Chamonix valley has lots to offer to alpinists and mountaineers, in the high season the most classic itineraries (Cosmiques Arete, Lachenal and those on Aguilles Rouges just to mention the uber classic) are very popular and crowded. If you are willing to drive a bit, not longer than a good hour-ish from Chamonix, I can recommend couple itineraries, East and West of Chamonix, particularly suitable for those who are warming up and keen to climb some big mountains, like the Matterhorn or the Eiger.
The Arete à Marion is a beautiful ridge climb on excellent limestone, above the Col des Aravis. The panorama towards the West side of the Mont Blanc massif is spectacular. The grade is not higher than a classic IV, the route is well equipped with 10/12 mm bolts. If you bring 7-8 quickdraws, a small rack of cams up to #1 (red Camalot) and a 40m rope, you’re ready and set up for the climb. You generally find a belay anchor every 35m roughly, so you might see climbers with a longer rope to link two pitched in one. Climbing shoes are not necessary, good approach shoes or mountain boots are enough and very much recommended if you are training for big mountain climbs. The Arete à Marion required a full day out, the approach to the base of the Pointes de la Bionnière from the Col des Aravis is quite evident but very steep (1 hour and a half from the parking lot). The first two pitches are well bolted and beautiful up on a slab featured with natural runnels. The central part of the ridge climb is prefect for practicising simul climb (using a micro traxion on one of the bolts), just remid it is always recommended for the more experienced or for those who want to train in this type of terrain (otherwise you can always climb up from one belay anchor to the other). The last two pitches are the most exciting, and very photogenic as you can see from the photo below.
Once you reach the summit, the descent to the col between the Dent du Chatelet and Pointes de la Bionnière is steep and exposed in the first part (along a grassy slope and little screes), well marked with cairns until you reach the anchor for a short rappel (15 meters) which takes you above the col mentioned above. From here, a steep scree takes you back to the start of the climb (I suggest to stay on the scree on the left facing down, you can see lots of tracks as well, to go down more quickly), finally follow the tracks of the approach all the way down to the car. Consider 5-6 hours round trip, car to car.
If you wan to drive west from Chamonix, and follow the road to the Swiss border, the traverse of les Perrons de Vallorcine is another beautiful ridge climb on excellent gneiss, also very popular amongst mountain guides to train clients during a “Matterhorn week”. Rated AD, it’s a long climb with some rappels and lots of transitions from short roping to pitch climbing. The classic itinerary follows the Perrons ridgeline from East to West make, it can also be done in the opposite way but the difficulties are slightly higher.
The climb is very beautiful, the view of Lake Emosson on one side and the Mont Blanc massif on the other is phenomenal.
You park the car at the Emossons Dam, the approach takes 1h40 / 2h to the Breche du Van, following a good track marked with cairns, and a short climbing section where we found the only 3 bolts of the entire itinerary, and finally more easy terrain up to the notch.
The Perrons traverse kicks off right at the Breche du Van. The climbing grade doesn’t get higher than a classic IV, but you have to move quickly with lots of simul climb on the easy parts if you don’t want to waste time. You top out many peaks on your journey: Van Sud, Pointe de l’Envers des Perrons, the Grand Perron from which you rap down three times; Pointe Vouilloz followed by 2 rappels to reach Porte Vouilloz where the actual climbing section of Pointe d’Ifala begins. About the technical gear, we used a 50m rope, some slings and ATCs for abseiling, couple extenders, and that was it. You can bring some quickdraws and a small rack of cams, but there are lots of horns and spikes you can use for belaying your climbing partner. The route is very well traveled also in the spring time, so the route finding is not complicated as the rock is very scratched by the crampons spikes. Approach shoes are more than enough.
Once you summit the Pointe d’Ifala, the technical part is over, but you’re still way far from the car. You need to be still focused and careful on the exposed scramble to the Breche des Perrons (be careful if the terrain is wet – it gets very slippery!). From the Breche you follow an evident trail that goes through the lakes of Ifala and continues towards the bottom of the valley in a wild and very beautiful environment, until you reach the marked path that leads back to the Emossons dam and finally to the car.
Overall, it is necessary to calculate 7-8 hours in total (1h40 / 2h of approach, 4-6 hours for the climb and 1h30 for the descent). The Perrons traverse definitely a great testpiece for big days in the high altitude.
L’Arete à Marion and the Perrons traverse are recommended from July until the beginning of autumn, it’s better to bring boot crampons and eventually ice axe at the beginning of the summer season. In the gallery below you also find some beta on the rap anchors on the Perrons traverse.