Carbon Conscious Climbing

[Climbing in the UK] [Climbing abroad]

There are many sites out there giving advice on how to reduce the carbon footprint of your everyday life (see for example footprint.wwf.org.uk). This page aims to do the same for the aspect of the mountaineer's lifestyle which is least easy to trim of carbon emissions - travel.

I have also started a more general eco-blog.

For a comparison of typical emissions from different forms of transport see this

The list below is by no means exhaustive, just some tips from my experiences of trying to climb in the UK and Alps with minimal carbon emissions. If you have any tips of your own or questions please email me and I'll get on it.

Climbing in the UK

Minimising your emissions from travel for climbing in the UK is relatively simple, here are some ideas:

  • Take fewer but longer trips. Maximise your metres climbed to miles travelled ratio (if you are a boulderer you can think of this as a smiles per mile ratio)!
  • If you're driving, car share whenever possible. Set up an email list amongst your climbing friends to arrange lifts to the crag. Join a climbing club, advertise or ask for a lift on sites like www.ukclimbing.com and www.liftshare.org.uk.
  • If you are travelling to new regions, it can be hard to find out how to get there by train. I find that this map of the UK rail network gives a very quick way of working out whether or not it might be feasible to get there by rail.
  • If it looks like there is a station near to where you want to go, look up tickets and book online through www.thetrainline.com. For cheaper tickets book as far as possible in advance, get a young persons rail card/senior railcard if under 26, a student or over 60.
  • Getting to the crag once you get to the nearest station can be problematic. If you are prepared to hitch-hike it isn't usually too bad. Otherwise, walk, cycle, get a bus or taxi. This approach works well for venues not requiring a car once you arrive (Pembroke, North Wales, etc).
  • If your journey is going to need several modes of transport, try this website for door-to-door travel: www.transportdirect.info.
  • Get intimate with your local climbing area!

Climbing abroad

When travelling abroad people usually assume that not flying is incredibly complicated. In reality things can often be remarkably simple. Below are a few gems that I've discovered over the past few years travelling to and from the European Alps. For elsewhere, see this comprehensive and very good website on how to get pretty much anywhere in Europe and Asia by train, and the rest of the world without flying: www.seat61.com.

London to Chamonix (and elsewhere in French Alps) sleeper

I know many people with well paid city jobs who regularly fly to Chamonix for a long weekend of skiing and climbing. This may not sit too well with you if you are concerned about the long-term health of the snow, ice and glaciers upon which your sport depends, but you might be surprised to learn that it is both possible, more comfortable, and often cheaper to do the same journey by train.

In high season (winter and summer) there is a nightly sleeper between Paris and Chamonix, leaving Paris Austerlitz at 2246 and arriving in Chamonix at 1010 after a quick and simple change in St Gervais les bains. Plenty of time to walk up to a hut below a big north face, or get a full day's skiing! Return trains leave Chamonix at 1939 arriving Paris Austerlitz at 0620.

Outside of high season the service is limited to Friday, Saturday and Sundays evenings. Those timings from Paris make it perfectly feasible to leave London after work and arrive back mid-morning, having had a decent night's sleep on the train (bring ear plugs and an eye mask).

To me, even without any concern for carbon emissions, this is preferable to flying, where you'll have to arrive early for check-in, your flight to Geneva is likely to be quite late and the transfer to Chamonix is expensive and often unreliable. Typical arrival times on a Friday night for people flying seem to be between midnight and 1 a.m.

Prices for the train, with advance booking, are £60 return to Paris and 88 euros from Paris to Chamonix. Once you factor in the price of travelling to and from airports (Geneva - Chamonix typically at least 50 euros return) that starts to look pretty competitive with flying.

Because of the change in St Gervais, this sleeper service is also useful for accessing other areas such as Morzine/Avoriaz.

Booking: www.eurostar.com for London to Paris. Very easy-to-use website.

www.voyages-sncf.com for Paris to Chamonix. When it works this website is fine, but when it can't find what you are looking for it is hopeless. One annoying glitch is that you put the start and destination towns, times etc, press return and it just reloads the screen with “aide” next to each town, press this and select your town from the drop down list. Grrr! If you can't get this to work try www.raileurope.com , sometimes the system struggles to find the journey you are looking for, so it can be best to phone someone (Raileurope 0844 848 4064).

London to Chamonix by day train

This is much less convenient than the sleeper, and I only do this when the sleeper is not running (for example in the autumn).

This journey takes a full day, and it is typically a little more expensive than the sleeper. The route I've done most often is London - Paris (Gare du nord) - Paris (Gare du Lyon) - Lyon - St Gervais - Chamonix. All goes speedily as far as Lyon, but the link between Lyon and Chamonix is very poor. I have also done Paris - Annecy - St Gervais - Chamonix.

It is also possible, and perhaps preferable, to change at Lille Europe station (a stop on the Eurostar line) and get a direct TGV train from there to Lyon, this avoids having to carry luggage around the Paris metro. I've not done this, but it looks like perhaps the best option for getting to Chamonix during the day.

Times and tickets again from www.eurostar.com, www.voyages-sncf.com and www.raileurope.com. Again, because this is a complicated journey and French rail websites have yet to catch up with the slick efficiency of their trains, the sites may struggle to find you a journey, in which case try phoning Raileurope on 0844 848 4064.

London to the Ecrins by train

I've done this journey once. London to Paris (Gare du nord) on the Eurostar then Paris (Gare du Lyon) to Grenoble on the TGV, catch a bus (bus station next to train station) from there to wherever you're going (La Grave, etc).

Snowtrain

I've never caught this, but sounds interesting, details here www.seat61.com/France.htm#Alps

Bus: London - Chamonix

Cheap, takes about 19 hours. Bring patience, an mp3 player and some good books. Times and tickets here: www.eurolines.co.uk.

Alps from elsewhere in the UK

You can of course link the journeys above into a domestic rail journey to London from elsewhere in the UK (I've done this successfully several times). You can actually do Edinburgh to Chamonix in a day by train if you are willing to get up early, or leave in the afternoon in order to meet the sleeper itinerary above.

Hitching while abroad

Almost without fail, I've always found hitch-hiking abroad to be easier than hitching in the UK (I once hitched all the way from the Alps to the Peak District). Helps if you can speak a bit of the local language, but if not you can usually get by with a mixture of English and sign language!

Changing train stations in Paris

Good description of how to change train stations in Paris on the Metro here: www.seat61.com/Paris-metro.htm.