Mont Blanc - The Routes
The five main mountaineering routes on Mont Blanc
- North West (Gouter) Ridge
- Les 'Trois Monts'
- Italian Route
- Grands Mulets / Arete Royale
- Traverse of the Aiguille du Bionassay
- Other More Technical Climbing Routes
Because any route on Mont Blanc is a tough mountain undertaking and, for many, a summit attempt will come very early in their mountaineering career
our standard Mont Blanc course focuses on climbing the Mountain via its north western flank. This 'Gouter' side is accessed from Les Houches or St. Gervais / Le Fayet and presents the most straightforward and 'sure'of all the climbing routes on the mountain. Although this is by far the most popular route it is still not without some difficulty and objective danger, especially in the infamous 'Grand Couloir' where stonefall can be a great hazard,
There is also, contrary to the popular opinion of the ascent being a 'Glacier Trek' some rock scrambling up the West Face of the Aiguille du Gouter and this looks fairly impressive, intimidating even, when viewed from the Tette Rousse Hut. The scramble is however not as steep or hard as it looks. It is equipped with the odd bit of metal cable and, as long as the correct route is taken, not particularly difficult although icy conditions or poor weather can rapidly turn it in to a formidable mountaineering challenge.
Once the Gouter Hut is reached the route above is all on snow & ice and is generally less steep. It is only after the crossing of the shoulder on the Dome du Gouter is reached that the summit can finally be seen, and it is not uncommon for folk to exclaim "Wow! Mont Blanc is a Big Mountain". Big indeed and whilst the technical difficulties on this route are not great - the sense of scale and commitment when climbing this Giant of the Alps is well felt.
The final ascent of the Bosses Ridge is slightly exposed, exhilarating and often, literally, breath taking both for the superb panoramic views and the cold thin air experienced at nearly 5000m!
This route is generally less prone to avalanche danger than the 'Trois Monts' as the snow slopes crossed are both less steep overall and often on a ridge. This lends the additional advantage that often just one day of good weather is required to climb the mountain whereas some of the other routes will retain dangerous or poor snow conditions for longer after a storm, even during good weather.
Despite the huge height gain offered to Mont Blanc climbers commencing their ascent with a 'kick-start' from the Aiguille du Midi lift, this route is by no means the easy option that its very high starting point (3800m) may suggest. The traverse of 'Les Trois Monts' (the 3 peaks of Mont Blanc du Tacul, Mont Maudit & Mont Blanc itself) is a spectacular high alpine journey yet with that comes big mountain commitment with steep & sustained snow slopes and great exposure to the weather.
On this route very good fitness and movement skills are required in equal measure along with knowledge of prevailing weather and snow conditions. Get it right and the rewards of this mountain journey are great but high above the Col de Brenva is no place to be caught in a storm and the crossing of Mont Blanc du Tacul may well not be a safe option after fresh snow. Avalanche risk on this route can be considerable both from the steep snow slopes crossed and the ice seracs hanging above.
Whereas the main objective danger on the Gouter Route is stone fall in the Grand Couloir on this route it is ice fall and avalanches. The principal
base for this route is the Cosmiques Hut at a lofty 3613m. Many folk will spend the night before and after the summit day attempt at the hut although fast parties can complete the climb by starting from the morning's first Midi lifts - then either returning to the hut or continuing the traverse over the summit and down via the Gouter Route.
In completing the 'Trois Monts' route The vast majority of climbers do not actually visit the summits of Mont Blanc du Tacul and Maudit although a very fast party can do this during the ascent - always keeping a wary eye on energy levels remaining to complete the descent safely and swiftly.
The initial long and weaving ascent of Mt Blanc du Tacul's shoulder usually takes an intricate line around crevasses and seracs and would present difficult route finding without a track and in the dark if you were not familiar with the route.
Once the shoulder is crossed the traverse to Col Maudit provides a welcome respite before the difficulties start again with the long & steep ascent to the shoulder on Mont Maudit. This culminates in a 50-55 degree snow & ice slope usually ascended as a couple of 'pitches' of climbing. Bare ice here can present difficulties although there are often in-situ fixed ropes in place of highly variable quality.
Again the reward for these efforts is another traverse towards the Col de la Brenva. This feels like high mountain country indeed and the atmosphere only gathers on the final steep ascent of the Mur de la Cote. Above this, all that remains is a steady ascent via the easy but tiring upper snow slopes, often accompanied by heavy breathing in the search for oxygen and the junction with the Bosses Ridge, right at the summit of Mont Blanc.
Folk seeking relative solitude away from the busier flanks of the normal routes on the French side are advised to head south, through the Mont
Blanc tunnel and in to the immense glacial valleys of Veny, Miage and Dome. These are 3 huge glaciers that must be traversed in order to ascend the mountain from the wilder Italian side.
This expedition has an almost Himalayan feel and there is the catch - the grunt factor! There is no mechanical uplift for the 'Italian Job', just a very long walk to the (lovely) Gonella hut (3071m) and an even longer ascent from there to the summit (12 hours round trip). The technical difficulty is no greater than the normal routes on the French side - but the physical factors of height gain, distance covered and time taken for the summit day are all that bit longer making the sum of the parts a big, rewarding and tough mountain journey.
More details, including course dates, are on our page 'Climb Mont Blanc' from Italy'.
The Bionnassay looms over the Arve Valley / Geneva approach to the Mont Blanc Massif and is rightly famous for its superb long and exposed snow
crest. This approach to Mont Blanc is the most technical of the 5 classic routes described here and provides a magnificent high level alpine traverse. The route could even be extended further when combined with a journey over the Domes de Miage, Mont Blanc & the Midi Plan traverse finishing down the Vallee Blanche. This would take a week!
Acclimatised and fit parties however can complete the route in a 2 day round trip from the Valley. Whilst there are no lifts on the Contamines side of the mountain a taxi can be taken to the lovely Chalet de Miage. A coffee here provides an extremely pleasant start to the trek which also has an expedition feel as you start through lovely alpine meadows and steadily wind a way up to the Refuge de Plan Glacier. Lunch can be taken here whilst eyeing up the North Face of the Dome de Miage. Vow to come back and climb the Metrier Spur one day. It looks good. Our route up to the Durier Hut is less aesthetic yet equally direct. A rapid crossing of the Plan Glacier followed by a sustained and fairly 'scruffy' scramble up for afternoon tea at this small, cosy and superbly positioned hut, well run by local Contamines guardienne Manon.
An early start is taken next morning so good snow conditions are found on the snow crests of the Bionassay and, besides, there is a long day ahead if Mont Blanc is to be climbed and descended. Another option would be to stay a 2nd night in the Tette Rousse, Gouter or Cosmiques Huts.
At 'AD-' the ascent of the Bionassay's South Ridge is the most technical section of any route described here but it is not too hard for those familiar with other alpine AD routes, and the quality is high. Enjoyable snow & mixed scrambling up narrow ridges and chimneys. All engrossing but never too tricky if the correct line is taken. Quite suddenly the rocks give way to the perfect snow cone of the summit...and the sinuous connecting ridge over the 'Pitons des Italien' and on to the Dome du Gouter can be seen in all its glory.
The difficulties experienced along the ridge are heavily dependent on snow conditions. Having both traversed hard ice whilst front pointing sideways along the ridge and cruised along in a fine track along a wide snowy ridge I can highly recommend getting some good info about current conditions before setting off! Either way the traverse of the Bionnassay provides a memorable mountain experience and the glittering additional prize of the Mont Blanc summit guarantees to have the hairs standing up on the back of the neck - with relief, satisfaction and elation all in good measure.
Popular with ski mountaineers in the spring this route has rather fallen from modern fashion for summer climbers on Mont Blanc. It is a route with
an interesting history as Balmat & Paccard climbed it in June 1786.....yes, that is 1786! The pair went on to make the first ascent of Mont Blanc but with the North ridge of the Dome already done this gives it a legitimate claim to be the first high alpine climb ever done!
The route is undertaken from the Grands Mulets Hut which generally remains open until mid-summer. Hut bookings are usually much less of an issue here than at the busier Cosmiques, Gouter and Tette Rousse Huts just around the corner.
The journey from the Plan de l'Aiguille across the heavily crevassed 'La Jonction' glacier provides an engaging approach to the Grands Mulets Hut. Once in-situ with a cold drink on the Hut's sunny terrace, a fine view can be enjoyed of the route above, which will be climbed during the night.
After a vague lower glacier section the route narrows in to an excellent snow ridge - The 'Arete Royale'. This includes a sustained 45-50 degree section which calls for a steady hand, not to mention solid calves! Good snow conditions are required here for a swift and enjoyable ascent but these can easily be checked with a pair of binoculars from Chamonix high street!
The top of the arete gives way to easier angled glacial snow slopes and a shallow traverse leads to the junction with the Gouter Route at the Col du Dome, just before the steep ascent to the Vallot Hut. From here it is usually around 2 hours up the Bosses Ridge to the summit.
Whilst the ascent route could be reversed back to the Grands Mulets many teams will prefer to continue the traverse either back over the Trois Mont to the Cosmiques or down the Gouter Route to the Gouter or Tette Rousse Huts.
The ascent of the Petit and Grand Plateaus from the Grands Mulets Hut can not really be recommended due to the substantial objective dangers presented by the enormous hanging ice seracs situated above much of the route.
Not content with being the highest mountain in the Alps, by some margin, Mont Blanc also has some huge faces giving long and exacting
snow, mixed, ice and rock climbs. In addition to superlative alpine routes like the Peutery Integrale (longest in the Alps) and 'Divine Providence (hardest in the Alps when first climbed in 1984) there are many other classic tough alpine mountaineering routes that logically lead to the summit of Mont Blanc. Some of these are desribed below. Most are from the Italian side as, unusually for the Alps, it is the South Face of Mont Blanc which presents the highest cliffs and greatest technical challenges.
- The Peutery Ridge, starting in the Italian Val Veny and finishing on the summit, is perhaps the longest climb in the Alps. (D+ and 2450m from the Monzino Hut)
- The Brenva Spur (D) 1350m from the Col de la Fourche Bivi Hut
- Innominata Ridge (D) 1000m from the Eccles Hut which is PD+ and 1280m from the Monzino Hut
- Tournette Spur (D-) 1450m from the Quintino Sella Hut
- Brouillard Ridge (D-) 1700m from the Quintino Sella Hut