Glacier trekking is the ideal mountain adventure for people who desire a different kind of challenge. Although most expedition companies will claim that it is a perfect step up for regular hikers with no previous experience, we highly recommend that you carry out extensive research by talking to people who have just returned from a similar challenge (with events fresh in their heads) before you sign up and pay for your expensive trip. Like any mountain expedition, as a trekking community, we cannot emphasise enough how crucial it is for you to equip yourself with appropriate skills and training. You can find out from the expedition company if they offer a pre alpine mountaineering preparation course to develop ALL the skills you need to ensure a successful and *SAFE* glacier trek.
As not all alpine trails are the same, by going on as many alpine climbs as you can will help you acquire the experience that involves trekking over a glacier. It will offer you an opportunity to explore a highly unique environment. To top it off, you will achieve something over and above the norm by challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone. If you are blessed with perfect weather and if you go prepared (after months and months of extensive physical and mental preparation), you will get a real sense of achievement when you complete a glacier trail.
Doing the Monte Rosa massif trail in the summer, for example will give you a clear picture of what it will take to conquer massive alpine mountains like Gran Paradiso, Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Eiger South Ridge -Cosley.
Glacier trails cross terrains that you simply won't experience on a standard tropical mountain. Often you will you get the chance to get up close to stunning ice formations and crevasses within glaciated environments. And of course, the mountain views are extraordinary - unlike anything you'll see elsewhere!
In addition to experiencing the glaciers up close and personal, you will also enjoy mountain accommodation in some breathtaking situations, camaraderie with group members and an opportunity to really appreciate walking on deep snow with crampons, ice axe on one hand and ski pole on the other, very heavy boots and backpacks (minimum of 12kg) at altitude. All these happening whilst you’re roped in, constantly conscious of where you put your foot and when you should or should not stop even for a minute as you don’t want to end up deep in a crevasse.
Earlier this month, our founder and 2 other ATC members climbed Gran Paradiso and Monte Rosa massif in Italy as the weather and wind condition on Mont Blanc was not feasible for a summit climb.
The Gran Paradiso is the highest mountain entirely within Italy and a constant snowy peak on the southern skyline from the Mont Blanc Massif. It is situated in the beautiful Paradiso National Park above the Italian Val d’Aosta. Whilst the ascent involves no “technical climbing” ie rock climbing, a snow covered glacier is crossed and a narrow and exposed summit ridge must be climbed and scrambled, giving one a real mountaineering feel to the summit. This ultimately requires 100% focus and concentration, courage and good movement skills whilst on a high & exposed mountain ridge.
Preparation for Alpine trekking:
Climbing high altitude peaks require familiarity with snow and ice skills (up to 45 degree slopes), strength endurance, and strong cardiovascular conditioning. Just because you exercise regularly (four to six times per week) does not mean you have the conditioning needed to reach the summit of Gran Paradiso and Mont Blanc in 5 days.
Many people may have the endurance to run a marathon but fail to summit high-altitude peaks - as they usually struggle to slow down and acclimatise resulting in AMS (acutely mountain sickness). Pure cardiovascular fitness is simply not enough. Summit day alone requires stamina necessary to travel sometimes up to 12-15 hours round-trip. You should be comfortable enough to ascend 3,000 ft of elevation on successive days carrying up to 15kg walking on snow against very strong wind.
We recommend your training efforts in the following way, assuming that you are in good health and injury-free:
Climbing conditioning — pack-loaded uphill hiking, walking, and stair climbing
Strength training — for the lower body and core
Cardiovascular training — including both aerobic and anaerobic workouts without pack weight
Most people will need to train specifically for high altitude glaciers for at least three to four months. During your training, you will need to progressively ramp up your hike time, distance, and elevation gain (at roughly 10% per week) to safely and effectively build your trekking-specific conditioning. Trying to rush into glacier trekking will increase the risk of injury and will be fatal.
If you’re keen to become an alpinist and would like to learn the skills to prepare you for a high altitude mountain expedition please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. We are not the experts but we can help you get to the experts.
You can find out more about the dangers of venturing into alpine trekking in this article.