Mont Blanc

The funny thing about the posh pens that are named after Europe’s most famous peak, Mont Blanc, is that they are made by a German company, which has been putting the iconic snowcap marking on its prestigious writing implements since 1913. Why funny? Because although Europe’s highest peak at 4,810m is so mammoth it is shared by three countries: Switzerland, Italy and France, it does not stretch into Germany. Perhaps their piste envy drove them to manufacture one of the world’s most coveted writing implements instead, and bravo them for doing so.
Bravo also to anyone who decides to get to know this mammoth massif in person. Unless you are a keen skier and have been doing the chalet chic thing around Chamonix, many people don’t know much about the great mountain. Like the pen, they might also assume that it is also out of their reach, but the natural ‘Meisterstück’ is actually a lot more accessible than most people might think.
Climb or circumnavigate?

Climb or circumnavigate?

If you want to climb Mont Blanc then you are talking serious summit, or ascent. Because the great peak, otherwise known as Dame Blanche or White Lady is a tough gal to conquer. Indeed, for many people, it is the climb of a lifetime, and even though you don’t need months of training in alpine skills, a Mont Blanc ascent does require a serious level of fitness, some climbing experience and commitment. As it's covered in snow and ice all year round at certain elevations, you will need ice picks, crampons and a lot of courage to get to the top following either the Gouter Route, aka Voie Royale, or the more challenging Cosmiques Route, aka ‘La Traversée’. The usual – and traditional – accommodation on the ascent is mountain huts.
Circumnavigating Mont Blanc is the most popular way to take in this tripartite triumph of nature, however, following a long distance walking trail known to most people as the Tour de Mont Blanc, or quite simply the TMB. This is not Mont Blanc ‘light’, however, but a 170km route along paths that often date back centuries and which link the seven main valleys emanating from the main peak. It’s really rather fantastic, and there are equally fantastic Mont Blanc walking holidays where people in the know, including International Mountain Leaders who guide you, organise it all for you.
On the TMB you do not summit Mont Blanc, but take on the whole circuit, either at a high level over about six days, staying in lodges and mountain refuges or, the easier option is to spread it over two weeks and stay at hotels and inns. The best time to go on any of these trips is generally mid-June until mid-September in order to avoid snow and icy conditions. The highest point on the TMB is 2,537m, and you will definitely feel like you have taken on a major challenge rather than just skirting around the edges.
If you don’t have time to take on the whole thing, a popular option is to spend a week walking the highlights of the Tour de Mont Blanc, which is by no means a walk in the park either. You still have some serious cols and valleys to take on, as well getting those all important and omnipresent mountain views. Although these are usually organised small group holidays, you can also do the Tour de Mont Blanc as a self-guided walking holiday, staying in hotels and ‘auberges’ along the way, with your bags transported for you from one to the next.
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Mont Blanc highlights

Mont Blanc has plenty of postcard perfect places. The ones where, no matter how serious a walker you are, even you might be tempted to sneak a selfie. There are two celebrated towns touching the White Lady’s toes and they are Chamonix in France and Courmayeur in Italy. The former is the main hub for the great peak, and the place to stay if you want to do some centre based hiking around Mont Blanc taking in beauty spots such as Lac Blanc, Aiguillette des Houches and the Ferret Valley.
In Courmayeur you will see the local name of Monte Bianco everywhere but, with 14 peaks surrounding this stunning village, you will see plenty of other mountains, too. The Aiguille du Midi cable car links Courmayeur with Chamonix on the other side of Mont Blanc, which must be one of the most dramatic short cuts in the world.
There are some serious cols to discover, such as Grand Col Ferret, with views of the great mountain itself but also out across the Grandes Jorasses. This is seriously moving mountain terrain and one of the highest points on the TMB at 2,536m. Another is Col de la Forclaz at 1,527m which marks one end of the Bovine Route, an historic path that links the col with Champex in Switzerland, and one of the TMB’s super pretty spots to stop and rest your legs for a good day or so. Then last, but not least, you may conquer Col du Midi des Grands at 3,523m if you are taking on the ascent of Mont Blanc as it is one of the last cols before the final frontier.
One other way to enjoy the environs of Mont Blanc is to follow another superb hiking route called the Haute Route. This covers 100 high and mighty kilometres between Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, camping or staying in mountain huts along the way and walking up to a new peak almost every day. The iconic Matterhorn is your reward at the end of two weeks.
The biggest reward of Mont Blanc however, apart from its eye watering natural beauty, is the sound of silence.
The President of the eminent conservation organisation Mountain Wilderness, Frédi Meignan, puts it better than anyone:
“Silence has become such a rare commodity, because wherever we live today there is always noise. And here we are in one of the few territories where there is no noise at all. Not one noise. It is so quiet you can even here the silence. I believe that such a rare and beautiful territory deserves a minimum of respect, and respecting Mont Blanc is respecting its silence.”
Support the work of Mountain Wilderness by donating to their wonderful work to preserve its greatness and read our responsible tourism guide to Mont Blanc to see how you can keep the White Lady as lovely as she deserves.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: ptwo] [Topbox: NKBV] [Climb or circumnavigate: VinceTraveller] [TMB: Jerome Bon] [Refuge: SNappa2006] [Bridge - highlights: Ronnie Macdonald] [Highlights - Lac Blanc: Fred Bigio] [Courmayeur: raffaele sergi] [Grand Col Ferret: SNappa2006] [The Haute Route: Rick McCharles] [Fredi Meignan quote: Mats Skolving]