How to climb Mont Blanc
Pitch dark I set off on a convoy to what looks like the moon. Up to Dome du Gouter, down, how could we be going down? I feel strong, legs are good. Up, Vallot Hut, more up, down. Down again? What sort of mountain is this? The up keeps coming and my lungs and legs are not as confident as they were 2 hours ago. More up, all the while the air getting thinner and legs a little shakier. But I persist in taking steps and looking at the same 2 meters in front of me for hours on end trying to keep the slack off the rope but enough there so that I am not being pulled every 5 seconds. The summit can now be seen as the sun pushes the moon out of its way but that just makes things worse. Now we climb for hours and it doesn’t get any closer! And finally I am there. There on top of Mont Blanc, the highest point in Western Europe. How to climb Mont Blanc? Stubbornness!
In fact the ‘easy’ part is getting up. Getting down is much worse. You are tired and usually descend the entire mountain in one day or maximum two days. Here I will lay out the essentials of climbing Mont Blanc on the Normal Route. There are almost 20 different routes to climb Mont Blanc but the Normal Route in France is one of the most robust when it comes to weather and snowfall.
How to Climb Mont Blanc – Itinerary on the Normal Route
Mont Blanc can be climbed in 2 days (for normal people) but at least 3 is recommended and to be sure to summit 5 days would be great. Of course more days means it is more expensive. As long as you are generally fit, won’t give up and not afraid of heights then the physical part should not be an issue. By generally fit I mean you do some running (10 miles) or play sport at some sort of semi-competitive level. Don’t expect that if you play 5 a side soccer with your work buddies once a week and it is ‘competitive’ that you will race up the mountain!
The main issue with Mont Blanc is altitude. The summit of Mont Blanc is 4,810mtrs and the last hut, Gouter Hut, is at 3,863mtrs which is well above the altitude you can feel sick on and generally it is difficult to sleep. It doesn’t matter how fit you are if you climb too quickly then you may get altitude sickness and why a 2 day attempt is hard. I suffered from headaches near the summit but nothing too bad on a 3 day attempt. The layout of the mountain is as such
- Chamonix/Les Houche, 1,010mtrs: Get the cable car to Bellevue from Les Houche
- Bellevue, 1794mtrs: Get the train. Also leaves from the valley floor
- Nid D’Aigle, 2,372mtrs: Last train stop. Now you walk
- Tete Rousse, 3,187mtrs: 2.5-3hrs climb from Nid D’Aigle
- Refuge Du Gouter, 3,863mtrs (last hut): 2.5-3hr steep climb from Tete Rousse
- Refuge Vallot Hut, 4,363mtrs: This hut is on the way to the summit but is purely for emergency purposes.
- Summit of Mont Blanc, 4,810mtrs: A 3.5-5hr hike from Gouter Hut.
3 Day Attempt: This is what I did and does involve a relatively easy first two days with a lot of waiting around but then a long 12-14hr third day. The 3 day attempt does give you the option of summiting on the second day (see alternative) so you effectively have 2 chances if the weather is bad.
- Day 1:Chamonix/Les Houche to Tete Rousse
- Cable Car, train, then 2.5-3hrs hiking on snow and glacier skree. Total approx. 5hrs. Possible to leave at midday and still make the hut before dark
- Day 2: Tete Rousse to Gouter Hut
- A 2.5-4hr steep climb that has fixed cables in the rock to aid both ascent and decent. This can mean a lot of waiting around on this day.
- Day 2 Alternative: Tete Rousse to summit and then descend back to Gouter Hut leaving an easier third day decent but of course a much tougher day 2.
- Day 3: Gouter Hut to Summit (3-4hrs) and then all the way back to Les Houche (total of 12-14hrs)
- Day 1:Chamonix/Les Houche to Gouter Hut
- Cable Car, train, then 5-6hrs hiking. (see above)
- Day 2: Gouter Hut to Summit (3-4hrs) and then all the way back to Les Houche (total of 12-14hrs)
The 5 day attempt usually involves a little more waiting around to get used to the altitude but also may have a day of crampon and ice axe training.
How Much to Climb Mont Blanc?
Unless you are an experienced mountaineer and have climbed with ropes, crampons and ice-axes before then you really should have a guide. Many people die because of avalanches and not knowing what they are doing. One of the worst of recent years was 2008 where over 100 people died during the summer! On Mont Blanc the weather changes very quickly and visibility can disappear in minutes. So now that I have written a disclaimer I can’t be responsible!
Guide for 3 days: €1,100 includes everything except any rental equipment. Includes train, gondola, accommodation, breakfast and dinner at the huts for everybody. It does not include lunch or drinks.
Guide for 2 days: €850 with the same inclusions as above.
Cost to Climb Mont Blanc on your own
If you have no specialised equipment you can rent everything in Chamonix including boots to my surprise.
- Rent all equipment: ~€200 (crampons, boots, ice-axe, ropes, carabineers)
- Cost of Gondola and Train: A return ticket from Les Houches to Nid D’Aigle is €36. Just don’t lose the ticket!
- Cost of Accommodation: Tete Rousse cost €45 and Gouter Hut €70 per night and both are comfortable and clean. Gouter hut is new and is apparently a huge improvement over the old hut. The huts only open to public reservation 30days beforehand so you cannot book 4months in advance.
- Cost of Meals: Breakfast is €9 and an excellent 4 course dinner is €25.
- Extras: You will need to buy bottles of water as there is no running water for guests at the huts and they are €5 per 1.5litres so make sure to bring money with you. Any tea/coffee/beer is also extra. My guess would be to bring €100 per person for 3 days to be sure. Remember you will have to buy lunch unless you bring it with you.
- TOTAL: €519 for a 2 day trip
How did I find Mont Blanc?
Honestly I found the coming down the worst. You have come, seen and conquered and now you have nothing to strive for and so you just pound your way down the mountain with heavy legs just wishing it was over. From Gouter Hut to Tete Rousse is very dangerous on the way down. It is very steep and rocky and I was up since 2am and it was now 10am and we still had the most dangerous section to go. With there being so little snow and just rock, a little catch of your crampon on the rocks and you could go flying. This happened to me but lucky enough it was in a snowier section.
We headed for the summit on the third day which meant only Tete Rousse to Gouter Hut on the second day. This meant most of the day waiting around in Gouter. This was boring but of course it helps with the acclimatisation.
My legs weren’t sore at all really after the first two days as I suppose we only did 3hrs hiking on both days but on the 4th day back in Chamonix my legs were like two blocks of wood after the summit and 8hrs of decent the day before. It was a struggle getting up and down stairs. Those handrails came in very useful!