Climbing Mont Blanc, Chamonix

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mont blanc

Mont Blanc is one of the most beautiful mountains in the world and the highest mountain in Western Europe.

As such, it is an extremely popular mountain to climb. It was first climbed on 8th August 1786 by Jaques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard. It now sees hundreds of ascents each day in high season, over 20,000 each year.

Mont Blanc lies between the Haute-Savoie region of France and the Aosta Valley in Italy. The question of where exactly the summit lies is a source of controversy between the two countries. Although the border is officially at the highest point of Mont Blanc, the two countries tend to place the summit within their own boundaries on maps.

The exact height of the mountain is a little variable dependent on the amount of snowfall but is generally cited as between 4807m and 4810m.The summit snow and ice is between 15m and 23m deep.

Readily accessible from the town of Chamonix which lies at its foot, it is a sought-after prize for most mountaineers.

However, it is frequently underestimated. Although the technical difficulties are never very high, it is a long and arduous climb at high altitude. As such, a good level of fitness is required and prior acclimatization is essential over a period of several days.

High Season

The most popular times to climb Mont Blanc are in July and August as this is when the most consistent conditions are to be found. This does mean, however, that the routes will be crowded.

If there are good conditions in June, this is also a good time to go but can still be fairly busy.

The weather in September is less predictable but the mountain is slightly quieter.

By mid-late October the huts are closed as the weather is often very unstable and the days are short. Ski ascents can be made in spring –from April to mid June, when the huts then re-open early to mid-June for the summer season.

Typical Agenda

Allow 6 days
– day 1 école de Glace on the Mer de Glace or Grands Montets
– days 2,3,4 spend 2 nights in a hut for purpose of acclimatisation
– day 5 go to Cosmiques/ Gouter/ Tête Rousse hut
– day 6 summit Mont Blanc and return to valley

Climbs from the huts:

The routes and difficulty of the climbs vary according to which hut you stay in.
It is advisable to book your hut as far in advance as possible but if they are full, last minute cancellations are frequently available.

Discounts are available for BMC and Alpine Club members – card necessary.

There are 3 main huts on the French side that are used.

-Cosmiques hut 3613m.

+33 (0)4 50 54 40 16

145 places -Very well run hut that does not overbook.

Easily accessible in 45mins from the top of the Aiguille du Midi lift.

Descend the snowy crest from the lift station and then walk west under the south face of the Aiguille du Midi. Followed by a short snowy climb to the hut.

Breakfast at 1am.

On leaving the hut, walk downhill to the Col du Midi 3530m. Climb for 2 hours to the shoulder of Mont Blanc du Tacul. Descend a short way to Col Maudit then climb more steeply up the North Face of Mont Maudit (can be avalanche prone) – 2 hours .The final 80-100m to the shoulder is steeper, can be icy and is usually a bottleneck. From there an exposed, descending traverse leads to Col Brenva in half an hour. From there it is 2-2½ hours to the summit. The steepest part is the initial climb up Mur de la Côte which can also be icy.

Total time 6-8 hours to summit.

-Goûter hut 3817m.

Tel. 04 50 54 40 93

76 places – Reservation difficult as this is the most popular hut to stay in.There is some chance of last minute cancellations so worth calling a day or so before you wish to stay if have not managed to book in advance.

It is often grossly overcrowded and is uncomfortable to sleep at that altitude but affords a shorter summit day.

The hut is reached by walking from the Nid d’Aigle – the terminus of the Mont Blanc tramway. This is most easily accessed from the Bellevue cablecar in Les Houches.

This takes you past the Tête Rousse hut after 2½ hours. Shortly afterwards you cross the Grand Couloir which will be snowy early season (june-july). There is significant stone and rockfall danger here – helmet essential

From there it is a 2½ hour scramble with some fixed cables to reach the Goûter hut.

Breakfast at 2am.

On leaving the hut, traverse the flat Aiguille du Goûter then go up the NW slope of the Dôme du Goûter. Traverse below the summit of the Dôme du Goûter on the left side to reach the Col du Dôme and then go up to the Vallot hut 4360m – 3 hours. From here the route more or less sticks to the crest of the Bosses ridge to reach the summit after a further 2 hours.

Total time 5 hours.

-Tête Rousse hut 3167m

+33 (0)4 50 58 24 97

68 places

This hut was built in 2005.

Access as described above for Goûter hut but reached 2½ hours earlier on the route.

Breakfast at 1am.

Shortly after leaving the hut cross the Grand Couloir (less stonefall danger as leaving early in the morning).

The route then goes up a broken rocky spur direct to the Goûter hut – 2½ hours. There are sections of cable which can be used as a handrail.

Route to summit same as described from the Goûter hut.

Total time 8 hours.

Acclimatisation

Minimum 2 nights stay in huts of at least 2,700m during few days prior to climb with ascents to higher altitudes during the day up to at least 3,500m.

Equipment

Even on the hottest of summer days, Mont Blanc temperatures can be very low with significant windchill factor. It is recommended that you take a minimum of:

– waterproof jacket and trousers -2 fleeces -thermal top and trousers – gloves and mittens -hat and neoprene face guard (or balaclava) – ski goggles and sunglasses (min cat 3) – 4 season leather/plastic mountain boots – gaiters – headtorch – suncream – lipsalve – axe, crampons, harness, helmet – 1 litre of water – energy food – for the hut it is nice to have earplugs and sheet sleeping bag – small first aid kit (paracetamol and blister kit essential)

Book List

Mont Blanc Massif volume I ………..Lindsay Griffin
Snow, Ice and Mixed volume 2 ……..François Damilano

Image by Delp

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