Part 1 – No gold medals for climbing Mont Blanc
As the Olympics clearly demonstrate Human Beings have a fascination with records; fastest, longest, highest score etc, the list goes on and so we shouldn’t be surprised that when it comes to Mountains it’s the world’s highest peaks that attract all the attention. There are 82 peaks over 4000meters in the Alps but ask a layman to name any and, if he can, invariably it will be the highest Mont Blanc, perhaps, if you’re lucky, closely followed by the iconic Matterhorn.
Mont Blanc straddles the border between France and Italy, weighing in at a majestic 4810 meters it looms above the holiday towns of Chamonix and Courmayeur. The romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Chamouni in 1816 and was inspired by the great mountain to write his meditative poem Mont Blanc calling the snowy peak “remote, serene, and inaccessible”. 226 years after its first successful ascent by Jacque Balmat and Michel Paccard the mountain is festooned with cable cars, railways, ski runs, restaurants and mountain huts. Today it’s easier in some ways to describe Mont Blanc as approachable, bustling and very accessible.
But that’s not the whole picture, human engineering might scar the mountain but Mont Blanc itself remains as it was in 1786; covered in snowy glaciers and towering ice cliffs, just as vulnerable today to vicious storms of frightening severity. Dressed in dazzling Goretex and armed with 14 point crampons 21st century climbers might not face the same level of technical challenge as Balmat and Paccard yet there will always be a wild side to Mont Blanc that Shelley would recognise. Something that all those contemplating an ascent would do well to bear in mind.
Mont Blanc should never be a first objective for an alpine novice, despite numerous references on the internet to the contrary climbing Mont Blanc is not a stroll in the park. The key skills of alpinism; solid crampon technique; competent mountain navigation skills; first hand experience of glacier travel and crevasse rescue; careful altitude acclimatisation are all essential to providing a platform for success. Add to this apprenticeship a high level of aerobic fitness and stamina plus careful planning to avoid bad weather than and only then is a safe, successful and fun ascent of Europe’s most sought after summit yours. Mountaineering is not an Olympic sport perhaps because although you might reach the top, the mountain will always win…
In part two of this blog I examine the route choices up Mont Blanc.