How to climb Mt Blanc

Graham McMahon
Since my first adventures in North Wales, as a teenager, I have gone on to climb and ski in many wonderful places; North and South America, Asia, Australasia, Africa and Europe. I became a mountaineering instructor (MIC) in 1989 then an International Mountain Guide (IFMGA) in 2001 and I still love it!

The majority of successful attempts are led by mountain guides. An official mountain guide will hold the IFMGA qualification. They are the only people legally allowed to take paying clients up Mont Blanc. A number of companies and Guides organise ascents. Many people with a suitable amount of mountaineering experience will attempt Mont Blanc without a guide. Either way, the challenge of climbing this beautiful mountain should not be under estimated.

The main obstacles that will get in the way of a successful summit attempt are lack of fitness, bad weather and problems associated with acclimatisation. Here at Mont Blanc Training we recommend you start your training at least 6 months in advance. Any work you put in beforehand will be rewarded on your summit day. The better prepared you are the more you will enjoy it!

With careful training and preparation the mountain can be attempted by those with very little or no previous mountaineering experience. Once out in the Alps the ascent of Mont Blanc is usually attempted after several days of preparation and acclimatisation in the high mountains. Most people choose to climb from the French side by one of two routes.

The Gouter route is the most popular and has the highest success rate. This involves taking a cable car then the Tramway Du Mont Blanc to 2300m then a fairly short walk up to the Tete Rousse hut, where you can stay or continue on to cross the notorious Grand couloirs. This is followed by 700 metres of rocky scrambling leading  up to the Gouter Hut. From the hut you will be on snow all the way to the summit. The first part is on low angled slopes as you climb the Dome du Gouter, but care is required as you are on glacial terrain and the danger from crevasses is real. The final ascent is up the narrow snowy Bosses ridge. The descent is usually made by the route of ascent.

The 3 Monts route is climbed from the Aiguile du Midi cable car (3800m). It is a harder proposition and differs from the Gouter route in that it is on snow or ice all the way to the summit. While the vertical ascent is slightly less, the time above 4000m is longer and it is more committing with long periods of time climbing very steep snow slopes. Generally it requires a higher level of skill and better conditions and weather. This route is normally done after a stay at the Cosmiques refuge (3600m). After an early start and a short flat walk on the  glacier  the steep glaciated face of Mont Blanc du Tacul is climbed. This can be straight forward or require the passing of open crevasses using in situ ladders or ropes. Next is an ascent of the shoulder of Mont Maudit and is the hardest part of the climb. It involves climbing steep slopes and passing under unstable ice cliffs, called seracs. From here a steady approach is needed as there are some steep often icy slopes to cross before the final climb up to the summit. Descent can be via the same route or more easily via the Gouter route to complete a traverse of the mountain.

We recommend you take at least a week, leading up to your summit attempt, to make final preparations and get your body used to the lack of oxygen (acclimatise). The reason for this is that the summit of Mont Blanc is at 4807m. What this means is it is difficult to get enough oxygen into your body as you ascend the mountain. This problem is exaggerated as it is so easy to get up high quickly via the cable cars and the tramway. Most of us can acclimatise (our bodies get used to the lack of oxygen) but it takes time and that time varies between people.

The symptoms most people will feel from being at altitude are breathlessness, headaches, lack of appetite, nausea and difficulty sleeping. These, though uncomfortable are not life threatening. Problems arise if these symptoms get worse and you keep on going up the mountain. If symptoms become severe you can get HACE – high altitude cerebral oedema or fluid on the brain or HAPE – high altitude pulmonary oedema or fluid on the lungs. These are life threatening problems !

The season for climbing Mont Blanc (without skis) extends from June through to the beginning of October. There is no ‘best’ time to climb it as it is so dependent on weather and conditions but it is certainly quieter outside of the busy summer weeks. Access from the Uk is easy via Geneva airport then an hour drive to Chamonix. The town itself has all you would expect of a popular tourist destination and is in a superb location.

There’s no doubt about it climbing Mont Blanc is a fantastic achievement. Here at Mont Blanc Training we can help prepare you for summit success! Our highly experienced IFMGA Mountain Guides will teach you all you need to know before venturing out to the Alps for your final preparations and summit climb.

 

Mont Blanc Training is based in N Wales and run by IFMGA Mountain Guide Graham Mcmahon. Mont Blanc Training can be contacted via www.montblanctraining.co.uk

 

 

To book your guides in Chamonix with Ski Weekend please contact Gavin Foster +33 (0)61 51 95 427 gavin@skiweekend.com