Did you know that the first ascent of Mont Blanc on August 8, 1786 marked the birth of modern mountaineering? If being responsible for giving birth and name to an entire sport does not make a mountain prestigious, we don't know what does!
The highest peak of the Alps, the highest peak of Western Europe and, according to one of the three most popular lists, one among the Seven Summits, Mont Blanc holds some prestigious titles, the kind climbers go after.
Along with being a climber's paradise for its many accolades, the mountain, with its commendable sense of humour, is also responsible for instigating some very heated political debates which have, till date, not found any resolution. Since it straddles the borders of Italy, France and Switzerland, the countries fight for its ownership while the mountain itself stands and guffaws in the form of its rockfalls which according to a Petzl study, are a cause for 4 deaths per year. (Google 'The Death Couloir of Mont-Blanc' and look for the Petzl video to know more! - you're welcome!)
We believe that the Himalayas are GREAT and nothing can beat the magnanimity of the mountains in this incredible range, but exploring a different mountain range has so much to offer in terms of perspective. To indulge in the same sport in a different setting makes the connection with the sport itself stronger because of the learning experience. The way operations are run, things are managed and the way climbing as a sport is approached in other countries is the best way to expand your mountaineering acumen and interest.
We have prepared this guide, based on my personal experience of successfully summiting the mountain in August of 2022. Here is where you will find all the information you need in case you are planning or thinking about planning to climb this beyond-beautiful peak. This guide only covers information about one of the many climbing routes one can take to get to the summit of Mont Blanc. The route we are providing information for is the Goûter Route which is the most popular because it’s the easiest and least technical route of all possible routes.
ROUTE & ITINERARY
While Mont Blanc has been climbed through 100 different routes, a couple of them are most popular today. Of these the two most opted for routes are:
1. The Three Mont-Blanc-route which starts at Chamonix and takes you through 2 mountain summits to get to the third one in the massif and the highest which is Mont Blanc. The three tops the route touches are Mont-Blanc du Tacul, Mont-Maudit and summit of Mont-Blanc.
2. Another popular route is the Aiguilles du Goûter over the Bosses ridges. This route is considered the ‘classic’ or the ‘normal’ route. It is the least technical of all routes.
As far as itineraries go, guiding companies in France and Italy have 2-day itineraries, 3 days and 5-day itineraries. However, we are of the opinion that carrying sufficient time in your hands firstly, gives you a chance to better acclimatize, secondly, increases the chances of a successful summit by accounting for and mitigating any uncontrollable external factors and thirdly, makes the climb itself a more immersive and hence enjoyable process instead of it being a race to the top and back.
For the itinerary we propose for a maximum chance of summit and to fully experience the mountain and the climb, check out our website.
ACCOMODATION and MEALS on the MOUNTAIN
Accommodation comes before Visa for a reason. Since there is no camping allowed on the route, there are three huts on the trail of Mont Blanc if you are going through the Goûter Route. The three huts are Nid d’Aigle (2,372M), Refude du Tête Rousse (3,167M) and Refuge du Goûter (3,835M). Each of these huts have a specific number of beds which need to be booked as soon as the bookings start months in advance. These bookings go off like hot cake. If you have no hut bookings, that would mean no accommodation or food which would mean there is no way you can undertake this climb. No matter what itinerary you follow, you will at least need 2 nights in the huts on the mountain to make it successfully to the top and safely back down. Given that there is a cap on the number of climbers who can approach the summit each day, this one definitely cannot be a whim climb – it will need time and planning.
The huts on the mountain remain open from the beginning of June to the end of September. The booking website opens for bookings on these huts as early as January for the same year. Nid d’Aigle has 20 beds. These are bunk beds divided between different rooms each of which has a name. This is the same for all the huts although Nid d’Aigle is the most spacious with the least number of beds. Refuge du Tête Rousse can house 80 people indoors with a few twin-sharing tents outdoors that can accommodate a few more people. Refuge du Goûter can accommodate 120 climbers for a night.
The bookings for the huts can be made through the FFCAM (Fédération Française des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne) website. The link for the website to take you directly to these bookings is https://montblanc.ffcam.fr/.
Things to remember:
- It is important to remember that the booking only remains valid if you reach the said hut before the mark of 5 PM. If you fail to do so, your bed gets open to be reserved by a climber without a booking who might need it for the night.
- About food, the kitchen in all three huts is open all day where they serve very specific items (on the menu) which remain the same across all huts. As for meals, you can either pre-book your meals along with your accommodation on the website or you can inform the staff there on the same day but a few hours before serving time and they can bill it to your bed separately. The meals on the huts are extremely lavish 3-course meals with a soup, the main course and a dessert all of it with a lot of cheese on the side! They serve meals twice a day – breakfast and dinner.
- If you are someone who is choosing the shortest itinerary which gets you to the summit and back in two days, you can also carry pre-cooked meal packs on your own in case you want to save the money on meals in the huts and reduce your dependence on external supplies and services.
- Water on these huts is also charged per bottle. The cost of each bottle goes up with each hut higher on the mountain. A 5 euro bottle becomes 7 at the next hut and 9 on the last one. Hot water is charged separately.
- Another thing to remember is that you cannot make a booking at the same hut for more than two consecutive nights.
- The huts provide clean beds with clean sheets and a warm blanket. You might not need anything else to keep yourself warm but carrying a personal thin liner is recommended for hygiene purposes.
ACCOMODATION off the mountain
You might also want to pre-book your accommodation in the village at the base of the mountain – whichever one you pick to be a starting point for your expedition. Each of these places is small with a limited number of hotels. Given that this is a busy route and close to 30,000 people summit Mont Blanc each year, these places get filled up fairly quickly as well.
In case you are new to this process like I was, here is all you need to know.
The French Visa process is managed by VFS Global and is fairly straightforward. You do not need any agents to go through the process. VFS takes a fee to mediate and makes it a seamless experience. There are no direct channels to get a France Visa other than going through VFS.
Applications for the visa are accepted no sooner than 6 months before the date of travel. There are two accounts you will need to create and two forms that you need to fill up.
1. France Visa (The Official Visa Website for France): https://france-visas.gouv.fr/en/web/france-visas/. Create an account here.
2. VFS Global for France Visa: https://visa.vfsglobal.com/ind/en/fra/apply-visa. The website takes you through the Visa application step by step with very clear instructions. Follow the steps and requirements. After filling out the form, the only other step is go to the VFS office on the date of appointment and submit your papers (as listed in their application process). You need to submit your passport along with your documents at the VFS Global office. You should hear word from them (of either approval or rejection) in under 3 weeks. If your visa is accepted, they will stamp it on your passport and courier it to you. In case it is rejected, they courier the passport to your address along with a letter of rejection explaining the reasons for your Visa to get disapproved. You can reapply or appeal their decision as a next step. Use the information given in the rejection letter to make your application stronger and mitigate any of the concerns they might have indicated to.
You will need a transit visa for whichever country you are flying through. Based on your flight bookings, remember to check up on the transit visa rules for your country of transit. These will not be done thorough VFS Global.
For detailed information on the visa process, read: Simplifying the Visa Process for Climbing Mont Blanc
Geneva is the closest city with an airport to get to Mont Blanc. One of the many towns settled along the banks of Lake Geneva, Geneva is the second most populous city in Switzerland. A global city and a financial hub, it is home to the headquarters of United Nations. Geneva is not short on things to see and do.
If you are booking a hotel, the hotel cost includes provision of a travel card which allows for free travel on any of their public transport services including buses, trams and the ferry. Remember to check for a hotel which provides for a travel card. Also, remember to ask for it at the reception on your arrival; travel within Geneva gets fairly expensive otherwise.
Geneva to Saint Gervais les Bains
There are plenty of operators who run buses between Geneva and Saint Gervais. Bookings can be made online very easily much in advance.
Saint Gervais les Bains to Nid d’Aigle
Saint Gervais to Nid d’Aigle is only a tram-ride away. Bookings can be made in advance here: https://www.montblancnaturalresort.com/en/tramway-montblanc. Timings for the tram are indicated on the website where you will book the tickets. The ticket is only an allowance into the tram for the specific time - there are no seat allotments. This is one ride you will definitely want a window seat for! The tram starts from La Fayet which is one station before Saint Gervais.
Interesting fact: The Mont Blanc tramway is the highest train in France; the electric train has a cogwheel design to aid in the ascent since it goes up on steep slopes to get from Saint Gervais to Nid d’Aigle. The carriages on the tram have interesting names like Jeanne or Anne and it takes you through the most heart-stopping landscape to get you to your destination.
You will need two kinds of insurance for the trip:
1. Travel Medical Insurance: To cover accident, injury or sickness during your travel and stay in the host country. The cost will depend on the number of days you plan to stay in the host country including travel days.
2. Insurance to cover your climb: To cover cost of rescue if need be, in addition to medical and health coverage in case of sickness and injury during your time on the mountain. The cost depends on the service you choose, the number of days you are exposed to the risk and the altitude of the mountain of choice. There are adventure insurance companies based in India but it would make sense to get insured by a company which might have better reach in the region of travel for speedy service.
As of 2022 there are no permits issued or required to climb Mont Blanc. However, there is conversation around putting in place such a system to control the number and quality of climbers on the mountain for reasons of safety.
You will need a reservation at the hut, however. Like we said before, make this reservation as far in advance as possible since the reservations tend to run out soon after the portal opens for the year.
While it is true that Mont Blanc is not overly technical and there are no official requirements to climb the mountain but to climb it requires extreme levels of physical and mental preparedness, knowledge of mountaineering equipment and skills of navigating the high-altitude terrain with all its challenges such as rock falls, vertical ascents, crevasses, knife ridges, reading the weather, knowing acclimatization techniques and much more. A climb up Mont Blanc definitely warrants previous experience in mountaineering.
It would also greatly help to get on an exercise regimen a few months before the climb so as to be of sound health physically. Physical fatigue can also make it harder for the body to acclimatize to the altitude.
DURING THE CLIMB
Mont Blanc is an interesting puzzle to solve. With its mixed terrain, the face of Mont Blanc is like the most perfect backyard any mountaineer can dream of. With the continuous rock fall in the Grand Couloir (which single-handedly makes the mountain one of the deadliest to climb), it's vertical rock faces and boulder sections running in a straight line upwards and the crevasses, high-speed winds and knife ridges on its upper reaches test all the skills a mountaineer can hope to practice and hone. It's the perfect playground to answer your rock climbing desires as well as those of climbing in an icy terrain all in one expedition. Its mixed terrain is every climber's joy.
Nid d’Aigle to Tête Rousse:
This is an easy climb much like a day hike with a broad and marked trail which gets narrower as you go up. It is a gradual incline and hence not too heavy on the legs. The last 200M is a little steep but still an easy climb. The trail is so comfortable you will most likely witness trail runners zoom past you from all sides.
Tête Rousse to Goûter:
The infamous Grand Couloir also called the Death Couloir falls in this section. The terrain is rocky to begin with where you start off walking on moraine. After the couloir which is a narrow horizontal belt cut out on a bed of loose rocks, the trail is all vertical. The rocks now get transformed to massive boulders where three point climbing is mandatory. It’s all a scramble and rock-climbing adventure from here on all the way to Goûter.
Goûter to Summit:
It’s all snow from here on. First you cross a crevasse field after which there is a climb up to Dome du Goûter which is followed by a downward slope to get to the Col. From the Col to Vallot Hut (which is a midway hut with no amenities – only shelter) is a steep climb. From Vallot Hut you hit two humps – first the Grand Bosse and then the Petite Bosse to head towards the Tournette Ridge which stretches out to the summit of Mont Blanc.
The last two hours of the climb are on slender knife ridges with a straight drop on both sides. Heavy winds make the climb on these sections even more precarious. Another challenge to consider on the ridge is the complexity and coordination of movement between climbers going up and climbers coming down since it is a single path with zero space on either side to give way.
Like any other high-altitude mountain, weather is unpredictable here as well, in fact Mont Blanc is famous for fast-changing weather. Fortunately, each hut on the route puts up an updated weather forecast report each day which is extremely accurate and should be taken into account in order to plan any movement on the mountain.
Use the layering method. Since you will be starting for the summit much before sunrise, it will be extremely cold. Even when the sun is high up in the sky, the winds high up on the mountain are extremely notorious. The last two hours to the summit is on knife ridges with no other mountain faces to block the wind. The upper reaches are also prone to unannounced snow storms and chilly white outs. You need all your best clothing to protect you from the elements here. Under no circumstances can you afford to forget your down and your gore-tex.
As luxurious as the accommodation on this mountain is, there is no wifi available on the huts or anywhere on the mountain along the way. As long as you are in direct line of Chamonix down in the valley, you might get network on the mountain in case you have your international roaming activated.
You will need all the equipment and personal gear you would take on a high-altitude mountain in the Himalayas including gear suited for rock and for ice.
You can rent out the technical equipment from Saint Gervais but it is better to carry your own because if there’s something that the limited supplies in the small town of Saint Gervais is missing, you would be stuck without an alternative.
It is best to carry boots suited for a mixed terrain with the design to fix crampons when you hit the snow so as to avoid lugging 3kgs of snow boots on your back half way up the mountain.
This will depend hugely on your planning and timing but, based on experience, we can safely say that it can be done comfortably under INR 3 lakhs including everything (excluding guide cost if you may choose to go with one or the cost of your gear – in case you need to buy or rent some of it out). Below are the expense heads:
SOME OTHER INFORMATION
What is the altitude of Mont Blanc?
The altitude of Mont Blanc is between 4,807M to 4,810M depending on the amount of snow on the summit. The highest recorded altitude was 4,810M in 2007. According to sources, the mountain is measured every two years to monitor its evolution. Based on these repeated measurements and studying the pattern, the mountain seems to be losing height which may be attributed to climate change, according to some.
Is Mont Blanc the highest peak of Europe?
Mont Blanc is definitely the highest peak of the Alps and of Western Europe but the opinion is still divided on the matter of it being the highest in Europe. For some the highest remains Mount Elbrus in Russia. Although higher in altitude than Mont Blanc at 5,642M, the matter is a much more complex one if looked at from a geographic lens which puts Mount Elbrus in Asia instead of Europe making Mont Blanc the highest in Europe.
Where is Mont Blanc located?
Mont Blanc’s slender ridge lies to the Western end of the Alps – the region known to house Europe’s finest collection of glaciated mountains.
The peak straddles the border of Italy and France (also, stretches into Switzerland) and stands proud and loud in the Graian Alps.
What is the history and significance of Mont Blanc?
The highest peak of the Alps, the highest peak of Western Europe and, according to the Hackett list, one among the Seven Summits (making it the highest in all of Europe) - Mont Blanc holds some prestigious titles, the kind climbers go after.
For sworn climbers, however, the importance of Mont Blanc comes less from its titles and more from the fact that it forms the crown of an entire massif the slopes of which are, without a doubt, breeding grounds of modern alpinism. Mont Blanc in particular and the Alps by extension is where modern mountaineering was born in the late 1700s and for that alone the old soul of Mont Blanc remains one that must be honored.
The first ascent of Mont Blanc on August 8, 1786 marked the birth of modern mountaineering. If being responsible for giving birth and name to an entire sport does not make a mountain prestigious, we don't know what does!
Interestingly, it was climbed after a scientist, who attempted to climb the mountain himself but failed to do so, announced a cash prize for any Alpinist who would ascend these then unexplored slopes. That scientist was Swiss naturalist Horace-Benedict de Saussure and the person to climb it for the first time was Chamonix physician Michel-Gabriel Paccard and his porter, Jacques Balmat. The local physician wasn't short of his own interest in climbing the peak for he wanted to use scientific methods to determine the elevation of Mont Blanc for it had remained debated for long years that it was, in fact the highest peak of the Alps. The physician who was out to prove it using irrefutable methods finds his statue in the middle of his home town of Chamonix today! And from that we can say that the sport of mountaineering had now moved from the realm of madness to that of a display of human endurance and strength.
There are a lot more fascinating tales from the pages of the history of this mountain. These could make for an intriguing read for those who are lovers of mountaineering, history or those labelled mountaineering-history nerds.
What are some of the climb’s highlights?
From starting in Switzerland to the tram ride to the European vistas to the mixed terrain of the mountain, the nature of the climb, the people you meet on the way, everything about this climb is worthy of being listed as a highlight.
Do I necessarily need a guide to climb Mont Blanc?
This is really a matter of your experience.
Mont Blanc’s earned a wicked reputation of being one of the deadliest mountains. Estimates put the average death toll on the mountain around 100 each year (according to an article in Outside Magazine). While there’s some truth to this story, for the most part it is a misunderstood mountain. The deadly portions of the mountain on the Goûter Route like the Grand Couloir which is a 70M long narrow crossing over loose rocks prone to major rock fall and the epicenter for most fatalities is a very real threat. But mostly the mountain seems dangerous because of the confused narrative of it not being technically challenging and hence inviting a lot of unprepared climbers who tend to take on the climb on their own and make avoidable mistakes. What makes the White Mountain so deadly is not its height or technical climbing but the easy access and a flawed tagline which says ‘it is a mountain one can simply walk up on – it is, in fact, anything but!
Is it a technical climb?
It is not overly technical but requires previous experience of high-altitude mountains and a fair knowledge of mountaineering equipment and techniques for a safe climb. It is a strenuous climb and requires the use of technical equipment. Running into bad weather is another big challenge to be considered.
What all in included to plan a self-guided ascent of Mont Blanc?
Basically everything: from travel to hotels to food to gear, routes, communication, insurance, self-reliance in emergencies – everything. It will, undoubtedly, be much cheaper to go on your own but do consider your skills, training, medical expertise and experience when making a decision to avoid running into any unpleasant circumstances.
A fair knowledge about weather conditions and ice and rock craft are mandatory. Accounting for your level of training and ability to get yourself out of a sticky situation whilst battling the fatigue from the climb itself, are factors to consider.
We hope that this article gives you a fair sense of all that is required to plan your climb up Mont Blanc. This information is very basic and intended only to get you started – we recommend you do a lot more research before getting yourself to the foot of the mountain.