Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust Alpine Mountaineering course notes




The course aims to cover essential Alpine Skills such as movement on snow and ice with and without crampons, use of an axe in an alpine environment, rope work for safe and efficient travel on glaciers and mixed terrain, and awareness of alpine hazards.

The course will look at how to tackle an alpine route including the use of guide books and maps, timings for an Alpine day, using huts, an understanding of grade’s and choosing appropriate routes.

The focus of rope work will be on alpine techniques for glacier travel and easy mixed ground and will include snow and ice anchors as well as emergency techniques such as crevasse rescue. With some groups, a greater focus on rock may be appropriate.



The JCMT will consider all applications but will prioritise young people and those that the trust feel will benefit the most from the course. You will be informed of the Trust’s decision by 29th March.

It is important that you confirm acceptance of your place with Plas y Brenin within two weeks of being offered a place.



Your payment of £150 will be processed on receipt of your acceptance.



If after you have confirmed your acceptance you have to cancel your place for any reason please telephone Plas y Brenin on 01690 720214 immediately. In the event of cancellation, your fee will be refunded provided Plas y Brenin receives notice of the cancellation at least 21 days before the start of your course and a replacement can be found. There will be a £25 administrative charge deducted.

Apart from in exceptional circumstances, in the event that you fail to give any reasonable notice to Plas y Brenin that you cannot attend the course, you will be liable for the full un-subsidised cost of the course (£270).



Please meet your Guide at the office of the LES CHOSALETS CAMPSITE (161 Chemin des Chosalets), ARGENTIERE at 08.30 hours on the first day of your course (i.e. Sunday or Wednesday). Please note that the guides leave shortly after that (by 08.50 latest). If you have not arrived by 08.40 and if there is someone waiting to get on the course, your place will probably be given to that person. The Guide will be identifiable by the IFMGA badge. A Plas y Brenin member of staff will direct the course.

Les Chosalets is also known as Le Glacier d’Argentiere. From Argentiere Centre, take the road towards Chamonix for approximately 1km to the S-bend over the river. It is signposted here to Les Chosalets Camping.

Please note: The guides normally aim to finish the course on Day 3 around 13.30 – 14.30hrs after a night in a mountain hut and an early start, however, conditions may dictate that the course will not finish until late afternoon.



It is essential that you are adequately insured (to cover France, Switzerland and Italy) against personal accident, rescue, sudden illness etc. The Guide will ask for your certificate at the start of the course. You will need to carry proof during the course.

The BMC operates a suitable competitive insurance policy (for example the BMC ‘Alpine and Ski’ policy). Please note, if you are a BMC member or BMC affiliated club member but have NO travel insurance, you are insured for Civil Liability up to £5,000,000 – you must then ensure additional cover is taken against personal accident, rescue, sudden illness, etc. If you are not properly insured you will not be able to participate on the hill.



Accommodation is not included in the course fee and is to be arranged by the course participants. It is recommended that you stay in the Argentiere area immediately before and during the course so that communication with your Guide is made easier. Les Chosalets Camping is the campsite that many Conville course participants stay at whilst participating on the course (please note you will be staying in a mountain hut on the evening of Day 2 of your course). Please contact Les Chosalets Camping direct for all enquiries about the campsite (Tel: 00 33 4 50 54 17 36 / Fax: 00 33 4 50 54 03 73).

For alternative accommodation please see the Argentiere/Chamonix website or contact the Argentiere Tourist Board on Tel: 00 33 450 54 02 14.



Apart from the cost of attending the course itself, accommodation and food you should expect to spend the following on other items such as:

Flight to Geneva or Lyon airport
Geneva is the nearest to Chamonix approx 1hr 30mins drive.
Lyon is approx 2 hr 15 mins.
(The price of flights varies)

Transfer from airport to Chamonix / Argentiere
From £50 return

Coach London to Chamonix From £65 return

Activity & Travel Insurance under Insurance

Additional daily costs
Day 1
Montenvers train 33.50 Euro
Grand Montets Lift 36.50 Euro
Aiguille de Midi Lift 63 Euro

Day 2
Le Tour Lift (bring SU card for discount) 29 Euro

Day 2/3
Mountain Hut (dinner, bed and breakfast) 55 Euro

These are approximate costs and are to help you budget for the course, they should be considered as a guideline only.



Although this is not a requirement on the course if you are staying on and be spending more than 5 nights in mountain huts then it is worth buying a Reciprocal Rights Card. These are available from the BMC, for further details and how to apply please go to the BMC website to the International section.



The EHIC gives access to free or reduced cost medical treatment within the EEC and Switzerland. It is very useful to have but it is not a substitute for insurance. UK-issued EHICs remain valid until the given expiry date.

The EHIC is being replaced by the Global Health Insurance Card – you can find more details here.


The Mountain Training Trust and Conville Trust would like to receive feedback from all participants on the courses. Please download and fill in the feedback form here.



On the course you will need:

Ice axe, alpine curved pick style
Crampons with front points (+ anti-balling plates, which are compulsory)
2/3 prusiks of 5-6mm cord (approx. 120cms circumference or when tied the loop reaches from the base of thumb to elbow)
Gloves (1 thin, 1 thick)
Rucksack (e.g. 45 litres)
Water bottle (1 litre minimum)
Sunglasses with side protection (or tinted prescription glasses)
Warm clothes
Waterproof jacket + trousers
Sun cream min. factor 20
Boots (suitable for use with your crampons)
2 x 120cm slings (length) + 3 x screwgate karabiners
2/3 screwgate karabiners (2000kg+)
HMS screwgate karabiner
Insurance certificate
European Insurance Health Card / GHIC
Money for lifts
Food and drink
Emergency bivi bag (polythene)
Sheet sleeping bag for use in mountain huts (blankets and pillows provided)
Please note: You may be staying in a mountain hut on the evening of Day 2.

Please bring these items if you have them:

Ice screws (1-2) – min 13cm
50 metre UIAA single rope
The Mont Blanc Area Vol 1 & 2 published by the Alpine Club
Easy Ascents in the Mont Blanc Range by Francois Burnier & Dominque Potard
Snow, Ice and Mixed by Francois Damilano
Map: Chamonix – Massif du Mont Blanc (IGN 3630 OT/Top25)



Ice Axe
This needs to be at least 50cm long, but no more than 65cm, and be related to your height. It should have for preference a curved pick, they should not have a deeply inclined pick as these are unsuitable for descending or cutting steps.

Boots and Crampons
Make sure that your boots fit your feet and your crampons fit your boots. Check your crampons have been assembled correctly with the crampon straps correctly fitted and the buckles on both sets of straps on the outside of the foot. Also make sure that the straps will not be too short when you have gaiters on. Quick-fit bindings on rigid boots are suitable, providing they are adjusted correctly and have a safety strap around the ankle. Crampons must be fitted with anti-balling plates.

Essentially the boots must have a sole which is rigid enough to take crampons; if the sole flexes more than the crampon, there is a danger they will fall off. It is also very difficult to ‘front point’ with bendy boots.

If you need to obtain rigid boots then a choice will have to be made between plastic and leather. Plastic boots are light and waterproof, but they have virtually no ‘give’ in the uppers. This is fine for snow and ice, but below the snow line the feet can get squashed and blistered as well as overheated.

In the UK this is not a problem because distances covered below the snow line are not usually very long and are often soft and muddy. In the Alps, approach marches are often longer – one answer is to wear training shoes and carry boots in the rucksack. Most people prefer the versatility of leather boots for all terrain, despite their weight. The ultimate decision is a matter of choice. However, boots must be either fully stiffened, full weight leather, or plastic double boots. Boots with cut-away heels are not acceptable.

Helmets are vitally important in the Alps. The mountains are much younger and therefore a lot looser than you may be used to in the UK. You will be wearing a helmet for a large part of each day so you should bring along a light, comfortable helmet. No helmet – no play.

Ice Screws
Each person should ideally have one ice screw min 13 cm. These can form the essential item for constructing a belay to perform crevasse rescue. They should, therefore, be carried on the harness not just when technical ice climbing is expected but also whenever glaciers are to be crossed. Guides will be able to provide screws if required for the duration of the course, but you should have your own if you intend to stay on and climb for yourselves afterwards.

Cooking Fuels
Camping Gaz is almost universally available. Methylated spirits and paraffin (petrol) are obtainable from drugstores and from most supermarkets. In French huts, where individuals may cook their food, wardens prefer gaz to be used due to the fire risk from spillable liquids. In manned Swiss huts, individual cooking is not usually allowed.

On the course, the Guides only use UIAA Single Ropes (usually 10mm+) as they are most versatile for glacier travel and easy routes. A 9mm on its own is acceptable for glacier travel, and double 9mm`s are best for harder routes.

Must have long zips so that they can be put on and off when wearing crampons.

Should offer good protection – EN Category 3 or 4 is best, a wrap-around design gives the best protection.

45-50 litres is ideal, preferably with compression straps to take the axe spike-down.

Other Equipment
The following are supplied on the course, but you may need them for your own climbing:

Ropes – 50m of 11mm or 10mm+ is useful, but 9mm is also used – again 50m length
Climbing Equipment – essential pegs and bolts are usually in place, but sometimes you need to fill in with your own runners. Depending on the route, say a set of rocks 1-9, 3 friends, 6 quick-draws, 2-4 ice screws.
Bivouac Bags – recommended is the 2-man or 3-man nylon shelter (lighter and more effective than polybags)
First Aid – strapping for blisters is the main thing



You may find the following books useful in preparation for your course.

Alpine Mountaineering by Bruce Goodlad
Handbook of Climbing by Fyffe & Peter
Winter Skills by Fyffe & Cunningham (Official MLTUK publication)
Extreme Alpinism by Mark Twight
High Mountains of The Alps by H. Dumler & W. Burkhardt
Alpinism – Introduction to Safe Alpine Mountaineering by Peter Cliff
Guidebooks are easier to obtain in Argentiere and Chamonix
Also see the excellent ‘Alpine Essentials’ DVD from the BMS and MCofS