Get the inside knowledge: Chamonix-based Mountain Guides Will Sim and Stuart MacDonald offer the wealth of their experience for those thinking of ticking the highest point in Western Europe.
The huge white dome of Mont Blanc is instantly recognisable. Like the triangular Matterhorn, it’s one of those peaks that all mountaineers wants to tick off.
The good news is that, if climbing with a guide, although some climbing skills will certainly help, this objective is within reach for most fit hill-walkers who are experienced in winter conditions. However, don’t underestimate Mont Blanc: seracs, stonefall, crevasses, weather — these are all potential killers, so do hire a guide if in any doubt about your ability and be aware that there are risks involved in attempting an ascent, even with an expert.
There are five main routes up to the roof of Europe: the normal route through the Aiguille du Gouter, the Aiguille du Midi traverse, the historical route through the Grands Mulets, the normal Italian route and the Miage - Bionnassay - Mont Blanc traverse. Most people tackle the Gouter Route.
3600m high on the Gouter Route. Photo: Shutterstock / Prometheus72
1 Consider your skill level
The easiest route, the Gouter, is not technical, but you do need some mountaineering skills and equipment. You need to be able to front-point and traverse in crampons in 45-degree snow territory. You also need to be experienced at using an ice axe on snow slopes. If not climbing with a guide, you also need to bring your own equipment and skills for travelling safely on a glacier, and for rescuing your partner/s from a crevasse. For all other routes you need even more experience and skills.
2. Choose your route carefully
For most people, the Gouter Route is the best choice. For stronger climbers, the Trois Monts might be possible (it can be guided 1:1). For very fit people the Italian route (a.k.a. Gonella or Pope route) could be good (usually best early season).
3. Get fit
This takes a long time. Long walks in the mountains are ideal, as is running. 1/2 marathon distance runs in under two hours are a good indicator that you'll be fit enough. Don't kid yourself that you'll get fit out there on the acclimatisation phase — it may take six months or longer.
Approaching the summit. Photo: Shutterstock / YuG
4. Get the right kit
You really do need decent kit for this. You may experience temperatures from mid 20s to sub-zero! If money is an issue, you can rent all technical kit once out in the Alps (crampons, boots and so on). Some shops are even renting Gore-Tex clothing.
30-40 litre rucksack
Water and food
Clothing suitable for temperatures from the mid 20s to sub-zero
Boots: Must have rigid soles for crampon work and be sufficiently insulated to deal with sub-zero temperatures
30m rope (brought by guide if climbing with one!)
Crevasse rescue equipment (ditto)
Basic climbing rack (ditto)
Map and compass (ditto)
BMC Alpine & Ski travel insurance
WATCH: Explore the Alps with the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust on BMC TV
5. Take a guide
If you're reading this article, then chances are you're not a competent alpinist. A qualified IFMGA guide will arrange the mountain refuges, decide the itinerary, know the conditions, and give you the necessary training to succeed. If you want to reduce the stress level, and increase your chance of success, then hiring a guide will be money well spent.
Thanks to our contributing Mountain Guides, Stuart Macdonald (www.stuartmacdonald.org), for tips 2-8, and Will Sim (willsim.blogspot.co.uk) for tips 10-12.
6. Arrange the trip at least six months in advance
The refuges book up for the season within 24 hours of the booking system being turned on in March. If you don't book early, you might well be disappointed.
Tents outside the Gouter Hut. Photo: Shutterstock / Stefan Petrovski
7. Be prepared to be challenged
Exhaustion, bad weather, and low morale can all make the trip very tough.
8. Don't forget to acclimatise!
The necessity of this should not be underestimated. If possible, take on summits of increasing altitude, for example, a 3000m peak, a 3500m peak and another 4000er in the run-up to climbing Mont Blanc.
9. Take BMC Alpine & Ski travel insurance
For a serious mountain you need travel insurance that's built for the mountains. BMC Alpine & Ski cover is designed for trips like these. All of our policies come with:
24-hour emergency assistance helpline
£10 million emergency medical cover
£100,000 search, rescue and recovery cover
£10,000 personal accident cover
£5,000 cancellation cover
£2,500 baggage cover
No age loading until you're 70
WATCH: Alpine Essentials DVD trailer on BMC TV
10. Go early
There is no doubt that in the last few years the easiest way up and down Mont Blanc (the Gouter) has become less reliably in safe condition. A way you can combat this is to come early, in June, when residual snow from the winter is keeping the Aiguille du Gouter stuck together. Or come late, in September when it has generally cooled down and there is less rockfall danger.
11. Consider saving Mont Blanc for later in your climbing career
When you may be fit, strong and experienced enough to climb to the summit via a more challenging route such as the Kuffner Arete, Peutrey Ridge, Innominata or Freney.
12. Learn to ski
And be down it in a couple of hours!
A mighty fine tick. Photo: Shutterstock / Porojnicu Stelian
13. Buy the book
Mont Blanc 4810m: 5 Routes to the Summit, members price £19.75 in the BMC Shop.
This book will help you to better understand the mountain and to choose among the five classic routes.
BMC travel insurance is loaded with the essential cover that you need for adventure.
To make planning your trips easier, we've added Covid-19 cover into all five BMC Travel Insurance policies: Travel, Trek, Rock, Alpine and Ski and High Altitude.
Our new Covid-19 cover includes:
£5,000 cancellation cover: if you test positive for Covid-19 within 14 days of departure
Medical and repatriation: Covid-19 related illness
Being denied boarding: if you test positive for Covid-19 prior to your return home
Read more about the Covid-travel FAQs here
* Policy details: £77.53 for 7 days European Alpine and Ski policy up to age 69.
For full terms and conditions see our Evidence of Cover
WATCH: BMC Travel Insurance built for the mountains