiking Club and IML at Viva Yoga Chamonix, a new exciting opportunity to combine spectacular alpine views gained from hiking with Restorative Yoga (see picture below). For more information on Viva Yoga check out their Facebook page. However, make sure what you take is appropriate to the hike intended, lighter pack = easier hike, do not take any unnecessary clutter. Also don’t forget to fully equip your body before hand, eat a mighty breakfast and start fully hydrated to set you up for your hike ahead then all you need to do is top it up throughout the day.Viva Yoga Chamonix Hiking at Bel Chat Mont Blanc

4. Tell someone your plans

Inform someone not going with you (hotel, family, acquaintances) your plans including where you plan to go, contact numbers and expected timings. So in a worse case scenario rescuers will know where to look for you. Some people in the past have left notes on cars etc but this is not advisable as it can invite opportunists to take advantage, neither is going it alone (get a friend to tag along!). In the interest of safety be willing to turn back if the weather becomes threatening, we promise the mountains will still be there tomorrow.

5. Suitable Footwear

Now, its not just a ‘girl thing’ to have shoes for every occasion. If the shoe rack is anything like mine its a hard decision to know which to choose! Depending on the terrain, trail condition (soft and muddy or hard and compact) weather, snow conditions can influence your decision on what hiking boots/ approach shoes/ trail trainers or even crampons and gators you may wear . Good footwear should be broken in, fit well, protect your feet and support your ankles (ideally water resistant and lightweight).Mixed terrain conditions including scree and snow travereseing in Switzerland

6. Take regular breaks

I have often heard the phrase ‘Go hard or Go home’. But this is really not appropriate for the mountains unless your planning to compete in the UTMB…although even those guys have to take breaks at some point! We are not neccesariliy talking about a full blown picnic every hour but just appropriate regular breaks in accordance with the temperature, trail difficulty, length of hike and your pace. This not only allows you to get the much needed (and deserved) food and drink to maintain energy and concentration levels throughout the day. But also allows you to take that perfect picture, socialise with friends and strangers or just take in the view. Having your wits about you in the mountains (even on a well known trail to you) is essential so if you start to feel fatigued or your group are walking at a pace you feel you can’t maintain its better to slow down, take on some fuel or drink in order to stay safe and prevent risk of injury.Take regular breaks whilst hiking to allow you to take in the view

7. Follow the trail

Mont Blanc and the surrounding lakes and mountains accommodate 8,000km of signed, checked and maintained trails making it a hikers paradise. It is not advised to make your own short cuts or deviate off the maintained paths unless you know exactly what you are doing and where you are going. There is increased risk of disorientation, accidents and depending on altitude and conditions rock fall or old snow slopes. If in doubt look at your map, and if still none the wiser turn around and go back! Also be aware as you drift into the different countries (and even regions) signage will change such as little men and yellow symbols in Italy to the white-red-white striped markings in Switzerland to the orange dots etc in France so it might be worth researching this before you go.Follow the Trail with Peak Transfer in Switzerland

8. Responsibility for Children…

Children can enjoy a great day hiking if the route has been planned appropriate within their capabilities. Just remember that children may not take pride in meters of ascent or distance covered but opportunities to explore and interesting features to see. Be aware that on more exposed sections and more technical terrain such as scrambling will require 1:1 assistance so if you are planning to take a 5-a-side football team then take this into consideration. Among the most popular tips when hiking with children are to bring plenty of snacks, start short, and commit to travelling at the child pace! To engage children get them interested from the beginning by letting them help plan your hike, you never know they may have some good suggestions and want to see a particular waterfall, ice cave or lake and will have more motivation if they they what they are aiming for. Invite a friend of theirs, play games, look for treasure or even try geocaching.

9. …and Pets

We’ve said pets but we are guessing if your taking a pet on a walk its likely to be of the hound variety! Although if you want to take your pet hamster for a walk then go for it! The first thing to consider if you are planning to hike with your pooch is where you plan to hike. In France dogs are not allowed in any nature reserve at all (not even on a lead!!!!). If you are caught in a nature reserve with a dog you will be fined on the spot (usually by a plain clothed officer)! In Switzerland and Italy there are no restrictions (that we know of) so its worth checking your route before you head out, including whether you are required to have them on a lead on particular trails.. Knowledge and application of your pets physical capabilities and water and food demands are needed in odder to keep your hike enjoyable and safe for your beloved companion. the obvious code of conduct goes keep your pets under control and dispose of waste appropriately (buried at least 200 feet away from trails, camps and water sources) more information on this can be found here. If you are taking dog on exposed high alpine paths or even aided sections you may need to consider a fully certified dog harness to ensure there safety. Don’t forget to check for ticks, bites, burrs or anything else that could become a problem in the long term.Peak Transfer hike with dogs often in Chamonix Courmayeur and St Gervais

10. Respect for Nature & Others

Its amazing how long a single piece of litter can pollute the environment for! A glass bottle takes over 4,000 years to degrade and a plastic cup or aluminium can over 200 years. Even that cigarette but you think might only be an eye saw on the trail will leave its mark for 5 years. It is imperative that all those that embrace the mountains respect it and protect it also so that it can be used and enjoyed my other mountain and nature lovers for years to come. Each locality has its own set of guidelines (especially in the Alps and french nature reserves) but as a rule of thumb these rules are generally applicable:

  • Give way to hikers heading up the trail. Its also nice gesture to say a polite greeting to those you meet on your journey!
  • If someone is in need to help or assistance on the trail, stop to help them.
  • Do not scare animals and respect their personal space
  • Do not pick flowers, pick up rocks, or make so much noise  inhabitants of the whole mountain can hear you coming a mile off.
  • Carry out what you carry in (footprints are all you should leave behind on the trail!)
    And most importantly HAVE FUN, take time to stop and smell the flowers and enjoy the journey (not
  • just the summit!!!)
  • And, if you have room in your pack, don’t forget your camera.Peak Transfer respect the enviroment other hikers and the animals in the mountains

Emergency Contacts

If your in trouble make sure you ask for help! It can happen to the best of us and there is no need to suffer in silence…especially if this leads to more catastrophic circumstances. If  you require emergency assistance call the appropriate number based on where you are, Italy dial 118, France dial 112 and Switzerland is 144.

Local Emergency contacts: Mont Blanc:

Italy

Civil Defence Region of Valle d’Aosta: +39 (0) 165 238 222
Aosta Valley Mountain Rescue: 800 319 319

France

Chamonix Mountain Rescue +33 (0)4 50 53 16 89
Saint Gervais Mountain Rescue +33 (0)4 50 93 23 23
For further information on advise on what to do in an emergency including what counts as an emergency, when to call for help, what to do before and when the rescue team arrives then check out the Autour du Mont – Blanc Emergency and Accidents page.

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