Géographie et milieu Alpin / Geography and Alpine environment

écrit par Wladimir T.

chef de course et instructeur au Club Alpin Suisse

Le 10 février 2013

Géographie et milieu alpin



Le massif des Alpes est un ensemble montagneux qui s’étend sur 1200 kilomètres, du col d’Altare en Italie, à Vienne en Autriche.

Il est partagé par huit pays : l’Italie, la France, Monaco, la Suisse, l’Autriche, le Liechtenstein, l’Allemagne, et la Slovénie. Sa largeur varie de 130 à 250 km.

Les Alpes peuvent être subdivisées en trois entités: les Alpes occidentales (de la Méditerranée au Valais), les Alpes centrales (entre le Valais et les Grisons), et les Alpes orientales (des Grisons à Vienne).

Ce massif couvre environ 300.000 km² et est peuplé de quelques 13 millions de personnes. Soit une densité de 43 habitants au km². Une densité élevée pour un massif montagneux.

Des informations détaillées sur la géologie, la géographie physique et la géographie humaine des Alpes sont disponibles sous l’article Alpes de l’encyclopédie Larousse.

L’ensemble du relief de la chaîne des Alpes peut être visualisé ci-dessous

Le milieu alpin

En montagne, la végétation change progressivement selon l’altitude, l’exposition au soleil, et la situation géographique du massif montagneux.

On distingue cinq « étages » ou écosystèmes successifs, avec pour chacun un paysage et une végétation caractéristique.

Les cinq écosystèmes successifs :

  1. étage collinéen, jusqu’à 800m d’altitude
  2. étage montagnard, entre 800m et 1400-1700m
  3. étage subalpin, entre 1400-1700m et 1800-2400m
  4. étage alpin, entre 1800-2400m et 3000m
  5. étage nival, au-dessus de 3000m

Davantage d’information sur WikipédiA à la rubrique Flore des Alpes.

En principe, le randonneur ne s’aventure pas au-delà de l’étage alpin. Le montagnard, lui, va monter plus haut et évoluer sur un terrain où prédominent les roches, la neige et la glace. Ces éléments imposent de faire une distinction fondamentale entre différents types de progression.

Nous y reviendrons plus tard lorsque nous aborderons l’étude des différentes techniques de progression.

Toutes les roches ne sont pas propices à la pratique de l’escalade. Il y a toutes celles du géologue, et celles qui font la joie du montagnard.

Respect de l’environnement

Le montagnard, respectueux de l’environnement, s’efforcera de préserver le milieu dans lequel il évolue.

Pour l’aider dans cette démarche, le CAS met à disposition un aide-mémoire sur les bonnes pratiques à observer lors des courses en moyenne et haute montagne.

Geography and the Alpine environment



The Alps are a mountain range stretching 1200 kilometres from the Altare Pass in Italy to Vienna in Austria.

It is shared by eight countries: Italy, France, Monaco, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany and Slovenia. Its width varies from 130 to 250 km.

The Alps can be divided into three parts: the Western Alps (from the Mediterranean to the Valais), the Central Alps (between the Valais and the Grisons) and the Eastern Alps (from the Grisons to Vienna).

The massif covers some 300,000 km² and is home to some 13 million people. That’s a density of 43 inhabitants per km². A high density for a mountain range.

Detailed information on the geology, physical geography and human geography of the Alps can be found in the Alps article in the Larousse encyclopaedia.

The relief of the Alps can be seen below

The alpine environment

In the mountains, vegetation changes progressively according to altitude, exposure to the sun and the geographical location of the mountain range.

There are five successive « levels » or ecosystems, each with its own landscape and characteristic vegetation.

The five successive ecosystems :

1) hilly zone, up to 800m altitude
2) montane level, between 800m and 1400-1700m
3) subalpine level, between 1400-1700m and 1800-2400m
4) alpine stage, between 1800-2400m and 3000m
5) nival stage, above 3000m

More information on WikipédiA under Alpine flora.

In principle, hikers do not venture beyond the Alpine level. A mountaineer, on the other hand, will climb higher and move through terrain dominated by rock, snow and ice. These factors require a fundamental distinction to be made between different types of progression.

We’ll come back to this later when we look at the different progression techniques.

Not all rocks are suitable for climbing. There are all the geologists’ rocks, and all the rocks that delight mountain climbers.

Respecting the environment

Mountain climbers are respectful of the environment and will do their utmost to preserve it.

To help them do this, the SAC has produced a checklist of good practice to be observed during medium- and high-mountain tours.

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