Mont Blanc

Main Photo : Mont Blanc as seen from the Aiguille du Plan. The mountain on its left is Mont Blanc du Tacul, with Mont Maudit behind it. The lower rounded summit on the right is the Dôme du Gôuter, immediately in front of which can be seen the spire of the Aiguille du Midi and the bridge from the telepherique station. (Photo above by Chamonix Experience, all other photos by Mountain Guide Octavio Defazio)

These notes have been prepared for Needle Sports by Russell Brice, a qualified International Mountain Guide who leads and organises ascents of Mt Blanc. They are intended to assist the climber who has already gained some knowledge of mountaineering and is fully aware of its risks but still wishes to climb mountains. They are brief and not designed to be comprehensive in any way.

Ultimately climbing is a dangerous sport and claims many casualties each year, even on a popular mountain like Mt Blanc. One of the guiding principals of British climbing and mountaineering is that it is the individual climber is responsible for his or her own safety. If you cannot accept this then this site and probably climbing in general is unlikely to suit you. May we refer you to this very interesting site instead.

Q: Where is Mt Blanc?

A: It is located on the border of France and Italy. The nearest towns are Chamonix and Argentière on the French side, and Courmayeur in Italy.

Looking up towards the summit of Mont Blanc from the Gôuter Route.

Q: How high is it?

A: It is 4810m high and is the highest mountain in Western Europe.

Q: How do I get there?

A: Fly to Geneva which is 1 hour drive from Chamonix. (by Easy Jet or any of the main airlines). Road transfer to Cham can be made by using any one of the airport transfer firms that specialise in transporting climbers and skiers and their packs full of gear. You can also catch a bus or a train.

Q: How hard is it?

A: It is not just a walk but it is not technically very difficult. You need to have a good level of fitness and good stamina. It is also very important to be acclimatised.

Q: When is it usually climbed?

A: From the end of June to the end of September.

Q: How should I prepare myself for this mountain?

A: Long day treks or climbs. The fitter you are the more you will enjoy it. You should also spend some time at altitude (2500-4000m) and preferably sleep at altitude. You also need experience using crampons and ice axe.

The walk/scramble up to the Gôuter Refuge (3786m) takes about 5 hours. The last few hundred metres is definitely more of a scramble then a walk and not always easy. This photo is taken just before you get to the refuge.

Q: So what kind of gear do I need?

A: You need a helmet, one normal "alpine type" ice axe, harness, mountaineering boots with a fully rigid sole and walking or alpine 10 or 12 point crampons. Collapsible trekking poles, (one or two), are also good. Sun cream and glacier glasses are essential.

Q: What kind of clothing?

A: Thermal top and bottom, fleece layers, light gloves, warm gloves, warm hat, sun hat, breathable wind and water proof jacket and trousers.

On the way up the Mont Blanc du Tacul with Aiguille du Midi in the background.

Q: What sort of sleeping bag?

A: You do not need to bring a sleeping bag. You will stay in an alpine hut (or refuge) and they provide pillows and blankets. A silk sleeping bag liner is nice though.

Q: What about food and water?

A: You get dinner and breakfast in the alpine hut so you only need to bring snack or lunch for the two days. You should bring at least 1½ litres of water. You can buy water and soft drinks at the refuge.

Q: Which route do you do?

A: We guide both the classic route via the Gôuter Refuge and the route via the Cosmique Refuge, Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit.

Q: How long will it take?

A: You need a minimum of 3 days. One training day and two days for the ascent and descent. The first day is used for you to brush up on skills and for the guide to assess your ability. On the second day you normally go to the refuge and the third day you summit and come back down to the valley. However, highly recommended is to do a 6 day course in order to be properly prepared.

Cosmique Refuge (3613m).

Q: What kind of weather conditions will I experience?

A: It can on the very odd occasion be +1°C -2°C degrees on the summit but normally it is a lot colder then that. You can expect a lot of wind and temperatures down to -25°C.

Q: What about altitude sickness?

A: Altitude is one of the main difficulties with Mont Blanc. Many people do not allow themselves time to acclimatise and thanks to the lifts you gain altitude very quickly. Mont Blanc is high enough to cause altitude sickness and there are more or less serious cases every year.

Higher up the Mont Blanc du Tacul by the pass you go over to continue towards Mont Maudit.

Q: What is the biggest problem most people face?

A: Altitude, not being fit enough, and the weather.

Mont Maudit: Going from the Cosmique refuge. After Mont Blanc du Tacul you have to climb over Mont Maudit following the distinct route on the photo (note the figures in the bottom left-hand corner). The last bit is quite steep and requires good crampon and ice axe technique.

Q: Can I do it?

A: With a good level of fitness, enough training and enthusiasm most people are capable of climbing Mont Blanc.

Q: Anything else I should know?

A: Keep all your gear, and what you carry in your rucksack (and your rucksack) as light as possible, whilst making sure that it will still do the job, and take nothing you do not need - every gram counts at altitude!

Q: How much will it cost me?

A: In 2005, a 6 day all inclusive course was 1590 Euros (£1,099) per person or three day programme guide fee was only 1195 Euros (£826) for 1-2 people.

Please click for more information on Chamonix Experience's climbing trips to Mont Blanc.

© Russell Brice 2005

Looking down on the Gôuter Refuge. Camping is not actually allowed outside the refuge!

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