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Alpine Academy by Dan Aspel

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Alpine Academy by Dan Aspel

The Arc’teryx Alpine Academy event HQ this June - with the Mont Blanc range behind.

Hello all.

So, at the end of June I was lucky enough to head over to Chamonix for the sixth annual Arc’teryx Alpine Academy ( If you’ve not encountered it before it’s exactly what you’d expect it to be: a long weekend of skills-based mountaineering activities, all orchestrated by the Canadian outdoor brand with the funky name.

I’ve decided to blog about it is for four main reasons: 1) it’s very much open to the public, 2) the variety of “clinics” on offer cover ice and rock climbing, crevasse rescue, high altitude medicine, alpine photography, and much, much more, 3) all of this is taught by IFMGA qualified Mountain Guides at a heavily discounted rate, and 4) I can’t think of a better way to affordably boost your experience levels of hiking and climbing in the Alps.

If there’s one small downside it’s that, despite more or less taking over the town of Chamonix for four or five days, the places on the academy are relatively limited to around 400 participants. So, if you’re inspired by the pictures below and would like to attend next year, I’d recommend booking a place as soon as the site goes live for 2018.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the below pictures. I plan to talk a little bit more about the activities involved in each in future posts. But until then, here we go...

Hiking around the Col du Brévent - an excellent place to acclimatise before a weekend around and above 3,800m.

Looking away from the Chamonix valley and on towards Passy.

Climbers on the faces surrounding the Col du Brévent, a popular area made perfectly accessible by the nearby cable car stations.

The centre of Chamonix - you’ll not find a denser concentration of Gore-Tex anywhere else in the world.

Descending the famous (and famously exposed) arete leading from the Aiguille du Midi cable car station down to the Vallee Blanche beneath. This slender, snowy crest is the linking bridge - literally and metaphorically - between the civilised world of the station above and the alpine terrain of glacier, crevasse, ridge and high mountains that makes up the Mont Blanc beyond it. A superb, and intensely popular place to practice alpine skills.

An instructor waits at the base of the arete with the Midi station (3,800m) behind.

Climbers continue off onto the glacier beyond. To the left of the image is a 2,000m sharp descent back to Chamonix.

The steep face of Mont Blanc du Tacul, with fresh white glacier in front of it.

Crevasse rescue is an important skill to learn in this kind of landscape, where hidden gaps in the snow and ice might threaten a safe traverse.

Gathering near the start of the Arête à Laurence.

The arête begins - although not technically difficult, it’s still an exposed route and is an excellent place (under correct supervision!) to learn to use axes, crampons and ropes to travel effectively and safely as a team.

The Midi station once again - as impressive as it is improbable from every angle.

First moves on the arête.

Looking backwards along the route at other approaching teams.

To become a fully qualified Mountain Guide takes may years of study, and requires extremely high levels of skill in almost all mountain disciplines from ice climbing to off-piste skiing. Hence why the figure in blue in this picture looks so nonchalant.

One of the day’s Guides in his element.

Much lower altitude, but just as high levels of excitement - a dry tooling clinic held a few miles down the Chamonix valley.

Dry tooling involves climbing on rock crags with particularly aggressively shaped ice axes, and can be enjoyed year round, regardless of ice conditions.

Abseiling down to the base of the crag after a successful climb.

One of the clients attempting one of the region’s harder dry tooling routes, and clearly showing how good the level of instruction had been in the process.

Thanks for reading this post! Make sure to visit the Lifesystems Facebook page and Twitter feed to share your own experiences with mountains, whether alpine or domestic.

Until next time.


Dan Aspel is a journalist and Mountain Leader. You can find him at

Visit to find a host of kit and equipment for your next outdoor adventure.

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