If you’re looking to get into alpine mountaineering this summer, but find that most courses are a little out of your budget, then take a look at Action Outdoors, who has just launched their summer programme.
The company are the UK partners to the French organisation UCPA, a not for profit organisation set up by the French Government to encourage young people into the outdoors (18 – 40 years). It means an introductory course in alpine mountaineering starts from as little as £529 and includes everything required for the week – instruction, equipment, lift passes plus all meals and accommodation. The centre also offers more advanced alpinism courses including summiting Mont Blanc.
Katy Dartford attended an introduction course, based in Chamonix, last summer and explains more about the week:
The UCPA building is right in the heart of Chamonix, the climbers mecca that’s the one alpine town actually busier in the summer than the winter. When I arrived we given all the equipment we needed, such as crampons, ice axes, harnesses, and put into groups based on our experience level. Having done quite a few big days out on rock I was in a slightly higher level group as I just needed to learn skills like walking in crampons, moving as roped partners and using ice axes. We are also given booklet to log what we’d learnt and provide us with some basic knowledge and understanding of to be safe in the mountains,
The week turned out to be a superb mix of rock climbing, snow and ice techniques and general travelling in the mountains. The first day of the course dawned warm with blue skies, so we went rock climbing to brush up on our multi-pitch skills. Surprisingly, there were several belaying techniques I’d not used before, such as a different way to bring your partner so that if they were to fall, you wouldn’t have to hold all their weight yourself.
The next day, my group and I climbed a multi-pitch route on the Aiguille Crochues. It was chilly as we left the Index chairlift, but soon I was dripping in sweat again as we headed up to the base of the climb. We were taught how to place trad gear for the climb and moved off in groups of two to the summit. I was pleasantly surprised when my Swedish course mates unpacked a were bottle of red to have at the top. Apparently this is normal in Sweden, as is drinking beer in the sauna.
The fine weather continued for ‘ice school’ on the Mer de Glace, where we learnt how to put crampons on, move together across crevasses and had a go at top roping, then leading an ice climb. This we all found really exciting and rewarding- with more wine to be had on the glacier.
Ominously, after a day of slashing ice in relatively warm conditions, it started dribbling with rain as we waited for the Montenvers train down….
The next day it was time to put all we had learnt together and climb the Petite Fourches ( Little Forks) at 3520m, but in the morning when we were due to walk to the Albert premier hut it started chucking it down. However, after a morning at the indoor climbing wall in Les Houches, confident in us, our guide Pierre took us up to the Albert Premier Hut, regardless and we woke up the next morning to a dusting of snow across the mountains to begin our ascent. However, the snow fell harder and harder and it became too dangerous to try to belay and rock climb- so we stopped at the top of the Tete Blanche and retreated back to the Albert Premier and then back down the valley. And this was August the 31st!
The week however was extremely sociable, and although not luxurious, the food is really good and hearty and there is always some entertainment if you don’t have the energy to head out into the Chamonix nightlife.