Since my Mont Blanc page became available, I have received many requests for further info from people who desire / plan to do this hike / climb themselves. On basis of the questions and answers from the e-mail dialogues with these people, I have prepared a FAQ.
In the text, the questions are in italic, the answers are not.
Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided in good faith on part of the undersigned. However, I shall accept no liability whatsoever for any possible omissions / inaccuracies / errors in the text, or for the consequences thereof, including damage of property, personal injury or death of the readers of this description or of third parties involved.
What time of year is the best for such a venture?
The "high season" for Mont Blanc is July and August. In June there is still much snow between Tete Rousse and Aiguille du Gouter, and the conditions there are more difficult / dangerous. September may be OK, but the weather tends to be unstable.
If you have the possibility to do so, it is advisable to stay in Chamonix or Les Houches for some days, awaiting a stable high athmospheric pressure reducing the chances of a blizzard in combination with a thunderstorm up in the mountains.
When you hike by the easiest summer route, do you have to use guide? I have heard that they are VERY expensive? Or is it enough if you are used to go in the wilderness and have a good map with you?
The easiest summer route starts at the Nid d'Aigle, which can be reached by cable car / train from the village of Les Houches. From there you go to the Refuge de Tete Rousse, up to the Refuge de l'Aiguille du Gouter, over the Dome du Gouter, past the Bivouac Vallot, Les Bosses and up the ridge to the summit.
I recently heard a price of 3500 FFR as guide fee for the normal two day trip, with possible extra days at 1300 FFR each, if you use an official guide from the Compagnie des Guides. This does not include cable car, train, food or stay at the refuge, which amounts to at least some hundred extra.
Formally, guiding requires official authorization. However, some of the local people in Chamonix and the nearby villages do guiding without such authorization, although illegal. You should be careful if you want to save money using one of these. If you don't know about specific persons then you risk getting an old drunk, more or less, who pockets the money and then tries to ruin the trip so the clients give up the sooner the better....
Whether you need a guide at all depends much on yourself, your own mountaineering experience. My girlfriend and I went there without a guide, just the two of us, even though some advised against it. We just bought a map in a bookstore in Les Houches, which together with info from colleagues who had been there was sufficient for us. We consider ourselves "a little more than average" experienced mountaineers as Norwegian standards are. I definitely do NOT consider Mont Blanc as a place for beginners to have their first mountaineering venture on their own. In any case, don't hold me liable if something goes wrong...! Be warned that both France (where this mountain is) and Norway (where I am from) are the wrong countries to file a lawsuit against others for your own lack of judgement, as some especially in the US may be accustomed to.
I suppose that very good physical shape is the best guide?
To some extent yes. But you should also consider the possibilities of altitude sickness that occurs with some people from about 3500 meters and up, and quite irrespective of physical shape. I know people in far better physical shape than myself that have had to give up on Mont Blanc because of this. The symptoms of altitude sickness can be anything from a slight headache via various degrees of vomiting and bleeding from body orifices to more severe conditions requiring hospitalization. As for the latter, I have not heard about that at the altitudes in question here.
I have been also told that it doesn`t get very cold in summertime, even in night? I come from 130 km north from arctic cirle, a place called Sodankylä, and I sure am used to cold weather. So weather should be no problem in summer?
That may be true if you are lucky, but again, keep the altitude in mind. The first time we attempted at Mont Blanc, we were caught in a snow blizzard on the Dome du Gouter (4303 meters), and had to give up. We were sure glad we had brought proper winter equipment! I advise you not to gamble with this, even if it most frequently may turn out afterwards that you carried items you didn't need....
Is a usual gore-tex hiking suit enough?
It should be, at least if you bring a thick sweater and good, thick underwear in addition. Thick gloves and socks are a must.
Is it possible to rent rope, helmet, crampons and stuff? Or how expensive are they to buy? In Kebnekaise you can rent all equipment needed for glacier hikes. Do you need some other special equipment, like special tents?
Most things can be rented in several shops in Chamonix or Les Houches. If you want to buy the equipment, it is also much cheaper in France than in most other places, less than half the price of what you have to give in Norway. Example: We paid 450 FFR a piece for quite decent ice picks.
What you need is good mountain boots, not too soft, they must be fit for glacier hikes with crampons. Then of course the crampons, an ice pick, and a 9 - 11 mm rope sufficiently long to secure your whole party with at least 5m between each person. A helmet may be mighty handy under certain circumstances.... Don't forget a headlamp per person (with spare batteries), your map and a compass!
The need for a rope does not imply that the trip is much climbing, grade 2 (2+ maybe?) at most and that only at certain points. But if someone should slip / trip they might fall or slide quite far in some places. We saw a guy just ahead of us get killed sliding down the Grand Couloir, over the edge of the abyss straight down on the Bionnassay Glacier, after having been hit by a falling rock. He was on his own, with no rope...!
As far as other special equipment is concerned, you only have to bring tents if you don't want to pay for staying at the Refuge de l'Aiguille du Gouter. Further up, you can take shelter at the Bivouac Vallot if weather turns against you. If you do bring tents, make sure they are for winter conditions! In any case, good sleeping bags are recommended, both in case the weather gets bad and you have to spend some time at the Bivouac Vallot, and in case the Refuge du Gouter is full and you must sleep under the table there like we did. It is possible to make a phone call and book a bunk here, but that should be done weeks in advance (the place is generally crowded), and also requires either a guide or knowledge of oral French beyond our capabilities.
If I should need assistance, do I have a chance?
That depends on where your problem occurs, and who is around. They have communication equipment at the Refuge de Tete Rousse and the Refuge de l'Aiguille du Gouter, and there is a self-service emergency transceiver at the Bivouac Vallot. It looked like the latter was being maintained (as opposed to the rest of the place!), but fortunately we didn't have to test it.... We carried CB-type walkie-talkies (27MHz band), but those were not very reliable under such circumstances. I should think that cellular phones (GSM, European version) will work in places, but don't count too heavily on it.
"Assistance" here means a helicopter in most cases. You must be prepared to pay for that yourself! Supposedly, such rescue should be free in France. Nevertheless, I know people who have been charged. And you may not find yourself in a position to bargain...!