Mont Blanc is the Highest Mountain in Western Europe

Climbing Facts About Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc is easily climbed by experienced mountaineers.
Mont Blanc, surrounded by the Chamonix aiguilles, is the highest mountain in western Europe and popular with climbers. Photograph copyright Stephen Smith/Getty Images

Elevation: 15,782 feet (4,810 meters)

Prominence: 15,407 feet (4,696 meters)

Location: Border of France and Italy in the Alps.

Coordinates: 45.832609 N / 6.865193 E

First Ascent: First ascent by Jacques Balmat and Dr. Michel-Gabriel Paccard on August 8, 1786.

 

The White Mountain

Mont Blanc (French) and Monte Bianco (Italian) means “White Mountain” for its perpetual snowfields and glaciers. The great dome-shaped mountain is flanked by white glaciers, great granite faces, and gorgeous alpine scenery.

Highest Mountain in Western Europe

Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and in western Europe. The highest mountain in Europe is considered by most geographers to be 18,510-foot (5,642-meter) Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia near the border with the country of Georgia. Some consider it, however, to be in Asia rather than Europe.

Where is the Border between Italy and France?

Mont Blanc's summit is in France, while its subsidiary lower summit Monte Bianco di Courmayeur is considered to be Italy's highest point. Both French and Swiss maps show the Italy-France boundary crossing this point, whereas the Italians consider the boundary on the summit of Mont Blanc. According to two treaties between France and Spain in 1796 and 1860, the boundary crosses the summit. The 1796 treaty ambiguously states that the border is "on the highest ridge of the mountain as seen by Courmayeur." The 1860 treaty says that the border is "on the highest point of the mountain, at 4807 meters." French mapmakers, however, have continued to place the border on Monte Bianco di Courmayeur.

Height Varies Every Year

The height of Mont Blanc varies from year to year depending on the depth of the summit’s snow cap, so no permanent elevation can be assigned to the mountain. The official elevation was once 15,770 feet (4,807 meters), but in 2002 it was resurveyed with modern technology at 15,782 feet (4,810 meters) or twelve feet higher.

A 2005 survey measured it at 15,776 feet 9 inches (4,808.75 meters). Mont Blanc is the 11th most prominent mountain in the world.

Mont Blanc's Summit is Thick Ice

Mont Blanc’s rock summit, under snow and ice, is 15,720 feet (4,792 meters) and about 140 feet away from the snowcapped summit.

1860 Climbing Attempt

In 1860 Horace Benedict de Saussure, a 20-year-old Swiss man, walked from Geneva to Chamonix and on July 24 attempted Mont Blanc, reaching the Brévent area. After failing, he believed that the peak was a "summit to climb" and promised a "very considerable reward" to anyone who successfully ascended the great mountain. 

1786: First Recorded Climb

The first recorded climb of Mont Blanc was by Jacque Balmat, a crystal hunter, and Michel Paccard, a Chamonix doctor, on August 8, 1786. Climbing historians often consider this ascent the beginning of modern mountaineering. The pair climbed the Rocher Rouge to the mountain's northeast slopes, and climbed Saussure's reward, although Paccard gave his share to Balmat. A year later Saussure also climbed Mont Blanc.

1808: First Woman up Mont Blanc

In 1808 Marie Paradis became the first woman to reach the summit on Mont Blanc.

How Many Climbers Reach the Top?

Over 20,000 climbers reach Mont Blanc’s summit every year.

Most Popular Climbing Route on Mont Blanc

The Voie des Cristalliers or Voie Royale is the most popular climbing route up Mont Blanc. To start, climbers take the Tramway du Mont Blanc to the Nid d’Aigle, then climb slopes to Goûter hut and spend the night. The next day they climb the Dôme du Goûter to L'arrête des Bosses and the summit. The route is somewhat perilous with danger from rockfall and avalanche. It is also very crowded in summer, particularly the summit ridge.

Speed Ascents of Mont Blanc

In 1990, Swiss climber Pierre-André Gobet climbed Mont Blanc round-trip from Chamonix in 5 hours, 10 minutes, and 14 seconds. On July 11, 2013, Basque speed climber and runner Kilian Jornet made a quick ascent and descent on Mont Blanc in only 4 hours 57 minutes 40 seconds.

Observatory on Summit

A scientific observatory was built atop Mont Blanc in 1892.

It was used until 1909 when a crevasse opened under the building and it was abandoned.

Lowest Temperature Recorded on Peak

In January 1893, the observatory registered Mont Blanc’s lowest recorded temperature— -45.4°F or -43°C.

2 Plane Crashes on Mont Blanc

Two Air India planes, while approaching the Geneva airport, crashed on Mont Blanc. On November 3, 1950, the Malabar Princess plane began its descent to Geneva, but crashed into Rochers de la Tournette (4677 meters) on Mont Blanc, killing 48 passengers and crew.

On January 24, 1966, the Kanchenjunga, a Boeing 707, also descending into Geneva, crashed on Mont Blanc’s southwest flank about 1,500 feet below the summit, killing 106 passengers and 11 crew members. Mountain guide Gerard Devoussoux, first on the scene, reported, “Another 15 meters and the plane would have missed the rock. It made a huge crater in the mountain. Everything was completely pulverized. Nothing was identifiable except for a few letters and packets.” Some monkeys, being transported in the cargo hold for medical experiments, survived the crash and were found wandering in the snow. Even today, bits of wire and metal from the planes are disgorged from Bossons Glacier below the wreckage sites.

1960: Plane Lands on Summit

In 1960, Henri Giraud landed an airplane on the 100-foot-long summit.

Portable Toilets on Mountain

In 2007, two portable toilets were carried by helicopter and placed at 14,000 feet (4,260 meters) below Mont Blanc’s summit to serve climbers and skiers and keep human waste from polluting the mountain’s lower slopes.

Jacuzzi Party on Summit

On September 13, 2007 a Jacuzzi party was thrown atop Mont Blanc. The portable hot tub was carried by 20 people to the summit. Each person carried 45 pounds of custom-made equipment made to function in cold air and high altitude.

Paragliders Land on Summit

Seven French paragliders landed on Mont Blanc’s summit on August 13, 2003. The pilots, soaring on hot summer air currents, reached heights of 17,000 feet before landing.

The Mont Blanc Tunnel

The 11.6-kilometer-long (7.25-mile) Mont Blanc Tunnel travels beneath Mont Blanc, linking France and Italy. It was built between 1957 and 1965.

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley Inspired by Mont Blanc

The famed British romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) visited Chamonix in July 1816 and was inspired by the great mountain looming above the town to write his meditative poem Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni. Calling the snowy peak “remote, serene, and inaccessible,” he ends the poem:

“And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
if to the human mind's imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?”