Tuesday 1 January 2013

A guide to 2013...

With the New Year here, I thought I'd bring in 2013 with a post outlining a typical year in Chamonix, and explain what to expect from any given month. I get a lot of people emailing me with questions about what conditions will be like in a few months time, and hopefully this post will provide a bit of an idea, and increase the already high psych for a big year!


Tom Grant skiing below the Grand Montets mid station, January 2012.

The powder month! January invariably brings cold temperatures, a lot of snow, and fresh powder is usually available straight off a lift. The ice climbing might be good too, but I'm not the person to ask to be honest. One of my top 3 months of the year, and definitely the one with the highest fun to effort ratio given that you rarely need to plod uphill during the whole month!


Col du Bonhomme, Les Contamines, February 2011.

Another good skiing month, February is only spoiled by the crowds of people filling every piste and lift in the Alps. A bit of effort and local knowledge usually provides some peace and quiet (not to mention good snow) but if you're skiing the lifts, expect a busy time. Peak ice climbing season, apparently.


Modica Noury, Mont Blanc du Tacul. March 2010.

A great month, March marks the end of deepest, darkest winter and heralds the start of spring. Depending on conditions, you may be able to ski powder, climb ice or rock, and have a sunny BBQ all in the same day in March. 


Breche Puiseaux ski tour, April 2011.

My favourite month in Cham, April is all about variety. The ski touring conditions can be fantastic, but in the Valley it is often warm enough to rock climb in a T-shirt. So many options, so little time...


Reaching the top of the Mallory route on the Aiguille du Midi N face, May 2011.

A funny one. May has potential to be amazing, but in my opinion it never quite delivers. If we've had some late season sticky snow, then conditions on the high altitude steep descents can be amazing, and if we get some sun then alpine climbing conditions may be good, but the weather always seems to change so fast that I've never been a huge fan of May. It's not exactly rubbish though (see above), and does occasionally provide an unexpected great day.


Pitch 24 of "Le Soleil Rendez-Vous avec la Lune", June 2012. Photo Peter Riley.

Summer! Sometimes it is possible to scrape a few more days of skiing from the season when June arrives, but generally it is time to turn the attention towards climbing. There can still be a lot of snow on the ground so route choice is important, but the long daylight hours mean that it can be a great month for getting long routes done (provided they're in condition). 


Summit of the Aiguille de Chardonnay, July 2010. Photo Peter Riley.

Often hit and miss, July can be epic, or a washout. If the winter snowpack has all gone, and the early summer thunderstorms finished, then July provides long days, chilly nights and fantastic alpinism. If it rains, then head down to Provence for some sun and stay out of the hills. A bit of an "Inshallah" month, but amazing when it delivers.


La Meije, Ecrins, August 2011.

The height of summer! Much like February, August would be one of the best months of the year if it wasn't for the crowds. Every man and his dog seems to be in the Alps in August, so a bit of cunning is required to find some peace and quiet. If you manage it then August is amazing, but if you don't, be ready to queue...


Cordier Pillar, September 2010. Photo Peter Riley.

The final one of my top 3 months of the year, September is my favourite summer month.Slightly colder temperatures mean that the weather is often more stable, and the snow better frozen. What's more, there are usually plenty of routes in condition ranging from long rock climbs through to snowy ridges, and not many people about. Bliss.


Summit of the Aiguille Verte, October 2011.

Often a superb month, October usually brings half decent weather, and very good alpine climbing conditions. The one downside is that the lifts are often shut, so you end up doing a fair bit of walking. It's generally worth the effort though, and the reward is empty mountains and excellent conditions.


Pain de Sucre N face, Switzerland. November 2012.

Frankly, November is often a bit of a washout. The weather can be turning from summer to winter, and Cham usually receives a lot of rain and not a huge amount of sun. That said, if you are lucky with the weather and pick a good objective, you can be rewarded with some fantastic days.


Dry tooling at Le Fayet, December 2009

In anything other than an exceptionally dry year, the start of December usually marks the start of "proper" winter, and sees the first snowfalls in the Valley. There aren't many lifts open until later in the month, so December usually consists of ski touring when it's sunny, and training (or tea drinking) when it's not.

So in summary - January, April and September are amazing, and the rest is pretty good too :)

One final thing, there are still spaces available on a trip I'm running to climb Bolivia's highest mountain (Sajama, 6542m) in July/August. If anyone is interested then give me a shout.

More info here -