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By steven sadler
From SLC, UT
Dec 3, 2012
Me and a few friends are heading to Europe for the summer to do some climbing. Looking around online it's hard to tell where is worth visiting and where to skip. Please help us out and let us know where you went and what you thought? what you wish you would've done and what you regret doing? Also we are planning on doing the Eiger and the Matterhorn. Are we going to need serious mountaineering hardware? or just an ax, crampons, and some slings? (we plan on doing the easiest routes up both) And we will be doing the Matterhorn from the Italian side and coming down the Swiss side. If you've done that before, how is the hut situation? Is this much harder than just going up and back down just one of the routes? We are researching it all but an insiders opinion would be great.

Thanks in advance for all your advice.

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By Remington Wojciech Dolliver
Dec 3, 2012
I can't give advice based on climbing experience, but if you're going into that area look up the "Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route." There's variations that are completely nontechnical hiking or skiing but higher routes bag peaks. It's great if you want the comfort of huts (although they're a bit pricy), see what peaks are along the way and what alternate routes you can take. Haven't been personally, but seen plenty of photos and it's beautiful terrain.

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By Mike Lydon
From park city, utah
Dec 17, 2012
Steven,
I lived in germany from 09 to summer of 12. I didn't climb as much as I wanted to, but got out a bit and saw a shitload of places. It really depends on where you're flying into, how you're traveling around and what you want to do on your off days. Must do areas based on personal experience, research and euro friends:

the dolomites-great wine, food, camping, approaches, rock, spectacular position and you're in italy to boot.
the alps-lots of choss, extremely expensive, didn't get to climb as much as I wanted, but couldn't afford the time or cost! Look at Piz Badille on Swiss/Italy border, Motorhead and other routes on that wall in north swiss. Spent some time around Lake Bled in Slovenia, wished I did more, much cheaper and just as nice as swiss or austria
Croatia-the best limestone I personally got on. Look up Paklenica and other spots on the coast. Not on the euro so cheaper. Great country to visit.
Avignon and south france-I tried to get there, made plans and bought a guidebook, my partner bailed on me at the last minute, but everything I read about the area (and its huge), including verdon and gap area sounded awesome. France is great, especially away from big cities, good food and wine.
Fontainblau-if you fly into paris or are anywhere within a 1000km of the area, you have to go. super chill, amazing boulders everywhere, cheap camping, hundreds of thousands of problems.
Some other places to consider include:

Sardinia-great limestone, very rural, laidback, good mt biking too. google "the lemon house" for beta and place to stay
Majorca-I climbed there in 2002, well before the DWS craze hit. Its a euro-beach tourist island, so kind of gross right by the beach, but get away from the beach and there is really nice limestone climbing all over. I did some DWS in Spain and thought it was really fun, I've heard you can make an entire holiday of DWS in majorca now. YMMV
Pfalz-My local area when I lived there. If you fly into Frankfurt its about 100 kms SW of there. cool sandstone towers in the middle of a huge forest (palentine forest). On the french border so can get a mix of cultures. If you stick with the 4 star routes in the guidebook, some of the best face and crack climbing anywhere.

we also climbed in germany, france and lux. sounds like I did more than I feel like I did, but work, kids and family travel take priority sometimes!

I live in PCUT, could meet up with you for a beer and discuss if you'd like.
have fun
Mike

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By steven sadler
From SLC, UT
Dec 17, 2012
Thanks Mike. All those places seem sweet and I'm pretty sure I'm gonna have the unlimited Eurail pass so traveling won't be a big deal. Do you have any insight on the Eiger or the Matterhorn? We want to do the matterhorn from the italian side to the swiss side but am wondering what kind of gear is needed in the summer.

Thanks again

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By J mac
Dec 17, 2012
Zermatt
I second the Dolomites as a top pick. I spent all of 2010 traveling Europe and climbing. It rained on me almost the entire time in the Dolomites but it was still one of my favorite times in Europe.

Otherwise my favorite spots for climbing were Corsica (you will need a car); Meteora, Greece; and El Chorro, Spain.

My advise is to not forget you are in Europe and not take climbing too seriously while you are there. Just enjoy the culture and most importantly the food with some climbing mixed in.

If you have questions on specifics feel free to pm me. If you want any pics or stories from these spots there is some to pump you up on my blog: johnandlisaeurope.blogspot.com...

cheers
john

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By J mac
Dec 17, 2012
Zermatt
steven sadler wrote:
Thanks Mike. All those places seem sweet and I'm pretty sure I'm gonna have the unlimited Eurail pass so traveling won't be a big deal. Do you have any insight on the Eiger or the Matterhorn? We want to do the matterhorn from the italian side to the swiss side but am wondering what kind of gear is needed in the summer. Thanks again


Do your research on the unlimited Eurail. It depends on where you are doing most of your traveling but we bought specific Eurail passes for certain areas and just bought tickets in other places. For example it was WAAAAAAAY cheaper to just buy individual tickets in Italy. Also often Ryan Air or Easy Jet are cheaper than trains.

ps I am jealous of you Matterhorn plans. Post a trip report.

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By Mike Lydon
From park city, utah
Dec 18, 2012
I have a bunch of pdf topos for europe you can have if you send me your email address, including one for the materhorn from the italian side. I didn't get on it, did the research and decided the drive to climb ratio was too high.

My family and I did a holiday in spain last summer, I went to el chorro for a day and was a bit horrified by the rusted bolts. We got on a couple of routes but mainly just hiked the canyon on the ferrata.

you should also consider montserrat outside of barcelona. barcelona was one of the coolest big cities we visited, didn't climb in montserate but wanted to! There is also some DWS on the costa blanca if youre in spain. Near the cap d'or if I remember right. google DWS spain and you'll find the info. Spain was cool, we didnt find the best rock when we were there but the country is covered by it. Oh, buy the book by jingo wobbly "europe sport vertical", you'll see how much climbing is there and get overwhelmed. You'll find it on the jingowobbly website (british hence the odd name) or amazon.eu.

Not sure how easy it'll be to climb using a train pass. But then again depends on your budget. If you plan to use gites and hostels you'll still spend 10-100Euro/night on a bed. If you bring camping stuff you can get away with 0-50/night (most euro campgrounds are really expensive, and really crappy). You might have more luck if you pool your train ticket money to rent a euro clown-car or caravan for the summer (make sure its a diesel, for the milage). Most climbing places are not near a train station; you'll be able to get out to the climbing and you can carry camping/cooking gear easily and spend less per night if you poach free campsites and shop in the food stores on the way verses eating out every meal. Do some budget planning and research, the trains in europe arent all that.

Yes Ryan air can be really cheap, but if you are carrying a bunch of baggage you will pay through the nose for it. they also fly out of remote airports around europe, most not serviced by train stations.

have fun, I may meet a german friend in the dolomites this summer (if I can get a kitchen pass). We spent two weeks there in July, but I only did one route (grand tor), some sport climbing and a couple of ferratas. Hiking to fabulous refugio's for outrageous gourmet food and wine with a view took up too much time. There is 5 yosemite valleys of rock there and I need to get up some routes!

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By Elias
From Flagstaff, AZ
Dec 20, 2012
In Healy Mountains of AK
Hey Steven,

Regarding the Eiger and Matterhorn. The matterhorn is best climbed on one side and then returning down the same route. You really only have two choices too, either the Hörnligrat (Swiss side) or the Liongrat (Italian side) both routes are technically easy, but if you don't have much alpine experience I wouldn't recommending going at it without an experienced partner or guide. The Liongrat is considered slightly easier as it has more fixed lines. Both routes were easily climbable without using the fixed lines if your comfortable in the terrain, and have some mixed climbing experience. If you take your time, it should be at 12-14 hours round trip for both routes. My father did a traverse of the Matterhorn 16 years ago and he got in some trouble with the Swiss (even though thats where we lived). See they sometimes close the mountain while the Italians keep it open. But this was winter, and way back when ;) Just a story I've always remembered. So, I'd recommend staying on one side for the climb. Plus both Zermat, and Cervina are beautiful towns and worth staying a while in!

Now as for the Eiger, I can't give any advice from personal experience but from what I know from my buddies who guide there and my father (who used to guide) The west ridge is the easiest way up and down. But its not that asthetic of a climb nor is it technically "fun". Everyone I know doesn't use this route unless its absolutely necessary. Usually its ascended by the East Ridge and descended by the South. The climb is known to be absolutely beautiful, easy, and just plain awesome. There are ton of fixed lines, a nice hut on the way up, and probably a good amount of guided tourists.

As for gear, definitely bring an axe, crampons, a few ice screws couldn't hurt and a few pitons just in case, also a 50m rope would be more than enough for the alpine objects. And in my opinion no hardcore boots would be necessary, then again, I've been climbing in Scarpa Liskamm's on 6000m peaks (Which other people scoff at me for, hey! The climbers back in ole' days didn't have fancy La Sportiva's and Millet.)

Anyways have fun on your trip, and if you need a few connections with some guides in Switzerland or Germany, feel free to hit me up. Oh, and if you make your way to Eastern Germany, come and stop by, I'll be in the country end of May through June. I'll cook you guys a warm meal and have a place for you to stay.

Elias

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By Ryan Williams
Administrator
From London (sort of)
Dec 20, 2012
El Chorro
I've spent much more time in France and Spain than anywhere else, so I can't give you much advice about the Alps. But do some research regarding travel options. Trains are very expensive here, regardless if you get a single pass or buy individual tickets. I don't really know anyone that still uses the trains for long back packing or climbing trips.

My guess is that you'll spend $1,000/month per person for an unlimited pass. You said there were a few of you. You're going to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on train tickets. That doesn't count buses, which you'll need to use for the climbing. Also doesn't take into account that not having a car will increase the amount you spend on accommodation.

A lot of people come to the UK and buy a car. You can get one with the steering wheel on the left side for Europe and you can sign an insurance waiver, stating that you will be leaving the UK within a certain amount of time. You could buy or rent a big van for everyone to sleep in. It will save you a lot on travel costs, food, and accommodation.

Just a thought.

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By GMBurns
Dec 20, 2012
Climbing at Morro Anhangava in Southern Brasil.  (...
The Eurorail, especially the unlimited one, is freaking expensive. Some train routes are fairly cheap between certain destinations, but planes can be quite a bit cheaper. My experience is that the Eurorail is not a good option unless it fits your exact itinerary.

For example, the lady and I will be going from Sevilla to Barcelona mid-Jan. The train is 54 euros one-way (so 108 euros roundtrip). The flight is 80 during not-so-convenient hours. It's 120 if we don't fly during those weird hours. So, 10+ euros to save a crap load of hours...it was a fairly easy choice.

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By Brian in SLC
Dec 20, 2012
Climbing in Smuggler's Notch
steven sadler wrote:
Are we going to need serious mountaineering hardware? or just an ax, crampons, and some slings? (we plan on doing the easiest routes up both) And we will be doing the Matterhorn from the Italian side and coming down the Swiss side. If you've done that before, how is the hut situation? Is this much harder than just going up and back down just one of the routes?


The "serious" need is more along the lines of experience and fitness. The Swiss side is over 5500 feet of climbing. In summer its wicked crowded and heavily guided. If you don't have experience climbing quickly and efficiently on that type of terrain, I'd consider getting some while over there, and, then maybe an up and down on one of the routes rather than a traverse. I wouldn't do it "with a few friends" but a single solid partner.

At least from the Swiss side, if it were dry and not snowy, the route could be done with minimal gear (a single rope and a few slings, no ice/crampons). If you're gonna have boots/crampons and axes, then, maybe a traverse of the Monte Rosa makes more sense and would be a good prep for the Eiger's snowy route. Ditto the Mönch.

Also, add up the costs of your train passes and how much it would cost to split a car for the duration of your trip. The Eurail is spendy and doesn't go everywhere, leaving you to spend more money on other trains (plus, you're lugging gear and on that schedule, instead of your own). Someone mentioned renting a campervan which might work well. Huts and campgrounds are spendy and its kinda hard (and fairly illegal in some/most places) to camp for free when you don't know the area well.

You could easily spend the whole summer in the Dolomites. Or the Ecrins. Or Chamonix. Etc. For me, after multiple trips over the years, I prefer to base out of one location for a while rather than travelling around a bunch. The Alps is a huge, huge complex area.

You might try some of the UK climbing forums with this question, as, those folks have a fair bit of experience travelling over there.

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By Nick Votto
Dec 20, 2012
Bolton, VT
Sardinia is an incredible place to climb and pretty cheap by Euro standards....look up Cala Gonone and you will want to go I promise...let me know if you need beta on any areas.

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By kenr
Dec 22, 2012
Well if you keep coming back to "gotta do the Eiger + Matterhorn" after the smart euro-experienced people keep telling you the good climbing is somewhere else, I suggest having some special T-shirts made up saying, "Send loose rocks down on me here".

. (maybe if you hire a guide, at least there's a better chance that you won't be one of the tourists kicking rocks down on other climbers) .

If you're going to do any routes with a glacier approach, bear in mind that the glaciers are breaking up due to Local warming (or is it Global warming?). And the probabilities in the best long-term weather simulations for late spring 2013 for the western Alps are way skewed toward Hot Hot Hot.
. (for the eastern Alps, the probabilities skew merely toward Hot Hot) .

Possible implications are: Giant crevasses and bergshrunds and moats opening up impassably already in early summer. Big showers of non-climber-triggered stonefall later in summer (e.g. the normal French-side route on Mont Blanc last summer -- think about maybe even hotter this year).

Everything is changing very rapidly in the higher-altitude Alps, so you need current local advice.
If you want to be safer and have fun, hire a local guide ... but instead of telling them you need to do some route you read about in an American magazine, or which you hope will impress some non-climbers back home, ask them what they recommend as an interesting spectacular route for your climbing ability given current conditions this year, this month, this week.

I climbed both the Matterhorn and the Eiger by popular routes, and neither one sticks out as one of the top-hundred climbing experiences in my life.
And nobody back home seemed to care.

Ken

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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Dec 22, 2012
At the BRC
kenr wrote:
I climbed both the Matterhorn and the Eiger by popular routes, and neither one sticks out as one of the top-hundred climbing experiences in my life. And nobody back home seemed to care. Ken


Just out of curiousity, which routes on the Matterhorn and Eiger did you climb and when?

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By kenr
Dec 23, 2012
If you want to learn about specific routes, I suggest posting questions on ukclimbing.com (or post in English on some German climbing forum).

Since people in England + Scotland + Wales spend lots of time climbing in Europe, there's enough knowledgeable people around to actually have a helpful + interesting discussion. And because climbing in the Alps for them is not a "once in a lifetime" trip, they have a broader context for comparing and recommending different routes.

So I'd say be careful about taking advice about Europe from American climbers.

Oh and it now occurs to me that I was exaggerating my feelings about the Matterhorn -- really it doesn't make the top five hundred best climbing experiences in my life.

Ken

P.S. I am an American climber.

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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Dec 23, 2012
At the BRC
Steven- are you going with Jordan?
PM me if you like. My wife and I traversed the Matterhorn back in the 90s and also did the Mittellegi Ridge on the Eiger, descending the Southwest flank.
I could offer other suggestions if I had a better idea of your interests and capabilities.
You will have great adventures wherever you go.
If you can find a way to finagle having a car, life will be MUCH simpler.
Also, you should call the AAC library and see if they have any guidebooks you can borrow. It would be worth joining just to have access, I'll bet.
I believe you still would want to join an alpine club (either the AAC or one of the european ones) so as to have rescue insurance and to get hut discounts. You'll need to research the current status of these memberships. An extra fee used to be required with an AAC membership if you wanted the discounts.
Have you checked summitpost for beta?

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By kenr
Dec 24, 2012
I sorta recall that access to the Mittelegi ridge is by a permanent snowfield -- With the possible Hot temperatures I would recommend checking on the most current conditions before jumping on that route. . . (btw It's not the ascent of the Mittelegi that has the stonefall problem on the Eiger, rather the normal descent route.)

Why climb the Eiger?
Well with the Matterhorn, the reason for wanting to bag the summit is obvious: It's a 14000-foot peak that looks so dramatic and sits in isolation from other high peaks in its neighborhood.

But the Eiger is less than 14000 ft, also less than 4000 meters, also lower than most of its neighbors.
So why the interest for American visitors?
Surely it's the North face -- the Eigernordwand. Famous historically as one of the "last great problems" of alpine climbing, with several death stories. Notable for Americans for the Clint Eastwood movie, with it's own dramatic Eigernordwand death scenes (and dark humor).

OK ... but climbing it by the Mittelegi or the shoulder and then telling folks back home (or just yourself), "We climbed the Eiger" - is a bit of a deception. Because the reason anybody in USA remembers the Eiger is because of the Nordwand (or Clint Eastwood) -- but actually you'd have carefully avoided the dangerous Nordwand on both the ascent and the descent.
. . (Well hopefully you'll at least get to look out thru the window in the rock that featured prominently in the "Go ahead cut the rope" scene in the movie.)

So how about an actual 14000-foot peak, near the Eiger, higher than all its neighbors, looks very dramatic, is more alpine in both approach and ascent than the Mittelegi or Eiger shoulder, also finishes up a nice ridge - (and does make it into my personal top-one-hundred climbing experiences): the
Finsteraarhorn

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By kenr
Dec 24, 2012
A few other ideas on "peaks" to bag -- questions to ask on UKclimbing Rock Destinations forum ...

+1 for the Dolomites: full of dramatic peaks with Trad routes.

Mont Blanc by the Three Mont Blancs route. The highest peak in Europe. Not just a 14er, it's a 15,000 foot summit.

one-hundren-fifty-seven other great alpine rock and mixed routes around Chamonix. First thing half of the American climbers are going to say when you get back home is "Mountains in Europe - cool - we've heard of that. Chamonix, right?"

Aiguille Dibona South face direct. Up the visible right side of this ...

Most popular route is "Visite Obligatoire". Roughly speaking it's ten pitches of sustained 5.10 on granite. Easier is some variation on Voie Madier.

Traverse of the Meije

eleven other peaks in the Ecrins

(and as long as you're going to consider routes with fixed ropes like the Mittelegi on the Eiger and the Hörnli ridge on the Matterhorn ... How about sampling some of the very fun very spectacular Via Ferrata routes in the Dolomites (or Austria)? Nothing like those in USA -- opportunity for a cross-cultural experience.)

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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Dec 24, 2012
At the BRC
Ken, I don't know why you're so down on the Matterhorn and the Eiger. Both pretty cool, albeit not wilderness experiences.
We traversed the Matterhorn, not sure why anymore. Probably more sensible jsut to descend the same route unless you have some alpine experience. It's not always that easy to find the correct route down...

The Mittellegi was great- it was before the new hut and we were one of only 3 parties on the route. The fixed ropes are interesting and frankly didn't bother me. Getting to the old huts was super sketchy, unprotectable slabs in mountain boots, could easily have both plummetted. Probably off route! You do cross a glacier, which may be in poor condition. A trip report on Summit post suggests the route is climbed by 700 people a day now!

The Dolomites would be a good choice for these guys since they are almost entirely rock, so more familiar ground for most of us North Americans. The Tre Cima group is outstanding, or Sella Pass, or the Marmolada.

I never accomplished anything much in the Bernese Oberland, seemed like getting to the peaks was kind of a chore, and Grindelwald isn't as nice a base as Chamonix, which is very climber friendly. The Zermatt area seems less friendly too, and most of the peaks also kind of a pain to get to.

Chamonix is spectacular. Not sure I'd single out Mont Blanc as a goal, was pretty crowded and just a big lump of snow via the Gouter route (although poaching a night in the hut was an experience, with one french guy boosting his half dozen sled dogs into the hut every once in a while, as well as the head high drifts of trash in the corner.) Lots of fun to be had in the Aiguilles.

The Bregaglia is nice, good granite, some snow/glacier travel, but mostly rock.

Never went to the Ecrins. Looks great in the guidebook, but maybe kind of obscure for a first trip to the Alps.

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