How to climb Mont Blanc

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 21/07/2017
Mont Blanc's summit. Photo: Shutterstock / Vacclav
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Get the inside knowledge: Chamonix-based Mountain Guides Will Sim and Stuart MacDonald offer the wealth of their experience for those thinking of ticking the highest point in Western Europe.

The huge white dome of Mont Blanc is instantly recognisable. Like the triangular Matterhorn, it’s one of those peaks that all mountaineers wants to tick off.

The good news is that, if climbing with a guide, although some climbing skills will certainly help, this objective is within reach for most fit hill-walkers who are experienced in winter conditions. However, don’t underestimate Mont Blanc: seracs, stonefall, crevasses, weather — these are all potential killers, so do hire a guide if in any doubt about your ability and be aware that there are risks involved in attempting an ascent, even with an expert. 

There are five main routes up to the roof of Europe: the normal route through the Aiguille du Gouter, the Aiguille du Midi traverse, the historical route through the Grands Mulets, the normal Italian route and the Miage - Bionnassay - Mont Blanc traverse. Most people tackle the Gouter Route.


3600m high on the Gouter Route. Photo: Shutterstock / Prometheus72 

1 Consider your skill level

The easiest route, the Gouter, is not technical, but you do need some mountaineering skills and equipment. You need to be able to front-point and traverse in crampons in 45-degree snow territory. You also need to be experienced at using an ice axe on snow slopes. If not climbing with a guide, you also need to bring your own equipment and skills for travelling safely on a glacier, and for rescuing your partner/s from a crevasse. For all other routes you need even more experience and skills.

2. Choose your route carefully

For most people, the Gouter Route is the best choice. For stronger climbers, the Trois Monts might be possible (it can be guided 1:1). For very fit people the Italian route (a.k.a. Gonella or Pope route) could be good (usually best early season). 

3. Get fit

This takes a long time. Long walks in the mountains are ideal, as is running. 1/2 marathon distance runs in under two hours are a good indicator that you'll be fit enough. Don't kid yourself that you'll get fit out there on the acclimatisation phase — it may take six months or longer.


Approaching the summit. Photo: Shutterstock / YuG

4. Get the right kit

You really do need decent kit for this. You may experience temperatures from mid 20s to sub-zero! If money is an issue, you can rent all technical kit once out in the Alps (crampons, boots and so on). Some shops are even renting Gore-Tex clothing.

Suggested kit

  • 30-40 litre rucksack
  • Crampons
  • Ice axe
  • Harness
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Headtorch
  • Suncream
  • Water and food
  • Clothing suitable for temperatures from the mid 20s to sub-zero
  • Boots: Must have rigid soles for crampon work and be sufficiently insulated to deal with sub-zero temperatures
  • 30m rope (brought by guide if climbing with one!)
  • Crevasse rescue equipment (ditto)
  • Basic climbing rack (ditto)
  • Map and compass (ditto)
  • BMC Alpine & Ski travel insurance

WATCH: Explore the Alps with the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust on BMC TV

5. Take a guide

If you're reading this article, then chances are you're not a competent alpinist. A qualified IFMGA guide will arrange the mountain refuges, decide the itinerary, know the conditions, and give you the necessary training to succeed. If you want to reduce the stress level, and increase your chance of success, then hiring a guide will be money well spent.

Thanks to our contributing Mountain Guides, Stuart Macdonald (www.stuartmacdonald.org), for tips 2-8, and Will Sim (willsim.blogspot.co.uk) for tips 10-12.

6. Arrange the trip at least six months in advance

The refuges book up for the season within 24 hours of the booking system being turned on in March. If you don't book early, you might well be disappointed.


Tents outside the Gouter Hut. Photo: Shutterstock / Stefan Petrovski

7. Be prepared to be challenged

Exhaustion, bad weather, and low morale can all make the trip very tough. 

8. Don't forget to acclimatise!

The necessity of this should not be underestimated. If possible, take on summits of increasing altitude, for example, a 3000m peak, a 3500m peak and another 4000er in the run-up to climbing Mont Blanc.

9. Take BMC Alpine & Ski travel insurance

For a serious mountain you need travel insurance that's built for the mountains. BMC Alpine & Ski cover is designed for trips like these. All of our policies come with:

  • 24-hour emergency assistance helpline
  • £10 million emergency medical cover
  • £100,000 search, rescue and recovery cover
  • £10,000 personal accident cover
  • £5,000 cancellation cover
  • £2,500 baggage cover
  • No age loading until you're 70

WATCH: Alpine Essentials DVD trailer on BMC TV

10. Go early

There is no doubt that in the last few years the easiest way up and down Mont Blanc (the Gouter) has become less reliably in safe condition. A way you can combat this is to come early, in June, when residual snow from the winter is keeping the Aiguille du Gouter stuck together. Or come late, in September when it has generally cooled down and there is less rockfall danger.

11. Consider saving Mont Blanc for later in your climbing career

When you may be fit, strong and experienced enough to climb to the summit via a more challenging route such as the Kuffner Arete, Peutrey Ridge, Innominata or Freney.

12. Learn to ski

And be down it in a couple of hours!


A mighty fine tick. Photo: Shutterstock / Porojnicu Stelian

13. Buy the book

Mont Blanc 4810m: 5 Routes to the Summit, members price £19.75 in the BMC Shop.

This book will help you to better understand the mountain and to choose among the five classic routes.


Go BIG this season

This summer, get 25% off all annual multi-trip European Alpine & Ski policies*. Time to book another adventure.

Years of experience

We've been insuring adventurers like you for over 30 years. That's why all of our policies come with:

  • 24-hour emergency assistance helpline
  • £10 million emergency medical cover
  • £100,000 search, rescue and recovery cover
  • £10,000 personal accident cover
  • £5,000 cancellation cover
  • £2,500 baggage cover
  • No age loading until you're 70

WATCH: BMC Insurance: built for the #mountains on BMC TV

Want to know more? READ: 5 reasons why you need BMC Travel Insurance

*Policy details: Discount is valid on all annual multi-trip European Alpine & Ski cover up to age 69. Offer ends 31 October 2017.


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1) Anonymous User
06/08/2017
Very good advice. I think a guide is essential for anyone not fully confident and experienced. The weather can be brutal, and change quickly, the altitude is a real problem if not properly acclimatised, and the physical effort is daunting.
2) Anonymous User
06/08/2017
I di the mont blanc by starting at 8am at the top of the railway and stooping at both huts for a cup of tea arrived at the summit at 6pm , back down to the top hut by 8ish then 3 course dinner with wine and in bed by 10 , up at 7ish lovey breakfast and easy walk back to the railway by 2 , in pub in Cham by 3, why doesn't everyone do it this way?

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