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. All ISM courses meet back here on Friday, and after a more formal course debrief and dinner there is generally quite a get together at the Top Pub, with guides and clients alike recounting the weeks adventures - and planning the ones to come!
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+
Breakfast at the hotel is included before departure.