Last July I attended a ‘Conville’ course in Chamonix. The Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust organises these three-day courses to give young people the opportunity to develop the skills needed to climb safely in the Alps.
The guides split us into groups according to ability and experience. Having already done a Scottish winter skills course earlier in the year, I was in a group with two others of similar ability. First, we took the train up to the Mer de Glace, a dry glacier, to recap walking efficiently in crampons. We then learnt how to move swiftly on a mountaineering route by ‘moving together’. This included knowing how far apart to rope up on both dry and wet glaciers, and how to protect your partner(s) on routes to ensure maximum safety. This essential skill is often required in the Alps as the routes are much longer than in the UK, and so to complete them in a day you have to move more efficiently than you would do in the UK.
The next day we took the lift up the Aiguille du Midi. The lift takes you all the way to 3800m altitude and after negotiating the tourists we made our way out the station and down onto the Vallée Blanche. We put our newly acquired moving together skills into practice on a route called Arête à Laurence. After a brief lunch break in the Cosmiques hut, we then practiced crevasse rescue. Unfortunately for me, my instructor took this opportunity to demonstrate that you don’t need to be the strongest climber to rescue someone from a crevasse. He had me ‘rescue’ the two boys in my group whilst they tried their hardest to resist my efforts!
Due to threatening clouds overhead, the guides decided that we should stay low for the final day. We climbed a sport route called Via Corda Alpina. Again, we utilised our newly acquired skills to complete this 600m route in three hours. We rounded off the course with iced tea from a café overlooking the Mer de Glace. This gave us a chance to pick our guide’s brains about which routes to do for the remaining time of our holidays.
After finishing the Conville course, I stayed in the Chamonix area for another two weeks, which allowed me to put my newfound skills into practice. I climbed routes such as the Arete des Cosmiques – a classic of the area, Contamine-Mazeaud- my first ice route, and even went over to the Italian side for a few days to camp on the glacier and complete the Aiguilles Marbrees Traverse. These are among the many fantastic routes that I got the opportunity to do through the skills obtained from the Conville course. Without the funding from the Jack Bloor Trust, I would not have been able to attend the course or felt confident to attempt these routes safely.
Contamine - Mazend route on Mont Blanc du Tacul
Descent ridge from the the lift station to Vallee Blanche
Mer de Glace