In the company of a professional guide, anyone with a good fitness level can try their hand at mountaineering. Looking to do your first ascent? Check out our top 5 summits for beginners!
Most people believe mountaineering is for expert climbers only. In reality, however, a very good fitness level and the company of a professional mountain guide are enough to try your hand over 3000 or even 4000 meters. So if you’ve always dreamed of climbing to the top of a mountain and looking down at the world, don’t let your lack of experience stop you!
To help you get inspired, we’ve put together a list of the top 5 ascents in the Alps accessible to beginners. Although you won’t need any technical climbing skills, these ascents can’t be taken lightly. Believe us when we say that they will put your endurance to the test!
Also take into account that any high mountain experience is highly dependent on weather and snow conditions. Some luck, a good preparation and, of course, the company of a certified mountain guide will be key to getting you safely to the summit (and back!).
The prize? The stunning views, the magnificent nature around you and a really challenging climb that will stay engraved in your memory forever!
Sounds tempting? Check out our top five list and bag your first peak:
1. Gran Paradiso (4,061 meters)
Located between the Aosta and the Piedmont Valley in Italy, Gran Paradiso is a classic among mountaineers. There are no lifts in Gran Paradiso National Park, so you’ll have to hike to Rifugio Chabod.
The good news is that it is one of the most comfortable huts in the Alps! A nice dinner and a comfy bed will get you ready for the summit attack on the next day. From Chabod, on a clear day, you’ll get to see one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ve ever seen! Take a deep breath and take it all in.
If you’ve never walked on a real glacier before, Lavaciau Glacier will be an added bonus. The walk is easy but be aware of the crevasses (this is when a mountain guide becomes essential!). The scenery up here is unique and gives way to the last stretch of the route to the summit.
Beware that Gran Paradiso is probably among the most popular summits in the Alps. So if you can, try to avoid weekends and the month of August. Most Italians go on holidays during this month. It's the best way to stay away from the crowds.
The highlights? The scenery and the extremely rich flora and fauna of Gran Paradiso National Park.
When to climb Gran Paradiso: From June to September
Duration of the ascent: 2 days
Starting point: Pont, 50 min drive from Aosta, 1h from Courmayeur
Which refuge to stay at: Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II or Rifugio Chabod
Do you wish to climb Gran Paradiso? Contact a local mountain guide here
2. Dômes de Miage
This line of six mountain peaks in the south of the Mont Blanc massif, in southeastern France, is considered one of the most striking in the Alps. Apart from Aiguille de la Bérangère (3435m), the other 5 peaks don’t have names. They are known by their heights as Dôme 3670, Dôme 3666, Dôme 3633, Dôme 3673 and Dôme 3672.
This 2-day traverse is perfect for beginners. It is not too difficult and not too high, so you probably won’t suffer the altitude.
Your expedition will probably start at Contamine-Montjoie and you’ll spend the night at the Refuge des Conscrits (2,600m). On the second day, you’ll cross the Tré-la-Tête glacier, climb to Col des Dômes and follow the arête until you reach La Bérangère.
No mountaineering experience is necessary to climb Dômes de Miage but days are long and fitness is key. Some crampon-experience will definitely be helpful.
You can climb Dômes de Miage from June to September. However, check with your guide in advance to find out about current conditions. The route tends to be better in the beginning of the season, when there is more snow and little ice.
The best part? The Refuge des Conscrits is one of the most modern and comfortable in the Alps and the views of nearby Mont Blanc and the Bionnassay are hard to beat.
When to climb Domes de Miage: From June to September
Duration of the ascent: 2 days
Starting point: Les Contamines-Montjoie, 15-min drive from St Gervais le Fayet (train station), 1h drive from Geneva airport, 2.5h from Lyon airport.
Which refuge to stay at: Refuge des Conscrits (2,600 m)
Do you wish to climb Domes de Miage? Contact a local mountain guide here
3. Breithorn (4,164m)
Located on the border between Italy and Switzerland, it is the main summit of a massif of the same name. It is one of the most popular four-thousanders to climb in the Alps. This is at least partly thanks to the Klein Matterhorn cable car, which takes climbers up to 3870 meters.
The ascent takes between 2 and 3 hours to complete, which makes it really accessible. However, a good fitness level is still necessary to handle the more difficult sections of the climb.
From the Colle del Breithorn, you’ll cross the Bergschrund (3,950 m) and then begin the more challenging part of the ascent. Moving up along the airy ridge, you’ll reach the Western Breithorn summit (sometimes called “Western” to differentiate from the mountain range).
The descent is straight-forward and will take you back in time to catch the cable car down.
Although the climb is quite short, a mountain guide is of the utmost importance when it comes to your safety. Knowing the terrain and managing pace is key to making it to the top.
Why climb Breithorn? From the summit, you’ll enjoy incredible vistas of Matterhorn and Klein Matterhorn. And what an amazing achievement for just one day!
When to climb Breithorn: From June to September
Duration of the ascent: 1 day
Starting point: from the Italian side, the starting point is Cervinia (1h drive from Aosta, 2h from Turin airport). From the Swiss side, it's Zermatt (Zermatt is car free, so arriving by train from Zurich or Geneva is the most convenient option).
Which refuge to stay at: Gandegg hut (for a 2-day ascent)
Do you wish to climb Breithorn? Contact a local mountain guide here
4. La Meije Orientale (3,891m):
Located in the Massif des Ecrins, in southern France, La Meije is home to the mythical La Grave ski resort as well as a very popular summit among mountaineers. It is a great option for a first ascent and will also serve as a good opportunity for your guide to teach you some mountaineering basics.
On the first day, you’ll climb to the Refuge de l’Aigle (3,450m), where you’ll spend the night. This first day is quite long as you’ll have to climb 1700 meters (in contrast, the second day is considerably shorter). The atmosphere at the hut is as friendly as it gets and you’ll probably find yourself sharing the evening with fellow climbers. On the second day, some mixed climbing (rocks and glacier) will take you up to the La Meije Orientale summit. From this point, you’ll have breathtaking views of the surrounding ridges. Take some time to take the beauty in and savor your victory!
La Meije Orientale is rated PD (Peu Difficile) but please be aware that it presents all the challenges of high mountain climbing. A very good fitness level is a pre-requisite to attempt this summit.
The highlights? La Meije is among the most beautiful peaks in the Alps. Climb to its summit and you’ll have a story to tell to your grand-children.
When to climb La Meije Orientale: From June to September
Duration of the ascent: 2 days
Starting point: La Grave (1.5h drive from Grenoble, 2h drive from Chambéry)
Which refuge to stay at: Refuge de l’Aigle (3,450m)
Do you wish to climb La Meije Orientale? Contact a local mountain guide here
5. Weissmies (4,017m)
This is another good option for a first mountaineering ascent. Located in the canton of Valais, in Switzerland, this prominent mountain is one of the 82 peaks in the Alps above 4000 meters. It is considered an “easy” four-thousander and is very popular among mountaineers. The normal route to the summit is rated Peu Difficile.
The ascent via the normal route can be done over 2 days or just one day (using the Hohsaas cable car, which can whisk climbers up to 3100 meters). No rock climbing is involved on this route and the ascent is technically easy. However, weather and snow conditions can complicate the ascent.
Although this climb is somewhat more challenging than the others on our list, the weather in this area tends to be good and that definitely helps.
Why climb Weissmies? The Alps don’t get more beautiful than in this area! The views from the summit will take your breath away.
When to climb Weissmies: From June to September
Duration of the ascent: 1 or 2 days
Starting point: Saas Grund (1.3h drive from Sion airport, 2.3h drive from Geneva, or train to Visp)
Which refuge to stay at: Almageller Hut (2,894 m)
Do you wish to climb Weissmies? Contact a local mountain guide here
Feel ready to tackle your first ascent? Contact a certified mountain guide and start making your dreams come true. Be sure to prepare both physically and mentally because a strenuous ascent like any of these will require all of your energy. But a mountaineering experience of this magnitude will not leave you unchanged. You’ll probably go home a new man or woman. Mountaineering can be addictive; you’ve been warned!
Read this blog post in French.