by Geir Mjosund 10/09/2015
Mont Blanc (French) / Monte Bianco (Italian), meaning the White Mountains, and is with its 4810 meters Western Europe’s highest mountain.
The mountain is located in the French Alps on the Italian border, and near the border with Switzerland. The height varies somewhat from year to year with the alternating the amount of snow on top. The glacier on the top can be over 20 meters high.
Mont Blanc was first climbed on the 8th of August 1786 by Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard. Until the Soviet Union’s dissolution it was the mountain considered as the highest in Europe, but this is now generally considered to be Elbrus (5642m) in the Caucasus where we were in July and summited the top with great success.
Italians and Frenchmen dispute this mountain. On Italian maps the summit lies on the border between the two countries, while at the French maps is clearly in France.
Mont Blanc can be climbed from different routes. Each route has many nice moments and situations in an always impressive alpine environment. Most ascents are made, however, by the three normal routes. The best time of ascent is in the summer when the weather and the conditions are most stable. There will be only made very few winter ascents until the end of April, where the mountain again see activity for skiers.
Aiguilles Grises route: Via Val Veni and Gonella cabin – Aiguilles Grises – Dome du Goûter – then via the same route as Arete Bosses.
Goûter route – Refuge Tete Rousse / Refuge Goûter – Arete des Bosses – “voie royale”
This route is the most committed and considered by many as the easiest way to the top of Mont Blanc.
There are two huts on this road towards Mont Blanc. Tete Rousse hut at 3167 meters and the Goûter hut at 3835 meters. Both huts are much sought after and reservations must be made in good time before the start of summer.
If we have reservations in the Goûter hut, this first day will be very long and we start early from Les Houches with the first lift. From Bellevue, we take the tramway further up against the Nid d’Aigle at 2300 meters.
If we have reservations in the Tete Rousse hut or decide to tent outside the hut we can start a little later.
From Nid d’Aigle at 2372 meters there are hiking trails up to the Tete Rousse hut at 3167 meters, and it is not rare to see mountain goats enjoying the sun. The final climb to the Tete Rousse hut is steep and slightly exposed in some places. Whichever hut reservation we have, we will either stay overnight in Tete Rousse 3167 meters or go directly up against the Goûter hut at 3835 meters.
The trip from Tete Rousse to Goûter goes first through a small glacier against key passage on the way to Aiguille du Goûter. The passage of the “Grand Couloir” and this passage is dangerous because if it’s rock falls, and about 100m wide. If there is heavy rock fall in the passage, it would be too dangerous to go this route, and the route will then be generally being strongly discouraged by the authorities. This will usually be when there is “dry” conditions and when the night frost example do not set in. Respect to the mountain and its passes at the right time of day, the risk could be minimized to an acceptable level.
After the “Grand Couloir”, we still have 600 meters against the Goûter hut via the Payot ridge.
Day 2. The Mont Blanc Summit Attack.
If we have we spent the night in Tete Rousse hut the first part of the trip goes to the Goûter hut (see description above under the first day).
From the Goûter hut, the route continues on snow and glacier up to the Dome des Goûter 4304m. The route then goes first through a small ridge to a major snow wall where the team go in zigzag up the mountain.
After the long walk up the Dome des Goûters side, we walk just below the rounded top of the Domes des Goûter on approximately 4240 meters and towards the Vallot bivouac at 4362 meters. The Vallot hut is neither staffed nor intended for overnight stays. It is an emergency “shelter” that should only be used if you get caught up in bad weather at this height.
We use the shelter to warm up and rest before the last 500 height meters up the Bosses ridge. The Bosses ridge is a fine comb, which is relatively steep and often very narrow in shorter passages. The last ridge towards the top is very nice. On the summit we meet the groups that come up through the 3 Mont Blanc route. We almost descent down the same road, with a short stop in the Goûter hut. It is necessary to come down from the Goûter hut early so we get to cross back over the “Grand Couloir” before the sun comes up on the mountain. When we are down at the level of Tete Rousse hut we walk back to civilization.
3 Mont Blanc route – Aiguille du Midi – Refuge des Cosmiques – Mont Blanc du Tacul – Mont Maudit – Mont Blanc.
This route runs entirely on snow and ice and is of very high-alpine character. The trip is considered by many as more difficult than the trip via Goûter, but the fact is that it very much depends on the actual conditions.
The 3 Mont Blanc route is on relatively steep snow and ice passages which may vary from year to year. On the summit day you have the 1500 height meters to the summit as opposed to the 1000 meters from the Goûter hut. The approach to the Cosmique hut is on the first day quite modest and takes just 30 minutes from the top of Aiguille du Midi. The Cosmique hut is also known as one of the best cabins in the massif.
Day 1. Access to Cosmique hut 3613 meters.
We start by taking the lift from Chamonix to Aiguille du Midi 3842 meters. A short and airy ridge is our first passage to the hut. When this passage is passed, we go down over the “Col du Midi” and follow the trail to the “Refuge des Cosmique” (3 to 4 hours), where we eat and spend the night before heading towards Mont Blanc going early in the night.
Day 2. Mont Blanc Summit Attack
We are usually up either at 0100 or 0300, and after a quick breakfast we are out of the door. In the head torch glow goes the first stage from the hut via Epaule du Mont Blanc du Tacul (the shoulder of the mountain). It is a snow / ice side, where there may be several steep passages and (1.5-2 hours) and we continue from the shoulder of Tacul towards the start of the “Mont Maudit”.
The Mont Maudits slope is not as long as the ride up over Tacul, but a bit steeper. The final climb up to the Col du Mont Maudit is the tour’s steepest passage (2 hours). From the pass we turn down a bit and over the “Col de la Brenva”. From here the height can really be felt. The steps become heavier and we take it quietly up to the summit. (3 hours). From the Aiguille du Midi to the summit, we have good 6-7 hours in normal pace, which does not include major breaks.
From the summit we go back the same way and take the lift down to Chamonix. Alternatively we walk over the Dome de Goûter via Refuge de Aiguille the Goûter.
Aigulle Grises route – Val Veni 1653 etersm – Refuge Gonella 3071 meters – Calotte des Aiguilles Grises 3826 meters – Epaule the Dome de Goûter 4153 meters – Mont Blanc.
Day 1. The approach to the Gonella hut.
From Val Veni in Italy, we start at the “Cantine de la Visaille” at 1653 meters. From here the route goes along the side moraine of Glacier du Miage until about 2500 meters, where steeper snow / rock slopes towards Refuge Gonella at 3071 meters.
Day 2. From the hut continue up the Glacier du Dome.
First, the left side, so in the middle of the sometimes chaotic glacier. We follow in the direction of Col des Aiguilles Grises 3809 meters (about 3 hours from the cottage). We go around some rocky outcrops and reaches the edge that comes from the Aiguilles du Bionassay. From here we follow north towards Dome you Goûter, where we meet “Goûter” normal way. The last part of the route goes up through Aretes des Bosses at the summit of Mont Blanc. We choose either of making same way down from the summit, or go through one of the other normal weighing down via Goûter or Aiguilles du Midi.
Other routes to the top
It should be noted that there are over 100 routes to the top of Mont Blanc. The vast majority of trips are difficult alpine routes where high demands on climbing the art and physics are considered.
For experienced and physically strong players we can recommend the routes:
Season for an ascent of Mont Blanc
The season for an ascent of Mont Blanc in summer is typically from mid June – end of September. During this period, there is usually good tracks to the top via the two normal routes, lifts and all the cabins are open. Conditions are helping to create the basis for a successful ascent when the weather and the conditions on the mountain allows it.
June – This month, when the weather is good is probably the best month to climb Mont Blanc. There are still plenty of snow from winter and many passages that later in the summer can be icy and difficult. This also applies to crevasses, usually in June are better covered than later. In June, we also have the longest days of the year and the first morning comes early. It’s nice when we start in the middle of the night to the summit. Weather conditions, however, may be somewhat varied in June and it is not rare that we have several days of bad weather in a row, which of course can reduce the chance of reaching the summit of Mont Blanc.
July & August – the absolute peak. Here there are more attempts on the summit. The weather is usually best during this period, and it is not rare to experience a prolonged pressure. It is normal that after a few days of really hot weather creates severe thunderstorms then causes massive amounts of rainfall. The conditions could then become so unstable that a summit of Mont Blanc is no longer possible. Towards the beginning of August the situation may start to become too “dry”, with more ice and difficult passages on the mountain. Eg. there are some years where the route via the Goûter in early August has become too dangerous because continuous rock falls drop on the key passage under the Goûter hut. The route via the 3 Mont Blanc can be difficult if some passages can no longer be passed as is often done in July-August.
However, there are no rules without exceptions, and weather and possibly snowfall high up can change conditions day by day. In July-August it can be difficult to obtain beds in the huts, which for this period to be booked far in advance.
September – Again more peaceful than in the high season. Here we can be lucky with better snow conditions and less icy passages on the mountain. Day length is shorter than early in the season and the temperatures are falling. The snow sits thus slower and the route via the 3 Mont Blanc, where fresh snow can cause avalanches, will take longer to restore. There are rarely the same problems with stones fall in Goûter couloir, as small snowfall and cold temperatures keep everything in better place.
Wind and weather
It is cold at the top. The above statement is correct in most cases the top of Mont Blanc near 5000 meters, almost always with cold temperatures down to -10 degrees. One should not forget the wind on Mont Blanc is often present and reduces the temperature further. Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Central Europe and will when there is bad weather be strongly affected.
Towards the top of Mont Blanc, it is always cold! To avoid getting frostbite on the toes, fingers and on the face it is always important that we are properly dressed and have good and warm gear. It may be an idea to keep an eye on each other and draw attention to if for example is someone have white frost-spots on the cheeks. Often there is a little massage of the feet or fingers before we can again proceed. Ignoring the signs and moving on can cost severe frostbite, which at worst can lead to loss of mobility. It happened that one is forced to turn back due to cold. The cold saps our energy and to get there it starts to go too slow and the group gets cold there is only one way. And it’s down.
Wind and cold is very much connected. The wind intensifies the cold and can make a trip to the Mont Blanc impossible. Wind is often also linked to a bad-weather period when snow falls on the mountain. The wind can create avalanche danger on the steep fields towards the summit, and be a reason for an effort pushed or abandoned. Wind and drift can be high on the mountain and also make it very difficult and throw people off balance. If this occurs on exposed sections it may be dangerous. It is very rare that Mont Blanc can be climbed by more than 60km / h winds.
Lightning-killing is an annual cause of accidents in the mountains. Luckily, there are many summer days with clear weather and where there is a risk of thunder. When temperatures over several days is high increased air humidity, however, and at one point pulling it together to heavy thunder-clouds with a bang release all their energy. When it is particularly violent it comes quickly and early in the day.
It is possible to avoid the thunder on the mountain by reading the weather forecast closely the day before, keep an eye on temperatures and not go ahead if the weather pulls up.
On a lover weather forecast thunderstorm, there are several passages on the trips to the Mont Blanc, where on the way to the huts/shelters are particularly vulnerable, and where accidents happen regularly, as many do not think about this problem at the hut approach. The reason is often that we naturally are on these passages at the time when the storm drifts.
On the route up to the Tete Rousse hut and Le Gouter there are sections that are particularly exposed to lightning-killing. More places you move the distinctive cut-backs, where it can be difficult to hide. Furthermore, some places in contact with is to increase the risk. Additionally, you obviously do not go to the Mont Blanc (or any other mountain) where there is thunder!
Clouds and poor visibility:
Problems with clouds and poor visibility:
- Danger to go wrong
- Easier to be caught in a storm, as it may be impossible to see what is coming in and the weather development.
- Lower temperatures and often a strong wind.
When the track is well definineret it is seldom hard to find the way to Mont Blanc. It must be said that the tracks can lead to different places and not known direction can easily become lost on Mont Blanc. Do not go against Mont Blanc when the clouds are over the mountain, and not move toward the top, it seems that the storm is heading in.
Form and physics
The ascent of Mont Blanc requires a solid conditions preparation.
How hard is it? Many of the people that consider the trip towards Mont Blanc as the toughest physical activities they have made. Several expressed the trip is just as hard if not harder than a marathon race. However, it is a difficult measure, since the trip to the Mont Blanc time is longer than a marathon but at a slower pace (intensity).
One thing is certain. It is the place for a long time (10 to 14 hours), where the altitude and the current conditions (wind, snow texture, track, cold ..) is crucial to how hard it gets. Psychologically it is a cross-border trip where technical, steep and narrow passages can feel very airy and challenging.
Most can manage to keep their normal training running and increase the training the past six months against the planned trip. The last 3 months before arrival should make long-term training session and try to get at least three training days a week.
Not everyone needs the same preparation. If you have a really good basic form, it is perhaps enough to train extra the final months before the trip. Others will need to follow an actual training program.
The trip to Mont Blanc depends not only on the participant’s fitness level, motivation and determination, but also on the person’s ability to acclimatize.
- 5-50 Liter Backpack
- Mountain Boots
- Ice axe
- Hardshell Jacket and Pants
- Softshell Pants
- Base Layer
- Mid-Layer Jacket – Fleece
- Light Down Jacket
- Gloves Light & Heavy
- Warm Beenie & Buff.
- Socks Layer and Medium
- Sun Glasses & Goggles
- Sun Cream & Lip Protection.
- Water Bottle (Nalgene)
- Head Torch
- Personal Medical Items / Personal Aid Kit
- Personal Admin Items. Mobile Phone, Cash, Insurance details, Passport if necessary
- Trekking Pole(s)
- Map, Compass & GPS
- Mountaineering Hardware & Crevasse Rescue Gear (Carabiners etc)