As the mountains warm up in the last weeks of spring and as summer begins, the inclination to “get on your boots and hike!” takes hold. However, hikers and climbers can find themselves lacking the correct information and equipment at this time of great change, especially at altitude. Springtime precipitation often means new snow or lasting snow at high altitude. Meanwhile rising temperatures can cause hazards as snow bridges thin, crevasses are revealed and rivers run high.
To address these risks the Office of Haute Montagne (OHM) was founded in 1972 on the initiative of the guide Gérard Devouassoux, mountaineer and first deputy mayor of Chamonix. (Sadly he and five sherpas died on Everest two years later when their camp was hit by an avalanche). It offers a free public service, providing mountain information all year round and works in association with La Chamoniarde, a non-profit making society which specialises in minimising mountain risks and in rescue management.
Situated on the top floor of the Maison de la Montagne, as well as working with the OHM, La Chamoniarde also works closely with the PGHM (Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne), the Compagnie du Mont Blanc and the Compagnie des Guides. It offers specialised advice for mountain rescues, drawing on up-to-date reports of mountain conditions submitted by the public via their website.
Maison de la Montagne Credit: Chamonix.com
Here is some advice from our local Collineige mountain enthusiasts and La Chamoniarde website on how to remain up to date and safe this Spring/Summer:
**DOWNLOAD the “ALP-RISK” App!
The ALP-RISK application for androids and iPhones was developed by La Chamoniarde and Fibre Libre within the framework of the Alcotra PrévRisk Mont Blanc Project. Its purpose is to promote the transmission of data related to natural hazards in the high mountain such as avalanches, landslides, flash floods etc. It is in three languages, French, English and Italian.
**ALWAYS Check the latest reports on the La Chamionarde website here.
Reports are updated at least once a week by the dedicated team using information from guides, other mountain professionals and the public. Here’s an example from Monday May 29th 2017 which is synonymous with the previous year’s reports at the end of Spring:
With good mountain boots and walking poles, the Cheserys lakes are now accessible. However, the paths to Lac Blanc remain snowbound. Though some lakes are beginning to reappear, (e,g. Jovet lakes), most are still covered. The bigger hiking objectives, such as Mont Buet or the “Jonction”, are still not feasible.
The snow starts at around 1700m in the Berard valley. The Albert 1er hut is best approached from Vormaine via the moraine, the snow starting some 50m below the hut. There is still far too much snow to traverse in from Charamillon.
People are starting to walk the Grand Balcon Nord. Careful, there are some large patches of hard snow and one needs to be properly equipped. The path from Chamonix to the Plan de l’Aiguille is OK but the Pré du Rocher path is not.
No particular problems for the Bellachat and the Aiguillette des Houches.
Conditions are improving for the Tour du Mont Blanc but the right equipment remains essential.
**RESPECT the time of day
As temperatures rise in the high mountain the routes become free of snow. Realise that there is a popular window (after the morning melt, and before the evening freeze) and routes will be busy with other climbers.
**DON’T RUSH to scale Mont Blanc!
The routes to the famed Mont Blanc become more tracked as the summer progresses, but remain in a good condition. You have time to plan! Collineige has excellent contacts in Chamonix so do ask if you would like us to recommend a top mountain guide.
Here’s another example from La Chamoniarde Monday May 29th 2017 report:
The Italian route via Gonella is tracked and in good condition. The Tournette Spur was done on 25/05 in generally good conditions. The Gouter route is also being done (the train and cable car remain closed). Respect the time of day for crossing the Grand couloir.
3 Monts from the Cosmiques is tracked, conditions good, but still with a bit of ice at the Mont Maudit Col.
Parties are continuing to ski the Grands Mulets route, (by the N ridge of the Dome and the Plateaux). The N Face of Mont Blanc is still being skied. Conditions for the traverse of the Jonction are worsening, with some fragile snow bridges. It is now necessary to carry the skis in several places to reach the Plan de l’Aiguille.
**DON’T pack light!
Always take extra water, food and something warm. The weather can change quickly at altitude so be prepared. You’ll never be sorry for that extra snack, especially if you or someone in your group has an injury and has to stay in one place any length of time. In this instance you will also need to layer up to stay warm; in the shade of the trees or at high shaded altitudes the temperatures are vastly lower than those you were enjoying on the balcony this morning!
PS. Always take sun-screen and sun-glasses.
**SHARING is Caring
Share your route review with La Chamoniarde here.
Public submissions of information and photos help to keep the mountains a safe place for everyone by bringing all the information together to be interpreted by experts. Even if you’re just a Sunday hiker and you found the waterfall up the Merlet Track too heavy to cross, every little bit counts to paint a bigger picture of conditions and any dangers in Chamonix Mont Blanc.
Likewise, particularly if you are taking on a higher altitude hike or a non-frequented route, ALWAYS share your plan with friends, family or the Office de Haute Montagne just in case things go wrong.
You can visit them in person:
Open Monday to Saturday
9h à 12h – 15h à 18h
Office de Haute Montagne/La Chamoniarde
Maison de la Montagne,
190, place de l’Eglise
74400 Chamonix Mont-Blanc