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Mont Blanc mountain focus
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The stunning snow ridge above the Bosses on Mont Blanc
Introduction to the aims of the focus page
Chamonix-Mont-Blanc takes its full name from the mountain that towers above it, so we thought it a good idea to provide you with more information about the peak which dominates the local region in so many ways. The page has been produced by our Alpine logistics team, who between them have been to the summit over tens of times. To look at the Mont Blanc Summit course page click here .
For a mountain that has been in existance for many millions of years, our knowledge is tiny, and anyone who plans to climb Mont Blanc must remember that. Each year nearly 300 people die in the massif, and if this page can reduce that number by just one, then it has been a success. Mont Blanc is the mountain with the highest number of fatalities in the world, largely due to the numbers of people who attempt it, so even though the chances of accidents are still low, the numbers of climbers inflate the total figures.
There is hopefully lots of good advice on this page, whether you are a relative beginner or an expert, but if you are to take away any lessons from this then here are the key three points.
1) The mountain will always be there. Don't push safety boundaries on ascents, as another can be made.
2) The key to success is preparation in terms of information, equipment, training, techniques & planning.
3) Never set off considering rescue as an option (unless there is an accident). Don't play poker with lives.
Icicle mountain guide Sev descending from the summit of Mont Blanc
As you can see from the photo above, Mont Blanc is a mountain never to underestimate in any form. True it is nearly a kilometer lower than the likes of Kilimanjaro, but it is leagues harder, often colder, and all on snow. If someone had told you the photo above was taken from a Himalayan summit, you would not be stupid to have believed them. The training, equipment and preparation should be similar. After reading all this information, you may get a different impression about the Mont Blanc than you started off with.

You must realise that this page is a totally unsanitised list of facts, with no commercial bias. If the facts put you off wanting to ascend the mountain, then that may be a blessing in disguise, as everyone should have free access to these truths. Our hope however, is that this information inspires you and makes you wiser, more motivated, and better prepared to enjoy an experience that will surely be one of the highlights of your whole life. Please feel free to e-mail the link to this page to any of your friends considering an ascent.
Mont Blanc & the traverse, from the Aiguille du Midi Trois Mont Blancs traverse, and the Grand Mulets
Popular route choices on Mont Blanc
Near Tete Rousse
View up to Gouter
On the summit
On the summit
View to Aig du Midi
On the summit
On the summit
At Breche Maudit
The Gouter Route - blue dots on map
This is considered to be the normal route up Mont Blanc, and ascends in two stages, but it should not be under-estimated. On the first day the climb takes you up to either the Tete Rousse or Gouter huts. Two hours separate these two huts, and if you are worried about acclimatising the Tete Rousse is preferable, though it is a longer day on the summit climb. From the Aiguille du Gouter, the route ascends over the Dome du Gouter and then to the Vallot refuge. Here the route meets with the Grand Mulets route to the summit. The final ridge is one of the most spectacular snow ridges in the Alps, and anyone who degrades this route by describing it as a 'slog', probably hasn't reached the summit by this amazing summit ridge.
Trois Mont Blanc Traverse - red dots on map
The route starts from the Cosmiques Hut on the Col du Midi. To reach this you need to take the Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix. The normal starting time in the morning is a 2am wake up, aiming to leave the hut by 2:30am. The route firsly ascends up to the shoulder of Mont Blanc du Tacul, and then crosses Col Maudit to ascend the steep slopes to Breche Maudit. Here you lose about 100m height to reach the Col de la Brenva. Just ahead is the last steep section of the Mur de la Cote, which is followed by a flatter area just before the final slopes up to the summit. The normal ascent time is about 6 hours from the hut.
Grand Mulets Route - green dots on map
The Grand Mulets route starts from the Plan d'Aiguille cable car station, and ascends over a very broken glacier to the Grand Mulets hut. From here the path leads up to the Grand Plateau, before turning up steeper slopes to the Col du Dome and Vallot emergency refuge. From here the route ascends the ever narrowing ridge to the summit, along the top section of the Gouter route. This route is generally used in Spring on skis to ascend Mont Blanc, or in descent in early Summer season.
Corridor / Original Route - purple dots on map
This route is that taken by Balmat and Paccard on their first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786. They followed the Grand Mulets route up to the Grand Plateau, then went along this route to the Col de la Brenva. From here they went up the top section of the Trois Mont Blanc route. The Corridor route is rarely used in ascent, though is a popular choice of descent route on skis / snowboards in Spring.
Gonella Route - this route is from the south (Italian) side
This route is not shown on the map above, as it lies to the south side of the mountain. The approach is made via Lac Combal in the Italian Val Veny, close to Courmayeur. It is the technically easiest approach to any hut on Mont Blanc (grade F), and involves a trek up the stone covered Miages glacier, followed by a short via feratta to the hut. The next day is long, though technically easy, via the Col du Dome, and up the final ridge to the summit, sharing the same route as the upper section of the Gouter route. The descent is usually made via the same route, or alternatively you can descend the Gouter or Trois Mont Blanc routes. This route is generally only in condition until mid-July.
Explore the Icicle Mont Blanc course on Google Earth
Explore Mont Blanc on Google Earth
To help you prepare and explore Mont Blanc before you travel, we have developed a Google Earth file with all the key features and places of interest marked on it. All you need to do is download the file by clicking on the link below, or the image to the left. You can then launch Google Earth, and visit the peaks, huts, and cable cars on Mont Blanc. Click here for Google Earth file. If you do not already have Google Earth installed on your computer, click here. It is a free download, and the satellite images are constantly uploaded. You can alter the viewing angles to 'see' Mont in 3D, and to explore the routes via the Trois Mont Blancs or Gouter.
Focus on the two most popular routes up Mont Blanc 4810m
GOUTER ROUTE
(higher diagram)

1010m Les Houches
1794m Bellvue station
2372m Nid d'Aigle
3167m Tete Rousse hut
3817m Gouter refuge
4304m Dome du Gouter
4255m Col du Dome
4362m Vallot Refuge
4515m Petite Bosse
4810m Mont Blanc
Above the Gouter hut
On the Bosses Arete
Mont Blanc summit
On the Col du Midi
TRAVERSE ROUTE
(lower diagram)
1030m Chamonix
3842m Aiguille du Midi
3613m Cosmiques Hut
3542m Col du Midi
4100m Epaule du Tacul
4035m Col Maudit
4400m Breche Maudit
4303m Col de la Brenva
4640m Mur de la Cote
4810m Mont Blanc
The Gouter Route
The Gouter route is seen as the normal route up Mont Blanc, and is technically one of the easier, so gives relatively inexperienced climbers the best chances of summit success. It is preferable to stay in the higher Gouter hut for the night before, which takes about five hours to reach from the Nid d'Aigle (Eagles Nest) mountain railway station. On the way to the hut you will pass the Tete Rousse hut and then approach the Gouter Grand Couloir, the greatest danger on your ascent. The couloir is about 50 metres wide, and depending on the amount of ice up high, the temperature, and the time of day, some rocks can fall down from time to time. To minimise the risk you cross the couloir when the temperatures are cold such as in the early morning. Once on the far side of the couloir, the next consideration is the rocky ridge leading up to the hut. Although the scrambling is easy, many tired people lose their footing here, so be careful. The Gouter hut is one of the busiest in the Alps, so getting spaces there is difficult. The next morning you should set off early to get the best conditions on your way to the summit. After the long climb to the Dome du Gouter, you quickly reach the Vallot emergency refuge, and after there you can see the final summit ridge. The first consideration are the two domes of the Bosses (Bumps), which are quite broken with crevasses. After the Bosses the ridge narrows and steepens to the summit. The exposure is high, and many turn back before the Tournier Rocks, due to a lack of skill and confidence on ridges. The route is also very exposed to wind throughout, so there are two considerations; winds too high to walk safely, and also exposure. The snow ridge above the Vallot is amazing, and if you are well acclimatised and good on crampons, you will love ascending this crest all the way to the summit.
Trois Mont Blanc Traverse
This route has increasingly fallen out of favor due to the avalanche risk on Mont Maudit after fresh snow, and the stage of the seracs on Mont Blanc du Tacil. Some sections, such as the seracs on Tacul and the ascent to Breche Maudit are often very steep. In years when this is the case the leader might even require two axes. You should note that if this route is a challenge for you technically to climb, you will find it harder to descend by the same route, and most groups opt to descend by the Gouter route, as height is dropped quickly, and it is easier. Also the route takes longer than the Gouter, so requires a higher level of fitness and drive. There is an advantage of this route over the Gouter, in that this route involves no climbing on loose rock with the associated dangers of rockfall. All the climb is on snow and ice, which necessitates good crampon technique, especially on the steeper sections and when you start to get tired. A disadvantage of the route is its length, in that if bad weather does arrive, you are a long way from shelter. You should therefore only consider this route is the weather is stable. Another advantage of this route is that it is generally ascending the Mont Blanc from the NW, and as the prevailing winds are from the SW usually, this means that the route is a lot more sheltered than all the others considered.
Grand Mulets Route
The reason that this route is so much less popular than the others is due to global warming. The glacier is becoming increasingly broken up, and the snow bridges over crevasses often only last until early July. Also a large section of the route is threatened by serac falls from the ridges of the Dome du Gouter. The other issue of the route is the traverse from the glacier towards the Plan d'Aiguille cable car. This section is constantly threatened by stonefall, especially on the section beneath the NW face of the Aiguille du Midi. Here there are small shelters hewn into the rock to crouch in until stones stop falling. Really this route is only a consideration as a means of descent in very early summer, or on skis in spring. To consider this route your glacier travel and crevasse rescue skills should be very good.
Corridor / Original Route
As the approach to this route is from the Grand Mulets route (with all its dangers detailed above), this route has become correspondingly very little used, though it is a common route taken by skiers on the descent of Mont Blanc on its North Face. The only other considerations for this route are serac falls on the steepest section, but the dangers are quickly passed.
Gonella Route
This route is arguably the easiest route on Mont Blanc both technically, and in terms of the lowest objective dangers (e.g. stone fall etc). As it involves a south facing glacier, the route is generally only in condition from June to mid-July, but it offers a good alternative when there is higher risks of rockfall in the Gouter couloir, or if people have less technical skills, or have fear of exposure. The only negative of this route, when it is in good condition, is that it involves a quite long summit day of c.7-8 hours from the hut. This is very comparable to ascents from the Tete Rousse hut.
Summary
The clear message that comes through on all the points made above is that there is a balance to be made between physical and technical performance, weather and conditions, objective and subjective dangers. Each person will have their own answer to these balances, and the route should be selected accordingly. Here are the one liner sumamries:
Trois Mont Blanc Traverse: this is a mountaineers route, with low objective dangers, though requiring good physical condition, acclimatisation and crampon technique. The Gouter Route: an easier technical route, though with high objective dangers (rockfall). Grand Mulets Route: Only really consider this as a means of descent in summer, and preferably only on skis in the spring. Corridor / Original Route: Only really consider this for skis in spring. Gonella Route: This is a long, but easy route on Mont Blanc, generally only on condition in the early summer season each year.
 
Mont Blanc routes
If you would like to read some more about the different routes up Mont Blanc, please visit the dedicated Mont Blanc mountain focus page. The graphic to the left shows the classic Gouter route and Trois Mont Blancs / Traverse route.
Suitable for novices?
Mont Blanc isn't an ideal first Alpine 4000m peak, but on the other hand it is not technically difficult. You require excellent fitness and stamina, as well as great balance combined with the ability to move quickly and efficiently over broken mountain terrain.
Rachel on the summit of Mont Blanc
PHOTO: Rachel celebrating on the summit of Mont Blanc 4810m, climbed via the Traverse Route.
The annual diary for Mont Blanc
Due to the seasonal weather, snowfall, and windspeeds, Mont Blanc is not climbable for the majority of the year. This short climbing season is further restricted by the opening months of the lifts and huts, which are generally necessary for an ascent of the mountain. The diary below considers each month individually, so you can plan when is the optimal time for your ascent. Unfortunately there is no one answer, as it must always be a balance of the weather, number of others on the mountain, hut bookings, your fitness, and time off work.
January: Generally unclimbable due to the depth of fresh snow / avalanches.
February: Generally unclimbable due to the depth of fresh snow / avalanches.
March: Generally unclimbable due to fresh snow / avalanches, though ski touring possible.
April: First ascents on skis may be possible from mid-month, unless there is lots of snow.
May: Ski ascents / descents are possible, though no easy mountaineering routes possible.
June: Ski ascents / descents, & from early in the month the mountaineering routes are in condition.
July: Mountaineering routes in condition, and get busier towards the middle and end of the month.
August: Mountaineering routes are in condition, though getting quieter at the end of the month.
September: Mountaineering routes are in condition, though it is colder up high due to Autumn.
October: Ascents may be possible, but there will be the first snows, and it will be very cold.
November: Generally unclimbable due to unsettled weather and snowfall.
December: Generally unclimbable due to the depth of fresh snow / avalanches.
Chris & Joe on the summit of Mont Blanc
PHOTO: Chris & Joe on the summit of Mont Blanc 4810m, ascent via Traverse, descent via Gouter.
Mont Blanc mountain huts information
The Mont Blanc massif has many refuges, and on the routes detailed above, the key huts are profiled below. If you are planning an ascent of Mont Blanc you must book the huts a good few weeks in advance to avoid disappointment. We book many of the hut spaces several months in advance for our course clients. When staying in huts you don't need to carry any extra equipment as everything from blankets to food is provided. There is no need to take sleeping bags, bivvy bages, stoves, etc. You may notice that the Vallot refuge has not been featured here. This is because it should not be used to stay in, except in an emergency situation.
Cosmiques Gouter Tete Rousse Grand Mulets Gonella

This is situated just above the Col du Midi, and the hut is one of the best maintained and most modern. Most of the rooms accommodate twenty people, on tiered sleeping platforms. The hut is used on the traverse route up Mont Blanc and the normal wake up time to start the ascent is 02:00.
The New Gouter is the most popular hut on Mont Blanc, and is always very busy. The refuge is the highest on Mont Blanc, so gives you the shortest summit day. It is amazing that you can get a good three course meal and breakfast at 3900m, but the Gouter hut staff do a great job. Wake up is 02:00.
Although lower than the Gouter, the New Tete Rousse hut is finished and is a real alternative to the Gouter hut, as it only makes the climb a couple of hours longer. The old hut may be used in busy periods and is quite dirty also. The wake up time is midnight in order to ascend to Mont Blanc.
The Grand Mulets is a very well run hut on the original route up Mont Blanc. It is situated on a nunatak (rock island in a glacier), and is normally used for people descending the mountain, or for those climbing Mont Blanc on skis in late Spring time. The hut can't usually be used from early summer.
The Gonella Hut is on the Italian side of the mountain, and is a futuristic shape. The hut is built on a rock island above the Miages glacier, and the hut approach is typically 4.5 hours. The set off time for Mont Blanc is very early from this hut, as the ascent is easy but quite long. Wake up c.01:00.
Physical and technical preparation for an ascent
We have seen guests come, who have never been on crampons on their life, but who have succeeded on Mont Blanc due to great personal fitness and a real aptitude on crampons due to good balance and movement. It is not a surprise that guests like this only come along every now and then, perhaps numbering no more than 5 to 10 a season. Equally at the other end of the scale, some guests have used crampons for several weeks before, and yet are let down by poor balance and / or physical condition. So with this situation, how do we advise people to prepare? The honest answer is that it is very difficult, and just as important as the physical and technical preparation, is your psychological readiness. Several people each year, decide against attempting Mont Blanc, when they arrive in Chamonix and see the scale if it, towering the height of three Ben Nevis's above them. It is naive for inexperienced people to say "I am so determined, I will get up there and nothing will stop me", when they don't know what levels of determination are required as they have never been on crampons and to altitude before. So here is some advice from the Icicle guiding team, to help you assess your preparations...
"My view is that mountaineering is an apprenticeship, and for many people Mont Blanc is not an ideal first 4000m peak. It is better to learn the use of crampons first and to climb a easier 4000er such as Weismeiss or Gran Paradiso, then to consolidate your skills before planning an attempt on Mont Blanc. By then you will have at least two or three weeks experience, know what equipment to take, and be physically ready."
Jacques, IFMGA Mountain Guide
"As well as a good level of fitness, it is very important for people to have good 'equilibre' as we say in France, which translates as balance and movement. On any of the routes on Mont Blanc there are sections where it is imperitive that you move quickly and efficiently, both to guarantee your safety, and to reach the top. Balance is a skill you can improve at a climbing wall, but there's no substitute for practicing on steep broken ground."
Gilles, IFMGA Mountain Guide
"Mont Blanc is a joy to guide when the conditions are good, and the clients are prepared, and it quickly becomes impossible if people are not ready. My opinion is that clients must take their preparation seriously, as the mountain is not a consumer product, where it is the guides job to drag you up. Not at all, we are there for your safety, to tell you about the region, and to share the Mont Blanc with you. It is a special experience."
Jean-Luc, IFMGA Mountain Guide
As you can see from the advice above, there is less worry about your technical ability in terms of knowing knots and ropework, than there is about your fitness, choice of equipment, and movement on steep ground. You can be taught the technical skills in a week, but it is impossible to train you physically and to give you balance, within a week. There is no option but to come prepared. Marathon fit. Great balance. Suitable equipment. Any less, and it is likely that you have defeated yourself before you even set foot on the mountain. So yes, it is possible for people to ascend Mont Blanc who have no previous experience, but they are coming with everything else, and the weather and conditions are kind. It is a privelege to take those last steps to the roof of the Alps, not a guarantee.
Summary and postscript to the focus page
This page is constantly updated as a result of changing techniques, conditions, and latest news. Please don't use this page alone as the research you undertake for an ascent, and it does definately not attempt to offer any of the instruction of techniques which you will require. Details of many other sources of information have been provided, which you should consult before an ascent. Remember that to climb Mont Blanc is really a privilege, not a guarantee. If you found this page of use, and have any other information that others may find helpful, then please e-mail us. We will post any useful extra information on the page, and you will be cited. It is this sharing of knowledge that makes the climbing community so close, and this extra knowledge will increase your chances of summitting.
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