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Arcteryx Alpine Academy 2016

Written by George Fisher

Image for article Arcteryx Alpine Academy 2016

Earlier in the year, we ran a competition for one lucky customer to experience the Arc'teryx Alpine Academy, that was Chris and here is his story.

Lucky enough to win the George Fisher Arc’teryx Alpine Academy competition, I headed out in July on an unexpected trip to Chamonix.

The Arc’teryx Alpine Academy is an annual event in Chamonix each July, whereby the brand send out a number of its sponsored athletes and alpine guides and provides subsidised guided climbing clinics, classes and seminars for aspirant climbers.

I had been out to Chamonix just once before several years prior and hired a guide to do some climbing but unfortunately the weather was too bad to do get up high.

I flew out on the Wednesday night and was transferred from Geneva to Chamonix by Arc’teryx. Arc’teryx had put the competition winners up in a fantastic ski chalet right in the centre, 15m walk from the Aiguille Du Midi, the cable car that takes you directly to the Vallée Blanche glacier at 3800m.

My first day in Chamonix after registering with the Alpine Academy at the bottom of the Aiguille du Midi, early arrivals had the opportunity to head up and assist with some mountain clean-up (free Arc’teryx t-shirt and lunch included) which I was more than happy to get involved with. It was incredible how much rubbish we were able to clear off the mountain in just a couple of hours. I also had the opportunity to get to know some of the other climbers. It was an eclectic mix of both nationalities and experience levels. Everyone was keen and excited to get onto their first clinic.

My first day was glacier skills. I arrived at 7:30 for the first lift up to the Aiguille du Midi and was placed in a group with 5 other climbers and a French Alpine Guide named Patricia. The bottom of the Aiguille du Midi was pretty chaotic with people gearing up and getting pictures with the sponsored athletes. There was also an Arc’teryx gear tent where you could check out demo gear, and a Petzl tent where you could check out technical climbing equipment if you didn’t have crampons/axes/harnesses. It was truly geared up and well planned for climbers of all levels.

The Valle Blanche was incredibly beautiful, and luckily the weather superb! The fast cable car ascent from valley level to 3800m could definitely be felt, I have had altitude sickness before however and merely felt a little tired which made me positive for the days to come. 

We descended the Midi arête onto the glacier proper, roped together and practising glacier travel. We then practised some crevasse rescue techniques using buried axes and force multipliers. Although I have a reasonable amount of glacier experience I felt much more confident coming back up the midi. Catching up with some of the other climbers at the bottom of the midi and swapping stories was incredible fun, everybody was just so keen. After a couple of beers it was an early night in time for another trip up the midi the next morning for the Petzl Glacier tour. 

The next morning was another superb weather day. We had a Scottish Mountain guide who worked for Glenmore Lodge called Mark Chadwick who was genuinely one of the best guides I have ever had. His crevasse rescue techniques and knowledge of the Vallée Blanche was second to none. I also spent some time quizzing him on his ascent of the North Face of the Eiger! By this time a plan was beginning to form as I had a free day on Monday and my flight back wasn’t until late in the evening. I had spent two full days learning safety techniques on the glacier, and had also befriended an excellent Aussie rock climber (Damo) and a decent American Ice climber named Matt.

That evening was an Arc’teryx movie night with BBQ at the bottom of the Midi. It was superb, with some excellent movies and obviously plenty of beers and good food. I got chatting to Paul Mcsorley (his Instagram pics are incredible, an Arc’teryx sponsored athlete and fascinating Canadian climber. 

I had a pretty sore head for my last clinic, which was ice climbing at the Mer de Glace further up the valley. Another really fun day and allowed me some extra time to plan and prepare for my last day, Monday. 

I was able to put into practise everything I had learned and lead the two other climbers along the Cosmiques Arête, a gnarly AD Alpine route, on the Monday morning. An absolutely incredible experience which I wouldn’t have had the ability or confidence to do without George Fisher and the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy. Topping out at the top of the Aiguilles du Midi lift station with loads of tourists taking pictures of us was definitely a moment I will remember for a long time!

I will be returning next year and would highly recommend it for climbers at all levels of experience, from beginners to advanced level. 

Chris Huntington

Our huge thanks to Chris for writting up his experience! Fancy giving this a go next year? You can find out more about the Arc'teryx Alpine Academy.

Cosmiques Arête Chamonix