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A SUMMER ADVENTURE IN CHAMONIX        by Katy Dartford

Summer in Chamonix can be just as exhilarating as it is in the ski season. With careful planning, and a cautious eye on the weather, you can experience all its great ridges and summits without spending a fortune on a guide.


The snow in the valley has melted and temperatures are beginning to soar, but there is still plenty to do in Chamonix outside of the ski season - and it can be done on a budget. But beware. Whilst planning which crags to climb, peaks to “bag”, and hikes to take, you should always have a plan ‘B’, as the weather does have the tendency to scupper things.


Firstly, if you can, borrow guidebooks, climbing and camping equipment. If you’re travelling by road it’s no problem to carry all the gear you want. If you’re flying, however, keep the kit down to the essentials. You won’t regret it when hiking up 4000 meter peaks! Getting to Chamonix couldn’t be easier, with flights to Geneva with low cost airlines like easyJet being cheap and quick. From there, grab a shuttle bus – try the Cham-Express – and head to the mountains.


Camping is also good option for families, if you’re on a budget, and what could be better than waking up to glorious views of Mont- Blanc and the Aiguilles du Chardonnet. Les Chosalets campsite is in Argentiere near the Grands Montets lift station, and in winter is a beginner's ski slope. That’s great, if you want to master your snow plough, but not if you don't enjoy that sliding feeling in the middle of the night - so make sure you choose your pitch wisely. It is, however, clean and near Argentiere’s shops & bars. Being quieter than Chamonix, its also a good option

if you want to retreat from the nightlife and tourists of the town itself.


There’s ample easy access to the mountains from Argentiere, and the public transport system makes it simple to travel between villages and through to Chamonix itself. The bus service runs from 7 am until 7.30 pm everyday, up and down the valley and it’s free with your lift-pass or carte d'hote (tourist card). There is also a free shuttle service that runs around Chamonix town centre, and if you want to stay later in town there is a regular train service along the valley (and beyond into Switzerland if you want a scenic trip), from early morning until the evening. This is also free with the tourist card,which you can pick up from the campsite.


If you plan on doing most of your own cooking then It’s worth noting that supermarkets don't open on Sundays, and are closed between 12:30 and 3:30 pm during the week. A good option is to order freshly delivered baguettes and croissants from the campsite, or head to one of the many bakeries in Argentiere for delicious freshly baked bread.


Climbers wanting to ease themselves into their trip should try heading to the nearby crag La Joux’, where there’s some great slabby sport, climbing rock that is bathed in afternoon sunshine. But for beginner Alpinists, start with an easy route on the Aiguille du Tour. For this you’ll need to stay overnight at the Albert Premier Hut.


At 2,702 metres above sea level, on the Haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt, it's a popular base for day hikers because of the shorter route (two to three hours), and the breathtraking views of the Chamonix Valley.


To build up for the route, try some easier walks earlier on in the week. The Aiguille de Posettes is a rewarding half day trip. For this, the easy option is to take the Col de Balme cable car half way - then stop for a coffee. The more ambitious can hike all the way up, and be well rewarded. The ridge leading to the summit, at 2,200 metres, has the most incredible views of the Argentiere glacier, Mont Blanc, and across to the mountains of Switzerland.


A good way of preparing for an expedition like the Aiguille du Tour is to take a day course with a guiding company. They can give you the basic skills you’ll need to get yourself to the summit. Try ‘Chamonix Experience’ based in Argentiere. Their guides will tailor your day to suit your experience and ambitions. The course is an exciting day out in itself. Expect something like a trip up to the Mer de Glace - the longest glacier in France - via the 101year-old cog railway to Montenvers. You can then be taught enough of the basics to get up to an easy summit, and to pull someone twice your size out of a crevasse!


The best way to reach the Albert Premier hut without exhausting yourself before you’ve even begun, is by taking the €16 ride in the Col de Balme cable car. This will whisk you up the mountain, from where you can walk to the Hut. There is an option to bivvy nearby and cook your own food inside the hut. Or for €39 you can eat a hearty meal prepared by the hut guardians, have a basic breakfast, and sleep “alpine style” in a bunk room with about 15 others. This option saves you carrying extra weight - but bring your earplugs, or be prepared to settle down to a chorus of snoring!


Rooms are allocated on the basis of which expedition you're doing. For those on the ‘Tour’, the wake up call is at 4 am, but there will be others setting their alarms for 3:50 am. At least if you let them scuttle out first into the Alpine dawn, the thick snow will be nicely broken in for you. Otherwise, have your entire kit ready in your pack and try sleeping in some of what you want to wear for the trip.


The Aiguille du Tour stands proudly on the northern part of the Mont Blanc Massif. For all the routes it offers you have to first go over the glacier to the foot of the Tour, and then do a mixed climb to the summit at 3,600 metres. The slow plod and climb is exhilarating. Being up in the mountains when everyone else is curled up in their tents, and seeing the sun rise over the peaks, makes all the sleep deprivation worthwhile.


Once you’ve recovered from the ‘Tour’, try something slightly different with a long rock climb on the Aiguille L'Index - a popular route on the Aiguille Rouges opposite the Mont Blanc Range. This can be reached by taking a ride up the Flegere Telepheriques. Or if you fancy some more cragging then take a free bus to Les Houches, stopping at the roadside crag Les Gaillands. The first routes here were put up in the 1930’s with the intention of creating a place where alpinists could learn to climb. At the time the project was thought to be revolutionary. There are some great single and multi pitch sport climbs here –some shaded, and some in the sunshine - and there’s a handy café by the Chamonix Guides company hut which serves the largest wraps you’ll ever have eaten.


Other popular routes that will test your alpine mountaineering skills include the Cosmiques Arête, which is one of the most beautiful classic mixed climbs you can find in Chamonix, and a scramble along the ridge of the Aiguilles Crochues. For an easier day, try a simple hike up to the Argentiere glacier to gaze at tumbling seracs.


When undertaking any of these expeditions it’s vital to keep an eye on the weather - as in the mountains it’s notoriously unpredictable. If it looks like rain then be prepared to drop all your plans and do something else - like eating.


There’s a great traditional restaurant in the heart of Argentiere called Le Carnotzet. After a few days of campsite food, to eat pungent fondue in this Savoyard raclette and croute gourmet eatery (that's listed in the Tables and Auberges 2008 & Gault Millau 2008 eating guides) is a real treat. For something more British, head down the road to Le Rusticana, or The Office. They serve old favourites like fish and chips, or steak and burgers, as well as being lively bars to unwind in. For some shelter from the weather try Argentiere's cosy Slalom Bar, which offers cold beer and hot chocolate. Located on the main drag, it’s very French in style and custom, and has a welcoming heated terrace out front. Here you can sit warm and dry and watch the rain pour down.


Chamonix in the summer has much to offer visitors with all levels of experience. You don't have to be the next Chris Bonnington get the best from it. If you have a few plans - but are willing to be flexible - then it’s easy to have a very rewarding and inexpensive time.


Article and Photos : Katy Dartford


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Les Chosalets Campsite


Prices:

Adult €5 a night

With tent: €2.50 a night

With car & tent: €4.45 a night

With car and caravan: €5.50 a night

See main article for more details.


http://www.campingchamonix.com





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Le Rusticana

www.therusty.net





Transfer from  Geneva Airport to Chamonix:  http://www.chamexpress.com/  Guides: Chamonix Experience:  http://www.chamex.com/  Tourist Office: www.chamonix.com
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KATY DARTFORD

Writer and broadcaster Katy has been a regular voice on BBC Radio, and written for a number of publications, including the Mail Online.

She is a real action and adventure girl, and you’re likely to find her scaling a sheer rock face, scuba diving in the Caribbean, or skiing in the Alps.

Look out for more articles from Katy elsewhere on the website, and in Pro Traveller magazine.