Mont Blanc (French) and Monte Bianco (Italian) means “White Mountain” for its perpetual snowfields and glaciers.
Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and in western Europe. The highest mountain in Europe is considered by most geographers to be 18,510-foot (5,642 meter) Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia near the Georgian border. Some consider it, however, to be in Asia rather than Europe.
The height of Mont Blanc varies from year to year depending on the depth of the summit’s snow cap, so no permanent elevation can be assigned to the mountain. The official elevation was once 15,770 feet (4,807 meters) but in 2002 it was resurveyed with modern technology at 15,782 feet (4,810 meters) or twelve feet higher. A 2005 survey measured it at 15,776 feet 9 inches (4,808.75 meters).
Mont Blanc’s rock summit, under snow and ice, is 15,720 feet (4,792 meters) and about 140 feet away from the snowcapped summit.
The first recorded climb of Mont Blanc was by Jacque Balmat and Michel Paccard on August 8, 1786. Climbing historians often consider this ascent the beginning of modern mountaineering.
In 1808 Marie Paradis became the first woman to reach the summit.
Over 20,000 climbers reach Mont Blanc’s summit every year.
The Voie des Cristalliers or Voie Royale is the most popular climbing route up Mont Blanc. To start, climbers take the Tramway du Mont Blanc to the Nid d’Aigle, then climb slopes to Goûter hut and spend the night. The next day they climb the Dôme du Goûter to L’arrête des Bosses and the summit. The route is somewhat perilous with danger from rockfall and avalanche. It is also very crowded in summit, particularly the summit ridge.
In 1990, Swiss climber Pierre-André Gobet climbed Mont Blanc round-trip from Chamonix in 5 hours, 10 minutes, and 14 seconds.
A scientific observatory was built atop Mont Blanc in 1892. It was used until 1909 when a crevasse opened under the building and it was abandoned.
In January 189, the observatory registered Mont Blanc’s lowest recorded temperature— -45.4°F or -43°C.
Two Air India planes, while approaching the Geneva airport, crashed on Mont Blanc. On November 3, 1950, the Malabar Princess plane began its descent to Geneva, but crashed into Rochers de la Tournette (4677 meters) on Mont Blanc, killing 48 passengers and crew. On January 24, 1966, the Kanchenjunga, a Boeing 707, also descending into Geneva, crashed on Mont Blanc’s southwest flank about 1,500 feet below the summit, killing 106 passengers and 11 crew members. Mountain guide Gerard Devoussoux, first on the scene, reported, “Another 15 meters and the plane would have missed the rock. It made a huge crater in the mountain. Everything was completely pulverized. Nothing was identifiable except for a few letters and packets.” Some monkeys, being transported in the cargo hold for medical experiments, survived the crash and were found wandering in the snow. Even today, bits of wire and metal from the planes are disgorged from Bossons Glacier below the wreckage sites.
In 1960, Henri Giraud landed an airplane on the 100-foot-long summit.
In 2007, two portable toilets were carried by helicopter and placed at 14,000 feet (4,260 meters) below Mont Blanc’s summit to serve climbers and skiers and keep human waste from polluting the mountain’s lower slopes.
On September 13, 2007 a Jacuzzi party was thrown atop Mont Blanc. The portable hot tub was carried by 20 people to the summit. Each person carried 45 pounds of custom-made equipment made to function in cold air and high altitude.
Seven French paragliders landed on Mont Blanc’s summit on August 13, 2003. The pilots, soaring on hot summer air currents, reached heights of 17,000 feet before landing.
The 11.6-kilometer-long (7.25-mile) Mont Blanc Tunnel travels beneath Mont Blanc, linking France and Italy. It was built between 1957 and 1965.
The famed British romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) visited Chamonix in July 1816 and was inspired by the great mountain looming above the town to write his meditative poem Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni. Calling the snowy peak “remote, serene, and inaccessible,” he ends the poem:
“And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
if to the human mind’s imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?”