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The less steep ranges of the Alps (here Vanoise) are perfect for ski-mountaineering (also called "alpine touring", or "randonnee skiing"). You scale a peak or a pass on skis using adhesive skins to go uphill, and then you enjoy a long run in nearly immaculate snow.

In the Wallis, Swiss Alps. On the left, skiers are seen bellow the huge North face of Liskam (note summit of Matterhorn emerging from the clouds) on their way to Mt Rose, the second summit of the Alps, which is reached by an easy ridge (right).

On the gentle Trient Glacier, similar to a snow field with no open crevasses, Mont-Blanc range, French Alps The high ranges of the Alps are heavily glaciated, and to get almost anywhere you have to travel on glaciers. The gentle Trient Glacier is similar to a snow field with no open crevasses (left). A large party crosses a snow bridge on the upper Vallee Blanche in summer (right) Does the rope-up distance seem sufficient to you ?

Alpinists climb Aiguille du Midi Alpinists climb  Aiguille du Midi The most natural way to ascend montains is to follow ridges, as they are less steep and less exposed to rockfall and avalanches than faces.

On the  North face of Tour Ronde, Mont-Blanc range, French Alps Then, there are the large snow and ice slopes of classic inclination (less than 55 degrees). There are many climbs in this range of difficulty in the Alps. Have a closer look at the two parties climbing on the lower half of the North face of Tour Ronde, a classic of 300m high in the Mt Blanc range, where slopes tend to be rather steep.

On the North face of Grande Casse, Vanoise, a climb of comparable steepness, but which is much longer. Looking up (left), and sideways (right).

The Super-Couloir on Mt Blanc du Tacul is the very steep and narrow gully, Mont-Blanc Range, French Alps Climbers Frank and Alain climb thin ice in the Super-Couloir on Mt Blanc du Tacul, Mont-Blanc Range, French Alps More difficults ice climbs involve steeper ice, smaller and thinner gullies, or mixed terrain, which is a demanding mixture of rock and ice, as examplified by the Super-Couloir on Mt Blanc du Tacul.

Long alpine routes (here the North face of Les Droites, Mt Blanc range, with Frank) require very early starts to get acceptable snow conditions and to avoid being benighted. It is important to move fast also to avoid being caught in, or to escape the fast moving storms characteristic of the Northern Alps.

These two pictures, taken during a climb of Mt Gelas, Maritime Alps, show that severe conditions can also be found in the Southern Alps, a hundred kilometers from the Meditarranean. The combination of steepness and harsh conditions make alpinism a quite demanding activity.

By contrast with snow and ice climbing, which can usually be done in any weather conditions, rock climbing calls for dry days. The set of spires which form Aiguilles de Chamonix has one of the best granite in the Alps, and is at lower elevations than the rest of the range (Aig. des Pelerins).

Paul leading on Bonatti Pilar on Le Dru, Mont-Blanc Range, French Alps On the Bonatti Pilar on Le Dru, Mt Blanc range. The first ascent, solo, by Walter Bonatti of this very elegant line was one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of climbing. To overcome the difficulties, Paul Arene and I had to resort to aid climbing and to bivy on the route.

Climbing the South Face of Dent du Geant, Mont-Blanc Range, French Alps The approach, a bivy at the base, and the climb of the Dent du Geant, one of the most striking spires in the Mt Blanc range.

On the very narrow top of Dent du Geant. The chain Vertes-Droites-Courtes can be seen in the background of the left picture. The mighty Brenva face of Mt Blanc is in the background of the right picture. Can you see the two climbers (zoom) wawing at you ?

All photos and text Copyright © QT Luong