10 Tips For Climbing Success on Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc: Western Europe’s highest mountain.  Its magnetism attracts some 20,000-30,000 would-be summiteers each year.  Unfortunately, a fair proportion of those who attempt the climb fail to reach the summit and, more tragically, a small handful don’t ever make it back down to Chamonix.

Here are some top tips to help you improve your chances of a summit success.  By following these simple steps, not only will you have a more enjoyable experience, but more importantly, a safer experience for both you and the other climbers on the mountain.

1 – Route SelectionMap_disc

First and foremost, Mont Blanc is a serious undertaking despite its main routes being technically graded PD (Peu Difficile – somewhat difficult).  The two ‘normal’ routes are the Goûter and Trois Monts, both of which have some serious inherent dangers in the form of the Grand Couloir [Goûter] and the sérac fields of Mt. Maudit and Tucal [Trois Monts].  What’s important is selecting a route appropriate for your level of skill and experience – the Goûter Route is technically the easiest path to the summit.  There is an excellent article on UKClimbing.com covering both of these two routes specifically.

 

2 – Ground AppreciationCompass-disc

The value of truly understanding what you are going to experience under foot should not be underestimated.  If you already know someone that’s climbed Mont Blanc then they’re going to be an invaluable resource to you.  Alternatively, you will need to research your route on the internet and through other available literature.  I find that reading blogs and other peoples’ personal accounts is far more descriptive and equally, if not more useful than simply reading a route description in a guidebook – although this form of prescriptive explanation is important too.  Order the Mont Blanc map well in advance.  This will allow you to study the route in conjunction with a Google Image search and satellite imagery to visually understand the terrain.  Being able to easily recall and tick off topographical features as you pass them en route will take a significant amount of stress out of navigating.

 

3 – TrainingTrainingdisc copy

With us all leading very busy lives, training often falls by the wayside.  Nevertheless, you will need to have a good level of fitness to climb Mont Blanc and it’s also useful to understand the importance of specific training.  Simply putting in the miles around your local running route isn’t necessarily the best path to a successful summit of Mont Blanc – although this does still help.  The North Ridge of Tryfan in Snowdonia is probably the closest thing in the UK to resemble the Aiguille du Goûter [the 600m scramble up the side of the Grand Couloir].  Continue the route round, south west up Bristly Ridge [towards the summit of Glider Fach] and finish off with a descent of Gribin for an exceptional day of scrambling.  Further to this, and if you’re not already proficient in the use of crampons and a walking axe, you’ll need to factor in two or three long weekends of winter walking, preferably of 3-4 days in length.  Throughout January to March, the Scottish West Highlands will have a multitude of dramatic snow covered peaks, which are as close as you are going to get to that encountered on Mont Blanc.  Try to combine several long slogs up a steady gradient [akin to the Dome du Goûter] with a few narrow ridges [akin to the Mont Blanc summit and Bosses Ridge].  After 3-4 long days in these conditions, you will not only be more confident on snow, but also start to experience a similar level of fatigue to that felt when climbing above 4000m.

 

4 – AcclimatisationAcclimatisationdisc

Once in Chamonix, by far the easiest way to acclimatise is to take an early cable car from the centre of town up the Aiguille du Midi [3800m] and spend an entire day practicing Alpine skills with your climbing partner on the Col du Midi [3600m].  To reach the Col, you will first have to tackle a very narrow and nerve-wracking snow ridge before reaching gentler slopes that lend themselves well to practicing ice axe arrests and some crevasse rescue techniques.  From here you can either stay on over night in the Cosmiques hut or camp down on the Col itself before attempting the Trois Monts route the following morning.  If tackling the Goûter route, head back down to Chamonix at the end of the day before heading back up on the Bellevue cable car the next morning.

 

5 – Booking a Guideguidedisc

By far the safest and most sure-bet way to reach the summit is to book an experienced local guide.  Not only will they ensure your climb is as safe and direct as possible, they are also more likely to get you a place in a mountain hut at short notice.  However, guides do come at a premium cost.  Alternatively, for those with little or no experience in the Alps, you’ll at least want to consider roping in a more experienced climbing partner that already has some Alpine ascents under their belt.  However, If you’ve got a good grounding in Scottish winter hillwalking or you’ve already bagged a couple of 4000m peaks, then Mont Blanc is very achievable, even without the use of a guide.

 

6 – Kit and equipmentKitdisc

Having the right gear means you can concentrate on the task in hand, allowing you to push yourself in the knowledge that your kit won’t give up before your legs do.  However, there will always be a limit to how much you can carry and there needs to be a sensible balance between safety, speed and agility.  One useful rule-of-thumb when climbing in the Alps is: light is fast!  Too often have I seen people out on the hills that have packed far too much kit in order to cater for every eventuality.  Adopting this mentality in the Alps or when climbing above 3000m, will see you exhausted very quickly.  If you’ve booked yourself into a hut, this will dramatically cut down on the kit you will need to take; no need for a sleeping bag, roll mat, shelter or cooking system.  If climbing for just a couple of days, try using a rucksack that is between 35-40L, this will force you to carry less kit.  The most essential (and some of my recommended) bits of kit for climbing Mont Blanc are:

You can also read about some of my favourite bits of Adventure Kit and Equipment here

 

7 – Hut bookingsHutdisc

Unfortunately, the increasing popularity of Mont Blanc has meant hut bookings have become far less flexible.  More often than not, you now need to book well in advance of the main climbing season, meaning you will have to commit to specific dates and hope that the weather plays ball.  IMPORTANT!  Remember to reconfirm your booking a week or so before you climb.  The last thing you want is to get to the hut and discover your bunk has been given to someone else because you hadn’t confirmed you were still coming.  If you try and risk it and arrive unannounced, the Goûter hut will simply refuse you entry if already fully booked, leaving no alternative but to descend 600m back down to the Tête Rouse hut, as camping in or around the Goûter hut is no longer permitted.  Criminal, I know!

 

8 – Weathermountainweather

Unfortunately, good weather cannot be guaranteed, even during the peak Summer climbing season, and warm-front electric storms can often roll in with only a few days notice.  As alluded to with hut bookings, you will be completely hamstrung and potentially stranded in Chamonix if conditions are bad.  It’s always worth having a few alternative climbs up your sleeve if the Mont Blanc massif isn’t accessible for a few days.  If you’ve made the decision to wait it out until the weather improves, get on the phone straight away to re-book your hut spaces for your adjusted dates before everyone else does the same.  It’s highly advisable NOT to climb Mont Blanc in the 24-48 hour window following a large storm on the mountain due to the increased risk of avalanche, particularly on the Trois Monts route.  However, the Goûter route should remain largely unaffected due to more favourable slope gradients.  Mountain-Forecast.com has always been my go to site when heading into the alps; providing useful tools such as mountain specific weather maps and forecasts at 1000m intervals.

 

9 – Food and DrinkFooddisc

When undertaking a particularly arduous activity its often easy to forget about staying well fed and hydrated.  Mid-climb, it seems almost counterintuitive to break momentum in order to stop and eat.  However, the opposite is true.  Stopping regularly to take on food and water means your energy levels will remain high throughout the whole climb and, when you do get to the top, you’ll still have bags of energy left to make a safe and successful descent.  This may seem obvious, but I often find myself paying lip service to this piece of sound advice, particularly when at altitude where the feeling of hunger is suppressed even further.  It’s also worth remembering that the dry air at altitude causes a rapid loss of water through respiration at a much faster rate than normal.  The effects of dehydration at altitude will only accelerate the onset of any altitude sickness, the results of which can be a crippling and sometimes fatal.  In short – remember to factor in several deliberate stops for taking on water and easy to consume snacks.

 

10 – Have FunHave Fun

If you’ve followed some of the guidance above, then this step is likely to come naturally.  Climbing Mont Blanc is, more often than not, a once in a lifetime experience, so remember to stop frequently and take lots of pictures.  Not only does this mean you’ll have a lifetime of great memories and photos to show your envious friends, but it also forces you to take those much needed rest stops, where you’ll take on water, have a snack and admire the exceptional views.

 

If you’ve got another handy tip worth sharing, please leave it in the comments box below.  Above all, have a safe and enjoyable trip!


Mont Blanc Further Resources

  • General Info.  Chamonix.net is particularly useful for lift and cable car timetables as well as general Mont Blanc related news.
  • Weather.  Mountain-Forecast.com is my go to site for mountain weather.  Particularly useful as it providing accurate forecasts at 1000m intervals of your selected peak.
  • Map.  Carte’s IGN 3531ET St-Gervais-Les-Bains Massif Du Mont Blanc (1;25,000).
  • Guidebook.  Get ‘Mont Blanc 4810m – 5 Routes to the Summit‘ for a very detailed explanation of the most common routes to the roof of Western Europe.

4 Responses to “10 Tips For Climbing Success on Mont Blanc

  • Dave Lomax
    3 years ago

    Would you say that being able to move together properly on a rope and knowledge of crevasse rescue techniques were important for an ascent like this?

    • Hi Dave. Moving well together on the rope is important, but quite a quick skill to master. You need to balance speed against being too cautious, but the more you practice the quicker you’ll get at protecting your partner over tricky ground. On the Gouter route it’s less important due to the general lack of crevasses but the Bosses ridge, close to the summit, is very narrow so a rope comes in handy here in case of a trip or fall. The Trois Monts route has a few crevasses and a 60m high, 45-50 degree snow slope – good use of the rope is important here. It’s always good to have a basic understanding of crevasse rescue – so take an ice screw each and have a practice at unweighting a loaded rope. But the crevasses are normally located where other climbers pass regularly and will likely assist you if in trouble. If you’re unsure, I’d recommend finding a friend to talk you through the basics. Read up on it and watch a few YouTube tutorials then have a practice on the Col du Midi. Ultimately, and somewhat recklessly, I’ve climbed the Gouter route solo without a rope and no experience whatsoever, so it’s not impossible, just risky. Hope this helps? You can read my account of climbing Mt Blanc solo via the Gouter here: http://wp.me/p6oyvS-5z

  • Dave Lomax
    3 years ago

    Where did you learn your crevasse rescue/taking coils etc before your ascent?

    • Hi Dave. I didn’t use a rope or learn any crevasse rescue techniques for my first solo ascent of Mt Blanc. However, I picked up and practiced all the necessary skills when with more experienced climbing partners during subsequent alpine climbs and during winter mountain training days in the UK in the lead up to gaining my Mountain Leader qualifications. I guess how most people lean really. If you don’t have anyone that can show you these skills then there are some good tutorials on youtube. Once you understand the basics, I would recommend trying to get out on the hills this winter and practice with a partner. Hope this helps.

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