Mountain Security, Safety and Avalanche Awareness

 
Last Updated: 
Tue, 19 Feb 2019

Dangerous Mont Blanc

Alpine climbing in Chamonix is popular in both Winter and Summer seasons, and your safety and the safety of those around you must always be the top priority.

The highest mountain in the Alps and in Western Europe, Mont Blanc reaches 4,810 m in altitude.

Despite its height, Mont Blanc is not - from a purely technical standpoint - the most difficult mountain to climb.

In fact, many guides companies describe Mont Blanc as a "long walk" - this is, of course, an exaggeration, as Mont Blanc is far from being a "walk" and it still requires crampons and ice axes. 

Still, Mont Blanc is far less challenging than many other peaks, such as the Alaskan mountain ranges.

However, Mont Blanc has the highest fatality rate of any mountain in Europe - it is estimated that around 100 people lose their lives each year in the massif.

Therefore, one can easily spot a discrepancy - although it is not an easy climb, the fatality rate should not be the highest of all Europe.

Unfortunately, it is believed and many fatalities could have been prevented if people followed the safety rules.

Respect the mountain

First of all, respect the mountain and never lose sight of what it represents: the highest mountain in Europe, where numerous people lose their lives daily.

Climbing Mont-Blanc can definitely be the adventure of a lifetime, but it requires caution and practice.

Officials estimate that the number of people who climb Mont Blanc reached 30,000 per season, which is a lot higher than it should be.

Tour companies advertising Mont-Blanc as a "long-walk" might be one of the reasons which led to such a high flux of people per season.

Believing that all it takes to climb Mont Blanc is a relatively good physical condition can be and often is a deadly mistake.

Climbing Mont-Blanc still requires some climbing experience, practising of the technical skills, choosing a proper outfit, hiring an experienced guide, checking the weather & snow reports

Check the avalanche risk

If you plan to ski or snowboard off-piste it is essential that you understand the Avalanche Risk Level for each local area and plan your skiing accordingly. The following Table summarises the five levels of Avalanche Risk.
 

Risk Level Snowpack Stability Avalanche probability
1. Low risk Generally well bonded and stable. Triggering is possible by groups of skiers on a few very steep extreme slopes. Small natural avalanches (sluffs) are possible
2. Moderate Less well bonded on some steep slopes, otherwise generally well bonded. Triggering is possible by groups of skiers, particularly on steep slopes. Large natural avalanches may occur but are not likely.
3. Considerable Moderately to weakly bonded on many steep slopes Triggering is possible, even by individual skiers. The bulletin may indicate many slopes which are particularly affected. Medium and occasionally large natural avalanches may occur.
4. High Weakly bonded in most places. Triggering is likely, even with single skiers, on many steep slopes. Frequent medium or large-sized avalanches are likely.
5. Very high (Extreme) Weakly bonded and largely unstable. Numerous large natural avalanches are likely, even on moderately steep terrain.

It is a common mistake to assume that there is only danger in climbing mountains during winter, however, this is far from the truth as many of the highest peaks maintain there extreme cold weather, and avalanche and crevasse danger throughout the whole year, even in summer.

Climbing in winter, however, takes on a more serious note as the conditions become even more unpredictable.

With fewer hours of sunlight, temperatures can fall dramatically, the approach is normally on skis and there are added dangers like an avalanche, ice fall, and unseen crevasses.

The weather forecast should be checked in advance to discern the conditions of the routes themselves.

Also, remember to check the snow report before attempting to ascend Mont Blanc.

Popular routes usually have some degree of protection such as wires and chains to outline the route, in some cases, there are bolts which you can attach your carabiner to in order to ensure your safety. However, if you are walking off track, known as scrambling, all appropriate safety equipment must be on hand to ensure your safety.

Why not hire a UIAGM Mountain Guide? or take a mountaineering course?

Read more avalanche safety tips.

Hire a professional guide

Hiring a high mountain guide is highly recommended when going into the mountain, whether one wants to climb or ski.

High mountain guides are also experienced teachers, who can teach you how to become independent on the mountain.

In Chamonix, safety is very important for a High Mountain Guide. All mountain guides are members of the UIAGM. You can ask for their IFMGA/UIAGM guide identification, a certified mountain guide always carries it with him/her.

Check many professional mountain guides in Chamonix.

Choose the right equipment

Because of its high popularity, people tend to overlook the importance of choosing the right equipment when climbing Mont-Blanc.

Not being properly equipped while climbing Mont-Blanc has actually become even a more pressing issue since 2013.

On 11 July 2013, Killian Jornet set the new record of 4 hours 57 minutes 34 seconds for the fastest ascent & descent on foot from Chamonix.

Because he was not wearing proper equipment, many people thought they could do the same.

Unfortunately, this resulted in many accidents, including fatalities.

One has to remember that Killian Jornet is a highly professional athlete and a very experienced alpinist, probably the best of his kind.

As a response to the increasing number of accidents, in the summer of 2017, the mayor of Saint-Gervais issued a list of mandatory equipment when climbing Mont-Blanc.

Check many shops that sell quality mountaineering equipment.

Get fit!

Climbing Mont Blanc is an endurance sport. The ascent itself can be a long day and you have to have to energy to also descent.

In consequence, one has to be in a very good physical condition to climb Mont-Blanc.

Experience shows that the way an average person works out - that is, 3-5 sessions/ week of hitting the gym - is not enough for climbing a high mountain like Mont Blanc.

Cycling, walking, (trail) running, (mountain) biking and swimming are suitable. As long as you can build in real good endurance training of a few hours.

 

Mountain Safety, Alpine Security and Avalanche Awareness
The PGHM Chamonix, mountain rescue
Avalanche Awareness kit and gear

Important Contacts:

Office de Haute Montagne in Chamonix

(route condition & weather forecast)

P.G.H.M. (mountain rescue)

Maison de la Montagne: 190, place de l'église, 74400 Chamonix

69, route de la Mollard, 74400 Chamonix
Tel: +33 (0)4 50 53 22 08 Tel: +33 (0)4 50 53 16 89
Fax: +33 (0)4 50 53 27 74  
ohm-info@chamonix.com  

Recommended Books

  • Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue: Reading Glaciers, Crevasse Rescue Techniques, Routefinding, Expedition Skills by Andrew Selters.
  • Avalanche Safety: For Skiers & Climbers by Tony Daffern.

Other Books about Alpine Security, Safety and Avalanche Awareness