Mont Blanc

This article is about the mountain. For other uses, see Mont Blanc (disambiguation).
Mont Blanc
Monte Bianco

Summit of Mont Blanc and the Bosses ridge
Highest point
Elevation 4,808.73[1] m (15,776.7 ft)
Prominence 4696 m by Lake Kubenskoye
Ranked 11th
Isolation 2,812 km Kukurtlu
Parent peak Mount Everest[2]
Listing Country high point
Seven Summits
Coordinates 45°50′01″N 006°51′54″E / 45.83361°N 6.86500°E / 45.83361; 6.86500Coordinates: 45°50′01″N 006°51′54″E / 45.83361°N 6.86500°E / 45.83361; 6.86500
Mont Blanc
Monte Bianco
Mont Blanc
Monte Bianco
Mont Blanc
Monte Bianco
Mont Blanc
Monte Bianco


Location Aosta Valley, Italy
Haute-Savoie, France
Parent range Graian Alps
First ascent 8 August 1786 by
Jacques Balmat
Michel-Gabriel Paccard

Mont Blanc (French pronunciation: [mɔ̃ blɑ̃]) or Monte Bianco (Italian pronunciation: [ˈmonte ˈbjaŋko]), both meaning "White Mountain", is the highest mountain in the Alps and the highest in Europe after the Caucasus peaks.[3] It rises 4,808.73 m (15,777 ft)[1][4] above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence.[5]

The mountain lies in a range called the Graian Alps, between the regions of Aosta Valley, Italy, and Savoie and Haute-Savoie, France. The location of the summit is on the watershed line between the valleys of Ferret and Veny in Italy and the valleys of Montjoie, and Arve in France. The Mont Blanc massif is popular for mountaineering, hiking, skiing, and snowboarding.

The three towns and their communes which surround Mont Blanc are Courmayeur in Aosta Valley, Italy, and Saint-Gervais-les-Bains and Chamonix in Haute-Savoie, France. The latter town was the site of the first Winter Olympics. A cable car ascends and crosses the mountain range from Courmayeur to Chamonix, through the Col du Géant. Constructed beginning in 1957 and completed in 1965, the 11.6 km (7¼ mi) Mont Blanc Tunnel runs beneath the mountain between these two countries and is one of the major trans-Alpine transport routes.


Mont Blanc seen from the Rébuffat platform on Aiguille du Midi
Mont Blanc from the TMB

The first recorded ascent of Mont Blanc was on 8 August 1786 by Jacques Balmat and the doctor Michel Paccard. This climb, initiated by Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, who gave a reward for the successful ascent, traditionally marks the start of modern mountaineering.[6] The first woman to reach the summit was Marie Paradis in 1808, and the first dog without human technical help was "Tschingel" from Grindelwald (making his climb before the first female honorary member of the Alpine Club).

Nowadays the summit is ascended by an average of 20,000 mountaineer-tourists each year. It could be considered an easy, yet arduous, ascent for someone who is well-trained and acclimatized to the altitude. From l'Aiguille du Midi (where the cable car stops), Mont Blanc seems quite close, being 1,000 m (3,300 ft) higher. But while the peak seems deceptively close, La Voie des 3 Monts route (known to be more technical and challenging than other more commonly used routes) requires much ascent over two other 4,000 m mountains, Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit, before the final section of the climb is reached and the last 1000 m push to the summit is undertaken.

Each year climbing deaths occur on Mont Blanc, and on the busiest weekends, normally around August, the local rescue service performs an average of 12 missions, mostly directed to aid people in trouble on one of the normal routes of the mountain. Some routes require knowledge of high-altitude mountaineering, a guide (or at least an experienced mountaineer), and all require proper equipment. All routes are long and arduous, involving delicate passages and the hazard of rock-fall or avalanche. Also, at least one night at a high mountain refuge is required to help acclimatize to the altitude; less could lead to altitude sickness and possible death.[7][8]

Ownership of the summit

1832 Map of the Kingdom of Sardinia showing an administrative border passing through the summit of Mont Blanc. This was the same map annexed to the 1860 treaty to determine the current border between France and Italy.
Captain Mieulet map of 1865 showing the border through Mont Blanc, called "a historical falsehood" by Italian historians[9]

Since the French Revolution, the issue of the ownership of the summit has been debated. From 1416 to 1792, the entire mountain was within the Duchy of Savoy. In 1723 the Duke of Savoy, Victor Amadeus II, acquired the Kingdom of Sardinia. The resulting state of Sardinia was to become preeminent in the Italian unification.[10] In September 1792, the French revolutionary Army of the Alps under Anne-Pierre de Montesquiou-Fézensac seized Savoy without much resistance and created a department of the Mont-Blanc. In a treaty of 15 May 1796, Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia was forced to cede Savoy and Nice to France. In article 4 of this treaty it says: "The border between the Sardinian kingdom and the departments of the French Republic will be established on a line determined by the most advanced points on the Piedmont side, of the summits, peaks of mountains and other locations subsequently mentioned, as well as the intermediary peaks, knowing: starting from the point where the borders of Faucigny, the Duchy of Aoust and the Valais, to the extremity of the glaciers or Monts-Maudits: first the peaks or plateaus of the Alps, to the rising edge of the Col-Mayor". This act further states that the border should be visible from the town of Chamonix and Courmayeur. However, neither the peak of the Mont Blanc is visible from Courmayeur nor the peak of the Mont Blanc de Courmayeur is visible from Chamonix because part of the mountains lower down obscure them.

A Sardinian Atlas map of 1869 showing the summit lying two thirds in Italy and one third in France.[11]

After the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna restored the King of Sardinia in Savoy, Nice and Piedmont, his traditional territories, overruling the 1796 Treaty of Paris. Forty-five years later, after the Second Italian War of Independence, it was replaced by a new legal act. This act was signed in Turin on 24 March 1860 by Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, and deals with the annexation of Savoy (following the French neutrality for the plebiscites held in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna to join the Kingdom of Sardinia, against the Pope's will). A demarcation agreement, signed on 7 March 1861, defines the new border. With the formation of Italy, for the first time Mont Blanc is located on the border of France and Italy.

The 1860 act and attached maps are still legally valid for both the French and Italian governments.[12] One of the prints from the 1823 Sarde Atlas[13] positions the border exactly on the summit edge of the mountain (and measures it to be 4,804 m (15,761 ft) high). The convention of 7 March 1861 recognises this through an attached map, taking into consideration the limits of the massif, and drawing the border on the icecap of Mont Blanc, making it both French and Italian. Watershed analysis of modern topographic mapping not only places the main summit on the border, but also suggests that the border should follow a line northwards from the main summit towards Mont Maudit, leaving the southeast ridge to Mont Blanc de Courmayeur wholly within Italy.

Although the Franco-Italian border was redefined in both 1947 and 1963, the commission made up of both Italians and French ignored the Mont Blanc issue. In the early 21st century, administration of the mountain is shared between the Italian town of Courmayeur and the French town of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, although the larger part of the mountain lies within the commune of the latter.


Vallot refuge near Mont Blanc summit, at an altitude of 4,362 m

The first professional scientific investigations on the summit were conducted by the botanist-meteorologist Joseph Vallot at the end of the 19th century. He wanted to stay near the top of the summit, so he built his own permanent cabin.

Janssen observatory

In 1890, Pierre Janssen, an astronomer and the director of the Meudon astrophysical observatory, considered the construction of an observatory at the summit of Mont Blanc. Gustave Eiffel agreed to take on the project, provided he could build on a rock foundation, if found at a depth of less than 12 m (39 ft) below the ice. In 1891, the Swiss surveyor Imfeld dug two 23 m (75 ft) long horizontal tunnels 12 m (39 ft) below the ice summit but found nothing solid. Consequently, the Eiffel project was abandoned.

Despite this, the observatory was built in 1893. During the cold wave of January 1893 a temperature of −43 °C (−45 °F) was recorded on Mont Blanc, being the lowest ever recorded there.

Levers attached to the ice supported the observatory. This worked to some extent until 1906, when the building started leaning heavily. The movement of the levers corrected the lean slightly, but three years later (two years after Janssen’s death), a crevasse started opening under the observatory. It was abandoned. Eventually the building fell, and only the tower could be saved in extremis.[14]

Air crashes

The mountain was the scene of two fatal air crashes; Air India Flight 245 in 1950 [15] and Air India Flight 101 in 1966. Both planes were approaching Geneva airport and the pilots miscalculated their descent; 48 and 117 people, respectively, died.[16] The latter passengers included top nuclear scientist Homi J. Bhabha, known as the "father" of India's nuclear programme.[17]


Main article: Mont Blanc Tunnel

In 1946 a drilling project was initiated to carve a tunnel through the mountain. The Mont Blanc tunnel would connect Chamonix, France and Courmayeur, Italy and become one of the major trans-Alpine transport routes between the two countries. In 1965 the tunnel opened to vehicle traffic with a length of 11,611 metres (7.215 mi).[18]

1999 disaster

In 1999 a transport truck caught fire in the tunnel beneath the mountain. In total 39 people were killed when the fire raged out of control. The tunnel was renovated in the aftermath to increase driver safety, reopening after three years.[19]


Mont Blanc summit

The summit of Mont Blanc is a thick, perennial ice and snow dome whose thickness varies. No exact and permanent summit elevation can therefore be determined, though accurate measurements have been made on specific dates. For a long time its official elevation was 4,807 m (15,771 ft). In 2002, the IGN and expert surveyors, with the aid of GPS technology, measured it to be 4,807.40 m (15,772 ft 4 in).

After the 2003 heatwave in Europe, a team of scientists re-measured the height on 6 and 7 September. The team was made up of the glaciologist Luc Moreau, two surveyors from the GPS Company, three people from the IGN, seven expert surveyors, four mountain guides from Chamonix and Saint-Gervais and four students from various institutes in France. This team noted that the elevation was 4,808.45 m (15,775 ft 9 in), and the peak was 75 centimetres (30 in) away from where it had been in 2002.

After these results were published, more than 500 points were measured, to assess the effects of climate change and the fluctuations in the height of the mountain at different points. Since then, the elevation of the mountain has been measured every two years.

The interpretation that the heatwave had caused this fluctuation is disputed because the heatwave is known not to have significantly affected the glaciers above 4,000 m (13,000 ft). The height and position of the summit could have been moved by general glacial forces. At this elevation, the temperatures rarely rise above 0 °C (32 °F). During the summer of 2003, the temperature rose to 2 °C (36 °F), and even 3 °C (37 °F), but this would not have been enough for the ice to melt that amount.

The summit was measured again in 2005, and the results were published on 16 December 2005. The height was found to be 4,808.75 m (15,776 ft 9 in), 30 cm (12 in) more than the previous recorded height. The rock summit was found to be at 4,792 m (15,722 ft), some 40 m (130 ft) west of the ice-covered summit.[20]

In 2007 the summit was measured at 4,807.9 m (15,774 ft) and in 2009 at 4,807.45 m (15,772 ft).[4] In 2013 the summit was measured at 4,810.02 m (15,781 ft) and in 2015 at 4,808.73 m (15,777 ft).[1] From the summit of Mont Blanc on a clear day, the Jura, the Vosges, the Black Forest and the Massif Central mountain ranges can be seen, as well as the principal summits of the Alps.

A panoramic view of Mont Blanc from Aiguille du Midi
View from Vallee Blanche of Glacier du Geant and Dent du Geant, looking down Glacier du Tacul towards the Mer de Glace, with Aiguille du Moine, les Drus and Aiguille Verte in centre-left

Climbing routes

Mont Blanc 3D

The Mont Blanc Massif averages nearly 100 fatalities a year. A published estimate suggests there have been 6,000-8,000 alpinist fatalities in total, more than on any other mountain.[21]:208 Several classic climbing routes lead to the summit of Mont Blanc:[22][23]


Impacts of climate change

Recent temperature rises and heatwaves, such as that of summer 2015, have had significant impacts on many climbing routes across the Alps, including those on Mont Blanc. For example, in 2015, the Grand Mulets route, previously popular in the 20th century, was blocked by virtually impenetrable crevasse fields, and the Gouter Hut was closed by municipal decree for some days because of very high stonefall danger, with some stranded climbers evacuated by helicopter.[25]

Exploits and incidents

Aerial view of the south-eastern side of Mont Blanc, taken on a commercial flight

Cultural references

Cinema and television



The Mont Blanc massif is being put forward as a potential World Heritage Site because of its uniqueness and its cultural importance, considered the birthplace and symbol of modern mountaineering.[32] It would require the three governments of Italy, France and Switzerland to make a request to UNESCO for it to be listed.

Mont Blanc is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, and for this reason, some view it as threatened. Pro-Mont Blanc (an international collective of associations for the protection of Mont Blanc) published in 2002 the book Le versant noir du mont Blanc (The black hillside of Mont Blanc), which exposes current and future problems in conserving the site.[33]

In 2007, Europe's two highest toilets (at a height of 4,260 metres, 13,976 feet) were taken by helicopter to the top of Mont Blanc. They are also serviced by helicopter. They will serve 30,000 skiers and hikers annually, helping to alleviate the discharge of urine and faeces that spreads down the mountain face with the spring thaw, and turns it into 'Mont Marron'.[34]

Global warming has begun to melt glaciers and cause avalanches on Mont Blanc, creating more dangerous climbing conditions.[35]

The highest resolution panorama of the Mont Blanc ever made: "in2white". 

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Le Mont-Blanc passe de 4.810 mètres à 4.808,7 mètres".
  2. Although Mount Elbrus is normally considered the highest mountain in Europe, the latter continent is part of the Eurasian land mass, which culminates at Mount Everest (lowest col between Mont Blanc and Mount Elbrus: 113 m ; lowest col between Mount Elbrus and Mount Everest: 901 m ).
  3. The Caucasus watershed has conventionally been used as the boundary between Europe and Asia since the mid 19th century. The Caucasus has a number of peaks higher than Mont Blanc either marking the Russian-Georgian border or just within Russia (Mount Elbrus in the North Caucasus at 5641 m is the highest peak in Europe when including the Caucasus).
  4. 1 2 Mont Blanc shrinks by 45cm in two years
  5. the prominence of 4,696 m for Mont Blanc is taken from the "Ultras Project" (, "List compiled 2004 by Petter Bjørstad, Jonathan de Ferranti, Eberhard Jurgalski, Vasja Kavcic and Aaron Maizlish". A footnote to this entry at r (Citation). The Mont Blanc key saddle has been identified in Northern Russia near Ozero Onezhskoye." See also list of Alpine peaks by prominence.
  6. Green, Stewart. "Facts About Mont Blanc — Highest Mountain in Western Europe". Retrieved 7 August 2011.
  7. Muza, SR; Fulco, CS; Cymerman, A (2004). "Altitude Acclimatization Guide.". US Army Research Inst. of Environmental Medicine Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division Technical Report (USARIEM-TN-04-05). Retrieved 5 March 2009.
  8. Cymerman, A; Rock, PB. "Medical Problems in High Mountain Environments. A Handbook for Medical Officers". USARIEM-TN94-2. US Army Research Inst. of Environmental Medicine Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division Technical Report. Retrieved 5 March 2009.
  9. La disfida del Monte Bianco(in Italian).
  10. Historical map
  11. The map is based on measurements taken in 1856 before the convention of 7 March 1861, and is identical to the map attached to the Treaty of Turin. See IGN
  12. Assemblée Nationale: traité franco-italien signé à Turin le 26 mars 1860
  13. Image:1823 Mont Blanc 1.jpg
  14. Janssen et l'observatoire du sommet du mont Blanc (1893-1909), JM. Malherbe, Observatoire de Paris, section de Meudon
  15. The glacier des Bossons : plane crashes:
  16. BBC on this day 24 January 1966: 117 die in Air India tragedy
  17. Diplomatic bag contents revealed
  18. Timeline of the Mont Blanc Tunnel
  19. Mont Blanc Tunnel at age 46
  20. Vincent, Christian (2 August 2004). "The rock summit of the Mont Blanc, 40 m west of the ice summit". Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Archived from the original on 2 May 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  21. 1 2 Helmut Dumler and Willi P. Burkhardt, The High Mountains of the Alps, London: Diadem, 1994
  22. Routes description, from
  23. Boscoe, Charlie. "How to Climb Mont Blanc - The Two Easiest Routes". Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  24. File:Le-Grand-Couloir.jpg – Wikimedia Commons
  25. Gaventa, Jonathan. "The Ice and the Canary: A Story of Alpine Climbing in a Changing Climate". Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  27. Danish Artist Drapes Mont Blanc in Red, 8 June 2007
  28. Jaccuzzi [sic] on Mont-Blanc summit
  29. , ’50' pilots topland Mont Blanc as Chamonix sees record day, XC Mag, 19 August 2012
  30. Extraordinary Speed Record on Mont Blanc
  31. Mont-Blanc Speed Record: Ascent and Descent On Foot
  32. "Massif du Mont Blanc". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  34. "Europe's highest toilet". Ananova. Archived from the original on 8 December 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  35. "Warming threatens safety on Mont Blanc". The Times. London. 28 May 2013.
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