Staying Safe while exploring Chamonix
Chamonix is a fantastic place for amazing outdoor adventures. Unfortunately accidents happen and they happen more frequently than you might be aware of. Afterall, Chamonix is a high altitude mountain environment and things like weather, snow conditions and trail conditions can all have a big impact on your adventure. Being prepared, well informed and properly geared are the keys to minimizing risk. Below is a general checklist to assess your readiness with links for more information:
I have the contact details of the mountain rescue and emergency services in Chamonix
I am aware of the weather and avalanche risk conditions for the period of my trip
I know the trails I will be using and that they are accesible and snow free
After taking weather, snow, terrain and trail conditions into consideration, I have packed the right gear for this experience
I have studied the route well and I understand the effort involved in terms of length, elevation gain, elevation loss, altitude and trail conditions. My capabilities meet the challenges ahead.
I have informed friends and family of where I am going and when to expect me back.
Let's throw some cliches at you: 'hope for the best, prepare for the worst', 'Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail'. I hope you get the point. The checklist we provide above is pretty self explanatory but there are a few things we want to highlight. Naturally the level of preparation will depend on what you are planning to do and you cannot compare a high altitude multi-day trek in remote territory to a casual walk along the petite balcon sud to Chamonix. As a general rule of thumb you need to primarily consider the altitude of where you will be going. In Chamonix more altitude generally means further away from civilization, rougher paths with more technical terrain, a greater chance of snow cover, a drop in temperature and greater exposure to wind and weather. So what might start of as a gentle casual forest trail in T-shirt weather can turn into tough technical terrain in high winds and cold temperatures. So being aware of where you are heading and what that might look like is essential.
The minimum appropriate gear
When it comes to the type of clothes you pack it is always wise to err on the side of caution. You can review our Clothing & Supplies checklist for more information but for now, we just wanted to highlight two items. Even on a sunny warm day, with a great weather forecast it still doesn't hurt to at least pack a windproof and waterproof shell. It will not add much weight to your pack and it can make a huge difference. When it comes to your footwear, please don't hike in sneakers or 'fashion' boots. These types of footwear are simply not made for trails and will not be comfortable or provide you with the level of protection you need. They might also simply fall apart. I am always amazed by how many people I see on trails in inappropriate footwear in summer. You don't want to go overboard and go hiking in stiff heavy mountaineering boots either. Talk to one of the many outdoor goods stores in the Chamonix valley and find the perfect shoe for you.
Assessing your own capabilities
Wise old quote time:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
You are welcome. In all seriousness, it is important to understand yourself and the enemy. The enemy being the beautiful mountains in and around Chamonix in this case! When it comes to assessing the enemy you need to understand that elevation gain and loss and terrain have a huge impact on your movement speed. You might be able to easily cover 20 kilometers in the grassy flatlands of the Netherlands but that cannot be compared to a rocky uphill trail. As a general rule of thumb every 1 meter of vertical gain, adds 10 meters in terms of effort. So a 10km trail with 1000 meters vertical gain is roughly a 20km trail on the flat. The other assessments you need to do of 'the enemy' are in the list we presented above: weather, snow conditions, avalanche risk and trail conditions.
When it comes to assessing your own capabilities it would be good to adopt an attitude of cautious confidence. And build up that confidence and experience over time. So build it up slowly. Go for a shorter exploration route and get yourself familiar with the trails around Chamonix. It is better to build up towards a big long trail then to bite off more than you can chew.
Inform loved-ones of your plans!
The last item we want to highlight is the need to inform loved-ones where you are heading and when to expect you back. If something does happen to you it will be so much better if you are sure that people are expecting you back and that they know what you were doing that day and where. Although Chamonix is definitely not as a remote as Alaska, you will still be surprised by how many people go missing. Rescue will be so much easier if the people calling it in know where you went and when you were supposed to be back. The last thing you want to do is tell your parents you are going on a 3 week hiking holiday in Chamonix and then no one else knows where you are in that period. If you are traveling solo then inform your friends or family at home or inform your hotel or hostel. A simple whatsapp message with a screenshot of your route and an estimated time of arrival will do. It takes 10 seconds...