Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc in the French Alps is the highest mountain in western Europe. The French sometimes call it "La Dame Blanche", The White Lady. Its summit lies at 4807 meters (or about 15800 feet) above sea level.

Hiking / climbing to Mont Blanc using the "easiest" summer route is normally a two-day project. One starts the physical part of the venture at Nid d'Aigle at 2372 m, as far as this you can go by train. Then you take a nice walk along a scenic path to the Refuge de Tete Rousse, at 3187 m. From here on not everyone wants to come along. First, it gets steep. Then you have to cross a notorious avalanche area called the Grand Couloir. Here it is somewhat like Russian roulette. Sometimes a rock comes, sometimes not, and they're fast! After that it gets even steeper as you walk / climb a few hundred meters up to the Refuge de l'Aiguille du Gouter at 3817 m. If you lose some item (like your helmet!) here, it is likely that it moves quite far by itself.

At the Refuge de l'Aiguille du Gouter it is customary to spend the night. You can get helicopter- borne steak for dinner here, and Pastis for aperitif, if you like. But toilet paper you'd better bring yourself! Also, don't drink too much before you go there. The path to the outhouse is icy, and it runs along (tilting slightly in direction of) the edge of a cliff, about 300 m straight down at this point.... If something goes wrong, your family can forget about suing the French Government or the Club Alpin Francais for any kind of liability, that's not the way things work here.

The next morning you are awakened at about 2 am. It's pitch dark, bring a head-lamp. The reason for the early start is that from here up you are on snow and glacier, and you should get as far as possible before the sun softens the surface during the day. Also, the chances of a thunderstorm are larger late in the day, and being surprised by one on the top of Dome du Gouter at 4304 m is not at all a pleasant experience, I have been told. As a physicist, I would of course find it interesting to be in the middle of a sparking cloud with wind and snow at the same time, but the risk is too great, even if I do know a guy who survived.

If you're lucky, the weather doesn't turn against you, and you can continue from the Bivouac Vallot up to Les Bosses. From there on, the ridge of crusty snow gets increasingly narrow. Using a length of rope securing you to a friend is recommended, as is using crampons and carrying an ice pick. The air is thin up here, you may find yourself having to breathe a lot to get the required amount of oxygen. Taking frequent, short (~10-15 second) pauses helps.

If you're still going, you get a breathtaking reward for your sweat and the hazards when you set foot on the summit of Mont Blanc. You get a view of snow-covered mountain ranges and deep abysses in all directions, spanning three countries (Italy and Switzerland in addition to France), an experience so spectacular that it is difficult to imagine for people who haven't been at places like this, a feeling of being intensely alive. The occasion calls for some celebration, like for instance a glass of Koskenkorva Vargtass. But again, don't have too much.

Most people are tired and have sore feet on the way down. Don't trip and fall going down the Aiguille du Gouter. If you're lucky once more, you catch the last train and cable car back, so you don't have to walk all the way down to Les Houches at 1008 m. This village, although quite small, has an amazing number of good restaurants, and you may find that you have earned your champagne and five-course dinner.

Does this sound like something you would like to try yourself? See my Mont Blanc FAQ
Last update 15-11-1995 by Jon Wikne,