The Alps and Mont Blanc are the result of the merging of the European and African plates, and have been subsequently altered by seven separate glacial epochs. Mont Blanc doesn’t conform to the classical pyramidal form, rather the Mont Blanc massif takes days to drive around, and the domed, snow and ice capped summit can look more like a dormant volcano than Europe’s highest peak. During the last ice age the Chamonix Valley was under 1km of ice, and the glaciers of Mont Blanc deposited rocks as far as way as Lyon. The current glacial cap is 10,000 years old – a mere blip in geological time.
With over 3000m of vertical difference between the Chamonix Valley floor and the summit of Mont Blanc (more than the height difference between Everest Base Camp and Everest) there is a huge variance in temperature and snow conditions. Like any large mountain Mont Blanc creates its own weather with blasting winds whipping the summit and temperatures at the top dropping as low as -50°C.
These harsh conditions and extreme height gain meant it took decades for mountaineers to overcome the difficulties of reaching the summit of Mont Blanc. In 1760 Saussure offered a reward for the first to summit Mont Blanc, but it was a full 26 years before Jaques Balmat and Michel Paccard were to claim the prize. These days summit days are likely to feature complaints of overcrowded huts and garbage – with as many as 30,000 summit attempts each year. The most popular route nowadays is the Gouter Route, which is the least technically demanding, and thus often overcrowded. The other popular route is Les Tres Mont Blancs starting at the Aiguille du Midi and summating the false summits of the Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit before the final push.
Few glacier complexes in the world have been subjected to as much interest, both from tourists, climbers, skiers and the scientific community alike (who have carried out research on Mont Blanc since the 18th Century). What is disturbing for skiers, alpinists and the tourist alike is that all of Mont Blanc?s glaciers could disappear by 2100. Today Mont Blanc is a landscape in motion, and with global warming contributing to the receding glaciers, it is more important than ever to appreciate Mont Blanc in all its splendour.