All of our courses spend 3 days/2 nights training on Gran Paradiso and 3 days/2 nights climbing Mont Blanc, however the way we climb Mont Blanc is not always the same and is based on hut availability, weather conditions and client fitness. How difficult your ascent ends up being will depend on:
The image below shows the general situation, with the Normal Gouter (French side) route in green and the Gonella (Italian side) route in blue: (note that we can often avoid the white sections using lifts)
This is the normal route on Mont Blanc and is the way used by the vast majority of people to get to the summit. Most of the time one can make use of the Bellevue cable car and Nid d’Aigle train to get to 2372m, although about 30% of the time the latter doesn’t run for one reason or another and we have to walk from Bellevue at 1800m (if the Bellevue doesn’t run we use a 4×4 taxi to get to the same point.) This is without a doubt the easiest route up Mont Blanc and you will spend either 2 nights at Tete Rousse, 2 nights at Gouter or 1 night at each, depending on availability.
Two nights at Tete Rousse: this is harder as the overall effort is less evenly broken up and the summit day is longer, however you’ll have a much better night’s sleep starting from here and significantly less chance of getting altitude sickness by starting low; you’ll also tend to be out of sync with the majority of people on the mountain as most people still climb Mont Blanc using the traditional “one night in Gouter” approach. Two nights at Tete Rousse was our preferred method for many years and we had great success with it until the introduction of the (highly unreliable) internet booking system forced us to vary our program. Climbing Mont Blanc using 2 nights at Tete Rousse is probably about the same as climbing from the Gonella, as while the approach to Tete Rousse is only half as long you only need to descend to the Gouter when starting from the Gonella. A last day ascent from Tete Rousse works just fine as long as the train is running, if it’s not it becomes a pretty tough call and only for the fittest.
Two nights at Gouter: This is probably the easiest option as it has the shortest summit day, however you will have a higher chance of altitude problems starting from here and you will sleep noticeably less well. Many people will find they do not need the second night as they will get back to the hut sufficiently early to descend to the valley. We tend to aim for this option for the first two and last two weeks of the season when the Nid d’Aigle train is definitely closed (though it often breaks down mid season as well!).
One night at Tete Rousse, one night at Gouter: Probably the most flexible option overall, though as with the previous option fast parties might find it somewhat overkill in good conditions.
The route as a whole has low avalanche risk after fresh snow due to it’s being mainly on a low angled ridge, and this is especially true when compared to its French-side counterpart the “Cosmiques/3 Monts” route starting from the Aiguille du Midi; however excessively dry conditions can lead to dangerous stone fall in the “Grand Couloir” (big gulley) between the Tete Rousse and Gouter huts, and in our experience this can happen any time from mid June to mid September. When these conditions occur we have to abandon Mont Blanc until the next cold snap refreezes everything.
This route is very different to the Gouter route, as while the ascent from the Gonella hut (3071m) to the summit is almost the same as it is from Tete Rousse (3187m), getting to the Gonella is twice as long as getting to Tete Rousse and involves considerably more ascent (1100m as opposed to 800m). The whole route has a totally different and much more remote atmosphere, and it’s rare to see more than three or four other parties until it joins the Gouter route at around 4100m. Climbing Mont Blanc from the Italian side has an almost Himalayan expedition -like feel to it and there’s really nothing to touch it from as aesthetic point of view, crossing from Italy to France via the summit of Mont Blanc to complete a magnificent traverse of the range. The length of the hut approach however makes it the hardest option we offer, and we only use one hut combination on this route, namely:
One night at Gonella, one night at Gouter: It takes around 5 hours to get to the Gonella hut and it’s properly hard work with around 1100m of ascent. Once there however (and assuming you’ve got some energy left) you’re well placed for the following day’s ascent, which is about as far as climbing from Tete Rousse but with a shorter descent to the Gouter hut. From there you descend to the Chamonix valley the following day via the Nid d’Aigle train (hopefully!) and the Bellevue lift. Should bad weather on day 5 force us to attempt a last day ascent, we will not stay at Gonella at all but rather use the traditional method of climbing directly to the Gouter hut from the train on day 5, then attempting the summit early on the last day with a descent back to the train. This would also be an option for those not quite fit enough to go to the Gonella as it’s easier to get back down from the Gouter route. There is also a helicopter taxi service available to the Gonella hut (€300 per helicopter, each flight takes up to 5 people) but we do not include this in the course price. Purists may frown on this, but one could argue it’s not much different from using the cable car and train to access the Gouter route.
Note: From 2019 we will be mainly using the Gonella route from mid June to the end of July when conditions on it’s South facing glacier are most reliable.
All of these options including last day ascents are perfectly feasible for first time mountaineers who are properly endurance fit, and the differences between them are not that great compared to the overall difficulty of the undertaking.
There is no easy way up Mont Blanc so rather than trying to juggle huts and timings to bring the mountain down to your level, train a bit harder and lose a few kilos so whatever happens you can deal with it.
Remember the fact that it’s difficult is what it makes it so worthwhile.