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Mont Blanc Issues: Height, Territory & Other Stats

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Mont Blanc massif, France
Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,
Mont Blanc appears,—still, snowy, and serene—
Its subject mountains their unearthly forms
Pile around it, ice and rock; broad vales between
Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps,
Blue as the overhanging heaven that spread
And wind among the accumulated steeps…
(Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni by Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1816)
The highest, the coldest, the deadliest in Europe, there is nothing average about Mont Blanc, all the laudations seem to run in superlatives probably to live up to the flawless name of the 'monarch of the mountains'. With the stats attached, you cannot but admire this white glittering peak and people who endeavour to conquer it, regardless the high fatality rate. The Death has been reaping about 100 climbers every year since the first recorded climb in 1786. Yet, Mont Blanc is not that dark and dreary, it has a fun sense of humour as well.

Mont Blanc Territory Issues

For many years, Mont Blanc was a controversial territory that Italy and France tried to divide. Before the French revolution, it was a part of Savoy, and then the kingdom of Sardinia took over. During Napoleon's Regency and after his successful Italian campaign, Mont Blanc along with Savoy became a part of France. Then Sardinia won them over again, but not for too long. Eventually, in 1861 Mont Blanc became officially French, although it stands on a border between France and Italy. Do you think the controversy over Mont Blanc ended then? Hell, no!
150 years ago France claimed that three of the principal peaks on the Mont Blanc massif, Dôme du Goûter, Punta Helbronner and the tallest, Mont Blanc itself at 4 810m (15 781ft), were in its territory. According to two treaties between France and Spain in 1796 and 1860, the boundary between France and Italy crosses the summit. The 1796 treaty ambiguously states that the border is "on the highest ridge of the mountain as seen by Courmayeur." The 1860 treaty says that the border is "on the highest point of the mountain, at 4807 metres." French mapmakers, however, have continued to place the border on Monte Bianco di Courmayeur.
Photo Credit Gregoire Wallaert

Photo Credit Gregoire Wallaert

According to Google Maps, the three peaks are entirely in French territory, with the French-Italian border curving south at the summit. Thus, the very top would form part of the French town of Haute-Savoie of Saint Gervais Les Bains, and not the Italian resort of Courmayeur. This has always been disputed by Italian mountaineers.
There are sources that vary on where the border between Italy and France lies on the Mont Blanc massif. Some textbooks list Monte Bianco di Courmayeur, a summit not far from Mont Blanc, as Italy’s highest point, and French and Swiss maps also show this to be the border.
If this is correct, then Mont Blanc de Courmayeur could be the highest point in Italy. If the Italians maintain that the boundary crosses the summit of Mont Blanc, Mont Blanc de Courmayeur as a southern sub-peak will be totally within Italy.
If the border that jogs south is the true border, though, the highest point in Italy becomes somewhat problematical. Mont Blanc de Courmayeur (4 748m), just 625m southeast from the very top of Mont Blanc, would become the highest named summit in Italy. However, 250m northwest of Mont Blanc, the "French jog" of the France-Italy border re-joins the main ridge at possibly 4 760m, maybe less, depending on the map you use and the snow cover in a given year. Thus, this unnamed spot on the ridge would then be the highest mathematical point in one of the world's most important countries. This is the moment when you fully realize you must be clear in your definitions of elevation and prominence and key col in order not to have any serious misgivings about the borders. We’ll speak about this issue in our next article.
Speaking about Mont Blanc de Courmayeur, some say that it is in some ways a more impressive summit than the true summit of Mont Blanc, since it sits directly atop the massive Brenva Face of the massif. From the summit of this sub-peak, icy cliffs drop thousands of meters to the Italian valleys below.
Anyway, I’d like to cite the Italian Prime Minister who dwelled on the recent pique about the French-Italian border: “The mountain helps to make the heart bigger, helps you to breathe and see the horizon and in Europe we need to take a bigger view, whether it’s for economic reforms or the migrant question.”
Denis Bulichenko: Mont Blanc through PeakVisor lenses

Denis Bulichenko: Mont Blanc through PeakVisor lenses

If people had had PeakVisor back in 1796, there would not be such a raging controversy over the borders and the size of Mont Blanc, as this app would have identified the elevation, prominence, isolation and many other useful stats of this majestic mountain.

Mon Blanc Height

Mont Blanc has traditionally been considered to be 4 807 metres high, but GPS-based measurements made in 2001 and 2003 show differences of a few meters from year to year, because of fluctuations in the thickness of the glacier that covers the peak to a depth of up to 23 m. 
Mont Blanc measurement campaign, initiated in 2001 by the Upper-Savoy surveyors, established that the official elevation of the highest peak of the Alps was 4810.44 m on September 11, 2011.
Despite its contradictions, Mont Blanc and its valleys happen to be not only one of the most stunning places in the Alps, but also a generous, hospitable spot with plenty of hiking, trekking, and skiing activities to offer. What makes Mont Blanc so special? Let's find out in our guide to Mont Blanc!

Mont Blanc Fact File

Photo Credit SteenJepsen

Photo Credit SteenJepsen

Country: France, Italy
Province: between the towns of Courmayer (Aosta Valley, Italy), Saint-Gervaise-les-Baines and Chamonix (France)
Location:  Between valleys Arve and Montjoie (France), and Ferret and Veny (Italy) Coordinates:  45°50′01″N 006°51′54″E
Height: 4,808 m (Wikipedia source, dated 2001), 4 810.44m (dated 2011
Prominence: 4,696 m by Lake Kubenskoye
Isolation: 2 812 km to Kukurtlu Range: the Graian Alps
Parent Peak: Mount Everest
11th highest mountain in the world
One of the Seven Summits

Mont Blanc Name Origin

Both French (Mont Blanc) and Italian (Monte Bianco) names mean the same: White Mountain. The origin of the name is pretty obvious: the summit of the White Mountain is covered in snow.

Mont Blanc Geology and Formation

Photo Credit Simon

Photo Credit Simon

Mont Blanc was formed in the Paleozoic period, 550 to 250 million years ago, and is essentially granite, gneiss, crystalline, quartz, and feldspar with iron and magnesium. Mont Blanc extends from northeast to southwest in the north-western Alpine chain. It therefore evolves in complete harmony with the current direction of the internal powers of the Planet, that tend to bring the European plate closer to the African one, the latter represented by the Padana Plain.

The Best Time to Visit Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc takes pride in its typical Alpine climate: snowy winters and mild, cool summers are perfect for both winter and summer activities. The best time to visit Mont Blanc, Chamonix, or Aosta depends not only on your level of mountaineering experience but also on the purpose of your trip. If you are into hiking, the best time is from June to September, when the weather conditions are the mildest, and if you are going to ski or snowboard, then winter will provide you with just enough snow.
However, if you are into some serious mountaineering practices, remember that the mount is notorious for wicked weather, windswept summits, cold temperature and sometimes no visibility even in summer! Mont Blanc is the first hurdle on the way of the western air streams, thus the wind gusts can be unpredictable. Almost all the mountaineering sites are unanimous in their warnings: you must not climb Mont Blanc over 3000 m unless you are absolutely sure about weather conditions, rescue operations sometimes are almost impossible, which means you might be left to your own devices. 

Here is a short video of what you might expect on your climb up.

And here is a nice article for those who don’t like to take chances and prefer to think at least twice about any mountain endeavours.

Climbing Mont Blanc

What you can expect on a long climb, the reward is utterly irresistible: Mont Blan summit in full splendor. 

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 170 km track that goes around all of the massif with mountain huts along the way. You can choose to have a short and intense 4-day version for very experienced hikers or a more relaxed and scenic one that takes almost two weeks. Although we advise you to book a guided tour (bear in mind that a mountain guide takes a maximum of two clients on the mountain), you can go on your own if you thoroughly plan the route.
There are three main climbing routes on Mont Blanc:
Photo Credit Simon

Photo Credit Simon

The Goûter Route is the classical and probably the most popular way to climb Mont Blanc that is why advanced booking is needed for the Goûter Refuge. It takes a few days and can be accomplished at a relatively comfortable pace. Take the Bellevue cable car from Les Houches and then take the tramway du Mont Blanc to the Nid d'Aigle (2 372m). From here, there is about 5 hours of walking/scrambling to the Goûter refuge (3 817m). The first section is easy walking terrain on a well-established path. Just after the Tête Rousse refuge, cross the infamous Grand Couloir where there is often rock fall from above.  Walk past the Vallot shelter, an emergency bivouac, and then climb along the Bosses ridge, the two lumps which form the distinctive skyline seen from the valley.
This is an exposed ridge that requires concentration and good crampon technique. This route takes about 4.5 hours to reach the summit.
Cosmique Route is a slightly more demanding route than Goûter, both technically and physically. It tackles steeper ground and there are a couple of traverses that may be icy and difficult. Good crampon and ice ax technique are essential. It is, however, a more interesting route with beautiful scenery and is less crowded. The ideal period is from March to September (depending on conditions) 5 - 8 hours of ascent, 3 - 4 hours of descent. 1,300m of ascent, 3,800m of descent. Difficulty: AD - D, a variant which demands good technique, experience, and fitness.
Cosmique route starts with a descent from the Aiguille du Midi arête to the glacier du Tacul, where there is approximately 1-hour walk on easy terrain to the Cosmique Refuge (3 613m). Early on the day after, start climbing the Mont Blanc du Tacul.
Beware that due to warm temperatures in recent years more crevasses have opened up and, at times, this has required climbing on some steep exposed terrain. After reaching the shoulder of Mont Blanc du Tacul descend and traverse the Col du Mont Maudit. From here, ascend a long snow slope to the final piece of technical ground, which can be very steep and requires good front pointing technique and use of an ice axe. Watch out for a bottleneck of mountaineers here!
Descend once again to Col de la Brenva, with stunning scenery towards Italy, then climb the last few hundred metres to the summit.
Grands Mulets Route starts at the Grands Mulets hut at 3 051m. It is the most difficult one and is suitable only for experienced hikers and mountain climbers. But the pain pays off, this route is considered to be the most beautiful. It is also the best option if you have your skis or a snowboard on you. It is also called "The Three Mont Blanc's", "The Descent of the North Face" or "The Corridor Route".
There are some trails on the Italian side of Mont Blanc as well, from the very difficult ones on Pilier d'Angle and Brenva sides to easier ones on the Peuterey side. They are relatively long and can take up to a week, but on the bright side, they are far less crowded. The most classic Italian route lies through Val Veni, Bivacco Sella and Mont Blanc Glacier and takes about 7 days.

Skiing Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc is hands down a superb place to ski and snowboard. Chamonix and Aosta Valley are world famous for great service and dozens of spectacular slopes for beginners, amateur, and experienced skiers; kids are also very welcome.
Chamonix is actually considered a capital of skiing in Europe, it was the site for the first Winter Olympic Games back in 1924. No wonder - the picturesque valley with its breathtaking - literally! - slopes attract European crème de la crème, from celebrities to politicians. A season for skiing and snowboarding starts in December and continues until March and in some places, even until May.
From the Italian side, Aosta Valley, or Valle d'Aosta, is truly a paradise for winter sports lovers. It offers opportunities for experienced skiers and snowboarders as well as newbies and combines about 25 ski resorts, big and small, including the world famous Cervinia and Monte Rosa. The huge region is perfect for free ride enthusiasts

If you are in a hurry, all it takes is just 32 minutes to ski to the valley

Even if you are far from skiing, you are going to appreciate Mont Blanc's beauty in winter: there are dozens of observation decks around the mountain where you can get a cup of coffee while enjoying a spectacular panorama.
The first ascent of the Mont Blanc on skis was via the classic route in 1904 by Ugo Mylius with Oberland guides: Tannler, Maurer and Zurfluh.
The first descent from the summit on skis was by a Swiss guide, Elias Julen in 1930. Marco Siffredi popped up to the Blanc for a quick surf after returning from his first descent of Mt. Everest on a snowboard in 2001

Our Top Tips on Climbing and Hiking Mont Blanc

Photo Credit dzhig7

Photo Credit dzhig7

Mont Blanc has zero tolerance for the idle or forgetful. It sends a clear message: either do the suffering during training or you do the suffering during your holiday.
  1. In order to conquer Mont Blanc, just as any mountain, you need to be prepared and physically fit. The alpinists advise practicing mountain climbing on the climbing wall, jog for an hour three times a week and not to neglect biking.
  2. You can see Mont Blanc from every side if you try a biking tour. Although the trails are being cleared from the trees and water, it is indeed a trip for the brave ones!
  3. There is a tourist office in Chamonix and Aosta Valley where you can ask all the questions about hiking and trekking, receive some information on the hiking tours, and get a free map and a free pass to a bus that goes all around the valley.
  4. If you want to walk and hike around the valleys independently, it is cheaper to buy a multi pass for a few days for the funiculars and mountain trains, because it is not possible to see all the sights in one day. But make sure you take proper care of your safety. Should you wish to hire a mountain guide, remember that one guide takes up no more than two mountaineers to accompany.
Just remember, Mont Blanc is not an amusement park.

Mont Blanc Huts

Although you can choose a hut to stay in any of the valleys and towns around Mont Blanc depending on your itinerary, here are our top 12 options suitable for hikers, skiers, and families traveling with kids.
  1. Argentiere Refuge (2771m), Massif du Mont-Blanc, France – a cosy accommodation with a fantastic view onto the valley.
  2. La Cabane du Vieux Emosson Refuge, Chamonix, France – a small refuge on the lake near the spectacular Emosson Dam. 
  3. Montenvers Grand Hotel, Chamonix, France – a mountain hotel for more classic accommodation, yet full of interesting events throughout the summer.
  4. Albert Premier Refuge (2702m), Massif du Mont-Blanc, France – located beside the Le Tour Glacier, it is an excellent option for skiers and hikers.
  5. Bellachat Refuge (2152m), Massif du Mont-Blanc, France – for a more simple and budget friendly option with a great view. 
  6. Auberge de la Maison, Courmayeur, Italy – a cozy hotel with a fantastic view on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. 
  7. Club Med Cervinia, Breuil-Cervinia, Italy – an affordable choice for a great skiing experience in Aosta Valley. 
  8. Bellevue Hotel & Spa, Cogne, Italy – a perfect all-in-one option for those who are looking for excellent service and relaxation.
  9. Gouter Refuge. This hut, which is also called Ref. de l'Aig. du Goûter, is the starting point for the most popular route on Mont Blanc. Therefore, it is completely overcrowded during the season. You have to make an early reservation for this hut. Be prepared to sleep on the floor! From Chamonix, take the bus to Les Houches and then the tramway to Nid d'Aigle. From there, follow the trail up to the Tête Rousse glacier, passing by the Tëte Rousse hut. Either scramble up the rock rib to the north of the Grand Couloir or sprint across the couloir and scramble up the easier slope to the hut. 
  10. Refuge de Tête Rousse (3167 m) is situated below the west flank of Aig. du Goûter. This hut can also be used to climb the Dôme du Goûter route. It has the added advantage that you will cross the dangerous couloir very early in the morning before the barrage of rockfall begins. Adds about 2 to 3 hours to the ascent time.
  11. Refuge des Cosmique (3613m) is situated on a shoulder between the Col du Midi and the SW-ridge of the Aig. du Midi (Cosmiques-ridge). 
  12. Refuge Gonella (3071 m) at Courmayeur Sometimes this hut is called Ref. du Dôme. It is the starting point of the Italian normal route on Mont Blanc. From Cantinae de la Visaille (1653m, bus from Courmayeur) one follows the trail to the Miage glacier which is ascended past where the Dôme glacier meets it and on to the southern spur of the Aiguilles Grise. Here a trail leads to the hut.
If you are an avid traveller and Mont Blanc is not your only destination, check out other huts in the Alps that we find really beautiful and worth paying a visit to.

Cable Cars to Mont Blanc

Photo Credit Simon

Photo Credit Simon

There are plenty of cable car options around Mont Blanc, and you can narrow down to a few for a fantastic experience. Skyway Monte Bianco funicular provides a spectacular trip from Valle d’Aosta to the summit with a few stops with terraces, restaurants, and scenic spots on the way. OR, you can take Bellevue Cable car from the Bellevue plateau (1800m) or Aiguille du Midi cable car from the centre of Chamonix to arrive at an astounding terrace located at 3,842 metres a.s.l.

The Best Mont Blanc Panorama Spots

Mont Blanc is generous with its mind-blowing views. While the best panorama spots are located on the peaks of Mont Blanc, Les Drus, Les Grandes Jorasses, Lac Cornu, and Aiguille des Grands Montets, you can also enjoy the view from
Le Panoramic restaurant on the summit of Brévent, as well as from a terrace on Aiguille du Midi and Punta Helbronner.

Attractions near Mont Blanc

If you are no climber but still want to experience that vertigo sensation when you stand on the roof of the world, step into the void, literally! It is a glass room with a glass floor, situated off the uppermost terrace of the Aiguille du Midi at an altitude of 3842 metres. It claims to be "the highest attraction in Europe".
Three glass walls, the glass floor, and glass ceiling panels allow the visitor a unique experience enhanced by 1000 meters of free air directly under their feet, in total safety! You can look around and admire the highest peaks in Western Europe, and view the Bossons Glacier - with the greatest descent in Europe (4 810m – 1 440m), from a dramatic perspective!
Alternatively, you can walk the bridge that links the north and south peaks of the Aiguille du Midi in the French Alps, and is located 3 842 meters above sea level. Or fly under it, if you are a daredevil like these guys
The Aiguille du Midi is a 3842m peak in the Mont Blanc massif of the French Alps. This is the closest you can get to the summit of Mont Blanc without hiking or climbing.
The Aiguille du Midi is the highest mountain peak served by an aerial lift system. The name translates literally to "Needle of the Midday". The mountain lies to the southeast of Chamonix and when viewed from in front of the church it indicates that it is noon when the sun passes over its summit.
A great day excursion is to walk from the Plan d'Aiguille to the Montenvers Train Station and Mer de Glace and take the train back down to Chamonix (or vice-versa).

Interesting Facts about Mont Blanc

Photo Credit Skeeze

Photo Credit Skeeze

  1. Mountaineer Jacques Balmat and Doctor Michel Paccard completed the very first ascent to Mont Blanc on August 08, 1786. The campaign turned out to be not only a success, but an inspiration for mountaineering as we know it today, and Balmat officially became “the father of alpinism.”
  2. Mont Blanc is believed to be one of the world’s most beautiful – but also the deadliest mountains; only in Europe, it has the highest annual fatality rate of 100 deaths per the Mont Blanc massif on average. While it might be a consequence of negligence and the lack of experience, the experts recommend following difficult routes only with a guide.
  3. Two Air India planes crashed on Mont Blanc while approaching the Geneva airport. On November 3, 1950, the Malabar Princess plane began its descent to Geneva, but crashed into Rochers de la Tournette (4677 meters) on Mont Blanc, killing 48 passengers and crew. On January 24, 1966, the Kanchenjunga, a Boeing 707, also descending into Geneva, crashed on Mont Blanc’s southwest flank about 1,500 feet below the summit, killing 106 passengers and 11 crew members.
  4. In January 1893, the observatory registered Mont Blanc’s lowest recorded temperature -45.4°F or -43°C.
  5. Swiss climber Pierre-André Gobet climbed Mont Blanc round-trip from Chamonix in 5 hours, 10 minutes, and 14 seconds in the year 1990. On July 11, 2013, Basque speed climber and runner Kilian Jornet made a quick ascent and descent on Mont Blanc in only 4 hours 57 minutes 40 seconds. You can read about other Mont Blanc speed records here.
  6. Mont Blanc is not only a hero of a handful of documentaries but also it is featured in movies. The films include Storm over Mont Blanc, Malabar Princess, Baraka, Samsara, Hollywood’s Point Break, and others.
  7. One of the most popular destinations in the world, the Mont Blanc massif is located on the territory of France, Italy, and Switzerland, and that is why its situation with becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a little complicated. All three countries need to make it happen, but right now, Mont Blanc is still a candidate.
  8. Tunnel du Mont-Blanc, or Traforo del Monte Bianco, is a tunnel connecting Italy and France through the mountain. Although it is only about 12 km long, toll prices are quite high and start at 44 euro per car.
  9. Mont Blanc inspired a German brand Montblanc, famous for producing one of the most expensive writing pens in the world. Nowadays, the company offers a wide selection of goods, from pens and watches to sophisticated jewellery and perfume.

A legend about the legend

To sum up, if you are tired of warm seas, sunny beaches, museums, and palaces, and would rather trade exotic fruits for a tiny bit of adventure and out of the ordinary experiences, then Mont Blanc is a place to be. Right there, on the highest point of the Alps, you are about to challenge yourself, and start a journey never to be forgotten.


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