The Mont Blanc Specialists
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Fitness for climbing mont blanc

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How fit do you need to be to have a good chance of getting up Mont Blanc? It is very difficult to talk about fitness in definitive terms, one person's idea of "fit" being very different from another's. Mont Blanc is a cruel exposer of weakness, and no amount of "I know I can do it" attitude will make up for it; it's quite simply either in your legs to get up there or it is not. How then can you tell if you're going to have a good chance of getting to the top? You might want to consider one of our North Wales Training Weekends which we usually run in the spring, but to get an idea consider the following 3 factors, listed in order of importance:

Your Weight

Probably the single biggest determinant in whether or not you are fit enough to climb Mont Blanc. Look at the chart on the left: of the 2000 clients we have had to date, the vast majority that made the summit would have fitted one of the first three categories above. At most 50% of those from category 4 made it, and these were usually people with a solid background in endurance sports who had by their own definition "let themselves go a bit".

The rare clients we have had from category 5 have virtually never made it, and most have dropped out of the course in the early stages. We do not prejudge on appearances and if you do reasonably well on the first three days on Gran Paradiso we will be happy to try Mont Blanc with you regardless of body shape. However getting yourself into or below category 3 on our chart is probably the single biggest thing you can do to improve your chances.

Your Sporting Background

The second most important factor is whether or not you play sport or exercise regularly. Endurance sports count the most here, cyclists, runners or strong hill walkers do better on our courses for example than occasional squash players. Apart from the obvious physical benefits, a background in any endurance sport where one could be said to suffer with the effort is hugely beneficial in dealing with the long effort/discomfort in climbing Mont Blanc. If you live anywhere near any big hills, put a light rucsac on and see if you can accumulate over 1500m of ascent in a day (you'll probably have to go up several times depending on where you live).

As a rough idea, Snowdon from Llanberis in North Wales is 1000m of ascent, and Ben Nevis by the tourist route is 1300m of ascent. Can you climb Snowdon twice in a day? Mont Blanc is 1600m of ascent from 3200m to 4800m, this last bit making it feel 50% harder. If you don't have hills near you, go to a gym and get on a treadmill (set flat) and see how long it takes you to run 10km; under an hour is a good benchmark.

If you don't run, cycle or hill walk, START! Most people book several months before their course start date, and you can achieve a huge amount in that time. Some people do very little of course and still make the top, but they are very much the exception. The fitter you are the more you'll enjoy it, and as a client of ours once said "You either suffer during your training or suffer on the course". Contact us if you need some advice, we're happy to help.

Grimacing or smiling - same ascent, different experience!

Your age

Our minimum age requirement to climb Mont Blanc is 18 years unaccompanied. We will take people as young as 16 years but they must be accompanied by an adult and must also be unusually hardy for their age with significant outdoor trekking experience. We have no maximum age limit, but clearly there comes a point where age starts to count against you:

An age where you can get away with a lot physically. You are much less likely to be overweight in this age range and therefore can probably get up Mont Blanc with less preparation than older people. Psychologically however you may be less good at putting up with the long term discomfort of the ascent.

The age range that covers most of our clients. There is a much bigger range of abilities in this group than in the younger one, e.g. someone who is comfortable putting on weight in middle age and doing virtually no exercise compared to someone with 20 years of triathlons behind them. Whilst one loses explosive power as one ages this is much less true for long term stamina, and stamina is what is needed here (the age group most likely to finish first in triathlon is 30-40). One is probably mentally tougher for being older too, but having said that social norms rather than physical limitations often mean this age group is more overweight and less active than it's younger equivalent. If you are not overweight and take endurance exercise, there is no other disadvantage in being in this age group.

Whilst we have many clients in this age group who make the summit with no problems, one might well say of them that they are unusually fit for their age, and the older they are, the truer this is. Over 60 you probably need to have a solid background in endurance sports to have a good chance of succeeding.

In Summary… If you are "high risk" in one of the above categories, you will need to be "low risk" in the other two, otherwise you will probably not get very far.

To make it up Mont Blanc you need:

1. Adequate fitness, as described above;

2. Sufficient acclimatisation to cope with extended effort over 4000m;

3. Rock scrambling and crampon technique to be able to move efficiently over the different types of terrain.

2 and 3 we will thoroughly train you for during the week, but come without 1 and there is really not much we can do about it. It’s true that some people acclimatise better than others and some are better on their feet, but fit people are much less likely to have altitude problems as they strain their cardiovascular systems much less, as well as being more surefooted through not being exhausted.

Everything is linked to basic fitness – climbing in small guided teams involves a high degree of co-dependency between you and your guide, and we cannot maintain an adequate safety margin on Mont Blanc unless we know our client has always got something left in reserve. You don’t have to be a super fit dedicated endurance athlete to do this, but you do need to take it seriously. It is not our policy to drag limit people to the summit, if we have the slightest doubt about your physical or mental condition on the mountain we will not hesitate to turn around. 

"You will either suffer during your training or suffer during the course".