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Advice needed on routes grades for Chamonix!

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 Robert_H 03 Jul 2020

Basically, I have got conflicting information on what I can actually climb! I am planning a months' trip to Chamonix in two weeks. I am eyeing up various routes and am trying to work out what I can even do.

In specifics, I am thinking about giving rebuffat baquet and rebuffat pierre a crack on the midi (links below). Now, the rockfax book gives them a ~TD+ grade (scary!) but then they have sport grades on 6a+ (very amenable). When I go to the beta on the ukc climb, there is at least one comment saying that this is an E2 (scary!). MountainProject gives in 5.10 (very broad?)


What do people suggest? I have had previous alpine experience, but am feeling a little lost with what I can reasonably manage.

Thoughts/opinions/suggestions are well appreciated. I know that the grades can vary by an order of magnitude across the UK (let alone across Europe / the alps). What should I expect? An E2 multi-pitch, similar to what you might find in north wales, an alpine route with enough tat and bolts to be considered a sport route, or something in the middle? 

Note: I have previous read this: https://www.ukhillwalking.com/forums/expedition+alpine/chamonix_rockfax_grading-660426 (was of little help)

 AJM 03 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

I've not done the routes, but trad 6a+ corresponding to E2 and somewhere in the (lower end of?) 5.10 range doesn't sound that conflicting at first glance. I'm more hazy on how a trad route of that grade and length would translate to alpine grading, but to be honest since they're both pure rock routes (right?) I suspect the rock grades will be more relevant anyway.

My guess would be mostly trad, some in situ pitons and things here and there, probably fixed belays but nevertheless with a need to place a fair amount of your own gear - they're largely cracks after all? My suspicion is that if when you see 6a+ you think "piss" but when you see E2 you think "scary" then you may be thinking these routes are nearer sport climbs than I would guess they are, but I am just guessing.

 joeramsay 03 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

E2 for RB is a bit OTT, I would say about E1 (crux pitch is probably similar difficulty to Embankment 3, at least I did them both around the same time and found them tough but not mental). Neither are clip-ups, there are plenty of pegs on the S crack of RB but you'll want a full rack for both routes.

RP is a little easier (the roof is maybe top end HVS) and, if you're going alright its probably only half a day whereas RB is a full day.

Important not to underestimate the tech grades on either route - Cham 6a+ is certainly not the same as El Chorro 6a+, but if you're reasonably happy on E1s then, all being well, you should have a great day out on either. Guffra-Monaci is another really good option on the eperon at about the same difficulty, but a shorter day, even if you finish up Cosmiques Arete

In reply to Robert_H:

Something in the middle. Don't expect these things to be bolted, they are trad routes. They'll feel a bit less traddy in terms of placing gear, rather than fiddling with wires you'll be firing in cams (take a double rack of cams and only a few wires). But in terms of climbing they feel pretty traddy, it's mostly cracks, corners etc. If you're not used to that style of granite climbing then it's not going to feel like sport climbing. For the rebuffat baquet, E1/2 felt about right for me, I'm not shit on granite, but not that great either.

More generally for rock routes around that area, bolted pitches aren't uncommon if a route strays from crack lines. The envers area is a good place to get used to the style imo.

Lastly, the midi gets very, very busy, we were queueing all the way up the rebuffat when we did it. Again, the envers was a lot more chilled in this respect, still quite busy but alot more space and less rush for the last lift! 

 Al Randall 03 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

I would give the Rebuffat-Baquet E2 5c but it is possible to avoid the initial 5c sections by starting slightly up to the right and traversing leftwards under the overhang to just below the famous S crack.  Done this way I would give it E1 5b and to be honest, having done it both ways, it makes it a more homogeneous route. I haven't done the other route so can't comment.


 Robert_H 03 Jul 2020
In reply to Luke Brooks:

Okay so there is some in-situ stuff, but not tons? I remember doing the dent du geant a few seasons back and it was a clip up job, at about the grade suggested (5a I think?). Similarly in the dolomites (different country & area, but still Alps, right!) We did some V+'s on the cinque torri. The lot where clip-ups littered with pegs, bolts and all sorts of tat. 

It's amazing how different it can make a crag feel - I did Tophet wall up at the napes the other weekend and it felt very serious for HS. Comparing  that to an E1 with some bolts (looning the tube in dinorwig, for example), it's incomparible. 

Would you say that the Chamonix routes are on the sporty end of the grade, or the hard British trad end?

Post edited at 18:25
In reply to Robert_H:

Mountain grades in Chamonix can sometimes feel tough, especially at altitude and with a sack to carry.

The RP is never TD+, TD at most and possibly TD-, and I would say about HVS 5b is fair, with only one 5b bit pulling over the roof. Take care on the approach it can be quite crevassed. 

The Guiffra-Monaci (TD 6a) is a great route if the RP is busy.

 wbo2 03 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:  I would tend to caution initially and treat these as trad routes..  the fixed gear is variable and can be quite sporty.   For your first example all those grades are correct 

 Old school Piola 6b will almost  certainly not feel like a sport route. 😀

 Al Randall 03 Jul 2020
In reply to joeramsay:

Whilst I would agree that technically RB is similar to Embankment route 3 it does NOT compare in adjectival grading terms so it's a little misleading to suggest that they are about the same. RB is more remote, harder to get to, harder to get off and requires a lot more commitment. That is why I would give it the higher grade.  That is my understanding of how the UK grading system works so to say they are both E1 is simply wrong IMO. And lets not forget the altitude. It knocked my mate back from leading E4 to being almost incapable of walking.


Post edited at 20:40
 MattJ753 03 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

Personally I think rather than thinking of a 6a+ at Portland or in Spain, where it's a lot to do with just pulling on edges, the RB is more similar to an e1 on grit. Slabs, cracks, corners...probably still 6a+ just a different style to what a lot of people would imagine as a 6a+ sport route. In-situ belays and the odd peg, but mainly boshing in cams. Probably only a few pitches where its hvs-e1, but several of vs etc, plus the whole alpine situation and a bag to carry.

In reply to Robert_H:

> Would you say that the Chamonix routes are on the sporty end of the grade, or the hard British trad end?

Yes, they're a bit sporty in that gear is generally easy to place and run outs are bolted. But it doesn't feel like sport climbing. It's not like the dolomites with pegs everywhere. If you're not sure then start on something easy-ish, the last thing you want it to have to bail off something on your first day, especially with a queue of French guides behind you! 

In reply to Robert_H:

RB is around E1 5b for the crux pitches. The rest is more like VS and easier.

Treat it as a long mountain trad route. It’s something like 200m high (and so considerably longer in actual pitch length), which would be massive in the UK. You need to be fairly speedy and that means comfortable at the grade.

The belays are in situ but it is certainly not a clip up. A few pegs here and there.

Then there is the access. A doddle by alpine standards but that still means either abbing in (and not getting lost on the face or getting ropes stuck) or walking in and taking your sack, boots, crampons and axe up with you. This is all above 3,500m as well.

Consider also the possibility of missing the last lift eg due to being slow or held up. A night at the lift station or the Cosmiques is not nice with zero acclimatisation. May be take boots, crampons and axe and leave at the top if you opt to ab in so you have options.

It is certainly not a TD and not really an Alpine route, more a trad route at altitude. Plenty of others to choose from round there and it’s all good fun. Just treat it with respect.

The other Rebuffat on the Eperon is easier (mostly VS apart from a short crux section) and the rock section is shorter though you then have to do the Arete, which is good fun but busy. More of an all round easy Alpine route and a good warm up.

 smithg 03 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

The best thing to do is to go up into the https://www.ukclimbing.com/logbook/crags/aiguilles_rouges_haute-savoie-2038 (almost all fully bolted sports routes) to get a feel for the grades. It'll soon be apparent that you can ignore the Alpine grade part for rock routes. As for the sport grade, think of it as the grade for the easiest the route could possibly feel (ie if you've done it before, know all the holds/moves, and have no concerns about the gear).

For your prospective routes, you'll be onsighting a big multi-pitch, carrying extra kit, with a bit of altitude so it will feel harder. How hard depends on your confidence level in that environment. You can always french free to make it a little easier.  

There are bolt/peg belays but otherwise expect a fully trad route with the odd bolt or peg as a bonus.

Running laps on Tremadog HVS/E1s would probably be good practise.

Post edited at 23:58
 John Cuthbert 04 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

You don't have to throw yourself at the Midi right away. There are plenty of high quality routes in the Aiguilles Rouges that have none of the Midi's commitment, and tend to be bolted. 

There's also plenty to go at from the Plan d'Aiguille (the half way station to the  Midi), or the Envers des Aiguilles. Again the commitment tends to be lower and you also have a broader range of styles and grades.

John C 

 steve_gibbs 04 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

A bit of advice is if you're on a honeypot Top 50 or a three star route, don't climb at your grade. All such routes are busy as heck and invariably people will be queuing behind you and if you're unlucky, climbing over you! It's more important to climb fast, than climb hard. If there's people behind you, they'll expect you to commit to the crux first time and get up it, no faff. The Alpine guides (with clients) are the worst, if you're not lightening fast, they'll simply climb over you, tangling up you ropes and using your future gear slots.

Unfortunately Rebuffat Baquet is one of the most popular routes and always busy. To get it quiet, bring bivvy kit which you doss at the bottom and start mid afternoon, when most other parties are abbing off, then bivvy the night on the Vallee Blanche.

Rebuffat Pierre is markedly easier, as just one hard move through a roof, which if you're under pressure, you can yard on the piton.

I'm a great lover of one and two star routes. They're infinitely quieter and more enjoyable! If you wish to try something harder, do one of these, as you'll be under less pressure, so others on the route will be more forgiving and typically friendlier. Enjoy!

 Philb1950 04 Jul 2020
In reply to wbo2:

So true about Piola grades. Years ago we did Panne Des Sens at Envers, a Piola bolted route, which I wrote in my diary English E6 6B and very sustained. From my experience crack grades on Cham. granite are much easier than the equivalent slab grade.

 Rob Parsons 04 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

> In specifics, I am thinking about giving rebuffat baquet and rebuffat pierre a crack on the midi (links below). Now, the rockfax book gives them a ~TD+ grade (scary!) but then they have sport grades on 6a+ (very amenable). When I go to the beta on the ukc climb, there is at least one comment saying that this is an E2 (scary!). MountainProject gives in 5.10 (very broad?)

Alpine grades (TD etc.) are meaningless for those routes. It's more than 30 years since I did them, but I'd say: South Face of the Cosmiques Spur (Pierre Rebuffat) - VS/HVS; South Face of South East Pillar (Baquet Rebuffat) - E1.

The finish we ended up on on the latter was a difficult corner - a good E2. I suppose we were off the guidebook line at that stage - but it felt a very natural line to take.

Edit: Also note comments about the latter route in the recent thread https://www.ukhillwalking.com/forums/expedition+alpine/best_alpine_routes-717658?v=1#x9163201

Post edited at 12:25
 Webster 04 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

i dont know why you are confused over the grade comparisons, 6a/+ to E1/2 is pretty standard if you look at any conversion charts. 5c/+ converting to E1/2 would suggest scary and run out, but not the above.

 jon 04 Jul 2020
In reply to Philb1950:

> So true about Piola grades. Years ago we did Panne Des Sens at Envers, a Piola bolted route, which I wrote in my diary English E6 6B and very sustained.

Ha yes Phil, I remember reading your write up in the hut book...! At least he gives it 7a A0 now, which is nearer the mark than the 6c it got before! 

 AJM79 04 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

Grit e1 at altitude. Make sure you're acclimatised and happy on grit e1's and longer multi's. Think peak or lakes grading rather than Wales though.

Don't get caught out by the 5c's in the alps - sometimes they're brutal, think grit HVS's of the likes of valkerie, suicide wall etc. They're definitely not sport routes but not particularly committing or long in comparison to other alpine routes. Just because they're sport grades you're unlikely to find soft touches here.

Remember you're going to be carrying up packs with crampons, axe, boots etc as well. And be careful of the starts with retreating ice in hot summers. For the RB you can't just step onto the ledge anymore and have to climb a steep (and wet when I was there) HVS crack, we went to look at the RP but again the traditional start was inaccessible and a Spanish team looked to be in situ on a fairly tough looking crack - this was August last year.

I'd suggest that if you found Tophet wall fairly serious then these are a little bit ambitious for you at the minute, plenty of good climbing about the area though.

 Al Randall 05 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

I've just read the description of the route in the logbook section and note that the crux pitch is shown as being the S Cracks.  I'm now wondering if we went wrong the second time I did it via those early pitches.  I vividly recall climbing an unprotected slab at about UK 5c.  Hence my earlier comments.


 rurp 05 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:


Could answer this in so many ways. You list your best onsight as HS. If that’s true then bivouac and do the index first like everyone else leave the Rebuffat until you can piss up it.
If however I presume you regularly onsight E1 really and you are not a troll......

Can you onsight E1 and HVS at speed repeatedly wearing a rucksack with 10 screaming French guides climbing over you, making knitting with your rope taking the best protection slots and meaning you have to belay off Route on a random bit of gear. Having done 6 pitches of that in a day can you then run 5km in the heat with a rucksack to recreate the experience of getting  back to the cable car !

if so you will be fine and what’s more you will be an alpine man my friend. 

if not, try the usual index, papillon ridge, peigne, petit charmoz, pouce then decide if you are ready

good luck.

 Robert_H 05 Jul 2020
In reply to Robert_H:

Thanks for the advice everyone - can confirm that I'm not a troll, I just an not in the habit of logging stuff on ukc! I only started doing that one trip ago.

Looks like I will be doing some easier routes on the other side of the valley to get a feel for the grades, then maybe doing RP. Sounds like RB is probably above my grade, at least given the fact we need to climb at speed with heavy sacks (maybe one for next trip!).

Good to get this advice before I rocked up at the bottom of it! Thanks again all.

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