Mont Blanc massif

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Mont Blanc massif
Mont Blanc from air 2019 2.jpg
Aerial view of western half of the Mont Blanc massif, seen from the Italian side.
Highest point
Peak Mont Blanc (Italian: Monte Bianco)
Elevation 4,808.73 metres (15,776.7 ft)
Coordinates 45°50′01″N06°51′54″E / 45.83361°N 6.86500°E / 45.83361; 6.86500
Length46 km (29 mi)
Width20 km (12 mi)
Karte Mont-Blanc-Gruppe.png
Map of Mont Blanc massif and its location (red)
CountriesFrance, Italy and Switzerland
Parent range Alps

The Mont Blanc massif (French : Massif du Mont-Blanc; Italian : Massiccio del Monte Bianco) is a mountain range in the Alps, located mostly in France and Italy, but also straddling Switzerland at its northeastern end. It contains eleven major independent summits, each over 4,000 metres (13,123 ft) in height. It is named after Mont Blanc (4,808 metres (15,774 ft)), the highest point in western Europe and the European Union. Because of its considerable overall altitude, a large proportion of the massif is covered by glaciers, which include the Mer de Glace and the Miage Glacier  the longest glaciers in France and Italy, respectively.


The massif forms a watershed between the vast catchments of the rivers Rhône and Po, and a tripoint between France, Italy and Switzerland; it also marks the border between two climate regions by separating the northern and western Alps from the southern Alps. The mountains of the massif consist mostly of granite and gneiss rocks and at high altitudes the vegetation is an arctic-alpine flora.

The valleys that delimit the massif were used as communication routes by the Romans until they left around the 5th century AD. The region remained of some military importance through to the mid-20th century. A peasant farming economy operated within these valleys for many centuries until the glaciers and mountains were "discovered" by the outside world in the 18th century. Word of these impressive sights began to spread, and Mont Blanc was first climbed in 1786, marking the start of the sport of mountaineering. The region is now a major tourist destination, drawing in over six million visitors per year. It provides a wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreation and activities such as sight-seeing, hiking, rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Around one hundred people a year die across its mountains and, occasionally, bodies have been lost and entombed in its glaciers for decades.

Access into the mountains is facilitated by cable cars, mountain railways and mountain huts which offer overnight refuge to climbers and skiers. The long-distance Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trail circumnavigates the whole massif in an 11-day trek of 170 kilometres (110 mi). The Mont Blanc Tunnel connects the French town of Chamonix on the northern side with the Italian town of Courmayeur in the south. The high mountains have provided many opportunities for scientific research, including neutrino measurements within the tunnel and impact of climate change on its highest slopes. Recent rises in average temperatures have led to significant glacial retreat across the massif and an awareness of the need for better environmental protection, including a call for World Heritage Site status.


282 Martigny.jpg
292 Courmayeur.jpg
The region of the Mont Blanc massif between Martigny (top), Chamonix (left), and Courmayeur (bottom left). The international tripoint lies at the centre of the map.

The Mont Blanc massif is 46 kilometres (29 mi) long and lies in a southwest to northeasterly direction across the borders of France (Haute-Savoie and Savoie), Italy (Aosta Valley) and Switzerland (western Valais). At its widest point the massif is 20 km (12 mi) across. [note 1] The northwestern side of the massif lies mostly within France, and is bounded by the valley of the Arve, containing the towns of Argentière, Chamonix and Les Houches. To the west it is bounded by the Val Montjoie, containing Les Contamines-Montjoie and the river Le Bon Nant which flows northwards to a confluence with the Arve near Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, and onwards to the Rhône. [1] :263 [2] [3] [note 2]

The southern side of the massif lies mostly within Italy and is bounded by the Val Veny and Val Ferret whose watercourses meet just above Courmayeur. From Courmayeur these waters flow southwards as the Dora Baltea towards Aosta, eventually joining the Po. However, the extreme western end of the southern side of the massif does lie within France and is bounded by the Vallée des Glaciers (which connects to the Val Veny over the watershed of the col de la Seigne), and its waters flow southwards towards the Isère and onwards to the Rhône.

The northernmost section of the massif falls within Switzerland, and is bounded to the east by a separate valley, confusingly also called Val Ferret, and which separates it from the Pennine Alps. Its watercourse, la Dranse de Ferret, flows northwards to join the Rhône at Martigny. The west side of the northern end of the massif is drained by the Trient, also joining the Rhône near Martigny. [1] [2] [3] [note 2]

The borders of all three countries converge at a tripoint near the summit of Mont Dolent at an altitude of 3,820 metres (12,533 ft). [4] From here the French – Italian border runs southwestwards along a ridge of high summits on the southern side of the massif, many of which are over 4,000 metres (13,123 ft) in height, including the Grandes Jorasses, Rochefort Ridge, Dent du Géant, Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc and its western satellite, the Aiguille de Bionnassay. From here the border turns southwards over the Dômes de Miage and Aiguille de Tré la Tête before dropping down to the Col de la Seigne. [2] [3] [note 2] North of Mont Dolent the border between France and Switzerland meanders roughly north-northwestwards along a ridge-line of slightly lower peaks, including the Aiguille d'Argentière, the Aiguille du Chardonnet and the Aiguille du Tour, before dropping down to the Col de Balme. The Swiss – Italian border runs southwest from Mont Dolent, down to the twin passes of Col Ferret. [3]

The massif contains 11 main summits over 4,000 metres (13,123 ft) in altitude, as well as numerous subsidiary points above this height. [1] :264 Crowning the massif is Mont Blanc (4,808 metres (15,774 ft)), the highest mountain in the Alps and in western Europe. [1] :278 [5] From the summit of Mont Blanc to the Arve near Chamonix there is a 3,800 metres (12,500 ft) drop in altitude over a distance of just 8 kilometres (5.0 mi). [6] :23 Because of its great elevation, much of the massif is snow- and ice-covered, and has been deeply dissected by glaciers. The Mer de Glace is the longest glacier in the range as well as the longest in France and the second longest in the Alps. [6] :23 [7] :24 The debris-covered Miage Glacier on the southern side of the massif is the longest in Italy. [8] :39 The summit of Mont Blanc is an ice cap whose thickness varies from year to year. [9] [10]

The entire massif can be circumnavigated by the Tour du Mont Blanc, a walking route of approximately 170 kilometres (110 mi). It usually takes around 11 days to complete, [11] but is also used for an annual mountain ultramarathon, with top competitors expected to complete the whole route in less than 21 hours. [12]

The main mountain passes, or cols, that connect different valleys and towns around the Mont Blanc massif are: [2] [3] [note 2]

Main peaks and ridges of the Mont Blanc massif
Mont Blanc massif (west).jpg
Mont Blanc massif (west)
Mont Blanc massif (east).jpg
Mont Blanc massif (east)
(National boundaries are shown as broad pink line; the Tour du Mont Blanc route is shown finely dotted in red.)


The Mont Blanc massif includes eleven independent and six subsidiary summits over 4,000 metres (13,123 ft) in height. These (including Mont Blanc) are shared between Italy and France only, the highest in Switzerland being the Aiguille d'Argentière. The massif is amongst the three major subranges of the Alps having the highest concentration of four-thousanders, together with the Pennine Alps and the Bernese Alps. [13]

The first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786 by Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard initiated the sport of alpine mountaineering, and it was during the golden age of alpinism (185465) and the silver age of alpinism (186582) that the majority of the main summits of the massif were first attained. [14] Members of the England-based Alpine Club were instrumental in many of the first ascents, usually accompanied by guides from Chamonix or Courmayeur, such as Michel Croz, Michel Payot and Émile Rey, as well as the Swiss guide, Christian Almer. [14] [15] [16] Across the massif there are now more than two thousand different mountaineering routes to the summits, ranging greatly in both length and difficulty. [17] :7 These attract climbers from all over the world who, unlike the early ascensionists, now have access to numerous climbing guidebooks, modern safety equipment, good information on climbing routes and technical difficulty, as well as weather forecasts and mountain accommodation and food. [1] [18] [19] [20]

Main summits of the Mont Blanc massif. Independent peaks over 4,000 metres are shown in bold. [note 3]
NameHeight (metres)Height (feet)
Mont Blanc 4,808.73 [21] [22] 15,776.7
Mont Blanc de Courmayeur 4,74815,577
Mont Maudit 4,46514,649
Picco Luigi Amedeo 4,46014,630
Dôme du Goûter 4,30414,121
Mont Blanc du Tacul 4,24813,937
Grand Pilier d'Angle 4,24313,921
Grandes Jorasses 4,20813,806
Aiguille Verte 4,12213,524
Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey 4,11213,491
Mont Brouillard 4,06913,350
Aiguille de Bionnassay 4,05213,294
Pic Eccles 4,04113,258
Dôme de Rochefort 4,01513,173
Dent du Géant 4,01313,166
Aiguille de Rochefort 4,00113,127
Les Droites 4,00013,123
Aiguille de Tré la Tête 3,93012,894
Aiguille d'Argentière 3,90112,799
Aiguille de Triolet 3,87012,697
Aiguille du Midi 3,84212,605
Tour Noir 3,83612,585
Aiguille du Chardonnet 3,82412,546
Mont Dolent 3,82312,543
Aiguille des Glaciers 3,81612,520
NameHeight (metres)Height (feet)
Tour Ronde 3,79212,441
Aiguille Noire de Peuterey 3,77312,379
Aiguille du Dru 3,75412,316
Dômes de Miage 3,67312,051
Aiguille du Plan 3,67312,051
Aiguilles d'Entrèves 3,60011,800
Aiguille du Tour 3,54011,614
Aiguilles Marbrées 3,53511,598
Aiguilles Dorées 3,51411,529
Grand Darray 3,51411,529
Grande Lui 3,50911,512
Petit Darray 3,50811,512
Aiguille du Grépon 3,48211,424
Aiguille des Grands Charmoz 3,44511,302
Petit Grépillon 3,35811,017
Le Portalet 3,34410,971
Pointe d'Orny 3,27110,732
Mont Tondu 3,19610,486
Petite Pointe d'Orny 3,18710,456
Grande Pointe des Planereuses 3,15110,338
Pointe des Grands 3,10110,174
Pointe des Plines 3,05210,013
Pointe des Berons 2,9549,692
Lancebranlette 2,9369,633
Le Génépi 2,8849,462
Pointe des Ecandies 2,8739,426
Pointe Ronde 2,6558,711
Catogne 2,5988,524
La Breya 2,3747,789


The Brenva glacier, which descends low down into the Val Veny, Italy Ghiacciaio della Brenva.JPG
The Brenva glacier, which descends low down into the Val Veny, Italy
Climbers on Brouillard Glacier, Italy Ghiacciaio del Brouillard.jpg
Climbers on Brouillard Glacier, Italy
Saleina glacier and the Aiguille d'Argentiere on the Swiss side Saleina-2.jpg
Saleina glacier and the Aiguille d'Argentière on the Swiss side

A wide range of glaciers and glacial structures can be found across the Mont Blanc massif, all of which can be easily reached or viewed. Glaciers cover 170 square kilometres (66 sq mi) of the massif, of which 110 km2 (42 sq mi) fall within France. [6] :23 [23] :8 The Mer de Glace is the largest glacier in the western Alps, and the second largest in Europe. It has a total length of 12 km (7.5 mi) from highest snowfield to terminus and an area of 35–40 km2 (14–15 sq mi). [2] [6] :23

At around 10 km (6 mi) in length, the Miage Glacier is Italy's longest glacier and also the largest debris-covered glacier in Europe. [24] [25] Other large glaciers include the Argentière Glacier (9 km (5.6 mi)), the Saleina Glacier (6 km (3.7 mi)), Trient Glacier (4 km (2.5 mi)), the Bossons Glacier (c.4 km (2.5 mi)) and the Brenva Glacier. [2] [3] Whilst these glaciers appear to show similar fluctuations in length, research shows that each glacier of the Mont Blanc massif has its own individual and distinctive response time to changes in snowfall and climate. The Bossons Glacier is known to respond first, then the Argentière and the Trient Glaciers respond four to seven years later, with the Mer de Glace reacting last —between eleven and fifteen years after changes are first observed in the movement of ice in the Bossons Glacier. [6] :26–30

Even the smallest glaciers can have a significant impact on the environment and on human activity. In 1892, a large body of water which had accumulated under the surface of the Tête Rousse Glacier, burst suddenly on the night of 11 July. It released 200,000 cubic metres (7,100,000 cu ft) of water and ice which flowed down the mountainside, killing 175 people in Saint-Gervais. The recent rediscovery of a further build-up of water deep within the glacier is now a cause of serious concern. [26] [27]

The inexorable downward movement and melting of glaciers can result in objects lost within them reappearing many years later. The first recorded account of a body reappearing from a glacier in the Mont Blanc range was made by Viscount Edmond de Catelin in 1861. It concerned three alpine guides who were buried in a crevasse during an avalanche on 20 August 1820 near the Rocher Rouges, high up on Mont Blanc, during an expedition organised by Joseph Hamel  [ de ]. Forty years later the remains of two of them were discovered, re-exposed within fissures in the Bossons glacier. They were 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) lower down from the point where they were lost; the corpse of the third guide was discovered the following year. [28] [29] In 2014, a group of climbers found a body on the Glacier du Talèfre, close to the Couvercle Hut. It was identified as that of a young Chamonix guide who had been caught in a winter storm during a solo ascent of the Nant Blanc face of the Aiguille Verte in 1982 and was assumed to have fallen into a crevasse. [30] [31] In 2013, a box of valuable gemstones was found by a climber on the Bossons Glacier. It had re-emerged, having been carried 3,048 metres (10,000 ft) downhill from the site of one of two Air India plane crashes. These occurred at almost identical locations high up near the summit of Mont Blanc: one in 1950 (Air India Flight 245), and one in 1966 (Air India Flight 101). Debris from these crashes is still commonly found on the glacier below. [32]

Glaciers of the Mont Blanc massif, listed by country and from north to south.
Those over 3 km (1.9 mi) in length are indicated in bold type. [note 4]
Glacier NameCountryObservations
Glacier du Tour  [ fr ]France
Glacier d'Argentière FranceFed by Glacier du Chardonnet, Glacier du Milieu, Glacier des Améthistes, Glacier du Tour Noir, Glacier des Rognons
Glacier des Grands MontetsFrancedescends from the Aiguille des Grands Montets, along with Glacier de la Pendent and Glacier de Lognan
Glacier du Nant Blanc  [ fr ]France
Glacier des DrusFrance
Glacier de la Charpoua  [ fr ]France
Mer de Glace Francelongest glacier in the massif
Glacier des CourtesFrance
Glacier de Talèfre  [ fr ]France
Glacier de Leschaux  [ fr ]Francefed by Glacier du Mont Mallet and Glacier de Pierre Joseph, then merges with Glacier du Tacul to form Mer de Glace.
Glacier du CapucinFrance
Glacier du Tacul  [ fr ]Francefrom Plateau du Géant; merges with Glacier de Leschaux
Glacier des PériadesFrancefeeds into Glacier du Tacul
Glacier la NoireFrancefeeds into Glacier des Périades
Glacier de la ThendiaFrance
Glacier de TrelaporteFrance
Glacier des Nantillons  [ fr ]France
Glacier de Blaitière  [ fr ]France
Glacier de Envers de BlaitièreFrance
Glacier de Envers du PlanFrance
Glacier des Pélerins  [ fr ]Francebetween Aiguille du Midi and Aiguille du Plan
Glacier RondFrance
Bossons Glacier Francedescends from summit of Mont Blanc
Géant Glacier Francefeeds into la Vallee Blanche and then Glacier du Tacul
Glacier de Taconnaz  [ fr ]France
Glacier du BourgeatFrance
Glacier de la GriazFrance
Glacier de Tête Rousse France
Glacier de Bionnassay  [ fr ]France
Glacier de TricotFrance
Glacier de Miage  [ fr ]Francenot to be confused with Glacier du Miage on the Italian side
Glacier de CovagnetFrance
Glacier de Tré la Tête  [ fr ]France
Glacier du Mont TonduFrance
Glacier des LanchettesFrance
Glacier d'EnclaveFrance
Glacier des Glaciers  [ fr ]France
Glacier de Pré de Bar  [ fr ]ItalyItalian: Ghiacciaio di Pré de Bar
Glacier de Triolet  [ fr ]ItalyItalian: Ghiacciaio del Triolet
Glacier de GruettaItalyItalian: Ghiacciaio di Gruevetta
Glacier de Frébouze  [ fr ]ItalyItalian: Ghiacciaio di Frèbouze
Glacier de TroncheyItaly
Glacier de Pra SecItaly
Glacier des Grandes JorassesItaly
Glacier de Planpincieux Italy
Glacier de Mt FretyItalyItalian: Ghiacciaio di Crety
Glacier de TouleItalyItalian: Ghiacciaio di Toula
Glacier de EntrevesItaly
Brenva Glacier Italy
Glacier de FreineyItalyItalian: Ghiacciaio di Freiney
Glacier du ChateletItaly
Glacier du BrouillardItaly
Glacier du Mont BlancItalyFeeds into the Miage Glacier
Glacier du DômeItalyFeeds into the Miage Glacier
Glacier de Bionnassay ItalienItalyFeeds into the Miage Glacier
Miage Glacier ItalyThe largest glacier within Italy. (Not to be confused with Glacier de Miage on the French side)
Glacier de Petit Mont BlancItaly
Glacier de la Lée Blanche  [ fr ]Italy
Glacier d'EsteletteItalyItalian: Ghiacciaio d'Estelette
Glacier des GrandsSwitzerland
Glacier du Trient Switzerland
Glacier d'Orny  [ fr ]Switzerland
Glacier des Ravines RoussesSwitzerland
Glacier des PlinesSwitzerland
Glacier de Saleina Switzerland
Glacier des PlanereusesSwitzerland
Glacier du DarreySwitzerland
Glacier de Treutse BôSwitzerland
Glacier de l'A Neuve  [ fr ]Switzerland
Glacier du DolentSwitzerland


The Grandes Jorasses, Dent du Geant and the Mer de Glace PublicTMB.jpg
The Grandes Jorasses, Dent du Géant and the Mer de Glace

The Mont Blanc massif consists predominantly of ancient granite rocks. [33] The Alps have their origins 770 million years ago when upheaval of the earth's crust lifted up schist, gneiss and limestone rocks. These were destined to form the base of the Alps range, and this period of upheaval ended 300 million years ago. Granite intrusions and associated metamorphic rocks formed the base of the mountains we now call the Mont Blanc massif as well as the nearby Aiguilles Rouges. But these rocks were then heavily eroded away, eventually being ground down and inundated by the sea, so allowing sedimentary rocks to form. Then, once again, this part of the earth's crust was uplifted as a result of the collision of continental plates. The huge mountain ranges of today's Alps began to form. This happened towards the end of the Tertiary period, 15 million years ago. Finally, came the Quaternary era, when successive ice ages saw vast glaciers advance, retreat, and then advance again. Their movement across the landscape ground down and shaped the mountains and the valleys we see today. [34]

Both the Mont Blanc massif, and the Aiguilles Rouges range to its north, now form part of the external zone of the Alps, effectively being the outermost layers of rock. The central granites make up Mont Blanc, the steep slopes of the Drus, the Grandes Jorasses and the Dent du Géant, and at the highest points are topped by schists, which are visible in places such as Grands Montets and near Mont Blanc's summit. [7] :25 [34] [35]

The granite mountains around Chamonix have been eroded into steep needle-shaped peaks (known as aiguilles). [36] Known locally as protogine, these rocks are lower in the mineral biotite mica and richer in quartz than the granites commonly found elsewhere. [7] :25

A large part of the massif is covered by ice fields and is cut by numerous glaciers, mostly flowing northwestwards on the French side; southeastwards on the Italian side and eastwards on the Swiss side. [2] [3] With much steeper slopes on the Italian side, many glaciers drop very sharply and some, such as the Miage Glacier and the Brenva Glacier, are very heavily covered in rock debris. The massif is itself defined by broad valleys which formed along fault lines and which have subsequently been shaped by ice during the last glacial period of the ice age. [7] :25

During the mid-19th century the granite of the Mont Blanc massif was an important source of stone for buildings; one hundred Italian stonemasons were brought to the Chamonix valley by Charles Albert of Sardinia for reconstructing the towns of Sallanches and Cluses, both of which had at that time just been destroyed by fires. [37]


Quartz crystals with chlorite, Lex Blanche glacier, Val Veny, Italy Quartz-Chlorite-Group-195593.jpg
Quartz crystals with chlorite, Lex Blanche glacier, Val Veny, Italy

The massif has been an important source of mineral specimens for crystal-hunters for over 250 years. [38] The mountaineer and explorer, Edward Whymper, noted that the basin of the Glacier de Talèfre was "considered good hunting-ground for crystals", and that the slopes below les Courtes had yielded many large specimens. He recounted that in 1745 a guide had stated he had collected over 300 pounds (136 kg) of specimens there in just three hours. [39] :123 The first systematic account of the minerals of the Mont Blanc area was published in 1873 by Venance Payot. His list, entitled "Statistique minéralogique des environs du Mt-Blanc", catalogued 90 mineral types although it also included those present only as very small components of rocks. [40] If these are excluded, it is known today that at least 68 separate mineral species occur across the whole range of the Mont Blanc massif. [41] [42] [43] [44]

In order to preserve the mineralogical heritage of Mont Blanc, in 2008 the commune of Chamonix banned all mineral-hunting activities and collection of specimens without a prior permit being issued by the mayor's office. Use of explosives, heavy machinery or helicopters for removing material were also banned, and a code of practice put in place which requires an annual declaration of all finds to be made. It also gives a right for the Chamonix crystal museum (Musée des Cristaux) to have first option to acquire specimens of significance for its collections. To further protect the scientific value of material collected, all specimens offered for sale must be labelled with details of where they were found. [45] The crystal museum opened to the public in 2006 and tells the story of the early crystal-hunters (known as cristalliers). Many specimens collected from across the massif are displayed there. [46]


Mont Blanc massif in winter, seen from above Les Contamines-Montjoie Massif du Mont-Blanc (hiver panoramique).jpg
Mont Blanc massif in winter, seen from above Les Contamines-Montjoie

Located on the watershed between the Rhône and the Po, the Mont Blanc massif is also situated between the two different climatic regions of the northern and western Alps and that of the southern Alps. Climatic conditions on the Mer de Glace are similar to those found on the northern side of the Swiss Alps. [7] :26

The climate of the Mont Blanc massif is cold and temperate (Köppen climate classification Cfb), [47] and is greatly influenced by altitude. The main valley settlements around the perimeter of the massif are at an altitude ranging between 600 and 1,200 metres (2,000 and 3,900 ft). [2] [3] Daytime valley temperatures in July and August may range up to 25 °C (77 °F), sometimes reaching 30 °C (86 °F). [48] The greatest snowfall occurs between the months of November and April. [49] [50]

The best weather for mountaineering or hiking occurs between late June to early October but, being the highest part of the Alps, the Mont Blanc massif can create its own weather patterns. Temperatures drop as the mountains gain in height, and the summit of Mont Blanc is a permanent ice cap, [7] :24 with temperatures around −20 °C (−4 °F). The summit is also prone to strong winds and sudden weather changes. Because of the massif's great overall height, a considerable proportion is permanently glaciated or snow-covered and is exposed to extremely cold conditions. Even on the high passes of the Tour du Mont Blanc, around 2,000 to 2,500 m (6,600 to 8,200 ft), summer temperatures can be between 5 and 15 °C (41 and 59 °F), but feeling much colder because of wind chill in windy or wet conditions. [48]

Weather for two main valley towns
feature:Chamonix [47] Courmayeur [51]
Elevation1,030 m (3,380 ft)1,260 m (4,130 ft)
Average rainfall1,055 mm (41.5 in)1,139 mm (44.8 in)
Coldest monthJanuaryJanuary
Driest monthAprilApril
Warmest monthJulyJuly
Mean annual temperature7.3 °C (45.1 °F)6.3 °C (43.3 °F)
Average January temperaturebetween −2.1 and −2.8 °C (28.2 and 27.0 °F)
Average July temperaturebetween 15.3 and 16.2 °C (59.5 and 61.2 °F) [48]

Precipitation is distributed fairly evenly over all months of the year, [52] [53] and mostly originates from a westerly airflow. There is, however, significant variation in precipitation with altitude. For example, Chamonix has an elevation of approximately 1,030 metres (3,380 ft) and receives around 1,020 mm (40 in) of annual precipitation, whilst the Col du Midi, which is at 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) above sea level, receives significantly more, totalling 3,100 mm (122 in). However, at an even higher altitude (near to the summit of Mont Blanc) precipitation is considerably less, with only around 1,100 mm (43 in) recorded, despite the latter measurements being taken at a height of 4,300 metres (14,100 ft). [6] :23

In the mountains further south of the Mont Blanc range, annual precipitation is significantly less than at equivalent altitudes within the massif. For example, the valleys in the Pelvoux massif at around 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) receive only around 600 to 700 mm (24 to 28 in) of precipitation per year, which is significantly less than that in either Courmayeur or Chamonix. [6] :23

Climate data for Chamonix (1,054 metres (3,458 ft)) for historic period 1934–1962
Daily mean °C (°F)−4.3
Average precipitation mm (inches)116
Average snowfall mm (inches)68.5
Source: Chamonix meteorological office [7] :27 [49]


Alpine chrysanthemum (Leucanthemopsis alpina) KopretinaAlpska.jpg
Alpine chrysanthemum (Leucanthemopsis alpina)
Alpine toadflax (Linaria alpina), Mont Blanc massif, Italy Linaria alpina, Mont Blanc massif, Italy.JPG
Alpine toadflax (Linaria alpina), Mont Blanc massif, Italy

The massif contains a very rich variety of biodiversity as a result of the huge height range and different habitats found between the valleys and the highest summits. Mild temperatures occur at altitudes between 600 and 1,000 metres (2,000 and 3,300 ft), whereas arctic conditions occur from 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) up to the highest point at 4,808 metres (15,774 ft). [23] :3

Whilst the Mont Blanc massif does not contain any species that are endemic to it, there are many rare and legally protected species found within its four major habitat zones. These are the: montane forests, sub-alpine, alpine and nival zones. The major habitats are coniferous forests, moors, rock and talus slopes, plus glacial moraines. The biological richness is further influenced by the different aspects of the faces, by the geology, and by the influence of man on the lower and middle slopes where forest clearance has created open grassland. The native forest habitats are essential for the survival of many species, with the key conifer species including larch, pine, stone pine and red pine. [23] :13


Over a thousand plant species have been recorded across the massif, from the valley bottoms right up to 3,800 m (12,500 ft) where the alpine chrysanthemum ( Leucanthemopsis alpina  [ fr ]) can be found at a record-breaking height. [23] :13

Early explorers, such as Alexander von Humboldt in 1807, observed a number of notable species in the mountains around Mont Blanc at altitudes above 3,100 metres (10,200 feet). This was well above the permanent snow line, but on rocks that were so steep that little snow could rest. These arctic-alpine species included: Androsace carnea  [ es ]; Androsace chamaejasme  [ de ]; Arabis caerulea  [ de ]; Cardamine bellidifolia; Draba hirta; Saxifraga androsacea  [ es ] and Silene acaulis (occurring down to 1,500 m (4,900 ft)). Between 2,500 and 3,100 m (8,200 and 10,200 ft), Humboldt noted the following species of flowering plants amongst rocky debris around permanent snow fields and the highest alpine glaciers: Achillea nana  [ fr ]; Achillea atrata ; Gentiana nivalis ; Juncus trifidus ; Ranunculus glacialis ; Saxifraga biflora  [ de ] and Saxifraga oppositifolia . [54]

In the mid-1800s, Venance Payot, a Chamonix naturalist, published a number of articles on the flora around the Mont Blanc area, [55] including a list of the flowering plants, ferns mosses and lichens found at les Grands Mulets and elsewhere in the massif around Chamonix and the Aosta Valley. [56]

High up in the middle of the Glacier de Talèfre, completely surrounded by ice, and due south of Les Droites, lies a large triangular region of steep mountainside containing an unusual mixture of high-alpine vegetation. Known as the Jardin de Talèfre, its name derives from the rich assemblage of plants which occur at great altitude there (between 2,650 and 3,000 m (8,690 and 9,840 ft)). [3] Described as "one of the loftiest patches of vegetation in Europe upon an islet of rock in the midst of a wilderness of snow and ice", [57] it is higher than the adjacent ground by tens of metres and, as a result, was spared glacial scouring and subsequent loss of its vegetation during the Little Ice Age (between 1300 and 1850). Nevertheless, it would at that time still have been surrounded by ice on all three sides, as evidenced by the three glacial moraines found there today. [58] Species recorded there include: Achillea nana; Alchemilla pentaphylla; Arenaria biflora  [ de ]; Arenaria serpyllifolia ; Cardamine alpina; Draba frigida; Empetrum nigrum ; Epilobium alpinum; Helictotrichon versicolor  [ pl ]; Homogyne alpina ; Jacobaea incana ; Juncus trifidus; Kalmia procumbens ; Poa laxa  [ pl ]; Potentilla frigida  [ de ]; Ranunculus glacialis; Ranunculus pyrenaeus  [ de ]; Saxifraga aspera ; Saxifraga bryoides ; Saxifraga oppositifolia; Sedum alpestre  [ es ]; Sibbaldia procumbens and Trifolium alpinum . [57] [59]

The Saussurea Alpine Botanical Garden above Courmayeur is located at 2,173 m (7,129 ft) above sea level, and is the highest botanical garden in Europe. It contains around 800 plant species and covers an area of 7,000 square metres (75,000 sq ft). It was originally created in 1987 just as a tourist attraction but, with the subsequent designation of the adjacent Pavillon du Mont Frety as a protected area, it has since increased in scientific importance. It can be reached either from the mid-way station of the Skyway Monte Bianco, or on foot from La Palud within two hours and an ascent of 800 m (2,600 ft). The botanical garden derives its name from the genus of mountain flowers, Saussurea (Saw-worts) which itself was named after Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, whose enthusiasm for scientific research in the mountains led to the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786. [15] :60–63 [60]


Female alpine ibex with kid, near Tre la Tete glacier Female Alpine Ibex with kid.jpg
Female alpine ibex with kid, near Tré la Tête glacier
Alpine chough, (Pyrrhocorax graculus), Mer de Glace. AlpineBird4.JPG
Alpine chough, (Pyrrhocorax graculus), Mer de Glace.

The mountains around Mont Blanc are home to many mammal species, including ibex, chamois, deer, mountain hare and alpine marmot (including a small population of albino marmots within Val Ferret). [61] [62] Eurasian lynx have been reintroduced into the French Alps and, although present around the Mont Blanc massif, are extremely unlikely to be encountered.

Over 80 different bird species have been recorded on the Italian side of the massif from within Val Ferret, including 63 nesting species and nine regional or national rarities. [61] [63] The following birds have been recorded in different habitats right across the Mont Blanc massif: [63] [64] [65] [66] [67]

Seven of the massif's largest indigenous mammal species are housed in the Merlet Animal Park near Les Houches, including ibex, chamois, marmot, fallow and roe deer. Located 600 metres (2,000 ft) above the village, the park was founded in 1968 and contains eighty animal species from mountain habitats around the world. [68]

Human history

Early history

The region in which the Mont Blanc massif is located has been occupied by humans for at least 70,000 years, [69] although, as now—and because of the great height and glaciated nature of the mountains—only the lower parts of the valleys around its perimeter would have been inhabited or used as routes of communication.

The Romans, who occupied the region 2,000 years ago, used the main valleys around the massif for military purposes. [70] They gave the name Alpes Penninae, or Poeninae, to the highest parts of the Alpswhich extended from Mont Blanc to Monte Rosa. [71] They took over Aosta from the Salassi Celtic tribe in 25 AD and engineered roads which extended northwards into Europe via the Great St Bernard Pass and the Little St Bernard Pass. [72] :28 Courmayeur, on the southern side of the massif, began to develop as a stop-off along their trans-alpine trading routes between Italy and France. [73] Parts of the modern Tour du Mont Blanc walking trail still follow the route of a Roman road along the Col du Bonhomme and the Col de la Seigne. [70] [74]

The Romans occupied Martigny to the north of the massif, and their influence spread out well beyond the Alps into much of northern Europe. As a result of aggressive pressure from tribes in the north, the imperial forces of Rome were gradually withdrawn from the alpine regions until, by the 5th century AD, they had left completely. The areas left behind were occupied in the western part by the Burgundian tribes from what is today France, whilst the Alemanni tribes from Germany moved into eastern parts, resulting in the linguistic divide found today across the Alps. [72]

For many centuries thereafter, the settlements around the Mont Blanc massif comprised a rural population of peasant mountain farmers, living off animal husbandry, supplemented with a meagre harvest of rye and oats. [75] Some farmers in the valley of Chamonix joined their counterparts from the neighbouring valleys of Maurienne, Beaufortain and Tarentaise and crossed the Alps into southern Germany, Austria and northern Italy to sell their products and bring back goods for sale in local markets. [76]

Tourist beginnings

Statue of Jacques Balmat and Horace-Benedict de Saussure in a monument erected at Chamonix in 1887. Details de la statue de Balmat et Saussure de Chamonix.JPG
Statue of Jacques Balmat and Horace-Bénédict de Saussure in a monument erected at Chamonix in 1887.
View from Contamines-Montjoie. From A Tour to Great St Bernards and round Mont Blanc, W.Rose. 1827 (written for young people aged 10 to 14) From the window at the Cures House at Contamines-Montjoie.jpg
View from Contamines-Montjoie. From A Tour to Great St Bernards and round Mont Blanc, W.Rose. 1827 (written for young people aged 10 to 14)

In 1741, the Chamouny valley and its glaciers on the north side of the massif were discovered and written about by two aristocratic travelling Englishmen, named William Windham and Richard Pococke. The descriptions of their exploits were published across Europe, bringing the mountains of the Mont Blanc range to the attention of a wide audience for the first time. [75] [79] In 1760, Horace-Bénédict de Saussure offered a large financial prize to the first people who successfully ascended Mont Blanc. The summit was finally attained on 8 August 1786 by two Chamonix men, the guide Jacques Balmat and Dr. Michel Paccard. [72] :202 [80] The decades that followed saw the gradual opening up of Chamonix to the world, as well as the rest of the Mont Blanc massif. The many published accounts of climbs and impressive sights amongst or around the mountain range attracted numerous wealthy and notable visitors, for whom a visit to marvel at the Sea of Ice (the Mer de Glace) became a fashionable thing to experience. [78] [81] [82] [83]

In July 1816, Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley toured the Alps and visited Chamouni (as it was then known), as well as the Mer de Glace and the Bossons Glacier. They jointly published their accounts and letters in a work entitled: History of a Six Weeks' Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland; with Letters Descriptive of a Sail Round the Lake of Geneva and of the Glaciers of Chamouni . The book concludes with Mont Blanc , a 144-line poem by Percy Shelley, written whilst in Chamonix and which was inspired by the river Arve, the snow-covered summits, the chaotic glaciers and the forests that he experienced during their visit. [84]

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;

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni

Amongst many other notable visitors were: Goethe (1779); Chateaubriand (1805); Madame de Staël; Victor Hugo; Louis Pasteur and Franz Liszt (1836), plus two successive wives of Napoleon Bonaparte: Joséphine de Beauharnais (1810) and Marie Louise of Austria (1814). [85] [86] In 1849, John Ruskin spent a month in Chamonix, from where he painted some of the massif's mountains before undertaking the Tour of Mont Blanc. [87] When Savoy was eventually annexed to France in 1860, Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie visited the region to mark the event and undertook to enhance road access leading to the end of the Arve valley. [85]

The 19th century saw considerable economic development which turned the small agricultural town of Chamonix into a base for tourists, with luxurious hotels and mountain lodges being built to accommodate them. A trade in selling local items to visiting foreigners soon developed. Crystals collected from across the massif were much in demand, as were locally produced goods such as horn trinkets and honey. [85]

In just 50 years the Mont Blanc massif, and Chamonix and Courmayeur in particular, had become a popular destination for many travellers, and its economy changed from 80% agriculture to 80% tourism. [88] It saw the emergence and spread of the sport of alpine mountaineering, [89] and visitor numbers increased significantly. By the end of the 18th century, Chamonix was home to around 1,500 summer visitors. By 1850 it was welcoming 5,000 visitors, and by 1892 those numbers had risen to 24,000 a year. [85] In 1906, the eleventh edition of a guidebook written by Edward Whymper about Chamonix and the Mont Blanc range estimated that 130,000 visitors had gone there during the previous season. It also reported that the railway service to Chamonix, which had previously been suspended in winter, was now running throughout the year. [39] :viii The tourist boom to the mountains had started. In 1924, a Winter Sports Week was held in Chamonix, with patronage from the International Olympic Committee. It attracted over 10,000 paying visitors and was retrospectively named as the first Winter Olympic Games. [90]

Modern tourism

Val Veny, near Col de la Seigne, Italy. Route of the Tour du Mont Blanc, parts of which are accessible by mountain bike. Val Veni by MTB.JPG
Val Veny, near Col de la Seigne, Italy. Route of the Tour du Mont Blanc, parts of which are accessible by mountain bike.
Powder skiing in Chamonix Mont Blanc Powder skiing in Chamonix Mont Blanc.JPG
Powder skiing in Chamonix Mont Blanc

The Mont Blanc massif is now a significant tourist destination. The region attracts over six million people per annum, with around one in five gaining access to its slopes by means of mechanical infrastructure (cable cars or funicular railways). [91] Some surveys have shown that tourists mostly come to the Mont Blanc massif and its environs for winter sports such as skiing as well as summer outdoor activities like hiking, climbing and cycling. [79] [92] [93]

The Aiguille du Midi Cable Car in Chamonix attracts 500,000 people each year and gives views over much of the massif, and up towards Mont Blanc itself. From Chamonix it rises to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi at 3,842 metres (12,605 ft), and holds the world record for the highest vertical ascent of any cable car (2,807 m (9,209 ft)). [5]

The building of the new Skyway Monte Bianco cable car on the Italian side of the massif is expected to increase visitor numbers to Courmayeur from 100,000 to 300,000 per annum, following complete replacement of an earlier cable car system in 2015. [94] It takes tourists from La Palud up to the Torino Hut at its top on Pointe Helbronner. [95] Costing over 105 million euros, the Skyway Monte Bianco is regarded as the world's most expensive cable car installation. [91] [96]

Other recent enhancements to tourist infrastructure across the massif have included construction of a new, and ultra-modern Goûter Hut to accommodate the increasing numbers of mountaineers attempting the popular Goûter Route to the summit of Mont Blanc, [97] and investment of ½ billion euros in Les Grands Montets and other ski areas over a six-year period from 2014 onwards. [98] [99]

Increasing numbers of mountain tourists, ease of access into the high mountain environment, plus promotion and encouragement by tour companies offering ascents of Mont Blanc to people with little or no previous alpine experience, have led to an increase in mountain accidents and even inappropriate demands to be rescued. [100] [101] With up to 30,000 climbing parties now attempting to ascend Mont Blanc each year, it has gained the reputation of being one of the world's deadliest mountains. [100] Deaths from mountaineering-related accidents across the Mont Blanc massif average almost 100 a year, with the majority occurring on Mont Blanc itself. [102] [103] :208 There have also been various stunts, some of which the local authorities have called reckless or stupid. [104] In recent years, guards have been placed on the most popular route of ascent to Mont Blanc's summit at peak periods in order to ensure that those entering the mountain environment are adequately equipped and skilled. [105] This has led to calls to limit access to the most popular summits and for the mountains to be treated with greater respect. [105] [106]

Scientific research

The Mont Blanc massif has provided numerous opportunities for academic research, dating back to the very first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786 during which Michel Paccard carried scientific equipment to confirm it as the highest summit. [15] :97 [107] In 1820, an ill-fated expedition led by Dr Hamel included pigeons intended for release at varying altitudes to measure the impact of reduced air density on their ability to fly. [108] In 1890, Joseph Vallot built a small meteorological observatory at approximately 4,350 m (14,272 ft) between the Dôme du Goûter and Mont Blanc's summit from where numerous measurements and scientific experiments were conducted. [109] One study involved taking simultaneous temperature measurements made over many months at Chamonix, the Grands Mulets and at the observatory itself. [110] In 1893, Pierre Janssen constructed an astronomical observatory on the top of Mont Blanc, partially buried within the summit ice to hold it in place. A 33 cm (13 in) telescope and a spectrograph for measuring the oxygen content of the sun were installed. The observatory was removed when it started to collapse around 1906. [111] [112]
Three examples of modern-day uses of the high mountains for scientific research include neutrino detection, uranium pollution monitoring and climate change:

Modern military history

French alpine troops (Chasseurs Alpins) ascend to the summit of Mont Blanc. Illustration from Le Petit Journal, 1901. Le Petit Journal 4 August 1901 cover.jpg
French alpine troops (Chasseurs Alpins) ascend to the summit of Mont Blanc. Illustration from Le Petit Journal, 1901.

A troop garrison, known as the Casermetta, was active for many years at the Col de la Seigne, on the border between France and Italy. In the 1930s, during a period of increased international tension, the Mont Blanc massif was used by both countries wanting to demonstrate their military might, and large drills and troop exercises were undertaken at high altitude. During World War II, at a time when the French army had already been defeated by Nazi Germany, France found itself under attack again, but this time by Italian soldiers in many alpine locations including the area around the Col de la Seigne. Evidence of past fortifications and old firing points are still visible throughout the area [121]

Towards the end of World War II, the highest engagement of the entire war occurred on the glaciers above Chamonix. With the Germans nearly defeated, and their garrison in Chamonix surrounded by the liberating forces, a contingent of Austro-German soldier—who were based around the Torino Hut on the Italian side of the massif—launched a dawn bombardment on Chamonix from positions adjacent to the cable car station on the Col du Midi. Their attack was met with fierce opposition from French resistance fighters, and took place at an altitude of 3,500 metres (11,500 feet). Nine of the attacking soldiers were killed, including their commander. [72] :91

By 1932 France had established the École de Haute Montagne in Chamonix to train mountain troops, but in 1945 it was reconstituted to provide specialised mountaineering training, skiing and tactical skills to the entire army. It was later renamed as the École Militaire de Haute Montagne  [ fr ] (EMHM) and it continues to fulfil that role to this day, training approximately 1,500 troops every year. [122] [123]

Incidents and tragedies

A number of noteworthy incidents have occurred across the massif over the last two centuries which stand out from the routine toll of mountain-related deaths, of which there are now approximately 100 per annum. [100]


Chamonix-Mont Blanc Tunnel Entrance Mont Blanc Tunnel French Side.jpg
Chamonix-Mont Blanc Tunnel Entrance
Mont Blanc Tramway (TMB) at the Nid d'Aigle in 1996. Nid d'Aigle (TMB).jpg
Mont Blanc Tramway (TMB) at the Nid d'Aigle in 1996.
Rotating cabin on the Skyway Monte Bianco, Courmayeur Skyway Monte Bianco.jpg
Rotating cabin on the Skyway Monte Bianco, Courmayeur

The Mont Blanc massif is accessible by road from within France via the A40–E25, or from Switzerland via Martigny and the Forclaz pass (1,527 m (5,010 ft)), or via Orsières to reach the Swiss Val Ferret. From within Italy the A40 from Aosta leads to Courmayeur, as does the higher mountain route from Bourg-Saint-Maurice via the Col du Petit St. Bernard (2,188 m (7,178 ft)). [note 2]

The French and Swiss sides of the massif are linked since 1908 with a narrow-gauge railway running from Saint-Gervais to Martigny, via Chamonix and Finhaut. It is constituted by the Saint-Gervais–Vallorcine section and the Martigny–Châtelard section. Trains running on the line are called Mont Blanc Express. [134]

The massif can be quickly crossed in a north–south direction by one of two transport routes, one aimed at through-traffic, the other intended solely for tourists:

  1. The 11.6 km (7.2 mi) long Tunnel du Mont Blanc connects Chamonix and Courmayeur and permits cars and lorries to quickly reach the opposite valley. It took twenty years to complete and opened to vehicle traffic in 1965. [135] The tunnel is known for an incident in March 1999, when a lorry caught alight inside; the resulting fire lasted 53 hours and killed 39 people. The tunnel was renovated in the aftermath, re-opening three years later. [136] By 2008, 1,600 trucks and 3,200 cars were using the tunnel every day (1.8 million vehicles per year) – a little less than before the 1999 fire. [137]
  2. The Vallée Blanche Cable Car is normally used by visitors travelling from one or other of the tourist centres of Chamonix or Courmayeur and gives views over the glaciated regions of the massif. It crosses the massif in a roughly north–south direction and connects the Aiguille du Midi with the Point Helbronner, each of which can themselves be reached by téléphérique from Chamonix and Courmayeur, respectively. [5]

Elsewhere in the massif, the Montenvers Railway connects Chamonix to Montenvers near the foot of the Mer de Glace, [138] whilst the Téléphérique du Lognan connects Argentière with Aiguille des Grands Montets, where Les Grand Montets is an important winter skiing area in the region. [3] [139] At 3,300 m (10,827 ft), the summit station also provides relatively easy access for climbers to the northeastern peaks of the range, including short introductory rock scrambles and a simple ice-face route on the NW face of the Petite Aiguille Verte. [140]

The Mont Blanc Tramway takes tourists and hikers from Saint-Gervais to the Nid d'Aigle, near the Glacier de Bionnassay. It also provides mountaineers with ready access to the first stage of the Goûter Route for an attempt on the most popular route to the summit of Mont Blanc. [141]

From Les Houches, one of two cable cars links to Bellevue plateau (1,800 m (5,906 ft)), giving access to walking paths, mountain bike trails and winter ski-runs as well as to a halt on the Mont Blanc Tramway, [142] A second links the town to the adjacent Prarion plateau (1,900 m (6,234 ft)). [143]

Heli-skiing gives ready access to many remote or off-piste ski routes in the Mont Blanc massif. Because heli-skiing is banned across France for environmental reasons, companies offering this service only operate on the Swiss and Italian sides of the range. [144]

Mountain huts

Saleina Hut, Switzerland. Capacity: 48 people, wardened. Photo taken in April. Cabane de Saleina.jpg
Saleina Hut, Switzerland. Capacity: 48 people, wardened. Photo taken in April.
Bivouac du Petit Mont Blanc, Italy. Capacity: 9 people, unwardened. Bivouac du Petit Mont Blanc.JPG
Bivouac du Petit Mont Blanc, Italy. Capacity: 9 people, unwardened.

Since the very early days of alpine mountaineering a number of high-altitude mountain refuges have been positioned strategically across the massif to give climbers easier access to the high summits by permitting an overnight stay. The majority are owned by national mountaineering clubs, and many are wardened during the summer months, although the smaller bivouac huts are unmanned and have very basic facilities. [1] [145]

Those on the most popular routes, such as the Goûter Hut, now require all climbers to pre-book. [102] [146] Some tiny huts, such as the remote Eccles Hut, can also be extremely crowded during good mountaineering weather, and some climbers prefer to bivouac outside. [1]

Mountain huts of the Mont Blanc massif above 2,500 metres, sortable by name, country or altitude. [147] [148]
If on a border they are listed by nationality of the owning body.
Mountain Hut nameAltitude (m/ft)Country
Vallot Emergency Hut 4,362 m (14,311 ft)France
Goûter Hut 3,817 m (12,523 ft)France
Cosmiques Hut 3,613 m (11,854 ft)France
Abri Simond Bivouac [note 5] [1] :2693,600 m (11,811 ft)France
Periades Bivouac Hut3,450 m (11,319 ft)France
Tête Rousse Hut 3,170 m (10,400 ft)France
Grands Mulets Hut 3,051 m (10,010 ft)France
Durier Hut 3,358 m (11,017 ft)France
Charpoua Hut 2,841 m (9,321 ft)France
Argentière Hut 2,771 m (9,091 ft)France
Albert Premier Hut 2,702 m (8,865 ft)France
Couvercle Hut 2,687 m (8,816 ft)France
Plan Glacier Hut  [ fr ]2,680 m (8,793 ft)France
Conscrits Hut  [ fr ]2,602 m (8,537 ft)France
Requin Hut  [ fr ]2,516 m (8,255 ft)France
Leschaux Hut [note 6] 2,431 m (7,976 ft)France
Eccles Bivouac Hut  [ fr ]3,850 m (12,631 ft)Italy
Canzio Bivouac Hut  [ fr ]3,852 m (12,638 ft)Italy
Dames Anglaises (Craveri) Bivouac Hut  [ fr ]3,490 m (11,450 ft)Italy
Jacchia Bivouac Hut  [ fr ]3,258 m (10,689 ft)Italy
Ghiglione Bivouac (removed 1999) [149] [150] 3,690 m (12,106 ft)Italy
Col de la Fourche Bivouac Hut3,680 m (12,073 ft)Italy
Quintino Sella Bivouac Hut 3,396 m (11,142 ft)Italy
Torino Hut 3,375 m (11,073 ft)Italy
Brenva Bivouac Hut  [ fr ]3,140 m (10,302 ft)Italy
Gonella Hut 3,071 m (10,075 ft)Italy
Petit Mont Blanc Bivouac Hut /Refuge Rainetto3,047 m (9,997 ft)Italy
Estelette Bivouac Hut2,958 m (9,705 ft)Italy
Gervasutti Bivouac Hut  [ it ]2,833 m (9,295 ft)Italy
Boccalette Hut / Refuge des Grandes Jorasses2,804 m (9,199 ft)Italy
Robert Blanc Hut 2,750 m (9,022 ft)Italy
Dolent Bivouac Hut / Fiorio Bivouac2,724 m (8,937 ft)Italy
Triolet Hut / Refugio Dalmazzi  [ fr ]2,599 m (8,527 ft)Italy
Monzino Hut  [ fr ] (Private)2,590 m (8,497 ft)Italy
Trient Hut 3,170 m (10,400 ft)Switzerland
Cabane d'Orny Hut2,831 m (9,288 ft)Switzerland
A Neuve Hut 2,735 m (8,973 ft)Switzerland
Saleina Hut 2,691 m (8,829 ft)Switzerland

Environmental protection

Alpine mountaineers descending from the Aiguille du Midi above Chamonix. Alpinistes Aiguille du Midi 03.JPG
Alpine mountaineers descending from the Aiguille du Midi above Chamonix.
Cosmiques Hut near Aiguille du Midi with climbers camping illegally on the glacier below it. July 2010 Refuge des Cosmiques, 2010 July 2.JPG
Cosmiques Hut near Aiguille du Midi with climbers camping illegally on the glacier below it. July 2010
Construction work on the new Skyway Monte Bianco, 2014 Cantiere nuove funivie del Monte Bianco.jpg
Construction work on the new Skyway Monte Bianco, 2014

Weather records show that since the 1960s there has been a trend of less snow at lower altitudes, whilst since the 1990s average mountain temperatures have increased more than at lower levels. Temperatures in Chamonix have risen by 1.5 °C over the last 75 years, and fresh snow build-up has halved there in the last 40 years, and there has been an increase in the melting and retreat of the massif's glaciers. The Mer de Glace has retreated 2,300 m (7,500 ft) in length since 1820 and, at Montenvers, has reduced in thickness by 150 m (490 ft). In the last 20 years the glacier has been retreating at a rate of around 30 m (98 ft) every year. Since 1994 it has lost 500 m (1,600 ft) in length and 70 m (230 ft) in depth. [152] [153]

To help counter these effects, in 2012 the various Chamonix-Mont Blanc authorities introduced a climate and energy action plan, committing the region to a 22% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The plan included proposals to improve air quality by banning those lorries from using the Mont Blanc Tunnel which were deemed to be the most polluting and which, at times, had reduced air quality to levels more usually associated with the streets of Paris. [152] [154]

Concerns over the state of the environment around the most popular parts of the Mont Blanc massif, and the need for visitors to better respect it, were reflected in a statement in 2014 by Jean-Marc Peillex, the mayor of Saint-Gervais, who said: [105]

Mont Blanc is a heap of garbage ... a mountain covered with the crap, urine and detritus of the last 50 years. The problems are covered up by a nice, white blanket of snow. But I want to confront people with the reality and to reach those people who abuse the mountain.

Following the construction of the new Goûter Hut used by most climbers ascending Mont Blanc, the authorities now strictly enforce a 'no wild-camping' ban above the level of Tête Rousses Hut. [151] [155] [156] Each high altitude hut faces its own individual challenges, often relating to water and energy supply or waste management, and the provision of services to visitors can sometimes conflict with environmental protection. A range of individual solutions for a selection of huts within the massif and elsewhere in the Alps was identified by a project run by Espace Mont Blanc between 2007 and 2013. [157] [158]

Espace Mont Blanc

In 1991, the environment ministers for France, Italy and Switzerland came together to agree the formation of Espace Mont Blanc – a partnership of national authorities and local communities to plan for the future development and protection of the Mont Blanc region. [159] In 1998, the group was charged with creating a sustainable development scheme for the region (finally launched in 2005), whilst in 2003 it adopted a plan for safeguarding sensitive environments and landscapes. In 2007, it produced its position statement regarding the classification of Mont Blanc as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2009 a Transboundary Integrated Plan (PIT) was announced, with the implementation of six regional projects running until 2013. [160] In 2014, the group launched "Strategy for the Future", which is intended to be a strategic tool for ensuring that public policies are consistent across the different territories around the Mont Blanc massif. [159]

Protected statuses

In 1951 the French portion of the Mont Blanc massif was classified as a Site classé  [ fr ] (or 'listed site') and this was extended in 1976 to cover 253.54 km2 (97.89 sq mi). [151] By 1989 there had been calls for the creation of an International Park for Mont Blanc. [159] [161] In June 2000 France did add the Mont Blanc Massif to UNESCO's Tentative List, which is a first step to formal nomination for World Heritage Site status. This was followed in January 2008 by a cross-border submission from Italy, which included France and Switzerland. [162] [163] However, as of 2016, it had neither a national park designation nor UNESCO World Heritage Site status. [155] As a result of long delays, many environmental groups from France, Italy and Switzerland have worked together under the umbrella organisation, proMONT BLANC, to jointly raise concerns and to put pressure on national governments and the European Union to support and make quicker progress with World Heritage classification. [164] [165] In 2012 the organisation published a detailed assessment and supportive rationale into the state of the Mont Blanc application to be a World Heritage Site. [166] [167] ProMont Blanc also undertakes reviews of a suite of 24 environmental, 24 economic and 10 social indicators across 15 towns around the massif (seven French, five Italian and three Swiss), and monitors and reports on the effectiveness of measures intended to deliver sustainable development across the region. [168]

In October 2017 representatives from all three nations finally signed a joint declaration of intent as the first formal step towards submitting a bid for the Mont Blanc massif to be a candidate for inclusion on UNESCO's World Heritage Site list. [169] [170] [171]

All the French parts of the Mont Blanc massif, plus the neighbouring Aiguille Rouges range, have been listed as a Zone naturelle d'intérêt écologique, faunistique et floristique (ZNIEFF). This does not give regulatory protection, but is a recognition of the outstanding biodiversity of the area, and of its landscape, geomorphological, geological, historical and scientific importance. The 2011 schedule documents list over 150 species of animals and plants for which the massif is important. [172] [173] In Italy, the whole Val Ferret watershed was designated a Special Protection Area (Italian: Zone di Protezione Speciale) in 2003, and this 90.8 km2 (35.1 sq mi) area now forms part of the European Union's Natura 2000 network of protected sites. [61] [63] [174] [175]

Despite these individual designations, the Mont Blanc massif as a whole is still regarded by conservationists as representing an important missing link in the wider network of protected areas of the western Alps. [176]

See also


  1. Distance measured from valley bottom to valley bottom, from French IGN online map.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 geographic detail also on French IGN mapping portal
  3. Summits and heights identified from French IGN online mapping portal
  4. Glaciers and accompanying observations derived from French IGN online mapping portal
  5. For winter use only. Abri Simond bivouac hut is only available in winter when the Cosmiques Hut is not open
  6. The Leschaux Hut is included in this list because, unlike all other 'hotels' at equivalent altitude on the edges of the massif, it is extremely remote, in the middle of the massif, and requires experience in glacier travel to reach it and gives unique access to certain climbing routes. See French IGN mapping portal

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mont Blanc</span> Highest mountain in the Alps (4,808 m)

Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe, and the highest mountain in Europe outside the Caucasus mountains, rising 4,807.81 m (15,774 ft) above sea level, located on the French-Italian border. It is the second-most prominent mountain in Europe, after Mount Elbrus, and it is the eleventh most prominent mountain summit in the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mer de Glace</span> Glacier located on the Mont Blanc massif, in the French Alps

The Mer de Glace is a valley glacier located on the northern slopes of the Mont Blanc massif, in the French Alps. It is 7.5 km long and 200 metres (660 ft) deep but, when all its tributary glaciers are taken into account, it can be regarded as the longest and largest glacier in France, and the second longest in the Alps after the Aletsch Glacier.

I can no otherwise convey to you an image of this body of ice, broken into irregular ridges and deep chasms than by comparing it to waves instantaneously frozen in the midst of a violent storm.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aiguille de Bionnassay</span> Mountain in the Mont Blanc massif

The Aiguille de Bionnassay is a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif of the Alps in France and Italy. It has been described as "one of the most attractive satellite peaks of Mont Blanc", and is located on its western side. The mountain's south and east ridges form the frontier between the two countries, and its summit is a knife-edge crest of snow and ice. Reaching it via any route provides a "splendid and serious snow and ice climb".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aiguille du Midi</span> Mountain in the French Alps

The Aiguille du Midi is a 3,842-metre-tall (12,605 ft) mountain in the Mont Blanc massif within the French Alps. It is a popular tourist destination and can be directly accessed by cable car from Chamonix that takes visitors close to Mont Blanc.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grand Combin</span> Mountain massif in the western Pennine Alps, in the Swiss canton of Valais

The Grand Combin is a mountain massif in the western Pennine Alps in the canton of Valais. At a height of 4,314 metres (14,154 ft) the summit of Combin de Grafeneire is one of the highest peaks in the Alps and the second most prominent of the Pennine Alps. The Grand Combin is also a large glaciated massif consisting of several summits, among which three are above 4000 metres. The highest part of the massif is wholly in Switzerland, although the border with Italy lies a few kilometres south.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tour du Mont Blanc</span> Long distance walk in Europe

The Tour du Mont Blanc or TMB is one of the most popular long-distance walks in Europe. It circles the Mont Blanc massif, covering a distance of roughly 165 kilometres (103 mi) with 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) of ascent/descent and passing through parts of Switzerland, Italy and France.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pointe Helbronner</span> Mountain in the Mont Blanc massif

Pointe Helbronner is a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif in the Graian Alps on the watershed between France and Italy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cosmiques Hut</span> Mountain hut in the Mont Blanc massif

The Cosmiques Hut is a mountain hut in the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps at an altitude of 3,613 m. It is a large structure capable of accommodating 148 mountaineers. It was constructed in 1990 on a rock promontory situated between the Col du Midi and the base of the Cosmiques Arête which descends southwards from the Aiguille du Midi. It gives access to a number of classic alpine mountaineering routes, and has proved to be extremely popular with mountaineers, so much so that in the summer months prior booking a few days beforehand is essential in order to secure a bed. The Hut is wardened between mid-February and mid-October. In winter the nearby Abri Simond Hut is left unlocked, although this has no cooking facilities, heating or water.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Torino Hut</span> Mountain refuge in the Alps

The Torino Hut is a high mountain refuge in the Alps in northwestern Italy. Located near the border with France, it is about 15 km (10 mi) southwest of Mont Dolent, the tripoint with Switzerland. The refuge is in the Mont Blanc massif above the town of Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley, Italy. It can be most easily accessed from the Italian side by the Skyway Monte Bianco cable car from La Palud in Courmayeur, with a change at the Pavilion du Mont Fréty. It can also be reached from Chamonix via the Aiguille du Midi, either by cable car which crosses the massif, or by a long crossing of the Glacier du Gèant. The refuge lies nearly directly above the 11.6 km (7.2 mi) Mont Blanc Tunnel, which passes deep underground, and connects Courmayer to Chamonix.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gonella Hut</span> Mountain hut in the Aosta Valley

The Gonella Hut is a high elevation mountain hut in the Aosta Valley in the Mont Blanc massif area of the Alps. It lies at an elevation of 3071 metres, above Val Veny near Courmayeur in Italy. The refuge is located on the Italian 'normal route' to Mont Blanc.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Émile Rey</span> Italian mountain guide and mountaineer (1846-1895)

Émile Rey was an alpine mountain guide from Aosta Valley in Italy. Dubbed "the Prince of Guides" in Courmayeur, he was one of the most renowned guides at the end of the 19th century, making many first ascents on some of the highest and most difficult mountains in the Mont Blanc massif of the Alps. He has been described as "one of the greatest guides of his generation."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tour Ronde</span> Mountain in the Mont Blanc massif

The Tour Ronde is a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif of the Alps, situated on the border between France and Italy. It is a prominent mountain, some 3.5 km north-east of Mont Blanc, but is effectively part of a continuation of the south eastern spur of Mont Maudit which forms a frontier ridge between the two countries. It is easily accessible to mountaineers and provides not only a very good viewpoint from its summit of the Brenva face and the major peaks on the southern side of Mont Blanc, but it also offers a popular introduction to alpine climbing of all grades, including a north face ascent.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Skyway Monte Bianco</span> Cable car on Mont Blanc in Italy

Skyway Monte Bianco is a cable car in the Italian Alps, linking the town of Courmayeur with Pointe Helbronner on the southern side of the Mont Blanc massif. Taking over three years to construct, it opened in 2015 at a cost of 110 million euros, and is considered to be the world's most expensive cable car installation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Goûter Hut</span> Mountain refuge in the French department of Haute-Savoie

The Goûter Hut, is a mountain refuge in the French department of Haute-Savoie. It is located at a height of 3,835 metres (12,582 ft) on the Arete du Goûter in the municipality of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains. It overlooks the Glacier de Bionnassay, and is the highest wardened mountain hut in France.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Goûter Route</span> Mountain route to reach Mont Blanc summit

The Goûter Route is one of the two normal mountaineering routes used to reach the summit of Mont Blanc in the Alps, ascending to a height of 4,808 metres (15,774 ft). The route lies on the north side of the mountain, in France. Usually reckoned as the easiest route up Mont Blanc, it is extremely popular with mountaineers, seeing thousands of ascents per year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aiguilles d'Entrèves</span> Mountain peak in the Mont Blanc massif of the Alps

The Aiguilles d'Entrèves is a mountain peak in the Mont Blanc massif of the Alps. It is situated at the head of the Glacier du Géant, and its rocky summit ridge forms part of the frontier between France and Italy. It lies east of the Tour Ronde, between the Col d'Entrèves and the Col Occidental de Toule. It has a steep, sound face of red granite and can be readily accessed from the Torino Hut/Pointe Helbronner.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grand Flambeau</span> Mountain peak in the Mont Blanc massif

The Grand Flambeau is a mountain peak in the Mont Blanc massif of the Alps. It is situated at the head of the Géant Glacier, approximately 0.5 km (0.31 mi) east of the Aiguille de Toule, between the Col Orientale de Toule and the Col de Saussure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aiguille de la Brenva</span> Mountain peak in the Mont Blanc massif

The Aiguille de la Brenva is a remote rocky mountain peak in the Mont Blanc massif of the Alps. It lies wholly within Italy on a ridge descending south-east from the Tour Ronde. It has been described as "a spectacular fin with a fine E face". It stands on a ridge separating the Entrèves glacier from the Brenva glacier, yet is somewhat overshadowed by its larger neighbours, such as the Aiguille Blanche and the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey. Nevertheless, it is a distinctive peak, offering a number of very challenging climbs, especially on its east face which consists of vertical granite flakes and cracks. On its northern side stands a distinctive, slender rock pinnacle about 60 metres high, known as the Père Eternel.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brenva Glacier</span> Glacier located on the southern side of the Mont Blanc massif

The Brenva Glacier is a valley glacier, located on the southern side of the Mont Blanc massif in the Alps. It is the second longest and eighth largest glacier in Italy, and descends down into Val Veny, close to Entrèves, near Courmayeur. Over the centuries it has experienced a number of major rock avalanches which have shaped the glacier and influenced its movement.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joseph Vallot</span> French scientist

Joseph Vallot was a French scientist, astronomer, botanist, geographer, cartographer and alpinist and "one of the founding fathers of scientific research on Mont Blanc". He is known mainly for his fascination with Mont Blanc and his work in funding and constructing a high-altitude observatory below its summit, and for the many years of study and research work that he and his wife conducted both there, and at their base in Chamonix. The observatory and adjacent refuge that he constructed for use by mountain guides and their clients attempting Mont Blanc summit both still bear his name today, despite being rebuilt in modern times.


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Further reading