Despite its relatively small size, Europe is an immensely diverse continent, making it a popular destination for mountaineers, ski tourers and trekkers alike. In fact, the modern iterations of all three sports originated on the continent. 

The advent of alpinism came along during the age of Enlightenment and witnessed the first episodes of people climbing mountains for recreational purposes. Trekking as a leisure activity was also established in Europe during the Romantic movement, which saw more people turn to nature during their newly-found downtime.

 In both cases, the Alps served as the focal point for both fledgling sports. Their natural beauty and formidable, snowcapped mountains served as inspiration for mountaineers and trekkers alike, with some of the first ascents coming on Mont Blanc.

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The modern iteration of skiing also originated in Europe. By 1747, Scandinavian soldiers were equipped with skis and poles to move more quickly and freely in the mountains. Skiing became a sport about a century later. 

The popularity of all three outdoor activities continues to grow in Europe. The continent’s diverse array of landscapes and modern infrastructure mean there are endless opportunities to learn and improve at the sport.

The vast majority of the countries on the continent offer superb conditions and stunning scenery for mountaineering, trekking or skiing. From the Alps, in central Europe, to the remote glaciers of Svalbard and the volcanic peaks of the Caucasus Range, Europe boasts something for adventurers of every persuasion.

Preparation and training

Mountaineering, skiing and trekking are fun and rewarding sport but can also prove to be challenging. Along with being an excellent source of physical exercise and providing other health benefits, they can also be a mental challenge.

As a result, it is essential to be mentally and physically prepared before heading out into the mountains. Most guides recommend spending between two and six months of physical training before heading out on an expedition. This physical training can be broken down into four separate components: climbing conditioning, strength training, cardiovascular training and flexibility training.

  • Climbing conditioning is one of the most important aspects of mountaineering. It works out all the muscles needed to hike uphill carrying a pack that may weigh anywhere between 15 and 30 kilograms (33 to 66 lbs). The best way to practice climbing conditioning is to hike in the mountains or carry a weighted pack up a stair machine. (However, this second option is far worse for the ankles and knees, climbing conditioning in the mountains, if possible, is always the better option.)
  • Strength training for mountaineers usually focuses on the lower body and core, with some back and shoulder work. Most guides recommend finding a training regime that incorporates crunches and squats in the months leading up to the trip.
  • Cardiovascular training for mountaineers involves both aerobic and anaerobic exercises, with the goal being to increase lung capacity and strengthen the heart. Along with climbing conditioning, cardiovascular training is vital and very helpful for climbing at high altitudes.
  • Flexibility training is key to climbing. Both before and after engaging in any of the aforementioned exercises, it is important to stretch. This will help prevent muscle injuries during physical exertion and give you a greater range of motion, all of which will come in handy on exposed mountain ridges and glaciers.

Away from the physical side of the sport, it is also key to be mentally prepared for the challenges that will come up while climbing. Among these are the elevation and climate conditions.

Even at reasonably modest elevations – as low as 2,400 metres (8,000 feet) – the air becomes substantially less saturated with oxygen (thinner) and breathing becomes more difficult. 

Taking up yoga and practicing breathing exercises is a great way to mentally prepare you to exert increasingly more effort as elevation is gained while simultaneously bringing less oxygen into the lungs with each breath. 

It is also essential to be prepared to deal with inclement weather. Many of the country’s mountain ranges create specific climate zones and are subject to rapidly changing conditions. From the Alps to the Caucasus Mountains, clear days can quickly turn into violent storms.

As a result, always plan for worst-case scenario weather conditions. This means bringing the proper clothing and gear and going over various route finding and navigation skills before the ascent. 

It is also always best to climb with a certified mountain guide who will help make the best decision and know when turning back is the only safe option.

What to bring on a mountaineering expedition

Along with the physical and mental preparation for a mountaineering experience, it is also essential to bring the correct gear. Having the proper equipment can be the difference between success and failure. 

While equipment lists will change based on the mountain and the guide service, below is a checklist of basic mountaineering gear required on most intermediate and advanced ascents.

Climbing and camping gear

  • 20 to 60-litre climbing pack
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons
  • Carabiners
  • Belay device
  • Climbing harness
  • Rope
  • Avalanche rescue gear
  • Crevasse rescue gear
  • Headlamp and extra batteries
  • Four-season tent
  • Thermal sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • First aid and toiletries
  • ID card, visas and necessary permits

Footwear

  • Gaiters
  • Hiking socks and liner socks
  • Mountaineering boots
  • Street shoes or sandals for base camp

Headwear

  • Neck gaiter and balaclava
  • Mountaineering goggles
  • Mountaineering helmet
  • Knit cap
  • Category 4 sunglasses (for snowy conditions)
  • Sunhat

Clothing

  • Baselayer bottom and top
  • Softshell pants and hardshell pants
  • Softshell jacket, midlayer top and hardshell jacket
  • Lightweight insulated jacket
  • Insulated down parka
  • T-shirts, shorts and trousers for base camp
  • Nightwear and underwear (long underwear is preferable for camping on mountains)
  • Liner gloves and mountaineering gloves

Eating and drinking

  • One-litre water bottle
  • Water purification tablets and/or steripens
  • Backpacking stove and fuel
  • Cooking and eating utensils
  • Energy snacks
  • Hot drink mix
  • Collapsible water container
  • Thermos
  • Biodegradable soap

Remember, some guides will provide some or all of the necessary equipment, while others will not. It is always best to ask the guide for a checklist before packing for an expedition.

1| Mount Elbrus

Sunrise on Mount Elbrus summit push. Photo: Matteo Leoni (https://www.flickr.com/photos/signalkuppe/)

Composed of two volcanic domes and towering over the surrounding peaks in the Caucasus Range’s western reaches, Mount Elbrus is one of the most sought-after climbing destinations in Europe and the world.

Situated in the southeast of Russia, just north of its border with Georgia, the 5,600-metre (18,500-foot) peak is the highest in Europe and the tenth most prominent in the world. 

For ambitious mountaineers attempting to climb the Seven Summits or Seven Volcanic Summits, Elbrus is frequently one of the first stops. 

Though there is no official order to do them, Elbrus is frequently one of the first two of the Seven Summits climbed due to its comparatively low altitude and relative ease of access on the most straightforward route.

Challenges of climbing Mount Elbrus

The easiest route to the summit of Mount Elbrus requires some technical rock and ice climbing, rated Class II by the UIAA and perfectly appropriate for intermediate-level climbers. Other routes to the summit are more technically challenging.

Despite the relative ease of access, climbing Mount Elbrus poses plenty of challenges, including altitude, climate and crevasses. The normal route is crevasse-free, making it quite popular, but these deep glacial fissures present problems on other routes.

Keep reading: Climbing the Seven Second Summits: Facts & Information

Altitude also poses a significant problem for climbers, with a total of 4,741 metres (15,554 feet) separating the base to the summit. Most climbers require three days to acclimate before making a push for the top. A high level of physical fitness is also required.

Along with altitude and crevasses, temperatures on the mountain tend to fall below freezing, even in the summer and storms can quickly form and envelope the peak. Bringing the proper equipment and having adequate route finding skills are paramount as a result. 

How to get to Mount Elbrus

Most trips to Mount Elbrus begin with a flight into either Nalchik Airport (NAL) or Mineralnye Vody Airport (MRV), both of which can easily be reached from any of Russia’smain cities. Guides will generally meet here before providing transport to the trailhead, which takes between two and 2.5 hours by car.

Routes to the summit of Mount Elbrus

While several different routes lead to the summit of Mount Elbrus, the normal route is the easiest, safest and quickest, which makes it the most popular. The Kiukurtliu Route is another popular way to climb the peak but is far more challenging.

The normal route begins from either the Garabashi hut or Leaprus hut, both of which can be reached by cable car. After going on several acclimatisation hikes to the Pastukhova rocks and back, climbers wake up at midnight on summit day.

The route to the top begins with a hike (or snowmobile ride) to the Pastukhova rocks. From here, climbers will continue along a well-signed path up the glacier and the saddle. After getting atop the saddle, climbers will continue to the top.

Meanwhile, the Kiukurtliu Route climbs to the top of Elbrus via the Dome of Koupol on the western side of the mountain. The route is accessible from the same starting point as the normal route or from the Khourzouk valley.

From the normal route, climbers cross the glacier to the west to Kiurkurtliu Pass. Once on the pass, climbers ascend the south spur of the Kiukurtliu Cupola and continue along the broad glacial saddle. From the saddle, climbers ascend back onto the spur and continue to the summit.

Quick facts:

  • Location: Russia
  • Elevation: 5,642 m (18,510 ft)
  • Duration: 1 to 2 weeks
  • Climbing season: May to September

2| Mont Blanc

Photo: Iggyshoot (https://www.flickr.com/photos/iggyshoot/)

Towering above the border between France and Italy, Mont Blanc is one of the most recognisable mountains in the world and serves as a symbol of mountaineering. 

Rising slightly above 4,800 metres (15,750 feet) in elevation, the white mountain – as its name translates to in English – is the highest point in the Alps and Western Europe. Depending on the definition used to define an independent mountain, Mont Blanc is also considered the fifth tallest on the continent.

Located in the heart of the Graian Alps, the slopes of the peak are considered the birthplace of modern mountaineering. Since Mont Blanc was first summited more than 200 years ago, it has become one of the world’s most popular mountaineering destinations. 

An estimated 20,000 people attempt to climb Mont Blanc each year. However, due to the impact of climate change on its glaciers, new rules have been put in place to limit and regulate traffic on the peak.

Challenges of climbing Mont Blanc

Due to the technical challenges and danger associated with climbing certain routes, Mont Blanc is widely considered an intermediate-level mountaineering challenge.

The ascent is not overly technical, requiring basic knowledge of rope travel and ice ax and crampon techniques. However, the climb is steep and the mountain is quite prominent, making any ascent an immense physical challenge and necessitating adequate acclimatisation.

Along with the technical and physical challenges, many of the routes can also be quite dangerous. Hidden crevasses and avalanches on the mountain’s glaciers pose risks to climbers on most routes. Additionally, the normal route is prone to rock falls.   

How to get to Mont Blanc

Most trips to Mont Blanc begin with a flight into Geneva International Airport (GVA). From here, it is easy enough to take a bus or shuttle to Chamonix, one of the main starting points for the climb. Renting a car and making the 1.5-hour drive to Chamonix is also a good option. 

Routes to the summit of Mont Blanc

Five main routes lead to the summit of Mont Blanc. From the French side, the Goûter Route and 3 Monts Route are among the most popular. From the Italian side, Aiguilles Grises is the most popular option.

The Goûter Route avoids the mountain’s glacier, passing over the Grand Couloir on the mountain’s north side instead. This means less technical difficulty is required to climb the peak but makes it a bit more dangerous than the other routes.

The 3 Monts Route is slightly more technical and includes a traverse of two of Mont Blanc’s minor summits and its glacier before arriving at the main one. After taking the Aiguille du Midi cable car, climbers will Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit before getting a pre-dawn start and making it up to the summit.

Meanwhile, the Aiguilles Grises is the longest of the three routes. Starting from the Italian side, climbers will traverse the Miage Glacier before climbing the Col des Aiguilles Grises and the Dôme du Goûter before arriving at the summit. 

Quick facts:

  • Location: France/Italy
  • Elevation: 4,808 m (15,774 ft)
  • Duration: 3 days
  • Climbing season: June to September

3| Monte Rosa

 Photo: Alessio Maffeis (https://www.flickr.com/photos/imaffo/)

Situated in the eastern part of the Pennine Alps, the Monte Rosa massif serves as a natural dividing point between Italy’s Piedmont and Aosta regions and the Valais Canton in Switzerland.

Composed of 17 major and minor summits and 16 separate glaciers, the massif is a veritable playground for hikers, mountaineers and ski tourers alike. The highest of the summits is known as Dufourspitze and is the most popular target for mountaineers.

With its Rising to 4,634 metres (15,203 ft), Dufourspitze is the second-highest point in the Alps and Western Europe. Unlike Mont Blanc, the peak is considered a far easier climbing destination. 

Since it is not the tallest in the range, the massif tends to be far less crowded during the summers. However, its slopes become much more popular during the winter and are home to several different ski resorts. 

Of the six major summits on the mountain, Signalkuppe is the smallest and most easy to access. After Dufourspitze, this 4,554-metre (14,941-foot) spot is the second most popular target on the massif.

Challenges of climbing Monte Rosa

Part of what makes the Monte Rosa massif an excellent mountaineering destination is the massif boasts plenty of routes for climbers of all levels. 

The most accessible routes to the summit are great for beginners with some previous experience. Generally, they include a mix of rock, snow and glacier climbing, which are great for practicing all the necessary techniques. Meanwhile, more challenging routes will require more advanced climbing techniques.

Keep reading: The Basics of Glacier Travel: Top Tips and Tricks

Regardless of the route taken, climbers need a high level of physical fitness and spend some time acclimating before making an ascent. On summit day, most climbers will need to make a 1,750-metre (5,740-foot) ascent to reach the top, meaning a high level of endurance is critical.

How to get to Monte Rosa

There are two main starting points to climb Monte Rosa: Zermatt on the Swiss side and Alagna Valsesia on the Italian side. The best way to get to Zermatt is to fly into Geneva International Airport (GVA) and make the 2.5-hour drive in a rental car. A combination of trains and buses will also get you there. 

GVA, Turin Airport (TRN) and Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) are all common starting points for Alagna Valsesia. The town can be reached by car in two to three hours from each. Buses are also available.

Routes to the summit of Monte Rosa

Due to the sheer size of the massif, Monte Rosa boasts many different climbing routes that lead to its various summits and other points of interest. 

However, two main routes lead to Dufourspitze. The normal route begins from the Monte Rosa hut at 2,883 metres (9,458 feet) and follows the climbs to the highest point on the massif via the mountain’s west face. At the top of the west face, climbers arrive at a ridge, which they follow to the summit. The other main route is far more technically challenging and climbs the main summit via de Marinelli Couloir, on the eastern side of the mountain. 

Meanwhile, the normal route is also the main one taken to the summit of Signalkruppe. The route ascends the sixth-highest of the massif’s major summits via the western side, traversing a series of glaciers before arriving at the summit pyramid. Once here, climbers will scramble to the top.

Quick facts:

  • Location: Italy/Switzerland
  • Elevation: 4,634 m (15,203 ft)
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Climbing season: June to September

4| Matterhorn

With its distinctive, near-symmetric pyramidal summit, the Matterhorn towers over the border between Italy and Switzerland, in the heart of the Alps. At nearly 4,500 metres (14,800 feet) in elevation, the gneiss-composed peak is the fifth highest in the Alps. 

Also known as Monte Cervino, the peak’s iconic summit makes it one of the most recognisable in the world and a coveted mountaineering destination. Roughly 3,000 people climb the so-called “mountain of mountains” each summer.

Most climbers opt to head up the peak by one of two main routes. However, many others exist for more adventurous climbers looking for more of a challenge. 

The north face of the iconic Swiss-Italian peak also boasts one of the three largest north faces in the Alps. Along with Grandes Jorasses and Eiger, the Matterhorn forms part of “the Trilogy,” which adds to the peak’s allure for advanced mountaineers.

Challenges of climbing the Matterhorn

Even following the most accessible routes to its summit, climbing the Matterhorn is not an easy undertaking. A combination of physical and technical challenges means the peak is best saved for upper-intermediate climbers.

The easiest of the routes, Hörnli ridge, is rated as Class III- by the UIAA, with other routes rated as challenging as V+.

All routes to the summit involve steep sections of rock and mixed climbing over snow and ice. Some sections of certain routes have fixed ropes. However, all the routes are pretty exposed to the elements and are at risk of rockfalls.

Along with the technical challenges of climbing the Matterhorn, the peak presents plenty of physical challenges too. Regardless of the route, any ascent will require at least six consecutive hours of steep climbing on summit day.

How to get to the Matterhorn

There are two main starting points to climb the Matterhorn: Zermatt on the Swiss side and Breuil-Cervinia on the Italian side. 

The best way to get to Zermatt is to fly into Geneva International Airport (GVA) and make the 2.5-hour drive in a rental car. A combination of trains and buses will also get you there. 

GVA, Turin Airport (TRN) and Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) are all common starting points for Breuil-Cervinia. The town can be reached by car in 2 to 3 hours from each. Buses are also available.

Routes to the summit of the Matterhorn

Eight main routes lead to the summit of the Matterhorn, with one main route leading up each of the four faces and ridges. In general, the four ridge routes are more accessible than the face routes.

However, the Hörnli Ridge route and Lion’s Ridge route are the easiest and most popular routes.

The Hörnli Ridge route takes climbers up the northeast ridge of the Matterhorn. Starting from Zermatt, climbers will take a ski lift to Schwarzsee and hike to the Hörnli hut (3,266 meters/10,715 feet). The following day, climbers make the 1,700 vertical metre (5,600 foot) ascent up the ridge to the summit. 

Meanwhile, the Lion’s Ridge route follows the southwest ridge on the Italian side up to the top. Climbers begin the ascent via this route by hiking from Breuil-Cervinia to the Carrel hut (or taking a cable car part of the way up). The following day, climbers make a similar vertical ascent up the ridge and to the top. 

Quick facts:

  • Location: Switzerland/Italy
  • Elevation: 4,478 m (14,692 ft)
  • Duration: 2 to 3 days
  • Climbing season: June to September

5| Classic Haute Route

Hiking the Haute Route. Photo: Dirk Groeger (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mountainspirit/)

Running from the picturesque ski resort of Chamonix to the idyllic mountaineering hub of Zermatt, the Classic Haute Route is one of the world’s most famous treks.

Spanning roughly 180 kilometres (110 miles), trekkers generally spend two weeks traversing a series of high alpine passes, exploring verdant alpine valleys and either crossing or passing around the region’s massive glaciers. 

Each night, trekkers headed along the Classic Haute Route will stay in quaint mountain huts, meeting fellow trekkers and climbers as well as enjoying the legendary alpine hospitality. Many huts offer incredible views, too, making each one a destination in its own right. 

While many visitors choose to enjoy the stunning hike in the alpine wilderness, many others opt to begin (or end) the adventure with an ascent of Mont Blanc. 

Challenges of trekking the Classic Haute Route

Trekking the Classic Haute Route is generally considered an intermediate to hard trip, depending on the route that is taken.

While the more accessible variations require no technical mountaineering ability, trekkers will be expected to hike over uneven and rugged terrain for six to eight hours each day, covering a distance of 10 to 15 kilometres (6 to 9 miles). 

More challenging variations of the trip require trekkers to cross glaciers and make steeper, more exposed ascents at higher altitudes. While only basic mountaineering skills for this portion of the expedition, most guides recommend trekkers have previous technical experiencing before taking one of these on.

How to get to the Classic Haute Route starting point

Most trips to the Classic Haute Route begin with a flight into Geneva International Airport (GVA). From here, it is easy enough to take a bus or shuttle to Chamonix, the main starting points for the trek. Renting a car and making the 1.5-hour drive to Chamonix is also a good option. 

Main Routes on the Classic Haute Route

While there are about 13 different variations of the Haute Route, the Classic Haute Route begins in Chamonix and follows a fairly uniform course to Zermatt.

Most itineraries will take trekkers through some combination of Le Tour village, the Albert Premier Hut, the Cabane du Trient or Orny Hut, the town of Champex, the Valsorey Hut or Chanrion Hut, the Vignettes Hut, the village of Arolla, the Bertol Hut and the Schonbiel Hut.

Most of the trek takes place at a fairly high altitude, with an average elevation of 3,000 metres (9,800 feet). Among the highlights of the trek are traversing the Triente glacier, crossing the  4 Valleés, ascending the Pas de Chevres and traversing the Forcletta pass into the Mattertal valley before descending to Zermatt.

Itineraries and routes taken by guides on the Classic Haute Route largely depend on the fitness level of the group and time allowances. 

Quick facts:

  • Location: France/Switzerland
  • Length: 180 km (110 miles)
  • Duration: 14 days
  • Climbing season: June to September

6| Gran Paradiso

The north face of Gran Paradiso. Photo: Fulvio Spada (https://www.flickr.com/photos/lfphotos/)

Situated in the heart of the Graian Alps, straddling the French border, Gran Paradiso is the twenty-fourth highest peak in the Alps and the tallest mountain located solely in Italy. 

Rising to an elevation of 4,061 metres (13,323 feet), the gneiss and granitoid massif is widely considered to be the easiest 4000er to climb in the Alps and, therefore, a popular mountaineering destination for beginners.

More advanced climbers often opt to climb Gran Paradiso as a warm-up for more advanced mountaineering objectives in the region, such as Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn.

However, many others opt to make Gran Paradiso the main attraction. As its name suggests, the mountain sits in the midst of some of the most beautiful scenery in the Italian Alps – Gran Paradiso National Park.

Challenges of climbing Gran Paradiso

Gran Paradiso is widely considered to be the easiest 4,000-metre peak to climb in the Alps because it requires a very low level of technical ability to climb. 

This makes it the perfect place for first-time mountaineers to learn basic glacier travel skills, how to use crampons and an ice ax and how to travel as part of a rope team. As a result, many guides offer mountaineering courses on the peak.

Despite its low level of technical difficulty, a high level of physical fitness is required to reach the summit of Gran Paradiso. Summit day includes a long and fairly steep ascent with few opportunities to stop and rest. 

How to get to Gran Paradiso

Gran Paradiso sits in between Geneva and Turin. Most trips will begin with a flight into either Geneva International Airport (GVA) or Turin Airport (TRN). From here, it is possible to take one or more buses to the starting point of the trip or rent a car and make the two to three-hour drive to the starting point.

Routes to the summit of Gran Paradiso

Two main routes lead to the summit of Gran Paradiso: the northwestern route and southwestern route. 

Both routes begin from the trailhead at Pont Valsavarenche and do not differ too much in terms of either aesthetic beauty or technical difficulty. 

Climbers heading to the northwestern route will head north from the trailhead and hike to the Refuge Frédéric Chabod. Climbers then start summit day with a moderate hike over rough terrain before climbing up onto the glacier and to the summit pyramid. The last portion of the ascent requires some steep scrambling to reach the top.

Meanwhile, the southwestern route requires climbers to head southeast from the trailhead to the Refuge Victor-Emmanuel II. From this hut, climbers follow the southwest ridge onto the glacier and to the summit pyramid before arriving at the top. 

Quick facts:

  • Location: Italy/France
  • Elevation: 4,061 m (13,323 ft)
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Climbing season: June to September

7| Eiger

Photo: Fabio C (https://www.flickr.com/photos/125514109@N07/)

Located in the heart of south-central Switzerland’s Bernese Alps, Eiger is one of the most iconic peaks in the Alps and forms part of the famous trio of mountains that include Jungfrau and Mönch.

Rising to 3,967 metres (13,015 feet) in elevation, the limestone summit is certainly not the highest peak in the Alps, but it does boast the range’s largest north face wall. Known as Nordwand, its name in German, Eiger’s north wall is considered one of the three classic north faces in the Alps.

The route up the north face is extremely difficult and is best reserved for advanced climbers. A morbid nickname for the peak in mountaineering circles is the Mordwand – a pun that means death wall – since 64 climbers have died trying to climb the route. 

However, two other routes lead up to the summit via the peak’s ridgelines and are challenging but perfectly suited for intermediate-level mountaineers. 

Challenges of climbing Eiger

Climbing Eiger is a real challenge regardless of the route that is taken to its summit. The two easiest routes – the Mittellegi Ridge route and the South Ridge route – require a combination of snow, ice and rock climbing rated as Class V+.

Along with the technical challenges of the route, the climbing is physically and mentally challenging as well. Both days on the mountain will require long hours of climbing along exposed ridgelines with few places to stop and rest.

The North Wall is widely considered one of the most demanding mountaineering challenges in the world. Climbers will make a steady 1,600 to 1,800-metre (5,250 to 5,900-foot) multi-pitch ascent up the massive north face.

Along with the physical and technical difficulties of climbing the route, it is also quite dangerous. The risk of rockfalls is ever-present, especially during the warmer months of the year. This makes early spring and late autumn the ideal time to climb despite the wind and cold.

How to get to Eiger

Most trips to the summit of Eiger will begin from either Eismeer station or Grindelwald. To get to either of these will require a flight into Geneva International Airport (GVA). From here, one can either take a series of trains or buses to the station or town or rent a car and make the 2.5-hour drive to Grindelwald. 

Routes to the summit of Eiger

Three main routes lead to the summit of Eiger: the Mittellegi Ridge route and the South Ridge route and the North Wall.

The Mittellegi Ridge route is the most common. After taking the train to the Eismeer station, located inside the mountain, climbers will make a moderately difficult mixed rock and snow climbing ascent to the Mittellegi Hut. The following day, climbers follow Mittellegi ridge to the top.

The South Ridge route is generally used by all climbers to descend the peak and by some to climb, usually during bad weather. The route begins from Jungfraujoch, on the same train line. From here, climbers hike over the glacier to the Monchjoch Hut. The following day, the ascent continues over the glacier until climbers arrive at the South Ridge.

Finally, the North Wall is the most challenging route up Eiger. Most ascents up this route begin from the Eigerwant station. Climbers will head out of the station via a tunnel onto the rock face and start climbing. 

Most climbers aim to reach the two-thirds mark by mid-afternoon and spend the remainder of the day resting. The following morning, climbers make the final push to the summit before descending via the South Ridge route.

Quick facts:

  • Location: Switzerland
  • Elevation: 3,967 m (13,015 ft)
  • Duration: 2 to 3 days
  • Climbing season: June to September (Mittellegi and South ridges) or March to April, October to November (North Wall)

8| Breithorn

Photo: Maurice Koop (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mauricekoop/)

Rising to an elevation of 4,164 metres (13,661 feet), the Breithorn is widely considered the easiest and most popular of all Switzerland’s 4000ers.

Situated in the heart of the Pennine Alps, on the Swiss-Italian border, the Breithorn serves as a popular mountaineering destination for beginners and a warm-up peak for more experienced mountaineers planning on climbing the Matterhorn. 

Along with its relative ease of access, many climbers opt to visit the Breithorn for its incredible views of the Matterhorn, Rhone Valley and Monte Rosa massif.

Translated from German, the peak’s name means the ‘broad horn’ and is likely due to the mountain’s five summits. Of these, Breithorn Occidentale (what is referred to as the Breithorn unless specified otherwise) is the tallest and most commonly climbed.

Challenges of climbing Breithorn

Climbing Breithorn by the normal route – the SSW Flank – is not technically challenging and only requires some very basic glacier and snow climbing techniques. The slope on this side of the mountain is also quite gentle, with a maximum grade of 35 degrees. The presence of a cable car means that the climb can also be relatively short.

With all mountains, a high level of physical fitness is required to climb the normal route. When weather conditions are bad, the route is also prone to avalanches, meaning climbers should keep an eye on the forecast in the days leading up to the expedition. 

More challenging routes can also be taken to the summit of Breithorn. These routes are longer, more physically involved and require more technical ice and glacier climbing than the SSW Flank.

How to get to Breithorn

There are two main starting points to climb Breithorn: Zermatt on the Swiss side and Breuil-Cervinia on the Italian side. 

The best way to get to Zermatt is to fly into Geneva International Airport (GVA) and make the 2.5-hour drive in a rental car. A combination of trains and buses will also get you there. 

GVA, Turin Airport (TRN) and Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) are all common starting points for Breuil-Cervinia. The town can be reached by car in 2 to 3 hours from each. Buses are also available.

Routes to the summit of Breithorn

The SSW Flank is the main route that leads to the summit of Breithorn. The route begins from the Breithorn plateau, which can be reached via cable car from either the Swiss or Italian sides of the border. From here, climbers cross the glacier until arriving at the summit. A few cornices at the very end of the ascent provide the only challenging terrain.

The Half Traverse route is another popular route on Breithorn but takes longer and is a bit more technically challenging. Climbers taking this route will ascend the glacier until reaching the crest of the glacier and then follow this to several of the minor summits before arriving at the main one. 

The Triftjigrat route is the toughest of the three and is best reserved for advanced mountaineers. The route consists of climbing the steep, multi-pitch glaciated north face of the peak, which takes two days.

Quick facts:

  • Location: Switzerland/Italy
  • Elevation: 4,164 m (13,661 ft)
  • Duration: 1 day
  • Climbing season: June to September

9| Jungfrau

Photo: Dmitry Djouce (https://www.flickr.com/photos/nothingpersonal/)

Rising high above its neighbouring peaks in the Bernese Oberland, Jungfrau is one of Switzerland’s most exciting and challenging mountaineering destinations. 

Situated on the western edge of the alpine subrange that includes Eiger and Mönch, Jungfrau is the highest of the famous trio but is considerably easier to climb than Eiger. One of the reasons is the ease of access. Most ascents of the mountain begin from the Jungfraujoch station, which is located on the ridge between Jungfrau and Mönch. 

While many mountaineers opt to climb all three of the peaks over four days to one week, many others solely seek out Jungfrau for its incredible scenery and straightforward ascent.

The peak is partially covered by the Aletsch Glacier, which is the largest in the Alps and was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. 

Challenges of climbing Jungfrau

Jungfrau is not a very technically challenging mountain to climb but does pose a variety of different challenges. The easiest route requires some basic snow and ice climbing skills. 

The last part of the ascent is also tricky, involving a steep ascent of the snowy and icy ridgeline. As a result, the peak is best reserved for intermediate-level climbers. 

Away from the technical difficulty of climbing Jungfrau, the peak also requires a high level of physical fitness due to the steep grade of the climb. Proper acclimatisation is also an issue for some people arriving in Switzerland from sea level and setting out on the ascent straight away.

How to get to Jungfrau

Most trips to the summit of Jungfrau will begin from either the Jungfraujoch station or Grindelwald. To get to either of these will require a flight into Geneva International Airport (GVA). From here, one can either take a series of trains or buses to the station or town or rent a car and make the 2.5-hour drive to Grindelwald. 

Routes to the summit of Jungfrau

Four main routes lead to the summit of Jungfrau, each of which approaches the top of the peak from a different direction.

The normal route is the easiest and, as a result, most commonly taken route to the summit of the peak. Starting from the Monchsjoch Hut, climbers will head southwest across the Aletschfirn glacier before arriving at a steeper section – with some parts reaching 40 to 50 degrees – of mixed snow and ice climbing. After arriving at the top of this section, climbers will follow the snowy and icy ridge to the summit. 

Away from the normal route, climbers may also take the Inner Rottal Ridge route, Guggie Route and Northeast Ridge Route. However, each of these routes is longer and more technically challenging. 

Quick facts:

  • Location: Switzerland
  • Elevation: 4,158 m (13,642 ft)
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Climbing season: June to September

10| Svalbard

Photo: Christopher Michel (https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/)

Located about halfway between the northern shores of Norway and the North Pole, Svalbard is a remote archipelago composed of mountains, glaciers, fjords and valleys.

With the second-lowest population density of any country or dependent territory on Earth (Greenland has the lowest), Svalbard boasts plenty of unspoiled wilderness to explore on foot, snowshoe or ski.

The Norwegian archipelago comprises three main islands – Spitsbergen, Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya – with Spitsbergen being the largest and most commonly visited.

Most trekkers and climbers opt to visit Svalbard in the summer months to enjoy the long days and get out into the mountains and seven national parks. 

For ski tourers, April and May are ideal months for heading out into the mountains as the days start to get longer and the snowpack is generally in its best conditions. 

Challenges of climbing, skiing or trekking in Svalbard

While none of the climbing or trekking in Svalbard is overly technical, it requires a high physical fitness level. With minimal infrastructure on most of the island, climbers and trekkers must haul their gear throughout the trip. 

Most guides recommend previous trekking and climbing experience before heading to Svalbard to try the sport out.

Ski touring on Svalbard is a bit more technically challenging. Before joining an expedition, participants should be strong off-piste skiers, prepared to deal with snows of varying textures and depths.

A high level of physical fitness is also required since there are no lifts on the archipelago and all gear will need to be hauled on sleds by the participants. 

How to get to Svalbard

Almost all trips to Svalbard begin with a flight into Svalbard Airport (LYR), which can be reached directly from Oslo and Tromsø. Most guides will opt to meet at the airport or elsewhere in Longyearbyen, the archipelago’s main settlement. From here, guides will provide transport to the start of the trip. 

Popular destinations for climbing, skiing or trekking in Svalbard 

Despite its small size, Svalbard boasts plenty of excellent spots for climbing, trekking and ski touring. 

The archipelagos five tallest mountains – Newtontoppen (1,713 metres/5,620 feet), Perriertoppen (1,712 metres/5,617 feet), Ceresfjellet (1,675 metres/5,495 feet), Chadwickryggen (1,640 metres/5,380 feet) and Galileotoppen (1,637 metres/5,371 feet) – are all popular spots for hiking and climbing in the summer.

Meanwhile, the seven national parks in Svalbard are popular spots for both treks and ski touring expeditions, depending on the season. Heading out on foot or skis to explore these parts of the archipelago allows participants to enjoy their immense natural beauty and get the chance to see some of their unique plants and wildlife. 

Quick facts:

  • Location: Norway
  • Elevation: 1,717 m (5,633 ft)
  • Season: July to September for trekking and climbing; April to May for ski touring

Find the perfect mountaineering or trekking adventure in Europe

From first-time mountaineers looking for a fun and scenic introduction to the sport to advanced climbers seeking out their next challenge, Europe boats plenty of opportunities for climbers of every level.

Enjoy the continent’s stunning diversity and immense beauty on any number of different expeditions. 

So don’t hesitate a moment more and begin comparing trips and planning your next adventure holiday to one of Europe’s top mountaineering or trekking destinations with ExpedReview!

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