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Mont Blanc massif

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For other uses, see Mont Blanc (disambiguation).
Mont Blanc massif
snowy mountains and glacier above the French town of Chamonix
View from Chamonix on the French side of the Mont Blanc massif (left to right: Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc, Dôme du Goûter, Aiguille du Goûter plus the Bossons Glacier)
Highest point
Peak Mont Blanc (Italian: Monte Bianco)
Elevation 4,808.73 metres (15,776.7 ft)
Coordinates 45°50′01″N 06°51′54″E / 45.83361°N 6.86500°E / 45.83361; 6.86500Coordinates: 45°50′01″N 06°51′54″E / 45.83361°N 6.86500°E / 45.83361; 6.86500
Dimensions
Length 46 km (29 mi)
Width 20 km (12 mi)
Geography
map of the Alps showing location
map of the Alps showing location
Mont Blanc massif
Location in the Alps
Countries France, Italy and Switzerland
Parent range Alps

The Mont Blanc massif (French: Massif du Mont–Blanc; Italian: Massiccio del Monte Bianco) is a mountain range in the Alps, located mostly in France and Italy, but also straddling Switzerland at its north–eastern end. It contains eleven major independent summits, each over 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) in height, and is named after Mont Blanc which, at 4,808.73 metres (15,776.7 ft)


, is regarded as the highest point in western Europe.[1] Because of its considerable overall altitude, a large proportion of the massif is covered by glaciers, which includes the Mer de Glace and the Miage Glacier – the longest glaciers in France and Italy, respectively.

Not only does the massif form a watershed between the vast catchments of the Rhône and Po rivers, as well as a tripoint between France, Italy and Switzerland, but it also marks a border between two climate regions by separating the northern/western Alps from the southern Alps.[2]:26 The mountains of the massif consists mostly of granite and gneiss rocks, and at high altitudes the vegetation is an arctic–alpine flora.

The valleys that delimit the massif were used as communication routes by the Romans until they left around the 5th century AD. A peasant farming economy operated within these valleys for many centuries until the glaciers and mountains were ‘discovered’ in the 18th century. Word of these impressive sights began to spread, and Mont Blanc was finally climbed in 1786, marking the start of the sport of mountaineering. The region is now a major tourist destination, drawing in over 6 million visitors per year. It provides a wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreation and activities such as sight–seeing, hiking, rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Around one hundred people a year die across its mountains and, occasionally, bodies have been lost and entombed in its glaciers for decades.

The long–distance Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trail circumnavigates the whole massif in an 11–day, 170 kilometres (110 mi) trek. Access into the mountains is facilitated by cable cars, railways and mountain huts which offer overnight refuge to climbers and skiers. The Mont Blanc Tunnel connects the French town of Chamonix on the northern side with the Italian town of Courmayeur in the south. The high mountains have provided many opportunities for scientific research, including neutrino measurements within the Tunnel and impacts of climate change on its highest slopes. Recent rises in average temperatures have led to significant glacial retreat across the massif and an awareness of the need for better environmental protection, including a call for World Heritage Site status.

Geography[edit]

Main peaks and ridges of the Mont Blanc massif.
Map of western half of the Mont Blanc massif, showing main summits, ridges and valleys
Mont Blanc massif (west).
Map of the eastern half of the Mont Blanc massif, showing main summits, ridges and valleys
Mont Blanc massif (east)
(National boundaries are shown in grey; The Tour du Mont Blanc route is shown dotted in red.)
a glacier covered with rocky debris flowing down the Italian side of Mont Blanc
The Miage Glacier, on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif
a valley in Italy defining the south side of the Mont Blanc massif
View over La Palud and eastwards along Val Ferret, Italy

The Mont Blanc massif is 46 kilometres (29 mi) long and lies in a south–west to north–easterly direction across the borders of France (Haute–Savoie and Savoie), Italy (Aosta Valley) and Switzerland (western Valais). At its widest point the massif is 20 km (12 mi) across.[note 1] The northern side of the massif lies mostly within France, and is bounded by the valley of the River Arve, containing the towns of Argentière, Chamonix and Les Houches. To the west it is bounded by the Val Montjoie, containing the town of Les Contamines–Montjoie and Le Bon Nant river which flows northwards to a confluence with the Arve near Saint–Gervais–les–Bains, and thence onwards to the Rhône.

The southern side of the massif lies mostly within Italy and is bounded by the Val Veny and Val Ferret whose watercourses meet just above the town of Courmayeur. From Courmayeur these waters flow southwards as the Dora Baltea towards Aosta, eventually joining the Po river. However, the extreme south-western end of the massif does lie within France and is bounded by the vallée des Glaciers (which connects to the Val Veny over the watershed of the col de la Seigne), and its waters flow southwards towards the Isère river and onwards to the Rhône. The north–eastern end of the massif falls within Switzerland, and is bounded by a separate valley, confusingly also called Val Ferret, and which separates it from the Pennine Alps further east. Its watercourse, la Dranse de Ferret, flows northwards to join the Rhône at Martigny.

The borders of all three countries converge at a tripoint on the summit of Mont Dolent at an altitude of 3,820 metres (12,530 ft). From here the French–Italian border runs south–westwards along a ridge of high summits on the southern side of the massif, many of which are over 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) in height, including the Grandes Jorasses, Rochefort Ridge, Dent du Géant, Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc and its western satellite, the Aiguille de Bionnassay. From here it turns southwards over the Dômes de Miage and Aiguille de Tré la Tête before dropping down to the Col de la Seigne.

North of Mont Dolent the French/Swiss border meanders roughly north–north–west along a ridge-line of slightly lower peaks, including the Aiguille d'Argentière, the Aiguille du Chardonnet and the Aiguille du Tour, before dropping down to the Col de Balme. The Swiss/Italian border runs south-west from Mont Dolent, down to the twin passes of Col Ferret.

The massif contains 11 main summits over 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) in altitude, plus numerous subsidiary points over this height. From the summit of Mont Blanc to the River Arve near Chamonix there is a 3,800 metres (12,500 ft) drop over a distance of just 8 kilometres (5.0 mi).[3]:23 Because of its great elevation, much of the massif is snow- and ice-covered, and has been deeply dissected by glaciers. The Mer de Glace is the longest glacier in the range as well the longest in France and the second longest in the Alps. The debris-covered Miage Glacier on the southern side of the massif is the longest in Italy.[4]:39 The summit of Mont Blanc is an ice cap whose thickness varies from year to year.[5][6]

The entire massif can be circumnavigated by the Tour du Mont Blanc, a walking route of approximately 170 kilometres (110 mi), usually taking around 11 days to complete,[7] but which is also used for an annual mountain ultramarathon, with top competitors expected to complete the whole route in less than 21 hours.[8]

The main mountain passes, or cols, that connect different valleys and towns around the Mont Blanc massif are:

  • Col du Bonhomme 2,329 m (7,641 ft) (bridle path, links Contamines to Beaufort/Les Chapieux)
  • Col de la Seigne 2,490 m (8,170 ft) (bridle path, links Bourg Saint Maurice/Les Chapieux to Courmayeur)
  • Col Ferret 2,490 m (8,170 ft) (bridle path, links Courmayeur to Orsières/Champex/Trient Valley)
  • Col de Balme 2,191 m (7,188 ft) (bridle path, links Trient Valley to Chamonix)
  • Col de la Forclaz 1,520 m (4,990 ft) (major road, links Argentière to Martigny)

Summits[edit]

The first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786 by Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard initiated the sport of alpine mountaineering, and it was during the Golden age of alpinism (1854–1865) and the Silver age of alpinism (1865–1882) that the majority of the main summits of the massif were first attained.[9] Members of the England–based Alpine Club were instrumental in many of the first ascents, usually accompanied by guides from the towns of Chamonix or Courmayeur, such as Michel Croz, Michel Payot and Émile Rey, as well as the Swiss guide, Christian Almer.[10] Across the massif there are now more than two thousand different mountaineering routes to the summits, ranging greatly in both difficulty and length.[11]:7 These attract climbers from all over the world and of varying abilities who, unlike the early ascensionists, can access numerous climbing guidebooks, modern safety equipment, good information on climbing routes and technical difficulty, as well as weather forecasts and mountain accommodation and food.[12][13]

Main summits of the Mont Blanc massif. Independent peaks over 4,000 metres are shown in bold.[note 2]
Name Height (metres) Height (feet)
Mont Blanc 4,808[14] 15,782
Mont Blanc de Courmayeur 4,748 15,577
Mont Maudit 4,465 14,648
Picco Luigi Amedeo 4,460 14,633
Dôme du Goûter 4,304 14,121
Mont Blanc du Tacul 4,248 13,937
Grand Pilier d'Angle 4,243 13,921
Grandes Jorasses 4,208 13,806
Aiguille Verte 4,122 13,523
Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey 4,112 13,491
Mont Brouillard 4,069 13,350
Aiguille de Bionnassay 4,066 13,341
Pic Eccles 4,041 13,258
Dôme de Rochefort 4,015 13,173
Dent du Géant 4,013 13,166
Aiguille de Rochefort 4,001 13,127
Les Droites 4,000 13,123
Aiguille de Tré la Tête 3,930 12,894
Aiguille d'Argentière 3,901 12,802
Aiguille de Triolet 3,870 12,697
Aiguille du Midi 3,843 12,609
Tour Noir 3,836 12,586
Name Height (metres) Height (feet)
Aiguille des Glaciers 3,834 12,579
Mont Dolent 3,823 12,543
Aiguille du Chardonnet 3,822 12,540
Tour Ronde 3,792 12,441
Aiguille Noire de Peuterey 3,773 12,379
Aiguille du Dru 3,754 12,316
Dômes de Miage 3,688 12,100
Aiguille du Plan 3,673 12,051
Aiguille du Tour 3,540 11,615
Aiguilles Dorées 3,519 11,545
Grand Darray 3,514 11,529
Grande Lui 3,509 11,512
Aiguille du Grépon 3,502 11,489
Aiguille des Grands Charmoz 3,445 11,302
Le Portalet 3,344 10,971
Pointe d'Orny 3,274 10,742
Grande Pointe des Planereuses 3,151 10,338
Pointe des Plines 3,052 10,030
Le Génépi 2,884 9,462
Pointe Ronde 2,655 8,711
Catogne 2,599 8,527
La Breya 2,194 7,198

Glaciers[edit]

hundred year old postcard showing a group of people walking across a glacier
Traversing the Mer de Glace, circa 1902–1904
glacier flowing steeply downhill from Mont Blanc
The Brenva glacier, which descends low down into the Val Veny, Italy
climbers crossing snow above a steep glacier
Climbers on Brouillard Glacier, Italy
glacier in Switzerland flowing down from the Mont Blanc massif
Saleina glacier and the Aiguille d'Argentière on the Swiss side

Glaciers cover 110 square kilometres (42 sq mi) of the Mont Blanc massif,[3]:26 although other sources quote a larger glaciated area of 170 km2 (66 sq mi).[15]:8 The Mer de Glace is the largest glacier in the Western Alps, and the second largest in Europe. It has a total length of 12 km (7.5 mi) from highest snowfield to terminus and an area of between 35–40 km² (14–15 sq mi).

At around 10 km (6.2 mi) in length, the Miage Glacier is Italy's longest glacier and also the largest debris-covered glacier in Europe.[16][17] Other large glaciers include the Argentière Glacier (9 km (5.6 mi)), the Saleina Glacier (6 km (3.7 mi)), Trient Glacier (4 km (2.5 mi)), and the Bossons Glacier (c.4 km (2.5 mi)) and Brenva Glacier. Whilst these glaciers appear to show similar fluctuations in length, research shows that each glacier of the Mont Blanc massif has its own individual and distinctive response time to changes in snowfall and climate. The Bossons Glacier is known to respond first, then the Argentière and the Trient Glaciers respond some four to seven years later, with the Mer de Glace reacting last —between eleven and fifteen years after the Bossons Glacier.[3]:23

Even the smallest glaciers can have a significant impact on the environment and on human activity. In 1892 a water pocket, which had accumulated under the surface of the Tête Rousse Glacier, burst suddenly on the night of 11 July, releasing 200,000 cubic metres (7,100,000 cu ft) of water and ice which flowed down the mountainside, killing 200 people in the town of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains|Saint–Gervais–les–Bains. Recent rediscovery of further water build–up deep within the glacier are a cause of serious concern to this day.[18]

The inexorable downward movement and melting of glaciers can result in objects lost within them reappearing many years later. The first recorded account of a body reappearing from a glacier in the Mont Blanc range was made by Viscount Edmond de Catelin in 1861. It concerned three alpine guides who were buried in a crevasse during an avalanche on 20 August 1820 near the Rocher Rouges, high up on Mont Blanc, during an expedition organised by a Doctor Hamel. Forty years later the remains of two of them were discovered, re-exposed within fissures in the Bossons glacier. They were 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) lower down from the point where they were lost; the corpse of the third guide was discovered the following year.[19][20] In 2014 a group of alpine climbers found a body on the Glacier du Talèfre, close to the Couvercle Hut. It was identified as that of a young Chamonix guide who had disappeared on a solo ascent of the Nant Blanc face of the Aiguille Verte in 1982 and was assumed to have fallen into a crevasse.[21] In 2013 a box of valuable gemstones was found by a climber on the Bossons Glacier. It had re-emerged, having been carried 3,048 metres (10,000 ft) downhill from the site of one of two Air India plane crashes. These occurred at almost identical locations on the Rocher de Tournettes near the summit of Mont Blanc: one in 1950 (Air India Flight 245), and one in 1966 (Air India Flight 101). Debris from these crashes is still commonly found on the glacier.[22][23]

Geology[edit]

The Mont Blanc massif consists predominantly of ancient granitic rocks of Variscan age. Both it, and the Aiguilles Rouges range to its north, form part of the external zone of the Alps, effectively being the outermost layers of rock. The massif is formed from crystallised rocks, mostly granite, gneiss and schist. The gneisses and schists formed from sedimentary rocks and igneous rock which became metamorphosed by high pressure and heat from granitic magmas. The central granites make up Mont Blanc, the steep slopes of the Drus, the Grandes Jorasses and the Dent du Géant, and at the highest points are topped by schists, which are visible in places such as Grands Montets and near Mont Blanc's summit.[2]:25[24][25]

The granite rocks around Mont Blanc have been eroded into steep 'needles' or 'aiguilles', whose impressive nature were remarked upon by Goethe who visited Chamonix in autumn 1779. Known locally as 'protogine', they are lower in biotite mica and richer in quartz than the granites commonly found elsewhere.[2]:25

A large part of the massif is covered by icefields and is cut by numerous glaciers, mostly flowing north–westwards into France, or south–eastwards into Italy. With much steeper slopes on the Italian side, glaciers drop sharply and those such as the Miage Glacier and the Glacier de la Brenva are very heavily covered in rock debris. The massif is itself defined by broad valleys which formed along fault lines and which have subsequently been shaped by ice during the last glacial period of the Ice Age. [2]:25

During the mid–nineteenth century the granite rocks of the Mont Blanc massif were an important source of building stone. One hundred Italian stonemasons were brought to the Chamonix valley by Charles Albert of Sardinia for reconstructing the towns of Sallanches and Cluses which had at that time just been destroyed by fires.[26]

Minerals[edit]

large quartz crystals found in the Mont Blanc massif
Quartz crystals with chlorite, Lex Blanche glacier, Val Veny, Italy

The massif has been an important source of specimens for crystal hunters for over 250 years.[27] The mountaineer and explorer, Edward Whymper, noted that the basin of the Glacier de Talèfre was "considered good hunting ground for crystals", and that the slopes below les Courtes had yielded many large specimens. He recounted that a guide had told Saussure that in 1745 he had collected over 600 pounds (272 kg) of specimens there in just three hours.[28]:123 The first systematic account of the minerals of the Mont Blanc area was published in 1873 by Venance Payot. His list, entitled "Statistique minéralogique des environs du Mt–Blanc", catalogued 90 mineral types although it also included those present only as very small components of rocks. If these are excluded, it is known today that at least 68 separate mineral species occur across the whole range of the Mont Blanc massif.[29][30][31][32][33]

In order to preserve the mineralogical heritage of Mont Blanc, in 2008 the commune of Chamonix banned all mineral–hunting activities and collection of specimens without a prior permit being issued by the Mayor's Office. Use of explosives, heavy machinery or helicopters for removing material were also banned, and a code of practice put in place which requires an annual declaration of all finds to be made. It also gives a right for the Chamonix crystal museum (Musée des Cristaux) to have first option to acquire specimens of significance for its collections. To further protect the scientific value of material collected, all specimens offered for sale must be labelled with details of their provenance.[34] The crystal museum opened to the public in 2006 and tells the story of the early crystal–hunters (les cristalliers). Many specimens collected from across the massif are displayed there. Members of the Club de Minéralogie de Chamonix may gain free admission.[35]

Climate[edit]

Snow-covered mountains and peaks of Mont Blanc with a long glacier flowing down towards the valley
Western section of the Mont Blanc massif, with (from left to right), Dent du Géant, Mer de Glace, Aiguilles de Chamonix, Mont Blanc, Dôme du Goûter and Aiguille du Goûter.

Located on the watershed between the Rhône and the Po rivers, the Mont Blanc massif is also situated between two different climatic regions of the northern/western Alps and the southern Alps. Climatic conditions on the Mer de Glace are similar to those found on the northern side of the Swiss Alps.[2]:26

The climate of the Mont Blanc massif is cold and temperate (Köppen climate classification Dfb),[36] and is greatly influenced by altitude. The main valley settlements around the perimeter of the massif are at an altitude ranging between 600 metres (2,000 ft) and 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) but, because of the massif's great overall height, a considerable proportion is permanently glaciated or snow-covered and is exposed to extreme arctic conditions.

The mean annual temperature in Chamonix is 7.3 °C (45.1 °F), whilst average rainfall is 1,055 millimetres (41.5 in).[36] On the southern side of the massif, the mean temperature in Courmayeur is slightly lower at 6.3 °C (43.3 °F), whilst average rainfall is slightly higher, at 1,139 mm (44.8 in).[37] In both Chamonix and Courmayeur the driest month is April; the warmest month is July and the coldest is January. Average January temperatures for both towns lie between −2.1 °C (28.2 °F) and −2.8 °C (27.0 °F).[36][37] Average July temperatures are between 15.3 °C (59.5 °F) and 16.2 °C (61.2 °F) for both towns, but daytime temperatures in the valleys may range up to 25 °C (77 °F), sometimes reaching 30 °C (86 °F) during July and August).[38]

Temperatures drop as the mountains gain in height. The summit of Mont Blanc is a permanent ice cap, with temperatures around −20 °C (−4 °F), and the summit is prone to being very windy and liable to sudden weather changes. The best weather for mountaineering or hiking occurs between late June to early October but, being the highest part of the Alps, the Mont Blanc massif can create its own weather patterns. Even on the high passes of the Tour du Mont Blanc (around 2,000 m (6,600 ft) to 2,500 m (8,200 ft)) temperatures can be between 5 °C (41 °F) and 15 °C (59 °F) in summer, but feeling much colder because of wind chill in windy or wet conditions.[38]

Precipitation within the French Alps (be it as rain or snow) is distributed fairly evenly over all months of the year,[39][40] but there is significant variation with height and aspect. For example, Chamonix has an elevation of 1,030 metres (3,380 ft) and receives around 1,020 mm (40 in) of annual precipitation, whilst the Col du Midi, which is at 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) above sea level, receives significantly more, totalling 3,100 mm (120 in). However, at an even higher altitude (near to the summit of Mont Blanc) precipitation it is considerably less, with only around 1,100 mm (43 in) recorded, despite the latter measurements being taken at a height of 4,300 metres (14,100 ft). In the mountains further south of the Mont Blanc massif, annual precipitation is also significantly less than at equivalent altitudes within the massif. For example, the valleys in the Pelvoux massif at around 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) receive only around 600 mm (24 in) to 700 mm (28 in) of precipitation per year, which is significantly less than that in either Courmayeur or Chamonix.[3]:23

Ecology[edit]

flowers of alpine chrysanthemum
Alpine chrysanthemum (Leucanthemopsis alpina)
flowers of alpine toadflax on rocky ground
Alpine toadflax (Linaria alpina), Mont Blanc massif, Italy

The massif contains a very rich variety of biodiversity as a result of the huge height range from the valleys to the highest summits. Mild temperatures occur at altitudes between 600 metres (2,000 ft) and 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), whereas arctic conditions occur from 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) up to the highest point at 4,808.73 metres (15,776.7 ft)


.[15]:3

Whilst the Mont Blanc massif does not contain any species that are endemic to it, there are many rare and legally protected species found within its four major habitat zones. These are the: montane forests, sub–alpine, alpine and nival zones. The major habitats are coniferous forests, moors, rock and talus slopes, plus glacial moraines. The richness is further influenced by the different aspects of the faces, by the geology, as well as by the influence of man on the lower and middle slopes, where forest clearance has created open grassland. The native forest habitats are essential for the survival of many species, with the key conifer species including larch, pine, stone pine and red pine.[15]:13

Flora[edit]

Over a thousand plant species have been recorded across the Massif, from the valley bottoms right up to 3,800 m (12,500 ft) where the Alpine Chrysanthemum (Leucanthemopsis alpina (fr)) can be found at a record–breaking height.[15]:13

Early explorers, such as Alexander von Humboldt in 1807, observed a number of notable species in the mountains around Mont Blanc at altitudes above 3,100 metres (10,200 feet). This was well above the permanent snow line, but on rocks that were so steep that little snow could rest. These arctic–alpine species included: Androsace carnea (es); Androsace chamaejasme (de); Arabis caerulea (de); Cardamine bellidifolia; Draba hirta; Saxifraga androsacea (es) and Silene acaulis (occurring down to 1,500 m). Between 2,500 m (8,200 ft) and 3,100 m (10,200 ft), Humboldt noted the following amongst rocky debris around permanent snow fields and the highest alpine glaciers: Achillea nana (fr); Achillea atrata; Gentiana nivalis; Juncus trifidus; Ranunculus glacialis; Saxifraga biflora (de) and Saxifraga oppositifolia.[41]

In the mid 1800s, Venance Payot (1826–1902), a naturalist, mountain-guide, scholar and former mayor of Chamonix, published a number of articles on the flora around the Mont Blanc area,[42] including a list in 1862 of the vascular plants, mosses and lichens found at les Grands Mulets and elsewhere in the massif around Chamonix and the Aosta Valley.[43]

High up in the middle of the Glacier de Talèfre, completely surrounded by ice, and due south of Les Droites, lies a large triangular region of steep mountainside containing an unusual mixture of high-alpine vegetation. Known as the 'Jardin de Talèfre', it gained its name because of the rich assemblage of plants which occurs at great altitude there (between 2,650 m (8,690 ft) and 3,000 m (9,800 ft)). Described as "one of the loftiest patches of vegetation in Europe upon an islet of rock in the midst of a wilderness of snow and ice",[44] it is higher than the adjacent ground by some tens of metres and, as a result, was spared glacial scouring and subsequent loss of its vegetation during the Little Ice Age. Nevertheless, it would at that time still have been surrounded by ice on all three sides, as evidenced by the three glacial moraines found there today.[45] Species recorded there include: Achillea nana; Alchemilla pentaphylla; Arenaria biflora (de); Arenaria serpyllifolia; Cardamine alpina; Draba frigida; Empetrum nigrum; Epilobium alpinum; Helictotrichon versicolor (pl); Homogyne alpina; Jacobaea incana; Juncus trifidus; Kalmia procumbens; Poa laxa (pl); Potentilla frigida (de); Ranunculus glacialis; Ranunculus pyrenaeus (de); Saxifraga aspera; Saxifraga bryoides; Saxifraga oppositifolia; Sedum alpestre (es); Sibbaldia procumbens and Trifolium alpinum[44][46]

The Saussurea Alpine Botanical Garden above Courmayeur is located at 2,173 m (7,129 ft) above sea level, and is the highest botanical garden in Europe. It contains around 800 plant species and covers an area of 7,000 square metres (75,000 sq ft). It was originally created in 1987 just as a tourist attraction but, with the subsequent designation of the Pavillon du Mont Frety protected area, it has increased in scientific importance. It can be reached either from the mid–way station of the Skyway Monte Bianco, or on foot within two hours and an 800 m (2,600 ft) ascent from La Palud. The botanical garden derives its name from the genus of mountain flowers, Saussurea (Saw–worts) which itself was named after Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, whose enthusiasm for scientific research in the mountains led to the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786.[47]

Fauna[edit]

head of alpine ibex close to a small mountain hut
Alpine ibex (Capra ibex), foraging for scraps beside Petit Mont Blanc bivouac hut, Mont Blanc massif, Italy
alpine bird on a post
Alpine chough, (Pyrrhocorax graculus), Mer de Glace.

The mountains around Mont Blanc are home to many mammal species, including ibex, chamois, deer, mountain hare and alpine marmot (including a small population of albino marmots within Val Ferret.[48] Eurasian lynx have been reintroduced into the French Alps and, although present around the Mont Blanc massif, are extremely unlikely to be encountered.[49] Similarly, wolves, whose presence in the Chamonix area was commented upon by Mary and Percy Shelley during their 1816 visit, were extirpated long ago. These have also been reintroduced in recent times, and a small number of individuals are reported to have made their way into the Chamonix area.[49][50]

The following bird species have been recorded in the Mont Blanc massif:[51][52][53][54]

  • Valleys and lower pastures: House–sparrow; swallow; house martin; robin, blackbird, thrush; yellowhammer; whinchat; goldfinch; chaffinch; nuthatch; great tit; carrion crow.
  • Rivers: wagtails; dipper.
  • Forests: nutcracker; jay; coal tit, marsh tit; crested tit; willow tit; mistle thrush.
  • Above tree line: redstart; black redstart; wheatear; meadow pipit; ptarmigan; wallcreeper; alpine chough.
  • Raptors: kestrel; owls; sparrowhawk; buzzard; eagles; bearded vulture (rare).

Seven of the massif's largest indigenous mammal species are housed in the Merlet Animal Park near Les Houches, including ibex, chamois, marmot, fallow and roe deer. Located 600 metres (2,000 ft) above the village, the Animal Park was founded in 1968 and contains eighty animal species from mountain habitats around the world.[55]

Human history[edit]

Early history[edit]

The region in which the Mont Blanc massif is located has been occupied by man for at least 70,000 years,[56] although, as now — and because of the great height and glaciated nature of the mountains — only the lower parts of the valleys around its perimeter would have been inhabited or used as routes of communication.

The Romans, who occupied the region some 2,000 years ago, used the main valleys around the massif for military purposes. They gave the name "Alpes Penninae", or "Poeninae", to the highest parts of the Alps—which extended from Mont Blanc to Monte Rosa[57] They took over Aosta from the Salassi Celtic tribe in 25 AD and engineered the Gaul consular road which extended northwards into Europe via the Great St Bernard Pass and the Little St Bernard Pass.[58] Courmayeur, on the southern side of the massif, began to develop as a stop–off along the Roman's trans–alpine trading routes between Italy and France,[59] and parts of the modern Tour du Mont Blanc walking trail still follow the route of a Roman road along the Col du Bonhomme and the Col de la Seigne.[60]

The Romans occupied Martigny to the north of the massif, and their influence spread out well beyond the Alps into much of northern Europe. As a result of aggressive pressure from tribes in the north, the imperial forces of Rome were gradually withdrawn from the alpine regions and, by the 5th century AD, they had left completely. The areas left behind were occupied in the western part by the Burgundian tribes from what is today France, and the Alemanni tribes from Germany moved into eastern parts, resulting in the linguistic divide found today across the Alps.[58]

For many centuries thereafter, the settlements around the Mont Blanc massif comprised a rural population of peasant mountain farmers, living off animal husbandry, supplemented with a meagre harvest of rye and oats. In winter many farmers in the valley of Chamonix joined their counterparts from the neighbouring valleys of Maurienne, Beaufortain and Tarentaise and crossed the Alps into southern Germany, Austria and northern Italy to sell local products and bring back spices and fabrics for sale in local markets.[61] Known as "colporteurs" (peddlars), they brought back new ideas of baroque art which impacted on church architecture in some of the valleys around the massif.[62] Then, in 1741, the 'Chamouny' valley and its glaciers on the north side of the massif were discovered and written about by two aristocratic travelling Englishmen, named William Windham and Richard Pococke. The descriptions of their exploits were published across Europe, bringing the mountains of the Mont Blanc range to the attention of a wide audience for the first time.[63][64]

Tourist beginnings[edit]

Sculpture of the first two men to clmib Mont Blanc
Statue of Balmat and Saussure in Chamonix
drawing of a mountain from a book published in 1827
View from Contamines–Montjoie. From 'A Tour to Great St Bernards and round Mont Blanc', W.Rose. 1827 (written for young people aged 10 to 14)[65]

Tourism in the Mont Blanc range, and especially around Chamonix began around 1760 when Horace-Bénédict de Saussure offered a large financial prize to the first people who successfully ascended Mont Blanc, as well as offering to meet the costs of anyone who tried, but failed. The summit was finally attained on 8 August 1786 by two Chamonix men, the guide Jacques Balmat and Dr. Michel Paccard.[58]:202 The decades that followed saw the gradual opening up of Chamonix to the world, as well as the rest of the Mont Blanc massif. The many published accounts of climbs and impressive sights amongst or around the mountain range attracted numerous wealthy and notable visitors, for whom a visit to marvel at the ‘Sea of Ice’ (the Mer de Glace) became a fashionable thing to experience.[65][66][67][68]

In July 1816 Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley toured the Alps and visited Chamouni (as it was then known), as well as the Mer de Glace and the Bossons Glacier. They jointly published their accounts and letters in a work entitled: History of a Six Weeks' Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland; with Letters Descriptive of a Sail Round the Lake of Geneva and of the Glaciers of Chamouni. The book concludes with 'Mont Blanc', a 144–line poem by Percy Shelley, written whilst in Chamonix and which was clearly inspired by the river Arve, the snow-covered summits, the chaotic glaciers and the forests that he experienced during their visit.[69]

Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,

Mont Blanc appears—still, snowy, and serene—
Its subject mountains their unearthly forms
Pile around it, ice and rock; broad vales between
Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps,
Blue as the overhanging heaven, that spread

And wind among the accumulated steeps;

Amongst many other notable visitors were: Goethe (1779); Chateaubriand (1805); Madame de Staël; Victor Hugo; Louis Pasteur and Franz Liszt (1836), plus two successive wives of Napoleon, Joséphine de Beauharnais (1810) and Marie Louise of Austria (1814). In 1849 John Ruskin spent a month in Chamonix, from where he painted some of the massif's mountains before undertaking the Tour of Mont Blanc.[70] When Savoy was eventually annexed to France in 1860, Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie visited the region to mark the event and undertook to enhance road access leading to the end of the Arve valley.[71][72]

The nineteenth century saw considerable economic development which turned the small agricultural town of Chamonix into a base for tourists, with luxurious hotels and mountain lodges being built to accommodate them. A trade in selling local items to visiting foreigners soon developed. Items such as horn trinkets, honey, and especially crystals collected from across the massif were much in demand.[71]

In just 50 years the Mont Blanc massif, and Chamonix and Courmayeur in particular, had become a popular destination for many travellers. It saw the emergence and spread of the sport of alpine mountaineering, and visitor numbers increased significantly. By the end of the eighteenth century, Chamonix was home to around 1,500 summer visitors. By 1850 it was welcoming 5,000 visitors, and by 1892 those numbers had risen to 24,000 a year.[71] In 1906, the eleventh edition of a guidebook written by Edward Whymper about Chamonix and the Mont Blanc range estimated that 130,000 visitors went there during the 1905–1906 season. It also reported that the railway service to Chamonix, which had previously been suspended in winter, was now running throughout the year.[73] The tourist boom to the mountains had started. In 1924 a 'Winter Sports Week' was held in Chamonix, with patronage from the International Olympic Committee. It attracted over 10,000 paying visitors and was retrospectively named as the first Winter Olympic Games.[74]

Tourism today[edit]

man with mountain bike looking up towards Mont Blanc
Val Veny, near Col de la Seigne, Italy. Route of the Tour du Mont Blanc, parts of which are accessible by mountain bike.
Skier descending a snowy slope near Chamonix
Powder skiing in Chamonix Mont Blanc

The Mont Blanc massif is now a significant tourist destination. The region attracts over 6 million people per annum, with around one in five gaining access to its slopes by means of mechanical infrastructure (cable cars or funicular railways).[75] Surveys have shown that tourists mostly come to the Mont Blanc massif and its environs for winter sports and other outdoor, nature–related activities such as hiking, climbing and cycling.[76]

The Aiguille du Midi Cable Car in Chamonix attracts 500,000 people each year, and has an annual turnover of 16 million euros. From Chamonix it rises to the 3,842 metres (12,605 ft) summit of the Aiguille du Midi, and holds the world record for the highest vertical ascent of any cable car (2,807 m (9,209 ft)).[77] It gives views over much of the massif, and up towards Mont Blanc itself. Recent upgrading of its facilities include a viewing platform on the summit station with a glass floor where visitors stand over a 1,000 m (3,300 ft) precipice, and 'Le Pipe' – a tubular walkway that, when completed, will circle the summit[78][79]

The building of the new Skyway Monte Bianco cable car on the Italian side of the massif is expected to increase visitor numbers to Courmayeur from 100,000 to 300,000 per annum, following complete replacement of an earlier cable car system in 2015.[80] It takes tourists from La Palud up to its top at Pointe Helbronner.[81] Costing 138 million euros (when all the extra infrastructure is included), the Skyway Monte Bianco is regarded as the world's most expensive cable car installation.[75][82]

Other recent enhancements to tourist infrastructure across the massif have included:

  • construction of a new, and ultra–modern Goûter Hut to accommodate the increasing numbers of mountaineers attempting the popular Goûter Route to the summit of Mont Blanc.[83]
  • 1/2 billion euro investment in Les Grands Montets and other ski areas over a six–year period from 2014 onwards.[84][85]

Increasing numbers of mountain tourists, together with enhanced access and quick communications with mountain rescue services have led to an increase in mountain accidents and inappropriate demands to be rescued.[86] There have also been various stunts, some of which the local authorities have decried as 'reckless and stupid'. In one instance an American man attempted to break the record for the youngest person to summit Mont Blanc. He posted footage online of his nine and eleven–year old children on the dangerous section of the Goûter route to the summit as they were nearly swept to their deaths in a snow–slide.[87] In recent years guards have been placed on this route at peak periods to ensure that those entering the mountain environment are adequately equipped and skilled.[88] Increasing numbers have also led to calls to limit access to the most popular mountains, both for pollution–reduction and accident–reduction reasons.[89] Deaths from mountaineering related accidents across the Mont Blanc massif average almost 100 a year.[90]:208

Access[edit]

entrance to a road tunnel going under Mont Blanc in France
Chamonix – Mont Blanc Tunnel Entrance
mountain railway train emerging from a tunnel
Mont Blanc Tramway (TMB) at the Nid d'Aigle in 1996.
cable car cabin with snowy mountains and clear skies
Rotating cabin on the Skyway Monte Bianco, Courmayeur

The Mont Blanc massif is accessible by road from within France via the A40–E25, or from Switzerland via Martigny and the Forclaz pass (1,527 m (5,010 ft)), or via Orsières to reach the Swiss Val Ferret. From within Italy the A40 from Aosta leads to Courmayeur, as does the higher mountain route from Bourg–Saint–Maurice via the Col du Petit St. Bernard (2,188 m (7,178 ft)).

The massif can be quickly crossed in a north–south direction by one of two transport routes, one aimed at through–traffic, the other intended solely for tourists:

  1. The 11.6 km (7.2 mi) long Tunnel du Mont Blanc connects Chamonix and Courmayeur and permits cars and lorries to quickly reach the opposite valley. It took twenty years to complete and opened to vehicle traffic in 1965.[91] The tunnel is infamous for an incident in March 1999, when a lorry caught fire inside. The resulting fire lasted 53 hours and killed 39 people. The tunnel was renovated in the aftermath, re-opening three years later.[92] By 2008, some 1,600 trucks and 3,200 cars were using the tunnel every day (totalling 1.8 million vehicles per year) – a little less than before the 1999 fire.[93]
  2. The Vallée Blanche Cable Car is normally used by visitors travelling from one or other of the tourist centres of Chamonix or Courmayeur and gives views over, or direct access for skiers and mountaineers to, the glaciated regions of the massif. It crosses the massif in a roughly north–south direction and connects the Aiguille du Midi with the Point Helbronner, each of which can themselves be reached by téléphérique from Chamonix and Courmayeur respectively.

Elsewhere in the massif, the Montenvers Railway connects Chamonix to Montenvers near the foot of the Mer de Glace, whilst the Téléphérique du Lognan connects Argentière with Aiguille des Grands Montets where 'Les Grand Montets' is an important winter skiing area in the region.[94] At 3,300 m (10,800 ft), the summit station also provides relatively easy access for climbers to the north-eastern peaks of the range, including short introductory rock scrambles and a simple ice-face route on the NW face of the Petite Aiguille Verte.[95]

The Mont Blanc Tramway takes tourists and hikers from Saint–Gervais–les–Bains to the Nid d'Aigle, near the Glacier de Bionnassay. It also provides mountaineers with ready access to the first stage of the Goûter Route for an attempt on the 'voie normale' to the summit of Mont Blanc.[96]

From Les Houches, one of two cable cars links to Bellevue plateau (1,800 m (5,900 ft)) giving access to walking paths, mountain bike trails and winter ski–runs as well as to a halt on the Mont Blanc Tramway,[97] whilst a second links the town to the adjacent Prarion plateau (1,900 m (6,200 ft)).[98]

Heli–skiing gives ready access to many remote or off–piste ski routes in the Mont Blanc massif. Because heli–skiing is banned across France for environmental reasons, companies offering this service only operate on the Swiss and Italian sides of the range.[99]

Mountain huts[edit]

large mountain hut on a snow-covered mountainside
New Gouter Hut, France. Opened 2013, capacity 120 people, wardened
tiny bivouac shelter used by mountain climbers
Bivouac du Petit Mont Blanc, Italy. Capacity 9 people, unwardened
interior of a mountain bivouac hut showing bunk beds
Interior of Petit Mont Blanc bivouac hut (mountain refuge)
mountain refuge overlooking snow-covered Swiss mountains
Saleina Hut, Switzerland. Capacity 48, wardened. Photo taken in April.

Since the very early days of alpine mountaineering a number of high–altitude mountain refuges have been positioned strategically across the massif, the majority owned by their respective national mountaineering clubs. Many are wardened during the summer months, though the small, bivouac huts are unmanned and have very limited facilities. Reductions in hut fees are usually available to members of other national mountaineering clubs.[100]

The two most popular huts (Goûter and Tête Rousse) now require all climbers to pre–book, or they will be turned away. Wild camping at high altitude is prohibited, and especially enforced on popular routes.[101] Some tiny bivouac huts, such as the Eccles Hut, can be extremely crowded in good mountaineering conditions, and some climbers prefer to bivouac outside. Each high altitude hut faces its own individual challenges, often relating to water and energy supply or waste management. The provision of services to visitors can sometimes conflict with environmental protection. A range of individual solutions for a selection of huts within the massif and elsewhere in the Alps was identified by a project run by Espace Mont Blanc[102][103]

Mountain huts of the Mont Blanc massif above 2,500 metres, sortable by name, country or altitude.
If on a border they are listed by nationality of the owning body.
Mountain Hut name Altitude (m/ft) Country
Vallot Emergency Hut 4,362 m (14,311 ft) France
Goûter Hut 3,817 m (12,523 ft) France
Cosmiques Hut 3,613 m (11,854 ft) France
Abri Simond Bivouac[note 4] 3,600 m (11,800 ft) France
Periades Bivouac Hut 3,450 m (11,320 ft) France
Tête Rousse Hut 3,170 m (10,400 ft) France
Grands Mulets Hut 3,051 m (10,010 ft) France
Durier Hut 3,358 m (11,017 ft) France
Charpoua Hut 2,841 m (9,321 ft) France
Argentière Hut 2,771 m (9,091 ft) France
Albert Premier Hut 2,702 m (8,865 ft) France
Couvercle Hut 2,687 m (8,816 ft) France
Plan Glacier Hut 2,680 m (8,790 ft) France
Conscrits Hut 2,602 m (8,537 ft) France
Requin Hut 2,516 m (8,255 ft) France
Leschaux Hut[note 5] 2,431 m (7,976 ft) France
Eccles Bivouac Hut 3,850 m (12,630 ft) Italy
Canzio Bivouac Hut 3,852 m (12,638 ft) Italy
Dames Anglaises (Craveri) Bivouac Hut 3,490 m (11,450 ft) Italy
Jacchia Bivouac Hut 3,258 m (10,689 ft) Italy
Ghiglione Bivouac (removed 1999)[104] 3,690 m (12,110 ft) Italy
Col de la Fourche Bivouac Hut 3,680 m (12,070 ft) Italy
Quintino Sella Bivouac Hut 3,396 m (11,142 ft) Italy
Torino Hut 3,375 m (11,073 ft) Italy
Brenva Bivouac Hut 3,140 m (10,300 ft) Italy
Gonella Hut 3,071 m (10,075 ft) Italy
Petit Mont Blanc Bivouac Hut /Refuge Rainetto 3,047 m (9,997 ft) Italy
Estelette Bivouac Hut 2,958 m (9,705 ft) Italy
Gervasutti Bivouac Hut 2,833 m (9,295 ft) Italy
Boccalette Hut / Refuge des Grandes Jorasses 2,804 m (9,199 ft) Italy
Robert Blanc Hut 2,750 m (9,020 ft) Italy
Dolent Bivouac Hut / Fiorio Bivouac 2,724 m (8,937 ft) Italy
Triolet Hut / Refugio Dalmazzi 2,599 m (8,527 ft) Italy
Monzino Hut (Private) 2,590 m (8,500 ft) Italy
Trient Hut 3,170 m (10,400 ft) Switzerland
Cabane d'Orny Hut 2,831 m (9,288 ft) Switzerland
A Neuve Hut 2,735 m (8,973 ft) Switzerland
Saleina Hut 2,691 m (8,829 ft) Switzerland

Scientific research[edit]

The Mont Blanc massif has provided opportunities for academic research, dating back to the very first ascent of its highest summit in 1786 during which Michel Paccard carried equipment to enable him to accurately measure its height.[105][106] The ill-fated expedition in 1820 by Dr Hamel included pigeons intended for release at varying altitudes to measure the impact of reduced air density on their ability to fly.[107] In 1890 Joseph Vallot built a small meteorological observatory at 4,350 m (14,270 ft) between the Dome de Gouter and Mont Blanc's summit from where numerous measurements and scientific experiments were conducted. One included simultaneous temperature measurements, made over many months at Chamonix, the Grands Mulets and at the observatory itself.[108] In 1893 Pierre Janssen constructed an astronomical observatory on the top of Mont Blanc, partially buried within the summit ice to hold it in place. A 33 cm (13 in) telescope, and a spectrograph for measuring the oxygen content of the sun, were installed. The observatory was removed when it started to collapse around 1906.[109][110]
Three examples of modern–day uses of the high mountains for scientific research include neutrino detection, uranium pollution monitoring and climate change:

  • A neutrino detector was installed inside the Mont Blanc Tunnel between 1984 and 1997 in order to take advantage of the shielding from background radiation provided by the 4,800 meter water equivalent (m.w.e.]) of solid rock surrounding it in every direction.[111] In February 1987 the 'Underground Neutrino Observatory' reported the detection of a neutrino event believed to be from the SN 1987A supernova.[112][113]
  • In 2005, the technique of remote laser-scanning (LiDAR) was used for the first time in any mountain environment to research the impact of climate change on rock face stability. Seven sites in the Mont Blanc massif were selected, with the Tour Ronde being the first to be analysed. An area of its east face of 67,400 m2 (725,000 sq ft) was laser-scanned from a distance of 800 metres (2,600 feet). This revealed that over a twelve–month period the face had lost 536 m3 (18,900 cu ft) of rock. The project concluded that the high rockfall rate on the Tour Ronde and elsewhere in the massif was linked to the degradation of permafrost. This would formerly have held the mountain together more effectively, but is now exposed to greater weathering through the freeze-thaw cycle of water, with maximum occurrence during warm summers.[114][115][116] In 2015, climbers captured video footage of a huge rockfall on the Tour Ronde's east face, which demonstrates that instability remains at a significant level in this area.[117]
  • In 1994, research was carried out into wind–borne uranium contamination, and an accurate 200–year time series was produced. It was carried out jointly by academic institutions from France, Italy and Korea and provided the first published uranium concentration data for any alpine or polar icefield. A 140 m (460 ft) ice core was drilled on the Dôme du Goûter at an altitude of 4,250 m (13,940 ft). Ice that pre-dated 1940 contained fairly uniform levels of uranium, consistent with natural crustal contributions. In contrast, those formed after World War II showed large excesses. These were attributed to aerial transport of uranium dust produced by extensive mining and milling operations that occurred in East Germany by SDAG Wismut (and also in France to a lesser extent) between 1965 and the end of the 1980s. No evidence was found that either the 1986 Chernobyl disaster or other nuclear power plants had caused the observed uranium contamination.[118]

Modern military activity[edit]

Magazine illustration of French soldiers reaching the summit of Mont Blanc in 1901
French alpine troops (Chasseurs Alpins) ascend to the summit of Mont Blanc. Illustration from Le Petit Journal, 1901

A troop garrison, known as the Casermetta, was active for many years at the Col de la Seigne, on the border between France and Italy. In the 1930s, during a period of increased international tension, the Mont Blanc massif was used by both countries wanting to demonstrate their military might, with large drills and troop exercises undertaken at high altitude. During the second World War, at a time when the French army had already been defeated by Nazi Germany, it found itself under attack again, but this time by Italian soldiers in many alpine locations including the area around the Col de la Seigne.[119]

Towards the end of the second World War, what has been described as the 'highest engagement of the entire war' occurred on the glaciers above Chamonix. With the Germans nearly defeated, and their garrison in Chamonix surrounded by the liberating forces, a contingent of Austro-German soldier — who were based around the Torino Hut on the Italian side of the massif— launched a bombardment on Chamonix from positions adjacent to the cable car station on the Col du Midi. Their bombardment was met with fierce opposition from French resistance fighters, and took place at an altitude of 3,500 metres (11,500 feet). Nine Austrian soldiers were killed, including their commander, who was blamed for mounting the operation.[58]:91

By 1932 France had established the École de Haute Montagne in Chamonix to train mountain troops, but in 1945 it was reconstituted to provide specialised mountaineering training, skiing and tactical skills to the entire army. It was later renamed as the École Militaire de Haute Montagne (fr) (EMHM) and it continues to fulfil that training role to this day.[120][121]

Environmental protection[edit]

Mountaineers descending steep snow ridge from cable car above Chamonix
Alpine mountaineers descending from the Aiguille du Midi cable car above Chamonix.
mountain hut on rock outcrop with climbers camping on nearby glacier
Cosmiques Hut near Aiguille du Midi with climbers camping illegally on the glacier below it. July 2010
Modern mountain hut on snowy rocks
New Gouter Hut with solar panels. Able to accommodate 120 people, the hut is so popular it still needs to be booked weeks in advance.
Construction work for a high mountain cable car
Construction work on the new Skyway Monte Bianco, 2014

Weather records show that since the 1960s there has been a trend of less snow at lower altitudes, whilst since the 1990s average mountain temperatures have increased more than at lower levels. Temperatures in Chamonix have risen by 1.5 °C over the last 75 years, and fresh snow build–up has halved there in the last 40 years, and there has been an increase in the melting and retreat of the massif's glaciers. The Mer de Glace has retreated 2,300 m (7,500 ft) in length since 1820 and, at Montenvers, has reduced in thickness by 150 m (490 ft). In the last 20 years the glacier has been retreating at a rate of around 30 m (98 ft) every year. Since 1994 it has lost 500 m (1,600 ft) in length and 70 m (230 ft) in depth.[122][123]

To help counter these effects, in 2012 the Chamonix–Mont Blanc Valley authorities introduced a 'climate and energy action plan', committing the region to a 22% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The plan included proposals to improve air quality by banning those lorries from using the Tunnel du Mont Blanc which were deemed to be the most polluting, and which at times had reduced air quality to levels more usually associated with the streets of Paris.[122][124]

Concerns over the state of the environment around the most popular parts of the Mont Blanc massif, and the need for visitors to better respect it, were reflected in a statement in 2014 by Jean–Marc Peillex, the mayor of Saint–Gervais who said:[88]

"Mont Blanc is a heap of garbage...a mountain covered with the crap, urine and detritus of the last 50 years. The problems are covered up by a nice, white blanket of snow. But I want to confront people with the reality and to reach those people who abuse the mountain."

Following the construction of the new Goûter Hut used by most climbers ascending Mont Blanc, the authorities now strictly enforce a 'no wild camping' ban above the level of Tête Rousses Hut, and no–one is allowed to use the Goûter Hut unless they have previously reserved a place.[125][126]

Protected statuses[edit]

In 1951 the French portion of the Mont Blanc massif was classified as a Site classé (fr) (or 'listed site') and this was extended in 1976 to now cover 253.54 square kilometres (97.89 sq mi).[127] By 1989 there had been calls for the creation of an 'International Park' for Mont Blanc, but these came to nothing.[128] However, it is neither a national park, nor does it yet have UNESCO World Heritage Site status.[125] In June 2000 France did add the Mont Blanc Massif to UNESCO's 'Tentative List', which is the first step to a state or states making a formal nomination. This was followed in January 2008 by a cross–border submission from Italy, which included France and Switzerland.[129][130] As a result of long delays, many environmental groups from France, Italy and Switzerland, working under the umbrella group, 'proMontBlanc', continue to raise their concerns and to put pressure on national governments and the European Union to support and make quicker progress with World Heritage classification.[131][132] In 2012, as a result of little forward movement towards inscription, ProMontBlanc published a condensed version of a detailed assessment and supportive rationale made the previous year into the state of the Mont Blanc application to be a World Heritage Site.[133][134] ProMontBlanc also undertakes a regular review of a suite of 24 environmental, 24 economic and 10 social indicators across 15 towns around the massif (7 French, 5 Italian and 3 Swiss). Known as the 'Mont Blanc Thermometer, it aims to record, monitor and report on the effectiveness of measures intended to deliver sustainable development across the region.[135] Since 2009 data reporting is included within the on–line Mont Blanc 'observatory'.

All the French parts of the Mont Blanc massif, plus the neighbouring Aiguille Rouges range, have been listed as a Zone naturelle d'intérêt écologique, faunistique et floristique (ZNIEFF). This does not give regulatory protection, but is a recognition of the outstanding biodiversity of the area, and of its landscape, geomorphological, geological, historical and scientific importance. The 2011 schedule documents list over 130 critical species of animals and plants for which the massif is important.[136]

The Mont Blanc massif is still regarded by conservationists as representing an important missing link in the wider protected areas network of the western Alps, both in the south and the north.[137]

Espace Mont Blanc[edit]

In 1991 the environment ministers for France, Italy and Switzerland came together to agree the forming of Espace Mont Blanc –a partnership of local and national organisations and communes to plan for the future development and protection of the Mont Blanc region. In 1998 the group was charged with creating a 'sustainable development scheme' for the region (finally launched in 2005), and in 2003 it adopted a plan for safeguarding sensitive environments and landscapes. In 2007 it produced its position statement regarding the classification of Mont Blanc as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2009 a Transboundary Integrated Plan (PIT) was announced, with the implementation of six regional projects running until 2013;[138] and in 2014 the group launched 'Strategy for the Future' – a strategic tool for ensuring consistency in public policies across the different territories around Mont Blanc.[139]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ distance measured from valley bottom to valley bottom, from French IGN online map.
  2. ^ summits and heights identified from French IGN online mapping portal
  3. ^ glaciers identified from French IGN online mapping portal
  4. ^ for winter use only. Abri Simond bivouac hut is only available in winter when the Cosmiques Hut is not open
  5. ^ The Leschaux Hut is included in this list because it is extremely remote, in the middle of the massif, and requires experience of glacier travel to reach it and gives unique access to certain climbing routes, unlike all other 'hotels' at equivalent altitude on the edges of the massif.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Mont Blanc shrinks by 45cm in two years". Sydney Morning Herald. 6 November 2009. Retrieved 2 March 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Nussbaumer, S.U.; Zumbuhl, H.J.; Steiner, D. (2007). "Fluctuations of the “Mer de Glace” (Mont Blanc area, France) AD 1500–2050:" (PDF). Zeitschrift für Gletscherkunde und Glazialgeologie (Innsbruck). BAND 40 (2005/2006): 1–137. ISSN 0044-2836. Retrieved 13 January 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d Reynaud, Louis (1993). Williams, Richard S.; Ferrigno, Jane G., eds. "The French Alps" (PDF). Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World. Professional Paper 1386 (U.S.Geological Survey). Retrieved 18 January 2016. 
  4. ^ Barbero, Rossana Serandrei; Zanon, Giorgio (1993). Williams, Richard S.; Ferrigno, Jane G., eds. "The Italian Alps (in Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World" (PDF). Professional Paper 1386. U.S.Geological Survey. Retrieved 18 January 2016. 
  5. ^ "Mont Blanc has shrunk". The Connexion. 11 September 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2016. 
  6. ^ "Leica Nova MS50 MultiStation delivers first exact 3D scan of the Mont Blanc ice cap" (PDF). www.leica-geosystems.us. Leica Geosystems. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 
  7. ^ Reynolds, Kev (2015). Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete two-way trekking guide. Cicerone Press Limited. ISBN 1-85284-779-4. 
  8. ^ Reade, Kirsty (20 August 2015). "The ultimate challenge: running the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc". www.theguardian.com. Retrieved 22 January 2016. 
  9. ^ "Chamonix: History of Alpinism". www.chamonix.net. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  10. ^ "British mountaineers during the golden age of alpinism". www.telegraph.co.uk. The Daily Telegraph. 4 February 2016. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  11. ^ Rebuffat, Gaston (1991). The Mont Blanc Massif: The 100 Finest Routes (English ed.). Diadem Books. 
  12. ^ Grifin, Lindsay (14 June 2013). "Less difficult classics in the Mont Blanc Massif". www.thebmc.co.uk. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  13. ^ "Chamonix Mountaineering & Mont Blanc Alpinism". www.chamonix.net. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  14. ^ Mont Blanc shrinks by 45cm in two years
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Further reading[edit]

  • Merrick, H., Companion to the Alps, Batsford, 1974. Chapters 1–4,8.
  • Rebuffat,G., The Mont Blanc Massif: The 100 Finest Routes, Diadem Books, 1991. English edition mountaineering book.
  • Whymper, E., Chamonix and the range of Mont Blanc, 11th edition, John Murray, London, 1906.

External links[edit]