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Preparing for your Alpine tour: what you need to know

  • #Alpine tour
  • #Mountaineering
Manuel
Marketing, Zurich Office
© Fotos

What equipment do I need for an Alpine tour? Can I do an Alpine tour solo? Here are answers to the key questions relating to Alpine touring. And in the video, mountain guide Fabian explains how to install an anchor on firn. 

Planning an Alpine tour but have a few questions before you set off? You’re in the right place! With these answers in your pocket, you’ll doubtless soon be set for your first – or next – Alpine tour.

How can I prepare for an Alpine tour?

If you want to do an Alpine tour, it’s important to be physically fit. Regular exercise is helpful preparation: jogging or hiking use the same muscles you’ll require on your Alpine tour. You need a lot of stamina when Alpine touring – after all, you’ve not just got to get up, but also back down again. Cycling, swimming and cross-country skiing will all boost your endurance.

What do beginners need to bear in mind on an Alpine tour? 

 Lots of factors impact your safety when Alpine touring. One of the most crucial is your experience, so it’s important to take a thorough training course before you start. Ideally, you’d attend a training course, like those run by mountaineering schools such as Höhenfieber. You shouldn’t do your first few tours on your own: instead, you should take part in tours run by pros. The more tours you complete, the more you’ll be able to appraise the risks. 

When can I start doing Alpine tours on my own? 

Once you’ve got enough experience and have completed the relevant training, you can also undertake simple Alpine tours solo. You should have memorised the various rope techniques and be confident enough to perform crevasse rescues. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer in terms of timing. The planned tour should always be compatible with the skill level of its weakest participants. In case of doubt, err on the side of caution when choosing the route. 

What should I eat on an Alpine tour?

If you’re spending the night in a hut, call them a few days before your tour to tell them about any food intolerances and allergens. If you can’t make the tour for whatever reason, cancel your booking in good time. It’s worth considering that your stomach might respond differently to certain foods at altitude compared to in the valley – so adjust your diet accordingly. Bars, nuts, dried fruit, isotonic drinks and grape sugar are good sources of energy.

Roped parties with major weight differences: what do I need to bear in mind?

Ideally, the heavier person won’t fall and is the belaying person at the front. In general, the tour should be planned and executed so it is appropriate for the conditions at hand and the participants themselves. For Alpine tours on a rock ridge, where you can do rear belaying, you don’t need to worry about weight differences quite as much. It is a different story on a crevasse-riddled glacier in the fog, for instance.

Crampons and ice picks

How can I reduce the weight of my backpack?

Remember that lighter products are often less durable. So, think about which is more important to you before you set off. However, it’s also true that the lighter your pack, the more efficiently you’ll make progress and the more fun you’ll probably have. You can cut the weight of your backpack by putting toiletries like sun cream or toothpaste into smaller containers, for instance. You’re best off taking copies of maps or topological documents. Similarly, you can leave your fleece jacket at home and swap it for a Primaloft jacket – they’re light, but no less warm. Wearing a softshell as an outer layer is plenty of protection against wind. When you’re Alpine touring, remember to take one piece of clothing for during the hike and one for in the hut or sleeping in.

Firn anchors if someone falls into a crevasse – how does this work?

As soon as someone falls into a firn crevasse, the belaying person should use an ice axe to set up an emergency belay. Then, they should use a T-slot to create an anchor in the firn. The front third of the webbing loop is secured to the ice pick, in the direction of the head, using a cow hitch knot. On blank ice, you can use two ice screws attached to each other. NB: if you’re going to be spending a long time in the sun, cover the screws with a little ice so they melt out less quickly.

How safe are Alpine tours?

In recent years, climate change has had a huge impact on conditions in the Alps. Glaciers are retreating, mountain fissures are getting bigger, transitions are more demanding. Rockfalls and landslides are becoming more common, unpredictable weather is accelerating and we’re having fewer extended periods of nice weather. You need to bear this in mind when planning your tour. Often, it helps to call the hut manager to get information about current conditions on the mountain. Online tour portals with up-to-date photos are also a handy tool. Bear in mind, though, that they’re always subjective: information about the length and difficulty of a tour can vary widely dependent on the participants’ ability.

  • #Alpine tour

  • #Mountaineering

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