Utter the name “Chamonix” and you’re sure to catch the attention of skiers, alpinists and altitude junkies around the world. The village in southeast France is home to Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in Europe west of Russia), the Aiguille du Midi (one of the world’s highest cable cars) and hundreds of climbing routes, ski descents, trails and single-track. All mere minutes from town. With so much to do and see in the area, it can feel overwhelming, but we’ve got your back. This is the best way to fill a week’s worth of climbing adventures.
Day 1: Arete des Cosmiques
Chamonix’s Classic Mixed Alpine Route
Statistics: 4 Hours, Mountaineering/Trad, AD/4a difficulty, 500 foot elevation gain
Take the Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix to its terminus at 12,605 feet and then proceed through the alpinists exit via a tunnel of ice; onto the Col du Midi. Drop down onto the glacier and follow that to the right of the Cosmiques hut, where the route begins. (45 minutes from Midi.)
The Arete des Cosmiques provides a fun, easy, and accessible introduction to mixed alpine climbing (movement that involves rock, snow, and ice, while climbing in crampons) that Chamonix is so well-known for. This route only takes a few hours, is easy to follow (due to its popularity, there are almost always tracks through sections of snow), difficult sections are well-protected and it begins and ends at the Aiguille du Midi cablecar — making it a must-do for anyone short on time or who just wants a low-stress day of climbing in the mountains.
If gear rentals are needed, you can pick up mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axes, and helmets from Snell Sports in downtown and if you’re not comfortable tackling the route on your own, hire our friend Jeff Banks, mountain guide.
Day 2: Aiguille D’Entreves
Ultra-classic mountaineering route straddles the French-Italian border and offers tons of epic alpine views
Statistics: 8 Hours, Mountaineering/Trad, AD/4c difficulty, 1,300 feet elevation gain
From Chamonix, take the Aiguille du Midi cable car to the top, proceed through the alpinists’ exit, drop down the Col du Midi (the same as on the Arete des Cosmiques) and then trek across the glaciers of The Valle Blanche — past the Tour Ronde and then climb up due south towards the Col D’Entreves. (3 hours from Midi.)
The Aiguille D’Entreves is a classic for many reasons. It’s a mountaineering traverse (climbing with crampons) similar to the Arete des Cosmiques, but it’s longer, slightly more difficult and even more scenic. The route literally traverses along the French and Italian border and the views represent as much. While climbing, on the right you’ll see lush valleys and villages in Italy. On the left, you’ll look across the rugged alpine landscape of the Valle Blanche and Mont Blanc massif back towards France. This is not a climb to miss. Stay at the Torino hut on the Italian side afterward and treat yourself to the large meal included with a half-board.
Day 3: Pyramid du Tacul
Shorter route that provides excellent, sustained climbing at an easy-to-moderate difficulty
Statistics: 1 Day, Trad/Alpine, 5a difficulty, 820 feet long, 9-11 pitches
From the Torino hut, drop down onto the Geant glacier and trek back towards the Aiguille du Midi across the Valle Blanche. Contour under the Pointe Adolphe Rey to reach the base; start just left of the lowest point. (1.5 hours from Midi.)
The Ottoz Grivel-Croux on the Pyramide du Tacul is the shortest classic rock route in the range of the Satellites du Tacul. The climbing is excellent, opportunities for placing protection are frequent and its summit views are superb. The route provides a great litmus test for longer, more difficult climbs in the area. Make sure to get an early start so that you can catch the last cable car back down to Chamonix from the Aiguille du Midi.
Day 4: Via Ferrata de Curalla
Fun, vertical ascent with views of Mont Blanc
Statistics: 3 Hours, Via Ferrata, AD+ Difficulty, 550 foot elevation gain
If driving, follow directions to these GPS coordinates and park in the marked lot at the trailhead. If using public transit, take the train from Chamonix to Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, then take a cab to the trailhead. After finishing the route, it’s pretty easy to hitch-hike back down to the train station and catch a ride back to Chamonix. (40-minute drive/1 hour train + taxi.)
Take an “active rest day” by tackling Chamonix valley’s only via ferrata, which is Italian for “Iron Road.” Essentially via ferrata is a hybrid of hiking and climbing that was popularized during World War I to facilitate troop movements through the Alps. Series of iron pegs are attached to steep vertical walls which act as hand and footholds, while steel cables provide protection from falls by allowing climbers to attach to them using a special harness system designed specifically for the activity. Via ferrata is easy, low-risk, low-commitment and fun. This particular route offers stunning views of Mont Blanc on a clear day.
Via ferrata harness systems can be rented from Snell Sports in Chamonix or from a small shop at the base of the route. If you’ve never done it before, this informational guide from Petzl will teach you the basics so that you can safely venture out on your own.
Day 5: Aiguille du Midi
Classic route provides sustained, moderate-to-difficult climbing with short approach and superb views
Statistics: 1 Day, Trad/Alpine, 6a difficulty, 650 feet long, 11 pitches
Take the Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix to its terminus at 12,605 feet and then proceed through the alpinists exit via a tunnel of ice, onto the Col du Midi. Drop down onto the glacier and the base of the route will be to the immediate right. (20 minutes.)
The Aiguille du Midi’s south face was first climbed by Gaston Rebuffat, while wearing leather mountain boots, in 1956. Decades later, the Rebuffat route has become an ultra-classic and is a must-do for alpinists looking to push past moderate territory while in Chamonix.
The climbing is challenging but well-protected and it starts and ends at the cable car, making the route much less committing than others of such caliber. Though its access is inviting, weather can change quickly in the alpine (we got caught in a snow storm during the last few pitches). If you’re too slow, you may end up sleeping outside (or in the Midi station’s bathroom). Be sure to keep track of the time.
Day 6: Valgrisenche
Tranquil valley filled with moderate-to-difficult bolted sport climbs in an idyllic setting
Statistics: 30+ routes, Sport, 5b-6c Difficulty, 15 Minute Approach
A couple of days in Valgrisenche is the perfect vacation from your climbing vacation, but you’re gonna need a car to get there. From Chamonix, drive into Italy via the Mont Blanc tunnel. Follow directions to here, then follow signs for climbing. From the small parking area, it’s a short walk to the crag.
When Chamonix gets hit with weather, you can cross the Alps to the Italian side and find sunshine as well as a respite from the craziness that is the mountain resort town. Valgrisenche is a small village located up a valley just across the border. It’s chock-full of single- and multi-pitch sport climbs on beautiful limestone with short, easy approaches, scenic backgrounds and minimal crowds. If you need a break from getting pounded in the alpine, a day could not be better spent anywhere. Also, if you’re looking for something even more low-key, Valgrisenche is home to Valle d’Aosta’s longest via ferrata. But you’ll need to bring your own kit for this one because there’s nowhere in the valley to rent.
When you’re done climbing, there are plenty of places to camp near the road…or better yet, advance to the spot we found for Day 7.
Day 7: Hike and Boulder in Valgrisenche
Tackle a beautiful mountain hike that’s littered with boulders
Statistics: Dozens of Boulders, 10 Minute Approach, Miles of Hiking
Continue driving up the valley from Valgrisenche. The road will turn into a gravel path. Keep driving. Park when you can’t drive any further. (GPS coordinates here.)
The road from Valgrisenche practically leads up to the glaciers of Aiguille de la Grande Sassière — a mountain on the border of Italy and France. Upon parking in a small lot, there are a half-dozen boulders within eyesight. There are even more further up, or down, the valley. A two-hour hike will lead to the Rifugio Bezzi, a mountain hut where hikers can stay. Another option is to wild camp in the valley near the stream. From here, there are a ton of mountains, passes and valleys to access depending on your availability of time.