Home of alpinism, Mont Blanc Massif offers the alpinist a superb choice of top quality routes on rock, snow and ice and of all grades of difficulty. Several of the classic routes have their firm place in the history of mountaineering. Besides Mont Blanc at 4807m there are thirteen other mountains and many more tops which reach the magic 4000m. There are several trains and telepheriques that make approaches to many mountains short and effortless. Considering this, the quality and diversity of routes, and the fact that the range is compact, it is no wonder, that overcrowding can be a problem in some areas. However, it is also possible to climb routes in relative solitude, if climbers are prepared to climb in less popular (and often also less accessible) areas.
The valleys of Mont Blanc area are popular among the tourist both during the summer and during the winter. Hence there are number of accommodation options ranging from hotels to chalets and camping. Especially Chamonix has plenty of boarding options for climbers. However, since it's so extremely popular, during the high season (August), it may stilll be difficult to find vacant accommodation without prior reservation.
In the mountains there are several huts. Some of them are big, warden and offer full three course meals and beer, on the other hand there are also several tiny bivouac shelters with no luxuries. Most, if not all, of the huts have blankets though, so it's possible to get by without bringing your sleeping bag. Price range of the warden huts varies somewhat, generally alpine club owned huts are far cheaper than private huts (especially Cosmiques hut is pricey). Furthermore, huts owned by alpine clubs grant significant discount if you are a member of UIAA sanctioned climbing organization. Most popular huts can be very crowded during high season, so it's pretty much mandatory to book in advance. Camping during daytime is officially not allowed. That being said, there are sizable tent camps especially in Vallee Blanche during high season.
Chamonix has all sorts of climbing:
Several grading systems are used depending on the type of climbing:
Summer season between July and September, with late August being probably the most crowded. Conditions vary a great deal between summers, valleys are often very hot and it may be quite warm high up in the mountains as well. Make no mistake though, people freeze to death on the slopes of Mont Blanc area every summer. Most popular routes usually have good paths which make route finding much easier that it would be otherwise. That being said, it is very much possible to get plenty of new snow during the summer, so don't count on there being a path through crevasse labyrinths on the glaciers.
For ice routes spring usually has better conditions (April-June). Later in the year some ice routes are still possible but harder due to blank ice and may be unjustifiably dangerous, some routes are just out of nick in the summer season.. Winter conditions are usually at best between January and February for ice fall climbing.
Mountain rescue in Chamonix area is probably the best in the world. French rescue is top notch and it's free, Italian and Swiss rescue can cost quite a bit unless you have insurance that covers mountain climbing including evacuation costs. Needless to say, insurance provided by alpine clubs comes highly recommended.
Chamonix valley, located to the NW of Mont Blanc, is the home of alpinism. Today, it still is the mecca of climbing. There are huge number of classic routes and crowds of climbers, ranging from those doing once in a lifetime ascent on Mont Blanc to those poshing the envelope on the extremely difficult routes on rock, ice and mixed ground.
There are several towns and villages in the valley, the most important being St. Gervais, Les Houches, Chamonix, Les Praz, Les Tines, Argentière and Le Tour. Chamonix is by far the most important for climbers. Climbs of Aiguilles Rouges and north side of the Chamonix Aiguilles are started directly from Chamonix valley (still using ski lifts and possibly Montenvers train to ease the approach). Other areas are reached from numerous glaciers of the area.
There are several lifts and trams from different villages in Chamonix valley that makes access to some of the climbing areas fast and comfortable.
Aiguilles Rouges Located to the other side of Chamonix valley. It is very easily accessible with Brevent (Chamonix) and Flegere - Index (Le Praz) ski lifts which makes many multi-pitch rock climbs into comfortable day trips from Chamonix. Should there be need for accommodation, Lac Blanc hut is well situated, less than an hours hike from Index lift station..
Because of its lower height (2400-2800m) and quick access, area is well suitable for taking advantage of short periods of good weather. The area has a number of multi-pitch rock climbs, usually between 150 and 400 in length. Some of the routes are bolted. Most of the popular climbs are located in the eastern part of the group.
Most popular route of the area is probably the normal route of Aiguille l'Index (AD, IV). It can be very crowded though. Longer and much quieter alternatives are Chapelle de la Gliere South Ridge (D, IV+), Aiguille Perseverance South Ridge (AD, IV+) and Voie des Dalles on Aiguille Pouce (TD-, VI-). Furthermore, the area has splendid panorama towards Argentiere glacier, especially Aiguille Chardonnet, Les Drus and Aiguille Verte are well visible. There are also hiking paths, especially Lac Blanc and Lac Noir are popular.
North side of the Mont Blanc massif is the least interesting. That being said, it provides the easiest ascent of Mont Blanc and this thus the most popular. The most common route takes bus from Chamonix to Les Houches from where lift leads to Bellevue, where it is possible to hop on the tram heading to Nid d' Aigle. From there path leads to Tete Rousse hut and higher up to Gouter hut. Unfortunately there are not many other climbs from this side than Gouter route on Mont Blanc. That being said, climbing the North face of Aiguille de Bionassay from Tete Rousse hut, then following Bionassay Ridge and finally Bosses Grat (the upper part of Gouter route) to Mont Blanc makes much more varied alternative to Gouter ridge (also significantly more difficult and the summit day is much longer though).
Grands Mulets route on Mont Blanc is the other popular route on this side on Mont Blanc Massif. It ascend Bossong glacier that is well visible to Chamonix city.
Although Chamonix Aiguilles have no peaks rising above 4000m, it is one of the most popular climbing areas around Chamonix. There are number of reasons for that. First, the peaks are wild and well visible to Chamonix. The area is also easily accessible.
Chamonix Aiguilles is best known for rock climbs on fine granite of Dent du Requin, Aiguilles Charmoz, Aiguille Peigne, Aiguille Blaitiere and Aiguille de Pelerins. North side of the group has a number of difficult ice and mixed routes, eg. ultra classic Frendo Spur (Aiguille du Midi, D, 1100m), prominent north face of Aiguille Plan and modern test pieces on Aiguille Pelerins.
The climbs on the norther side are started directly from main Chamonix valley. That being said, it is feasible to take lift to Plan de l'Aiguille station (along Aiguille du Midi telepherique) to ease the approach. Northernmost part may also be accessed from Montenvers station.
Subsidiary chain runs towards NW from Aiguille du Plan with Aiguille des Pelerins and Aiguille du Peigne. Most climbs on this chain are started from Glacier de Blaitiere. Northermost climbs in the area are started from Glacier des Nantillons.
Taking telepherique from Chamonix to Aiguille du Midi gives very fast approach to Col du Midi. Cosmiques hut (3613m) is the most convenient base. Although forbidden, during high season there's a village of tents in Cold du Midi, as it is the starting point for very popular Three Mont Blanc route. Other classics in from Col du Midi are Cosmiques Arete on Aiguille du Midi, Midi-Plan Traverse ans ice and mixed routes in the North face Triangle of Mont Blanc du Tacul, especially Chere Couloir. A bit further away, East Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul has host of classic difficult routes, mostly on mixed ground (eg. Gervasutti Pillar, Supercouloir). During the spring there are also several seasonal ice classics, eg. Albinoni-Gabarrou.
Aiguille du Midi is the starting point of moderate classic Midi-Plan traverse. Also starting from Aiguille du Midi, complete traverse of Chamonix Aiguilles is challenging two-day climb (~TD).
Enormous Vallee Blanche descends from Col du Midi towards Montenvers. Refugio du Requin and Refugio Envers (2523m) provide accommodation here. Most obvious climbing objective from Vallee Blanche is south side of Chamonix Aiguilles group. Most convenient access is either to take telepherique to Aiguille du Midi and walk from there down the Vallee Blanche or to take train to Montenvers and walk from there up the Vallee Blanche.
Vallee Blanche is also used to access Talefre and Leschaux glaciers.
Due to its altitude, easy access with telepherique and availability of comparatively short itineraries, Glacier du Geant is well suited for acclimatization. That, however, is not to say that it wouldn't be well worth a trip for the routes alone.
Glacier du Geant. Access either by foot from Col du Midi across the glacier or taking lift from Aiguille du Midi (Chamonix) or La Palud. Most important base is Torino Hut located very close to Pointe Helbronner lift station. Most frequented climbs from this glacier are SE Ridge (PD) and North face (AD+/D-) routes on Tour Ronde, Den't Du Geant (AD-) and Rochefort Ridge (AD-).
Also several Grandes courses located on the East face of Mont Maudit and Brenva Face of Mont Blanc can be approached from Glacier du Geant. They usually require bivouac either in Bivouac de la Fource (3679m) or in Col du Trident (3720m), both of which are located on the ridge joining Tour Ronde and Mont Maudit. Access to the bivouacs is from Cirque de Maudit. Brenva Face has several routes with Brenva Spur and Route Major being the most famous. Grand Pilier d'Angle on the left side of Brenva Face has several routes in TD-ED range.
On the East side of Mont Maudit the most famous is mixed Kuffner Arete, the ridge joining Tour Ronde and Mont Maudit. There are also n umber of mostly difficult rock routes on the impressive pinnacles rising in front of the east Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit. Most famous of these lower peaks is Grand Capucin.
Access to Glacier de Talèfre is from Montenvers across Mer de Glace. Hut base for the climbs in this area is Couvercle hut. From Talèfre glacier, climbs on the north side of Moine Verte chain, south side of Verte - Triolet chain and south side of Triolet - Aiguille de Talèfre and north side of Talèfre - Pierre á Berge are accessible. Best known climbs from Glacier de Talèfre include Les Drus, south sides of Aiguille Verte through Whymper Couloir (AD+/D-), Les Courtes and Les Droites (AD+). Aiguille Moine (South Face III PD, South Ridge ~D). Aiguille Triolet, Pointe Isabelle.
Access to Glacier de Leschaux is from Montenvers across Mer de Glace. Most convenient hut for the climbs in the area is Leschauux hut. Some climbs are also possible from Couvercle hut located in the nearby Glacier de Talèfre. Glacier de Leschaux gives access to one of the most impressive faces in the whole Alps, the North face of Grandes Jorasses. Also classic Hirondelles Ridge on Grandes Jorasses starts from Leschaux hut. Mont Mallet and Calotte de Rochefort is easier objective. For climbers in look for rock climbs, Aiguille Pierre Joseph (3361m), Aiguille Talèfre (3730m) and rocky spires of Les Periades are the best objectives.
Argentière glacier is very convenient place to be for snow and ice climbs, as it provides access to number of classic routes. Acces to valley itself starts with lift from Argentière village to Grands Montets and hike from there to Argentière hut. Moderate classics from Argentiere glacier include Petite Aiguille Verte, Aiguille d'Argentière and NE Flank of Les Courtes. More difficult classics are Couturier Couloir of Aiguille Verte (D) and Austrian Route on the North Face of Les Courtes. For those seeking extremely difficult routes, North faces of Les Courtes and Les Droites are suitable playing grounds. There is also lots of water ice climbing during the winter.
Glacier du Tour is accessed from Le Tour with Col de Balme lift. The most important base on this glacier is Albert 1 Hut. It is possible to cross over to Plateau du Trient via Col du Tour.
The showcase climb from this hut is Forbes Arete on Aiguille du Chardonnet (AD). There are also several more difficult classic ice routes on Aiguille du Chardonnet (in D-TD). Easier objectives include Tête Blanche, Petite Fourche and Aiguille du Tour.
Val Ferret, located in Switzerland, is least crowded of the Mont Blanc valleys. It is located to the NE of Mont Blanc Area. Main convenient center of the valley is Champex with smaller villages Praz de Fort and La Fouly higher up the valley.
It is possible to get to Val Ferret by taking train from martigny to Orsieres. From there there's bus conne´ction to La Fouly and Ferret.
Mont Dolent glacier is accessed from La Fouly. (La Maye du Dolent bivouac). Gallet Ridge of Mont Dolent (III AD).
Glacier de Saleina is accessed from Praz de Fort. Main base for climbing activity from the glacier is Cabane de Saleina. Also Envers-des-Dorees bivouac is located in the valley. It is possible to cross to Argentière glacier via col du Chardonnet or via Fenetre de Saleina to Plateau du Trient.
Dominating peaks are Aiguille du Chardonnet and Aiguille d'Argentière. North side climbs of Aiguille d'Argentiere are fairly popular but Aiguille du Chardonnet is mainly climbed from Glacier du Tour side. Other climbing objectives include Tour Noir, Grande Lui, north side of Aiguilles Dorees, le Portalet and Grande Fourche.
Plateau du Trient is is the northernmost part of Mont Blanc area, located to the NE of Glacier du Tour and NE of Glacier de Saleina. It is accessed from Champex by taking a lift to station Grands Plans (2188m). Bases on the glacier are Cabane d'Orny and Cabane du Trient.
It is possible to get the the neighboring glaciers via numbers of cols:
Dominating peak of the area is Aiguille de Chardonnet. Other popular climbing objectives are Aiguille Purtscheller, Aiguille du Tour, Grande Fourche and Le Portalet.
Southern climbs are reached from Val Veni, located in SW side of the group in Italy. The valley is accessed from Aosta valley. The central city of the valley is Courmayeur. Entreves, located just north of Courmayeur is centrally located on Val Veni.
It is easy to get from Val Veny to Chamonix valley by taking Mont Blanc tunnel. In the western part of Val Veni the road end at Lac Combal (~1900m), there is no road connection to Montjoie.
Access to Brenva glacier is from Val Vany, to the west of Entreves Val Veni towards Cantine de la Visaille. More common access though, is from Glacier du Geant over Kuffner arete via Col du Trident or Col de la Fource. Bivouac de la Fource, important base for climbs from upper Brenva glacier, is located very close to the latter.
Upper Brenva glacier is starting point for some of the very legendary climbs, namely Brenva Face of Mont Blanc and on its left side, Grand Pilier d'Angle. Most commonly climbed route from here is Brenva Spur (AD+/D), tremendous classic and also the easiest and safest route on Brenva face. Route Major and Sentinelle Rouge (Red Sentinel) are both more difficult and more dangerous. Grand Pilier d'Angle has number of very difficult routes (TD or more) leading to the top of Grand Pilier d'Angle. It is possible to continue over Mont Blanc de Courmayeur to the summit of Blanc from there along Peuterey Ridge (~D). Brenva face and Grand Pilier d'Angle aside, there are not too many routes from Brenva Glacier. It is possible to climb Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey (~D, very serious) or Col du Peuterey to get to the Eccless hut, though.
A bit further up the valley Freney and Brouillard Glaciers with Monzino Hut sitting on the rock island between the glaciers. Higher up, there are bivouac huts on Innominata Ridge and Peuterey Ridge; bivacco Craveri close to Aiguille Blanche and bivouac Eccles in the col between Aiguille Blanche and Mont Blanc. Access to all of the bivouac huts is difficult along classic climbs.
Freney and Brouillard glaciers offer access to classic climbs on Brouillard and Freney faces and Brouillard, Innominata and Peuterey Ridges. All of the routes are long, committing and difficult (D or more).
At the end of the Val Veny lies Lac de Combal (~1900m). From here it is possible to access Miage glacier, the least crowded side of Mont Blanc. Bases in this glacier valley are Gonella Hut (Italian normal route of Mont Bland) and Quintano Sella bivouac hut (routes on Miage face). Access to both huts has become more tedious during the recent years because of retreat of Miage glacier.
The most frequented route from Miage glacier is Italian normal route of Mont Blanc, Aiguilles Grises. There are two variations to the route, more favourable depends on the crevasse situation on the glacier. While not much more difficult than French normal routes (upper part is the same), Italian ascent is much longer. Beside Aiguilles Grises, the glacier is also used for climbs on the Miage Face, where Tournette Spur is classic middle grade mixed climb. While never highly technical, it is long and much more sustained than the normal routes. There are several other climbs on the face, mostly mixed and between D and TD.
Still further at the end of the Val Veni lies Glacier de la Lex Blanche with Petit Mont Blanc bivouac.
Just to the East of Entreves lies La Palud from where the Mont Blanc tunnel leads to Chamonix. Also cable car to Pointe Helbronner (Torino hut) leads up to Glacier du Geant (and further to Aiguille du Midi and Chamonix). Further up the valley lies village of Planpincieux from where access route leads to Boccalette Hut that serves as the base for southern ascents on Grandes Jorasses, the most popular ascent from the eastern Val Veni (AD, long and fairly serious). Further up the valley lies Glacier de Pre de Bar.
Val Montjoie is located to the west of Mont Blanc group.
In the westernmost part of Mont Blanc area lies Tré-la-Tête glacier. Probably the best known climb here Traverse of Dômes de Miage. It is possible to enchain that with Traverse of Aiguille de Bionassay and Mont Blanc to create long multiday trip. To do so, start from Cugnon and overnight either at Hotel Tré-la-Tête or Conscritis Hut (2580m). Then traverse over Bérangère and all five Dômes de Miage to reach Refugio Durier close to Col de Miage (3367m). From there follow South Ridge to Aiguille de Bionassay, then classic Bionassay Ridge (AD) to Dome du Gouter and finally Bosses Grat (Gouter Ridge) to summit of Mont Bland. If necessary it is possible to descend from Dome du Gouter to Gouter Hut and continue from there the next day. To complete the traverse of the chain, follow Three Mont Blanc route to Aiguille du Midi and well deserved beer in Chamonix.