High above picturesque Chamonix towers the highest mountain in the Alps: Mont Blanc. From the valley floor at 1000 meters, it is over 3800 meters to the summit. This elevation difference is bigger than the height of Austria’s tallest mountain altogether (Grossglockner, just below 3800 meters). The Mont Blanc is a giant. Sometimes a friendly one, sometimes a deadly one, but impressive and controversial from all angles.
» Location: Haute Savoie, France
» Elevation: 4810 meter
»First ascent: J. M. Balmat & Michel Paccard
» Year: August 8, 1786
Mont Blanc: not the tallest of Europe
The Mont Blanc is known by many as the highest mountain in Europe, although it does not really deserve this title: the Elbrus in the Caucasus is much higher than the Mont Blanc at 5642m. Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and therefore in France. Of course, Mont Blanc is also the highest mountain of the Mont Blanc massif. The Mont Blanc can be seen from near and far and rises far above the surrounding valleys and is a popular hiking destination and world famous for the Tour du Mont Blanc. The height of the mountain in relation to the Chamonix valley is of Himalayan proportions and very impressive. If the mountain is visible – which isn’t always the case.
A Bad Weather Mountain
Mont Blanc is a notorious “bad weather mountain”. It is the most westerly located four-thousander of the Alps and therefore susceptible to storms and showers that often arise on the lower plains. Also, Mont Blanc is the first (big) “hurdle” in the Alps to encounter the soft and moist ocean air from the west. Also during classical Genoa depressions, in which a lot of moist air is blown into the valley of Aosta on the east, a lot of precipitation often falls on the (Italian) east side of the mountain.
This often bad weather with a lot of precipitation does mean that the Mont Blanc is a mountain that grows in winter and gets slightly lower in summer. In 2007, the height was measured at 4810,90 meters. Most recently (September 2021), the height was diminished to 4807,81 meter – 1 meter smaller than in 2017.
Climbing Mont Blanc
The status of Mont Blanc also makes it one of the busiest four-thousanders. This is enhanced by the (relatively) low level of difficulty. The biggest challenge at Mont Blanc is the height, the climb itself is “just” a tough walk. Of course you can make the ascent many times more difficult by choosing a difficult or unusual route. In recent years, local mayors have often fretted over the crowds on the mountain and people’s lack of preparation.
There are four normal routes up Mont Blanc. Not very difficult, but certainly not without danger and getting a guide is an absolutele recommended item… The routes all converge on the same ridge, making the last stretch to the top very busy in good weather, both with climbers and tourists who want to have something to report back home.
The French-Italian border runs just past the top. The highest point of Italy is therefore not on a top, but on the slope of Mont Blanc.
Route 1 (French side):
You can climb via the Aiguille du Gouter. This is a beautiful, but not harmless route. You have to pass the Grand Couloir, and most who have the choice prefer not to. Rocks are constantly falling down and you are the target they aim at. Passing through this will take you to the Gouter hut. From here there is a beautiful route to the top of Mont Blanc, but it is continuously exposed to the wind and other elements.
Route 2 (French side):
An alternative to this is the Grand Mulets route. This route is longer, but also more sheltered than the first. However, you are more bothered by snowfields and crevasses. There are ladders over the large crevasses, but you cannot trust them blindly. When the weather is bad it can become very dangerous here, because you no longer see your hand in front of your eyes and stand between the cracks.
Route 3 (French side):
You can also climb over the Aiguille du Midi, or go there by cable car. If you choose this, you have also climbed Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit. This route is often used to descend, to avoid passing Grand Couloir or over the dangerous glacier of the Grand Mulets route.
Route 4 (Italian side, from Courmayeur):
Usually one starts from the Gonella hut, Val Veny. The route leads first to the Dome Glacier and from there to the Col du Bionnassay. At the Dome du Gouter, the route merges with route 1.
Camping is prohibited in the entire Mont Blanc massif, bivouac is allowed above 2500m. This means setting up a tent in the evening and leaving immediately in the morning. However, due to the large crowds in the huts nowadays, people are increasingly camping in the area. There is almost no action against this. However, I would like to ask you by this way to respect the ban, for the sake of the environment. You probably come for that yourself…
Make sure to book cabins well in advance. This also applies in September.