Dreaming of lofty heights? Got alpine ambitions this summer?
Give your season a head start at the 2017 Arc’teryx Alpine Academy. Alex Messenger finds out more.
One axe or two? That was the dilemma. I was standing in a garishly bright Petzl marquee, temporarily plonked at the base of the Aiguille Du Midi telepherique in the middle of Chamonix.
The area around the Midi telepherique – ground zero for many an alpine adventure – is always a hive of activity and nervous anticipation. Winter or summer, lines of skiers and climbers nervously fidget or attempt to look effortlessly cool as they wait their turn to be plucked from the concrete of Chamonix town and whisked thousands of metres up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi.
Yet, even by Chamonix standards, something buzzy was going on: surrounding me were equipment stands, a stage, banks of registration desks and a multi-coloured and multi-national crowd of climbers. Arc’teryx had come to town for their Alpine Academy: a week-long celebration of all things alpine. The recipe seemed simple, yet guaranteed to please: take almost every Guide in the area, throw in hefty doses of free equipment trials, add a serious seasoning of superstar climbers, mix well (with a dash of chilled beer) then divide into a range of different activity sessions.
The sessions cater for every skill and interest level: from alpine walking to performance ice climbing; ski-mountaineering essentials to alpine big walling; alpine bivvying to photography masterclasses. You book individual sessions (at a very reasonable cost), and then when you arrive at the Aiguille du Midi, you meet your group of fellow psyched would-be alpinists and maybe even a celeb climber or two in your group too. The Academy is relatively unknown in the UK – perhaps because places sell so fast – but is very popular elsewhere.
WATCH: 2017 Arc'teryx Alpine Academy Trailer
Back to that axe. Was one axe or two de-rigeur for the Cosmiques Arete (AD) in summer? I didn’t want to look uncool. However, the dilemma proved short lived: Sandy Allen, our guide for the day, simply marched up and in his concise Scottish way, explained that if one axe had been good enough for him when he won the Piolet d’Or, it was more than enough for me today.
A few hours later, I was lashed to the side of the Cosmiques Arete, loving every second of the exposure and climbing, and looking down to our right at the Academy in full swing on the glacier below. After getting the famous telepherique up, we’d balanced our way down the infamous snow arête, roped up and wound our way through groups learning like it was going out of fashion, from practicing crevasse rescue to beginners learning glacier travel and rope coiling.
Our trip along the Cosmiques was classed in the Academy programme as “Advanced Technical Alpinism”. As Sandy motored along, I was feeling more rusty than advanced or technical, but with the guiding ratio of 1:2, this was the ideal scenario to watch a pro at work and pick up some tips. And, apart from not having previously met the other client next to me, this was no different to any guided trip along the Cosmiques, yet, at the Academy price of 99 euros, very affordable. I was quickly understanding just why the Academy had become so popular.
The route is spectacular and, after several hours of negotiating your way around various pinnacles of rough Chamonix granite, it also finishes in a rather special way: a narrow snow arête leads to a metal ladder, taking you straight back into the Midi station. In high summer, this platform is thronged with tourists, and you’ll feel like a hero as you clamber back on to horizontal ground.
However, this early in the season, the tourists weren’t there. The Midi station was, instead, packed with Academy attendees. This was the last day of the official programme, and as we all packed back into the telepherique for the long ride back down into the valley bottom, I’m sure there was only one thought on everyone’s minds: how do I get back next year?
Join the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy
The sixth Arc’teryx Alpine Academy unites alpine enthusiasts, mountain guides and professional athletes in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc from 29 June-2 July, 2017. The event aims to create a space where beginners and experts alike can gain alpine knowledge through top-notch clinics, experience sharing and respect for the alpine environment.
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