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Comments on some classic (hard) climbs in the Mont Blanc range

What is not to be missed ?

Mont-Blanc range can keep a climber busy for its whole life, I guess. You will have to cope with the conditions, however, and it is not easy to make plans in advance. Weather is quite unpredictable. Here I list what I consider to be the very best climbs of the range. Some of them are very demanding.

If possible, you should try to do one route on Mont-Blanc. I have always liked them a lot and find they have something special, because of the high altitude, length, and very glaciated conditions. At 4807m Mont-Blanc is significantly higher than the other peaks in the range, and the Italian side is very steep, complex, and quite uncrowded, since it is freqented only by experienced alpinists. I would recommend one of the variations of the Peuterey ridge, by the North Face of Aiguille Blanche or, more difficult, North Face of Grand Pilier d'Angle, if you are into mixed/ice climbing. Easier possibilities are the great climbs of the Brenva Face (Brenva Spur, Red Sentinel, Major), which are all outstanding. If you really want to be alone, trythe West Face (Miage Face). If you prefer rock, one of the pillars in the Freney or Brouillard face will be a most memorable experience. These are routes with a very long approach, a very steep and technical headwall (almost all the routes have 5.10 or aid), and a fairly longhigh altitude ridge travel to get to the top of Mont-Blanc. And if you are in top shape, the Integral of the Peuterey ridge might be the greatest climb in the Alps.

Fine north face ice/snow climbs are in the Argentiere bassin. They are most likely to be in fine condition end of spring. It is also definitively a place to go. There is a unique wall of North Faces. The climbs are 1000m high, and are completed in one day. La Verte is the most beautiful summit there. There is no easy way to the top, and the view is really spectacular. Les Droites has the most challenging climbs (not always in good conditions, however) on its North Face, reputed the most difficult in the Alps. There are several variations, all of them are very steep and committing climbs. Les Courtes has two very fine routes which are definitively worth doing. It is more difficult than most of the Aig. Verte climbs, but significantly easier than Les Droites, and more often in good conditions. Unfortunately Triolet is nowadays to dangerous to recommand.

Grandes Jorasses offer the most beautiful and long mixed routes. The Walker has more a classic status than the Croz. It has more difficult rock, is longer, steeper, but it has also more fixed gear and can be very crowded. The Croz is more mixed, and has much less trafic. The Shroud is mostly a snow/ice climb. Other climbs see very little traffic, are not always in condition, and might be subject to extreme rockfall hazard.

For rock, you have plenty of choice. The Mont-Blanc range is distinguished by its very solid granite. Les Drus used to be a top choice. The mountain is strikingly beautiful, and the West face is one of the only real big-walls of the Alps. The solo climb of Bonatti on the Dru is one of the most extraordinary accomplishments in the history of climbing. Robbins said that his climbs of Les Drus were also the ones his cherished the most. Unfortunately, as pointed to me by Caroline Ware, a huge rockfall in 97 erased many of the classics, including the Bonatti and the American direct. The conditions there are super dangerous and aside from the crazy Russians, it doesn't seem like anyone has been willing to put their lives in jeopardy by approching this face. The essence of modern rock climbing can be found on Aiguilles de Chamonix. They are "semi-trad" routes which offer superb free climbing of which Allan Steck told me he though they were the finest he ever did (in a long climbing career !).

A few warm-up areas

The routes on South Face of Aiguille du Midi

South Face Midi is very popular because it is superb rock and highly technical climbs which you can do without any mountaineering equipment and walk (thanks to the cable car). Consider it to be a high altitude crag. In June, the traffic will be probably reasonnable. High season is July and August. Also, it is not crowded even a good day, in a period of general bad weather (people tend to wait for periodes of good weather, to my knowledge). When it is crowded, there are two possible strategies: be the first, or be the last. In any case, you must know that there is now a hut (expensive) on Col du Midi, and thus you can spend the night before or after the climb there (rather than in the cable car station).

The ice routes on Mt Blanc du Tacul

Starting from the Cosmiques hut or from the Midi cable-car, you can access a large range of routes. On the left of the North face, there is a formation called the Triangle, which has a variety of moderate gullies. One of the most popular is the Chere gully on the right of the Triangle. It is almost always in condition and very popular. It can be rapped after the crux (only a couple of pitches). The Triangle is about 300m high. From its top you can go to the summit or not. The routes on the East face are longer (600m or more). The classic gullies, long but not technically difficult are Gervasuti D- and Diable D. Modern routes include the Gabarrou-Albinoni TD- and the Modica-Noury TD. Both can be rapped down, which reduces the commitment. The Super-Couloir in its integrality is a serious endeavour, but the direct start can be avoided and the steep part TD+ can be rapped down, which many parties do now.

The ice routes at the Pre de Bar

Starting from the Argentiere hut, you can access a large range of routes. The North walls which are facing you are some of the classiest ice routes in the range, and cover a range of difficulty. They are quite long and somewhat commiting. At the rear of the amphitheater, between the Dolent and the Triolet there is a shorter wall called Pre de Bar which is about 300m. There you will find many technical gullies that have fixed belays. Descent is by rapping along them. The most popular climb is called Petit Viking. A long rope might be useful.

A few big climbs

The Swiss Route on Les Courtes

There are two technical pitches (2 different gullies), we simulclimbed the rest. The climb can be done in a short day if you move reasonably fast. It is often not climbable in the summer, or, you might find hard ice all the way. The descent is easy through the regular route to Couvercle. Can usually be done in winter through NNE to Argentiere hut.

The North Face of Triolet

This face looks really beautiful mainly because of the hanging glaciers (it is not that steep), but precisely they have moved a lot over the last ten years, and this climb, which used to be quite safe is considered to be very dangerous, because of the risks of serac falls (does it remind you anything ?). I have done years ago a climb on Pre de Bar (between Triolet and Dolent), so during the approach I was under the face (at a reasonable distance), and I would certainly not climb it.

Alternatives are:

The North Face of Les Droites

The first 200m are slabs which are ice-covered. They might be dry during some periods of the year and cannot be climbed then. The inclination is about 65 degres (with short steeper sections) and the ice/snow is often rather thin. Because of this section, the route is very commited since it would be very tricky to retreat through it.

After, there is a slope of about 55 degres, which is the easy part of the climb. The best conditions are found when this slope is in snow.

The crux of the route is the final 400m. Basically you can climb everywhere there, it is a collection of ice gullies. The more ice there is, the most easy it is. The left part is the easier. One of the steepest routes is the Ginat (so-called Jackson). The description in the Vallot is not too accurate. There is mixed climbing, two pitches have sustained 80 degres thin ice, one has a short vertical passage. I had to make a belay on ice hooks at one point.

The easier descent is through the gully which is on the South side of Breche des Droites. There are fixed belays on the left (looking down), and it is probably safer to rap down if you are tired (likely). After the first ascent, Jean Ginat falled to his death in this gully.

We simul-climbed the first 600m (up to 65 degres), and belayed on the final 400m which are the most steep. The climb takes a very full day, and there didn't appear to be any bivy spots on the face.

The route is probably not climbable, in summer due to dry conditions. The first 250m are iced slabs and cannot be climbed if dry. Generally speaking, the more icy the route is the more easy it is. If the top of the face is not snow-covered, the rockfall danger is serious.

Walker Spur [early season]

This route is now extremely popular and sees a lot of internationnal parties. Most of people wait for it to be dry. Thus they can use climbing shoes, which may be helpfull, since the route has a lot of 5.9 pitches and some 5.10. The problem is that there will be an incredible crowd (10-20 parties on the route the same day, and dangerous rockfall, particularly these last dry years. This has prevented me from doing it. If you attempt it in June, it will be probably mixed, with wet rock and some snow/ice left, which make it a much more difficult endavour. Two alternative which are to be considered are Linceul,and the Croz spur. Linceul is easier, only snow/ice (but definitively worth). I know that if it was up to me, I would do the Croz spur rather. It features less technical climb, and is more mixed, thus the fact that it is wet is not as bothersome. It is a route which is now less "civilized" than the Walker, because it doesn't see as much traffic (much less pitons). There is a 4 hour approach from Montenvers, to the Leschaux hut. I am not sure that the guardian will be there, but the hut is always open. You will need to do one bivy somewhere, probably. The descent is snow but the right route is not that easy to find.

Mont-Blanc, Freney Central Pillar [early season]

two approaches: one by the Peuterey Pass. First day, you go to Ghiglione or La Fourche hut, using the cable car to Aiguille du Midi or Helbronner. Easy, three hours. Second day, you have to cross the dangerous Brenva side, then something like 500m snow at 50 to climb during the night, and you arive at the base of the pillar. You have then to be in very good shape to complete the climb without a bivy. The first part of the pillar is not very difficult, 5.9 max. Then you arrive at a vertical part which is called "la chandelle", which involves aid climbing. If you are not perfectely acclimatized, you will probably find it quite hard. After, you join the Brouillard ridge, which is not difficult, and then the Mont-Blanc. The best option for me is to avoid a bivy by going to the Vallot hut (4300 or 4500). Once you have finished the pillar, the level of difficulty of the climb allows you to go on whatever conditions you may meet. Second way: first day to Monzino hut (trail), second day to Eccles Hut (4000m), I do not recommend to go to Eccles in one day. Third day, Pillar (for info, we started at about 5 in the morning, begun the climb at 7, arrived at the base of La Chandelle at 14/15, and finished La Chandelle at 19/20, Mont-Blanc at 1, and Vallot hut at about 2. Fourth day to get back down to the Valley. Another thing is that you may have trouble to move in the Val Veny (italian) without a car. The pillar is at high altitude, but South Face. I suppose that the lower part of the Pillar will still have some snow. Chandelle is vertical so it shouldnot be a problem. Path breaking on Brouillard Ridge can be tough at this period of the year, too. I would say that it is a bit too early.

Mont-Blanc, Peuterey ridge:

There are several variants who bear this name. The longest one (Peuterey Integral) take two entire days with very fast climbing: south ridge of Aiguille Noire, NW ridge of Aiguile Noire (impressive rappels), then Aiguille Blanche, Peuterey Pass, and the (strictely speaking) Peuterey ridge. I am not sure that there will not be too much snow. Any loss of time, and you have to do two bivys. The most popular and quick way is to go to Peuterey Pass by it's north face (similar to approach 1 for Freney). Then you should be able to complete the climb in one long day, that is again to reach the Vallot hut to spend the night. You will have some path breaking to do, but the conditions should be OK, at least on the Peuterey Pass variation (which itself have other more interesting variations that I highly recommend).

For historical considerations: the routes which USED TO BE the on Les Drus

Bonatti Pillar

The route can be dry quite fast if the weather is fine. Depending on your options, you can do it in one or two days. People who do it in one day climb very light and don't take overnight gear. They have to move *very* fast to avoid a bivy (there are approximatively 20 pitches) and the descend is king of tricky (you have to rappel, because of the configuration, the rope is quite likely to be stuck). The route features 5.10, and some very easy aid (two pitches, of which one of them, the "fissure des Autrichiens" has solid fixed gear) and I have found it quite sustained and beautiful. There are not that many pitons on the route nowadays, so you need to bring a full rack, mostly of small pieces. If I remember well, all the belays are fixed.The best topo is in the guidebook by Piola. There are two possible approaches. The one that is recommended is by the Flammes de Pierres ridge, which will take a day from Montenvers. The advantage of bivying there is that on your way down the mountain you can stop at your camp where you leave your overnight gear, and glacier travel gear, taking only climbing boots, rock gear, and day gear. You can also sleep at the Charpoua hut, which is not very far from the Flammes de Pierres. However, this hut is very small and often crowded. From the Flammes de Pierres, you have to do a few rappels and to cross the gully to get at the base of the climb. It might be useful to keep one ice ax for the party to cross the gully so that you can chop steps. The route itself is quite popular, but this does not seem to be a problem, it doesn't get really crowded and the rock fall danger is low, unlike let say, the Walker spur. The other approach, through the gully, I would not recommend. It is quite exposed to rockfall, especially if parties get down from the Flammes de Pierre, plus there is the problem of carrying or retrieving your belay gear. There is only a few good belay ledges on the route. Our time table: first day to hut, second day leave a 3, we began at 7/8 (not fast). There is only one excellent bivy ledge, not very high so we stopped after reaching it. Third day, we arrived at "l'Epaule" at about 14/15. From there 4 or 5 more pitches to the summit, that we skipped :-(. We nevertheless got back at Flammes de Pierre at 20/21, and back to the hut at 23. Descent the next day.

West Face (American direct + upper classical route) by Jochem Baselmans

We combined the americain direct with the upper classical west face (from the jammed block) to reach the summit. Best guidebook: Piola for the topo, the Valot for the description


There is not so many fixed gear any more, especially in the easier pitches. But also the 90 meter diedre is not cramped with usable fixed gear. So when you're strong enough to free climb everything, as we did (pitches up to 6c) you will need: 8-12 quick draws, some free biners and loops, one set of rocks, all sizes, one set of friends, take 2 or 3 bigger ones (size three). If you plan to aid the 90 meter diedre you will need maybe ladders for convenience and some more nuts and friends.

Bivy spots

I can only reccomend the jammed block. Other sites are very small and most of them do not have water. Another spot, though fairly low in the route, are the ledges above the base, after 7 pitches, however, we found these as ice fields. The summit ridge has many good spots to bivy, but to get there in one day, you'll have to be very, very fast


The first seven pitches are, believe it or not, BOLTED!!!! It is really to be hoped that the rest of the route will suffer this mistreatment. These pitches are relatively easy. To start climbing, you first have to traverse some 100 meters over ledges, climbing up and down a little. The bolted belays will show the way. The climbing after the seven first pitches up till the jammed block is very sustained french 5c-6b and very steep. I hab the feeling that the 6b passages were graded allright, but some 5c pitches are a little undergraduated. The routefinding is easy. We used the Piola topo which is quite correct. The only failure is that pitches are somtimes longer as indicated. The 90 meter diedre is hard, slightly overhanging dieder with fingercracks (magnificient climbing), the grading, 6c, is about correct I think. The pendulum after the diedre is very easy due to a fixed rope. We found the upper part of the west face (the 6a pitch especially) with quite a lot of ice. But I think normally the face will be dry there. Climbing gets a little easier but is still streneous. WARNING: In the last pitches of the westface, follow the system of cracks and chimneys to the left, to the north face. Do not get up to the right following some pegs just below the last belay under the north face shoulder, because that road leeds you to nowhere. The north face pitches are very beautifull and still very steep, but a little less difficult, more difficult however as I expected. We didn't climb the last two pitches of the normal route to the summit beceause of the fog.

The route is very beautifull, but long and strenous. We climbed 11 hours the first day up till the jammed block, and 8 hours the second. A light travelling group might be able to top out in one day, but will most surely not be able to descent that same day, so a bivy at the block remains the best option. The climbing remains strenous and steep all the way, the difficulties are practically allmost french grade 5 and higher.

Reader's comments

Taka care of the upper part of classic route because you can find the rout with ice and snow. I recomend it to all classic climbers because is simply one of the best routes I''ve ever climbed.
Contributed by ramon rierola (rierola@caixamanlleu.com) on February 22, 1998.
I just found this site - Congratulations, it is great. I just want to give a comment on your remarks to the Triolet-N-face. One month ago I climbed it together with a friend of mine. In my opinion you can find a route that is not so dangerous as you suggest, especially in years where the upper seracs are not that extreme. We did not follow the traditional route in the lower part which start straight below the huge serac belts of the upper face. The route we followed is described in the new guide book ''Montblanc - Neige, Glace et Mixte'', 1997 by Damilano/Perroux and shows a new line that is quite save in winter at least through half of the way up. We joined the traditional route above the lower serac belt wich looked most dangerous. From there to the top we followed the Contamine/Lachenal-line wich offered three pitches of magnificent mirror-like ice (max. 75/800). The descend is long and serious, especially when you return to the Argentiere-glacier as we did. It took us longer to get down than climbing the face.
Contributed by Johannes Kanonier (johannes.kanonier@vlr.gv.at) on March 17, 1998.
Great website you got there!! Yet, it may be useful to mention that the "jammed block" on the Dru is no longer jammed since it fell last summer! Therefore, many of the routes don''t exit anylonger, such as the Bonatti and the American direct. There is now a 15 meter deep roof. Some Russians opened a new routes there recently. In any case, this information might save some people from being super disapointed once getting in Chamonix, hoping to the climb of their life. Plus, the conditions there are super dangerous and aside from the crazy Russians, it doesn''t seem like anyone has been willing to put their lives in jeopardy by approching this face. That''s it for the news. Keep up the good work! Caroline
Contributed by caroline ware (cware98@yahoo.com) on June 10, 1998.
If you need to descend from the North face of the droites you can easily place/use anchors down the headwall to the main ice feild and from there rap down the side of the couzy spur (fixed) The East summit is a very easy descent and I''ve used it twice in Winter and it''s possible to descend on a single 60 metes rope (2 full lengths abs then down climbing or easy rapping) The North East Spur is one of the best mixed routes in the Alps, way harder then the North Face now that with modern tools the classic Route is about Scottish IV. In Winter the spur offers fantastic well protected mixed climbing between Scottish V and VII depending on varations in the upper walls and most partys bivi twice (once in summer) and although commiting it is a very safe BIG alpine Winter Route. As for the Dru Couloir, again tecnicaly the grade has dropped (if you can catch it in condition). The original route (not the direct) is in three sections, The bottom couloir is thin easy angled but fairly run out ice climbing and easy mixed on loose rock (OK belays and about grade IV) then the mixed section starting with the Nominee crack, lots of fixed gear with the ocasional freind or wire required (take lots of crabs and some jumars) Then if you ignore the ACG and take the route described in NGM you climb two hardish grade V pitchs, one loose slab traversing to a flake chimney. Then the final section is the upper couloir, easish with one section of 90 degr (about 2metres only! and protected by a peg) Then the best descent is down the Grand Dru. A good Day out! If anyone wants a topo''s of Info on any of thies routes E-mail me.
Contributed by Andy Kirkpatrick (113666.421@compuserve.com) on July 16, 1998.
Unfortunately owing to a large rockfall on the Dru the American Direct is no longer climbable as most of it is now in a heap at the foot of the mountain.
Contributed by Dan Forbes-Ford (d.forbesford@icrf.icnet.uk) on September 24, 1998.
The Dru Couloir is an excellent route which I climbed with a friend in 1987. The route is easily done in a day, and under certain conditions the Nominee crack can be avoided by mixed climbing to the left, which makes it much quicker. Though it has to be said that it took three weeks of rain in August '87 to form this alternative. The ice in the top section can be very hard and polished, but with the newer ice screws available now should be easily protected.

Some friends of mine did the direct version in 1988 again taking only a day. Two other friends did the original route in February 1990 taking 2 days. They said the lower slabs were very thin and time consuming. If anyone wants any further info please contact me at my e-mail address.

Contributed by Gary Kinsey (garykinsey@xtra.co.nz) on August 24, 2001.

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