Is climbing Mont Blanc on top of your wish list too? In this article by Noes Lautier Discover how you can increase your top chances considerably and what the pitfalls are.
Mont Blanc information overview
Activity: Mont Blanc climb
Area: Mont Blanc area
Tour: 2- or 3-day tough ascent on the giant of the Alps. Difficulty: Glacier ascent on a four-thousander. Difficulty due to the length of the tour, the height difference and the high altitude to be conquered. Only suitable for well-trained mountain hikers with glacier experience and accompanied by a mountain guide. Acclimatisation, either in a high altitude tent or not, above 3000 metres prior to the tour is absolutely essential.
Accommodation: Mountain hut (s).
Best time: Second half of June and September.
One dreams of walking the Pieterpad, the other of pedaling from Lands End to John O'Groats. But almost all dreamers have the Mont Blanc at the top of their wish list. With the tips from this blog article you increase the chance of being at the top.
Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and not - what many think - the highest peak in Europe. That is located in the Russian Caucasus Elbrus (5642 m). The highest in the Alps, therefore, and a coveted goal for both climbers and non-climbers. But how do you do that, climb such a giant? Good question. Because it is strange but true: despite all the information on the internet, enthusiasts are flocking to the same pitfalls.
The Mont Blanc is on the border of Italy and France. Including its ice sheet, the mountain is 4810 meters high, but if the ice melted, it would be 'only' 4779 meters.
The most important starting points for climbing Mont Blanc are Chamonix in the Vallée de Chamonix for the French normal route, and Courmayeur for the much heavier Italian normal route.
The first climb
On 7 August 1786, doctor Marie-Gabriel Paccard and crystal prospector Jacques Balmat left Chamonix (1050 m) and bivouacked at about 2500 metres under a large boulder, the so-called Gîte à Balmat (also today a beautiful hike, with a view on the point where the glacier coming down from Mont Blanc splits into the Glacier du Taconnaz and the Glacier des Bossons; see the mountain hiking guidebook 'With a view on Mont Blanc', route 13, La Jonction). On 8 August, they started at 4.15 am and arrived at the summit at 6.23 pm. No one had ever heard of altitude sickness. Today's climber starts in Le Nid d'Aigle (2372 m), spends the night in Refuge du Goûter (3835 m) and is on the road for at least 15 hours.
Tip from the French mountain guide Kim Bodin from Chamonix: "The second half of June and the month of September are the best time: then the light is better, the conditions are often perfect and it is not too busy." July and August are also good, but then there is great crowds, the light is less beautiful and the risk of lightning is greater.
The keys to success
What is crucial to being able to get to the top? Weather! And in second and third place an excellent condition and a good height acclimatization. But also great perseverance, being able to focus during the preparation and the ascent, adequate equipment, the right company (that also meets all these conditions), and ... a bit of luck.
- Go to the top in wet or cold weather.
- Inadequate training at home.
- Do not include height acclimatization in the preparation.
- Acclimatize at too low a height (so poor acclimatization).
- Months in advance determine the day on which the top climb must take place (do not flexibly take into account the possibility of bad weather).
- Not being sufficiently focused on the climb.
- Wrong material.
- Underestimation of the trip.
- Overestimation of own condition and ability.
- Go with the wrong draft (s).
Choosing the right companion is extremely important. If the two of you are on the road with one guide and your companion cannot continue, then it is also end of exercise for you. The guide descends with your travel companion and then you have to go too.
The simplest part. Only hurts the wallet. Make sure you know what you want to buy and that you have a packing list from the mountain guide. Then go to a good mountaineering shop and get information. Go ahead in time so that you have all the time to try out the equipment at home and in the Alps and walk in the shoes. Don't embark on an uncertain adventure with newly purchased crampon fixed shoes. Nowadays you hardly have to walk into shoes anymore, but only when you have walked on them in the mountains do you know if they are good and do not cause unexpected injuries. So make sure you don't get blisters, inflamed tibia, aching tendon tendons, or pinched toes.
Preparation in the Netherlands or Belgium
Everything starts with a good plan: when do I go, with whom and whether or not heights in the weeks before departure. Then comes training, reading in, buying a card, surfing the internet to know who was successful and who wasn't. You can learn a lot from the latter in particular. Endurance training is important. Running, on the MTB, on the racing bike, in the dunes, in the woods, in the Ardennes and so on. It is important that you train regularly, train for a long time and make great efforts. A training schedule can provide good services. Climbing Mont Blanc is much harder than crossing a 5000 meter pass in Nepal or Ladakh. Focusing and being busy with the climb in your head is important for success. As well as the equipment. Request a packing list in time if you go with a mountain guide. You have to learn to deal with crampons and a pickel. Every detail of the equipment is important on the mountain. Everything must be well coordinated and easy to put on and take off. Because when it starts to blow or snow it is very intense up there. Make sure you know how to adjust the backpack and tie the crampons. If they are missing, it is useful to make loops on all pairs of gloves that you take with you, so that you can hang them on the shoulder straps of the backpack with a small carabiner. Without gloves you have no chance and you can turn around immediately. Do not put the camera in the backpack, but buy a handy camera bag so that it is always within reach. In short: make sure you know where everything is and how it works. If you borrow equipment, go for a walk with it at home. A backpack that is too large to prevent you from lifting your head causes a lot of irritation and may even cause a headache.
Preparation in the Alps
In a week you can climb Mont Blanc and many do that too. But it is tight and everything has to go well. The most common excuse for a failed climb is: "It was bad weather." But in fact, in most cases, the cause was, "We didn't take enough time for it." That the weather can be bad is a fixed fact that you can usually overcome by planning backup days. Perhaps this is the real key to success.
If you have bad weather for one or two days, you will no longer meet the acclimatization schedule. And if you need one or more extra days for acclimatization than the average person - which applies to many - then it is already certain that you will have to quit, even if it is the most beautiful weather in the world. I would take two weeks for it myself. Because the better run and acclimatized, the greater the chance of success. Moreover, in the second week you can choose the days with the best weather for the Mont Blanc, which considerably increases the chance of success.
'On average, 70% of all participants achieved the top. In 90% of the cases, 'too strong wind' was the cause of reversing, a travel company emailed. That strong wind is predicted and then you obviously don't have to go up. But the day of the top climb is generally fixed at a travel agency months in advance! It may sound tough to be able to talk about a terrible storm with howling wind, but practice shows that you then hardly have any chances and that you are right in the danger zone of freezing and exhaustion. Most Mont Blanc climbers tell of an exhaustion battle. Indeed, the Mont Blanc is heavy, but if you are well acclimatized, it is much less heavy. And if you are smart enough to choose a day that is good for you again, you eliminate another exhaustion factor.
Mountain guide Christophe Profit (one of France's best climbers and a pioneer in speed climbing in the 1980s), regularly climbs Mont Blanc with customers and rarely has to turn around: 'The weather forecast is the basis and even more important than the condition of the Attendees. You have a huge backlog in bad or cold weather. "
Important: acclimatize with fellow Mont Blanc climbers. It is of course nice to go on holiday with your family, partner or friends and then 'also do that Mont Blanc.' But the danger is great that you adapt too much to the company and still don't go to that high hut for a night of acclimatization, or opt for shorter and less high hikes. If you want to reach the top, everything must be dominated by that achievement. Walk-in and acclimatization are not necessarily necessary in the Chamonix area. You can do this anywhere in the Alps. But it is unwise to go into the mountains on your own.
Acclimatize at home to the altitude
You can significantly reduce the risk of altitude sickness by acclimatising your body to the altitude in an altitude tent in the weeks before your expedition.
How does it work? The higher in the mountains, the lower the air pressure will be and this means that fewer oxygen molecules are present per volume. This means that you inhale less oxygen on top of a mountain than at sea level. Getting less oxygen stimulates the body to adapt to this new situation. Over time, various systems such as breathing, transport in the blood (number of red blood cells) and oxygen uptake in the muscles have improved considerably.
The high altitude tent uses this process and uses the same low oxygen air as if you were standing on top of a mountain at home. The associated altitude generator takes a small percentage of oxygen from the normal air and pumps the remaining deoxygenated air into the altitude tent.
Advantages of sleeping in a height tent
In the height tent you sleep in an environment with less oxygen. Normally there is 20.9% oxygen in the air. In an altitude tent that is set on the generator at an altitude of 2500m, the oxygen percentage is only 15.5%. Your body responds to this by making more red blood cells, among other things. The usefulness of sleeping at height has been proven by scientific research. Mountain climbers also have good experiences with the use of simulated altitude before they actually start performing at altitude.
Increased oxygen transport, oxygen uptake and glucose absorption in muscles and organs are the main results of this form of 'Live High, Train Low' altitude training.
A few high cabins can be reached via a cabin path, and therefore extremely suitable as an acclimatization and walk-in tour. But then you have to spend the night there, otherwise you will not acclimatize sufficiently. For example, you can walk to the Rothornhut (3198 m) in the Swiss Valais. Or to Cabane de Tracuit (3256 m), also in Wallis, but closer to Mont Blanc. Surf the internet, and you will find many more cabins. Note that the route to the hut does not run over the glacier or has other difficulties, for example a part via ferrata.
The more three and especially four thousand thousands you have climbed, the easier the Mont Blanc will be. After all, you have already experienced how it is at height and you have gained experience walking on the rope, walking on crampons and using the pickel. It is pretty tiring to walk in a rope group. So it's not a bad idea to turn your dream mountain into a multi-year plan that you will enjoy. Starting with a few 3000 people is a good walk-in start. Many peaks above 3000 meters can be climbed independently by experienced mountain hikers. Among others in the Swiss Ticino and the French Queyras and the Écrins.
The mountain hiking guides Gipfelziele im Tessin and 'With a view of the Écrins' are chock full of peaks over 3000 meters. At Chamonix you can of course also walk in fantastic. Take, for example, Route 3, Mont Buet (3096 m), from the mountain guide 'With a view of Mont Blanc'. That is a height difference of 1750 meters. Most of them spend the night in the hut on one third of the route, but aspiring Mont Blanc climbers can do the hike as a workout in one day, or with a bivouac at the top. Nice and varied.
For the snow and ice work and acclimatization, a 'mountain sports course or a peak week' is recommended. Then you hit three birds with one stone: you acclimatize, learn how to handle your material and you get skill in walking on the glacier.
The French normal route, the easiest way to the top, is done the most. But Mont Blanc also has an Italian normal route: more beautiful, technically comparable to the French normal route, but much longer and heavier: the difference in altitude between the starting point in the valley and the summit is 3108 meters (on the French normal route that is 2436 meters). These are two mammoth stages: 1371 meters to Rifugio Gonella (3071 m) and on the next day 1737 meters to the summit and 3108 meters to descend to the valley. On the French side is an alternative to the normal route: the Trois Monts. Beautiful, technically more difficult, often avalanche risky and heavy because you not only rise, but also have to descend in between. Which route you choose depends on your condition, your endurance, the degree of acclimatization and the circumstances on the mountain.
The French normal route is therefore the easiest way to the top. However, it is not a simple walk, but a glacier tour of great caliber, with glacier crevasses and a dangerous couloir where rocks regularly crash down (wear a helmet!). Starting point: Le Nid d'Aigle (2372 m), where you go with the Tramway du Mont Blanc. Route: Refuge de Tête Rousse (3167 m, option: stay here and take a day longer) - Refuge du Goûter (3835 m, stay overnight) - Epaule du Dôme du Goûter (4260 m) - Col du Dôme (4255 m) - Abri Vallot (4362 m, an emergency shelter) - Mont Blanc (4810 m). Total height difference: 2436 meters. First day: 1445 meters rise; on the second day 996 meters up and 2436 meters down. Advantages: 'only' 990 meters height difference from Refuge du Goûter, the easiest route, possibility to spend an extra night on both the way back and the way there. Disadvantages: crowds on the route and usually a crowded hut (the Goûter), the journey seems easier than it is (chipping, exposed bone).
Italian normal route
The Italian side is wilder than the French and landscape even more beautiful. Although the route is technically similar to the French normal route, it is still done much less often due to the mega height difference. Departure point: parking space close to Courmayeur. Route: Parking (1700 m) - Bar Combal (1968 m) - Rifugio Gonella (3071 m, overnight stay) - Piton des Italiens (4002 m) - Abri Vallot (4362 m, emergency accommodation) - Mont Blanc (4808 m). Altitude difference total: 3108 meters. First day: 1371 meters rise; second day: 1737 meters ascending and 3108 meters descending.
The Trois Monts
Beautiful, but due to the avalanche danger that prevails regularly, dangerous route that runs underneath Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit and then to Mont Blanc. You can also climb the other two peaks, but that makes the trip much harder. Technically more difficult than the normal route.
Starting point: Aiguille du Midi (3842 m, accessible by cable car). Route: Refuge des Cosmiques (3613 m) - Col du Midi (3532 m) - Col Maudit (4035 m) - Col du Mont Maudit (4345 m) - Col de la Brenva (4303 m) - Mur de la Côte (4485 m ) - Mont Blanc (4810 m). Altitude difference total (without the extra tops) about 1800 meters rise. First day: descend 200 meters and climb 45 meters; second day: 1793 meters ascending and 1423 meters descending.
PS: Do you still have doubts about which route? View our article 'Climbing Mont Blanc: Which route?‘
Google is trying to map the entire world. For years, Google's cars have been traveling around the world to capture everything for Google Street View. But there are still areas that cannot be reached by the Google car.
Every now and then, Google also maps out places like that. The mountains El Captain and Mount Everest have already been mapped. And from now on it is also possible to view the Mont Blanc. You can do that based on a number of experienced guides. One of them is none other than the famous trail runner Kilian Jornet. Together with, among others, ski star Leatitia Roux and climber Ueli Steck, he shows you this massive mountain on the basis of a number of videos. With this, Google wants to draw attention to climate change.
To climb Mont Blanc safely, you need a lot of alpine skills and experience. No four-thousand-footer, no matter how easy, is a walk. And certainly not the Mont Blanc. Even though there is a trail, hungry crevasses are lurking on the normal route, you can be hit by crushed stones, a sudden burst of storm can blow you off the bone and you can become completely disoriented in a snowstorm. Getting lost on this giant is extremely dangerous. Moreover: a trail seems safe, but it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, it often happens that a trail runs along and on a glacier crevasse. Climbing Mont Blanc is also not a matter of putting a few waypoints in your GPS and going with that banana, because the route depends on the circumstances; a GPS does not take into account a big detour around a glacier crevasse - to name a few. So go with a mountain guide.
The advice of Kim Bodin
(mountain guide at the Compagnie des Guides in Chamonix)
'Climbing Mont Blanc requires a lot of your endurance and oxygen management, so you have to train those two things optimally. Heart and lungs must be in optimum form. At home: assuming that you already exercise regularly and are in good condition, you must do endurance sports for at least 3 months. No matter what: swimming, running, cycling etcetera. Cycling at least 2x a week for 3 hours; running 2 to 3 times a week for at least one or one and a half hours or more. Important: do interval training. If you are overweight, it is very important to follow a diet to lose as much weight as possible. Being overweight is a huge handicap when climbing Mont Blanc, because you carry all those useless pounds with you and they also hinder the efficient functioning of your body. If you do not do any sport and are too fat, then you have to spend much more time on preparation: a year or a little shorter, depending on your condition at the start.
In Chamonix: take at least 7 days to properly acclimatize and prepare yourself technically. Two weeks is better, that greatly increases your chances of reaching the top. Because it seldom happens that the weather is so good for a whole week that you can implement the acclimatization and technology program as well as go to the top in good weather. If you go two weeks or more, you have a better chance of choosing the ideal day for the climb.
Important: take walks to get used to the rise and fall. If you have not slept in a height tent beforehand, go to sleep at least 2x a night at height, for example in Refuge des Cosmiques (3613 m). That is a glacier tour, so you have to do it with a mountain guide, and because this cabin is very high, you only have to spend the night in a slightly lower cabin. Second important point: practice with crampons and pickel. An afternoon is not enough, because people who are on crampons for the first time put a lot of energy into moving. You need that energy to reach the top. You have to be so used to it that you don't lose too much extra energy just to get ahead of those things. The use of the pickel also takes power if you are not used to it. So: climb a three or four thousand thousand. Practicing on ice, for example on the Mer de Glace, is useful, but ice feels very different and is less tiring than snow or firn (which you encounter on Mont Blanc). So make sure you also practice in snow and / or firn. "
Christophe Profit tips
(mountain guide in the Mont Blanc area)
'Climbing should be FUN, not abandon. At least: avoiding all that can easily be avoided must be avoided. Before departure, if you are already well trained: do nothing special, but continue to follow normal training. If you are not trained, follow Kim Bodin's advice. The most important thing: you have to be well trained, plus rested and arrive in Chamonix without stress. If the weather forecast is very good, you can go with a week. But if the weather is uncertain or bad, you need more time, because you have to choose the right moment. The weather forecast is the basis for success, more important than the condition. In bad weather you have a huge backlog: cold depletes the body. You must have slept very high for at least one night at 3500 meters. One night is not really enough, but it is very important psychologically. You actually have to sleep 2 nights at that height. Preferably the week before, so that you can recover from the effort. Only climb Mont Blanc if the conditions are good: not cold, no wind. When the weather is nice, you have time and can take a long time, which considerably increases the chances of coming up. In bad weather you have to go on and you can't take it easy: you can't stop to rest, eat or drink. Dehydration, a hunger knock and exhaustion are lurking, because hardly anyone can manage to have a good breakfast in the Refuge du Goûter, day after day, after a sleepless night at too high an altitude. Being able to rest and refuel is essential. Many people forget that aspect. A nice climb is the normal route of the Tour Round from Rifugio Torino (3379 m), with a mountain guide. It is essential that you have practiced a lot on crampons beforehand, because that is very tiring for a beginner. The Mont Blanc is easy in terms of difficulty, as long as the mountain is in good condition. With a lot of wind and in bad conditions I don't go up with a customer. Other guides often do. The chances of reaching the top are then much smaller, and it is going to be huge. I do not understand that people go up in bad weather to make a dream come true. The most important thing: only go under good conditions. So you have to be patient and have perseverance, in other words: wait for the good chance and then go. If you are already on the glacier at 3 o'clock in the morning, you are very cold. It is better to leave a little later, because you can still arrive at the top at noon or one o'clock. You can even leave at 7 am, if you are not too slow. When you are cold, you quickly run out of energy and reserves. Running too fast is deadly. If you leave under the right circumstances, you have good chances. I left with a client in 8.30 am in September, and we were at the top at 1 pm. '
The tips of Edward Bekker
(mountain guide in the Mont Blanc area)
'The ascent of Mont Blanc is a very difficult tour with a lasting sport character that requires the utmost, both physically and psychologically. This tour, often labeled as simple, should not be underestimated. From marathon runners, serious cyclists and other participants, we often hear afterwards that the Mont Blanc is the toughest they have ever done in terms of sport! Apart from the fact that people often walk on crampons in the snow, they sometimes have to climb in rock. The Mont Blanc can quickly become treacherous due to weather conditions, crushed stones and other hazards of the high mountains. Reaching the top is fantastic, of course, but you also need energy to complete the tough descent safely. You must have extensive mountain hiking experience, for example with heavy hut tours, and no fear of heights. The more climbing experience you have, the better, because experience has shown that people who have been sporting their entire lives have a much greater chance of reaching the top than people who have started training specifically for Mont Blanc. The Mont Blanc climb is of course a fantastic challenge, but it is more than that. You have to know your body very well and you learn that by exercising for years. Three factors are of decisive importance: your condition and the height adjustment. And of course the weather. Because not only the top counts, but don't forget the descent. It lasts endlessly and that makes it very heavy. Get to know your body and make sure you know when to stop climbing and reversing. Someone who stops and turns around on time deserves more respect, as far as I am concerned, than someone who keeps on going and then becomes exhausted on the descent - thereby endangering himself and his fellow climbers. If you climb via the Goûterhut, try to pass the Grand Couloir, which is at the earliest possible time. The earlier in the day, the colder the substrate and the smaller the chance of crushed stone. Many people do not understand the severity of crushed stones. "
For people who are not (yet) in top form:
1. Sleeping in Refuge de Tête Rousse (3167 m).
2. Continue to Refuge du Goûter (3835 m) and spend the night there.
3. To the top and descend to the Goûter or the Tête Rousse.
4. To the valley.
For people who are in top form:
1. To Refuge du Goûter (3835 m).
2. To the top and back to the valley. Most people plan that, but many don't make it.
Who is in blood form:
Les Trois Monts
1. With the cable car to the Aiguille du Midi (3842 m) and on to Refuge des Cosmiques (3613 m), sleep there.
2. Along the peaks of Mont Blanc du Tacul (4248 m) and Mont Maudit (4465 m) and on to the top of Mont Blanc (4810 m). Descending to the valley.
- Mont Blanc 4808 m - 5 voies pour le sommet, François Damilano, ed. JMEditions, approx. € 21.50 (French and English version). Original guide with everything in it that the Mont Blanc climber needs: the two normal routes and 3 other relatively easy routes. Preparation, make your dream come true, and all practical information.
- Mont Blanc - Easy ascents & Glacier Hikes, François Burnier & Dominique Potard, ed. Vamos / Cordee, approx. € 17.50. Translated from French.
- Mont Blanc - Discovery and conquest of the giant of the Alps, Stefano Ardito. Beautiful, second-hand only.
- With a view of Mont Blanc, Noes Lautier and Robert Weijdert, ed. Robert Weijdert, € 19.50. 38 day trips, 10 multi-day trips. Great for walk-in trips. Available in the NKBV webshop.
- Mont Blanc Walks - 50 of the best walks and 4 short treks, Hillary Sharp, ed. Cicerone, around € 23. Great for walk-in trips.
- With a view of the Écrins, Noes Lautier and Robert Eckhardt, publ. Robert Weijdert, € 19.75. With many 3000 people who are suitable as a walk in.
- Gipfelziele im Tessin, Daniel Anker, Rotpunktverlag, approx. € 27. With many 3000 people who are suitable as a walk in.
TIP: Order here
- IGN, 1: 25,000, 3630 OT, Chamonix / Massif du Mont Blanc, approx. € 11.50.
- IGN, 1: 25,000, 3531 ET, Massif du Mont Blanc / St. Gervais-les-Bains, approx. € 11.50.
- IGN, 1: 25,000, 3530 ET, Samoëns / Haut-Giffre, approx. € 11.50.
- IGN, 1: 50,000, no. A1, Pays du Mont Blanc, approx. € 10. Overview map, not detailed enough for the climb.
Weather forecast / météo
- +33 (0)899 71 02 74; The weather forecast hangs in English and French on the wall of the Maison de la Montagne in Chamonix. It is adjusted regularly.
- Maison de la Montagne de Chamonix, 190 Place de l'Église, F-74400 Chamonix Mont-Blanc, T: (+33) (0) 450 53 22 08.
- Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix 190 Place de l'Eglise, F-74400 Chamonix Mont-Blanc, T: (+33) (0) 4 50 53 00 88.
Dutch Mountain Guide Agency: Mountain Network
Belgian Mountain Guide Agency: Namaste Mountain Guides
Cabins French normal route
Refuge du Goûter (3835 m). Cabin open: early June - late September (at the same time as the Tramway du Mont Blanc opening times). Reservation required: refugedugouter.ffcam.fr/reservation.html. Because the cabin is packed all season, there are strict rules. If you go with a mountain guide from the Mont Blanc area, then this will make the reservation for the cabin. If you go with a mountain guide from a different area, then that is almost always the case, but it is better to just verify it. If you are going independently, you must make a timely reservation. Voilà the problem that you face as an aspiring Mont Blanc climber. Because this whole piece of text is about the fact that the weather is all-important for the climb. The large amount of climbers, however, causes a crowded cabin and so you have to book well in advance. But if you have made a reservation, you cannot be flexible because of the weather. If you have not reserved, you will be refused! These strict rules are not designed to annoy the guests, but rather to channel the enormous influx of people. It often happened that reserved seats remained unoccupied without cancellation, while customers were refused because all beds were reserved.
Refuge de Tête Rousse (2602 m). Cabin open: June 1 - end of September. To reserve obligated;
email@example.com; T: (+33) (0) 450 58 24 97. Same rules as for Refuge du Goûter.