“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” – Ed Viesturs
Why This Mountain?
Mont Blanc lies in the Alps right on the border between France and Italy and is on the top ten of bucket list peaks for many climbers. For Tami and TJ, it was important to include a peak that represented the Alps and Mont Blanc happens to be the highest peak in the Alps. The mountain has a romanticized setting rising up from the beautiful town of Chamonix, France. It also provided a chance to summit a snow and ice mountain that isn’t highly technical, but has a dangerous enough reputation to carry serious bragging rights. Gran Paradiso is a warm-up mountain that is climbed in the three days prior to the Blanc summit bid. Gran Paradiso is actually on the Italian side of the Alps so in six days we will be on a mountain in both Italy and France (the Blanc summit is typically considered to be in France).
Mountain & Route Facts
Mont Blanc (French pronunciation: [mɔ̃ blɑ̃]) or Monte Bianco (Italian pronunciation: [ˈmonte ˈbjaŋko]), both meaning “White Mountain”, is the highest mountain in the Alps and the highest peak in Europe outside of the Caucasus range. It rises 4,808.73 m (15,777 ft)[above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence.
The first recorded ascent of Mont Blanc was on 8 August 1786 by Jacques Balmat and the doctor Michel Paccard. This climb, initiated by Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, who gave a reward for the successful ascent, traditionally marks the start of modern mountaineering. The first woman to reach the summit was Marie Paradis in 1808. Nowadays the summit is ascended by an average of 20,000 mountaineer-tourists each year.
There are numerous routes to reach the summit of Mont Blanc. While not considered a technical climb, there is ice and snow year round on the mountain and the trek requires mountaineering and ice tools and climbing gear. Tami and TJ will be doing an expedition with the very experienced Mont Blanc Guides company. They will be starting the six day expedition from the Italian side via the Aiguille du Goûter route on July 5th. The first three days will be a training hike of an additional peak, Gran Paradiscio, which is 13,232′ in elevation. The camp each night will be at various heated huts along the route. Day 5 or Day 6 (depends on weather) will be the summit attempt of Mont Blanc. On the summit day the expected elevation gain is close to 5,400′. The temperatures will be below freezing during the expected 12 hour grind to the summit.
Even though not a truly technical climb, Mont Blanc has a reputation for being a particularly dangerous mountain because of the higher than average death rates each year. The risk of death or injury, however, is greatly decreased by hiring a guide company. The explanation for the higher number of deaths is that the French government does not have the strict permits and regulations as in other countries like the United States. Many inexperienced hikers take the cable car half way up and then attempt to trek the rest of the way without the proper equipment or knowledge.
Historical and Cultural Information
The mountain lies in a range called the Graian Alps, between the regions of Aosta Valley, Italy, and Haute-Savoie, France. The location of the summit is on the watershed line between the valleys of Ferret and Veny in Italy and the valleys of Montjoie and Arve in France. The Mont Blanc massif is popular for mountaineering, hiking, skiing, and snowboarding.
The three towns and their communes which surround Mont Blanc are Courmayeur in Aosta Valley, Italy, and Saint-Gervais-les-Bains and Chamonix in Haute-Savoie, France. The latter town was the site of the first Winter Olympics. A cable car ascends and crosses the mountain range from Courmayeur to Chamonix, through the Col du Géant. Constructed beginning in 1957 and completed in 1965, the 11.6 km (7¼ mi) Mont Blanc Tunnel runs beneath the mountain between these two countries and is one of the major trans-Alpine transport routes.
Since the French Revolution, the issue of the ownership of the summit has been debated. From 1416 to 1792, the entire mountain was within the Duchy of Savoy. In 1723 the Duke of Savoy, Victor Amadeus II, acquired the Kingdom of Sardinia. The resulting state of Sardinia was to become preeminent in the Italian unification.In September 1792, the French revolutionary Army of the Alps under Anne-Pierre de Montesquiou-Fézensac seized Savoy without much resistance and created adepartment of the Mont-Blanc. In a treaty of May 15, 1796, Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia was forced to cede Savoy and Nice to France.
After the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna restored the King of Sardinia in Savoy, Nice and Piedmont, his traditional territories, overruling the 1796 Treaty of Paris. Forty-five years later, after the Second Italian War of Independence, it was replaced by a new legal act. This act was signed in Turin on 24 March 1860 byNapoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, and deals with the annexation of Savoy (following the French neutrality for the plebiscites held in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna to join the Kingdom of Sardinia, against the Pope’s will). A demarcation agreement, signed on 7 March 1861, defines the new border. With the formation of Italy, for the first time Mont Blanc is located on the border of France and Italy.
Although the Franco-Italian border was redefined in both 1947 and 1963, the commission made up of both Italians and French ignored the Mont Blanc issue. In the early 21st century, administration of the mountain is shared between the Italian town of Courmayeur and the French town of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, although the larger part of the mountain lies within the commune of the latter.
A fun fact about the town of Chamonix is it was the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924. Chamonix is one of the oldest ski resorts in France and is known as the “gateway to the European Cascades.”