A tremendous challenge!
Mont Blanc is a truly beautiful mountain to climb and becomes significantly more enjoyable to climb given more of one key factor: time! It is a tremendous challenge requiring both good fitness and a determination to succeed.
It is not a particularly technical mountain to climb but it is big and it is high. Crucial to your success of reaching the summit is a good build up of acclimatisation and of being used to basic crampon and ropework skills.
The mountain itself takes between 2-3 days to climb and certainly it is good to allocate a good 3 days for the summit bid to allow for changes in the weather. Prior to climbing Mont Blanc itself a few days are needed climbing acclimatising peaks, practising skills and sleeping in mountain huts at altitude to improve your acclimatising further. Therefore, an ascent of Mont Blanc is possible within the course of a 6-day week.
However, coming straight from the sea level altitude of most European homes, this period can be a little too short, putting a great deal of pressure on your body and subsequent chance and likelihood of success. Adding 2 extra days to your trip would allow for further acclimatising peaks with your guide and significantly increase your chance of success of reaching the summit of Mont Blanc. Also, spending time on your own, hiking up to huts and walking in the foothills of the Alps, usually possible up to an altitude of around 3000m helps the body acclimatise much more readily on the big peaks when travelling from sea level.
The Routes to the Summit of Mont Blanc
You may learn sooner or later that there are no easy routes to the summit, it is always a long way up, and back down again!
This route is the least technical and subsequently the most popular. A mountain train takes you some of the way, to a height of 2372m, from which you then have a choice of 2 mountain huts to stay in, the Tête Rousse (3167m) or the Goûter Hut (3782m) before commencing your 2 am start for the summit bid the next morning.
Between the 2 huts is the Goûter Ridge itself is an impressive feature which makes for a big rocky stomp/scramble that leads you directly to the start of the glacier approach for Mont Blanc. 2-3 hours are spent ascending the glacier up and round the Dôme du Goûter, and across to a good rest at the Vallot emergency bivoak refuge at 4362m. From here onwards the going can seem tough, now that you are ascending higher than you’ve been to already, pushing up to a new altitude. The journey follows an elegant snow crest, at times quite narrow, but never difficult. The amazing view with the arrival of dawn to the east helps encourage you to keep going, beyond what you thought was possible, to reach the simple snow summit at 4807m.
3 Mont Blancs Route
Alternatively, using maximum amount of available uplift but being a little more technical, the 3 Mont Blancs route starting from the Cosmiques Refuge (3613m) is another popular option. Starting higher up is always a bonus, although journeying up and round Mont Blanc du Tacul and then Mont Maudit, you do have to descend a little, loosing preciously gained height! But this journey to Mont Blanc, entirely on snow and ice is very elegant, with the difficulties around Mont Maudit (easy climbing and then traversing) which require a higher level of cramponing skills add interest to the route. The final climb up the snow bosse of Mont Blanc is straight-forward but is still a long way!
Returning back down the mountain by the route of ascent is the usual choice, and can be the hardest part of the day. Keeping going for another 4-5 hours or so can seem impossible. Stopping off in one of the mountain refuges for rest and refreshment on the way back down can help you keep going.
Alternatively, descending by a different route enables a splendid traverse of Mont Blanc to be undertaken. Starting and finishing in different locations, you truly will see the mountain at its best.