Technical AlpinISM - Level 3 Instructional Course

ISM's longest-running and very highly-regarded instructional course, teaches you the advanced skills required to operate safely as an independent climber on routes up to grade AD, whether encountered in the Alps or on mountains elsewhere in the world.

Level 3 Instruction & Coaching

6 days, 7 nights

Ratio: 3:1

Prerequisites: Classic AlpinISM (Instructional Course) Or equivalent

Price: £1595*

* Fully inclusive price

 Course Dates

The course is structured to give participants every chance to take responsibility for planning a day, leading the rope and understanding what it means to become an independent alpine mountaineer at this high standard.

A Level 3 certificate will be awarded at the end of the course confirming the level you have achieved.

Course Highlights

  • An instructional course teaching advanced skills to operate safely independently
  • All-inclusive price includes all uplift, food, transport and accommodation
  • Expert instruction and coaching from experienced ISM Guides

The aim of the course is to develop your existing skills (such as those gained on our Level 2 Classic Alpin-ISM course) and then to give you the opportunity to apply them (with coaching and supervision from our guides) on more technical alpine terrain which involves short roping, short pitching and pitched climbing. Depending on participants’ level of ability and experience, this takes place on longer ridge climbs and multi-pitch routes on snow, ice and rock, with grades ranging from PD to AD. Our teaching on this course is very personalised and we take great pride in adapting both the level that we teach at, and the climbs that we tackle, to suit individual needs. We do our best to give you a week that will extend your ability to lead climb and you will gain independence on a range of enjoyable alpine routes and mountaineering terrain, taking your existing climbing experience and knowledge to a new level.

An important aspect of the course is that participants practise techniques for themselves and lead the climbing rope on suitable terrain (alongside the guide who will give teaching and coaching at every stage of the climb). The emphasis is very much on teaching the skills for participants to operate independently and safely in the alpine environment. To this end, we also refresh basic skills such as safe glacier travel and crevasse rescue.

Is This Course For Me?

The course will suit people who have successfully completed one or more of our ‘Classic' (Level 2) courses and for those with specific ascents in mind with a guide. This course has been designed for participants with previous alpine experience as well as a solid background in rock climbing and/or winter climbing experience in the UK or elsewhere.

The itinerary and the routes we climb can be adapted to suit individual climbing standards, but as a rough guide participants should be able to follow on rock at a minimum grade of IV+ (British Hard Severe) and be competent with ice axe and crampons. Participants should also have a knowledge of rope work and technical rock climbing – although these skills will be reviewed and refreshed. This course builds on the skills taught on our Classic AlpinISM course, and is an ideal follow on for this course, offering more intensive coaching in the full range of climbing techniques to operate safely and independently on steeper alpine ground with technical pitched climbing.

Course Content

This course will build on your existing skills and apply them in the alpine environment. Subjects covered include:

  • Improving your movement and climbing technique on both rock and ice.
  • Effective placement of the full range of protection devices and rope management on the lead.
  • Efficient belay set-ups and belaying on multi-pitch routes.
  • Improving overall efficiency and speed on alpine length climbs.
  • Use of technical axes and good front point technique on steeper ice pitches.
  • Ice screw and Abalakov belays for multi-pitch ice routes and descents.
  • Appropriate route selection for prevailing conditions and abilities.
  • Multiple abseil descents.
  • Moving together with the rope on different types of alpine terrain.
  • Safe glacier travel and crevasse rescue.
  • Navigation and use of maps and guidebook.
  • Interpretation of alpine conditions and weather.

Note on course venues
Our normal venue of the Trient area for this course gives the best ice climbing conditions earlier in the season (before August). Later in the season we may run the course in different venues such as the Val de Zinal or Gran Paradiso, which offer good late-season ice climbing.

Note on Equipment

Your Guide / ISM will supply all ropes and some climbing hardware, however people taking this course are requested to bring a small rack (eg. 1 set of nuts, Friends 2 & 3, 6 quickdraws and 3-4 ice screws) if they already own them.

Sample Programme

Saturday evening
The course starts with participants and guides meeting at 7.00pm at Le Grand Chalet hotel in Leysin. This is the chance for the guides to give you a thorough briefing on the details of the course, to sort out any particular personal equipment requirements and for you to ask any questions that you may have!

The limestone cliffs of the Leysin Tours provide a beautiful venue for us to start with a review of rock climbing skills (belay techniques and setups, rope work and movement) within the context of an enjoyable climbing day. It gives the guide a chance to find out exactly ‘where you are’ with your climbing! We move on to cover technical aspects of multi-pitch climbs and descents, lead climbing skills, and to coach your movement on the rock as appropriate. We try to relate crag climbing techniques and rope work to the longer climbs of the Alps and the need for speed and efficiency. As we do throughout this course, we adapt the level we teach each of these things to your level of experience. We return to the Grand Chalet in Leysin in the evening.

The objective of the day is for participants to climb an alpine length rock route with instruction and feedback from the guides on the best and most efficient techniques to use on different types of ground. This could be the traverse of ‘Gais Alpin’, which involves sections of pitched climbing as well as sections where we move together with the rope. There is also an abseil descent from a pinnacle along the ridge. This combination of different types of terrain and technique make for an excellent training route and participants will have the chance to lead the rope as appropriate. For those with more experience we may choose a climb on the magnificent ‘Miroir d’Argentine’ – a classic alpine outing to a beautiful summit and a long time favourite with the ISM team. Both of these climbs are done as a ‘long day out’ from Leysin and we return to the Grand Chalet in the evening.

In the morning, we head off to a high alpine hut, where we will spend the rest of the week. This is normally in the Orny/Trient region (the Swiss side of the Mt Blanc massif) as it provides the ideal venue having a very wide range of suitable climbs for the next days. A short drive to Champex and a chair lift take us up to La Breya from where a couple of hours walking gets us to the Orny glacier. We will stop on the glacier for a session reviewing basic crampon and ice axe techniques and roped glacier travel. We demonstrate and coach your ice climbing technique with some ‘ice bouldering’ and look at the use of ice screw and Ablakov belays, before continuing up to the Orny hut.

This is an intensive instructional day on ice climbing and glacier skills. We start by setting top ropes on some longer pitches of ice, using these to coach your technique as much as possible. An efficient technique that does not waste energy is essential for longer alpine ice routes! We move on to steeper pitches as your technique improves and give you a chance to place ice screws and set up ice belays on steep ice, with advice and feedback from the guides. In the afternoon, we head further up the Orny glacier onto the Trient plateau where there is an excellent spot for us to practice a realistic crevasse rescue. We look at the best practical hoisting systems as well as self-rescue by prussiking and its limitations. We give you a chance to practice holding a realistic crevasse fall, set up a snow belay and operate an efficient hoisting system. We stay the night at the Trient hut, which has one of the best views of any in the Alps, looking out over the huge expanse of the Trient plateau and the cirque of peaks that we have come to climb!

We make an alpine start before dawn, as it is essential to climb the snow and ice routes here before they soften too much during the day. Our objective could well be the North face of the Tête Blanche (3421m), which gives around 5 pitches of snow and ice climbing using ice screw belays and is an ideal introduction to this type of alpine route. From the summit, we can also easily climb another nearby peak, the Petite Fourche (3512m), which is easier but good for practicing short rope technique on mixed ground. We descend by abseiling over the cornice from Col Blanc between these two peaks or by the North West ridge, which also involves some abseiling. We return across the plateau later in the day and spend another night at the Trient hut.

Having climbed a snow and ice route on Thursday we would probably choose a rock route such as the south ridge of the Aiguille Purtscheller (3475m) as our objective for today. This route gives classic alpine ridge climbing on perfect granite – all in a fantastic setting! The climbing is all in pitches (up to grade IV alpine) with a daunting chimney to finish and a narrow rock summit. We descend with several abseils down the mixed ground on the North East side of the peak back onto the Trient plateau. After crossing the Trient plateau and descending the Orny glacier we descend to the valley and return to the Grand Chalet hotel in Leysin on the Friday afternoon.

Depending on the previous experience and abilities of course participants, there are many other peaks and climbs to choose from in this area. Other possible climbs that we attempt on this course are:

  • Couloir Copt and Tête Biselx, fantastic ice climbing in an enclosed couloir, then mixed pitches up to the summit, AD+ to D.
  • Aiguille d’Orny, South Ridge, rock, PD or AD.
  • Aiguilles Dorées, a long and classic traverse that can be shortened if necessary by abseiling down from couloir Copt, mixed, D.
  • Aiguille de Tour, traverse of the peak over the North and South summits (mixed and rock, PD).
  • Aiguille de Tour by the classic Table de Roc ridge (PD), a snow couloir to a superb jagged granite ridge, over the famous 'rock table'.
  • Tête Blanche, North West ridge, an excellent alternative to the North face if the latter is too icy (snow and ice, PD+).
  • Aiguille Sans Nom, another beautiful rock route up the south ridge, AD+

Saturday morning
Breakfast at the hotel is included before departure.

Course Dates

Week Start Finish Price  
26 22 Jun 2019 29 Jun 2019 £1595 Full
28 6 Jul 2019 13 Jul 2019 £1595 Full
30 20 Jul 2019 27 Jul 2019 £1595 Full
32 3 Aug 2019 10 Aug 2019 £1595 Full
34 17 Aug 2019 24 Aug 2019 £1595 Full
36 31 Aug 2019 7 Sep 2019 £1595 Full
38 14 Sep 2019 21 Sep 2019 £1595 Full