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In the heart of the Alps

Photos and text by Tuan.


With a few exceptions, all the photographs in this page give an intimate view of Mont-Blanc, since they are taken while climbing its many faces. A global view taken from a distance is availble elsewhere. Climbers: there are some notes on the easy routes to the top.

This is the summit of Mont-Blanc, 4807m. The regular route , which follows the Bosses ridge, is extremely popular in summer, as it can be seen from the well-marked trail. The Vallot hut, pictured on the right photograph, can be spotted on the rocks at the right of the first picture. This emergency shelter has saved more lives than any other, but it is unfortunately badly littered by people attempting the regular route.

The North face

The North face of Mont-Blanc, facing Chamonix, is actually its easiest. It has gentle (but crevassed) snow slopes, on which alpinism (see pictures) was born, more then 200 years ago, when Balmat and Paccard reached the summit of Mont-Blanc through them. By contrast, the Italian side, which comprises the other faces, is considerably steeper and is a playground for modern alpinism.

The East face

The East face of Mont-Blanc, also called Brenva face, is mostly covered by very steep snow and ice. A 1400 meter high face, it is bordered on the left by the Aiguille Noire and Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey (which form the begining of the Peutery ridge), and on the right by Mont Maudit.

This series show the progress of the day on the East Face of Mont-Blanc. The first picture was taken by moonlight, the last one by full daylight, and the pictures in-between at dawn and sunrise.

The two only shelters which can be found on this face are built on the ridge which is on the center of the picture above. A non-trivial climb is required just to reach them. The Kufner route which follows the ridge to the summit of Mt Maudit, traverses an impressive cornice.

These pictures were taken during a climb of the Brenva Spur. There is a mixed/rocky part (left), a sharp snow ridge (middle), and after a steep slope, you have to find your way up through a dynamic serac system (right). Pionneered in the XIX century, this was the first major route climbed on the steep Italian side of Mt Blanc.

The Red Sentinel is part of a trio of routes, all established by Graham Browne in the 30s, which travel right in the heart of the face. It is an extremely elegant and clever line which remains sheltered against the large seracs which are the major hazard of this face. The left picture is looking upwards, the right away from the face.

The Grand Pilier d'Angle, on the very left of the Brenva face is a microcosm of alpine terrain, since it has rock, snow, ice, and a hanging glacier. Its north face is very steep and has only severe routes. Although Bonatti first climbed it in 62, it is only ten years later that a second ascent was done thanks to the modern ice-climbing gear.

The South Face

The imposing South Side of Mont-Blanc, whose headwall, dominated by huge rock pilars, is extremely steep. Those visible on the right are the Freney Pilars, the Brouillard Pilars begin hidden behind the brouillard (fog).

During the approach from the Monzino hut, the pilars appear deceptively small because of the distance, but are more than 500m high. Separated in two by the Inominata ridge, which begins at the right, the face delimited by the Brouillard Ridge on the left (the skyline on the left of the picture), and the Peuterey ridge (visible on the pciture above)

This is a very remote corner, which is a fearsome trap if a storm moves in. Reaching the Eccles shelter (4000m) requires a long day of climbing from the Valley. Because of its tragic history, its position and difficulty, the central Pilar of Freney , of which the base is seen on the right picture, has kept his reputation of being one of the big climbs of the Alps.

The West face

The West face of Mont-Blanc photographed from a commercial airplane. Also called the Miage Face, it is its loneliest. Cold, not visible from the valley, it has less appeal, except for those seeking adventure. Picture with names overlayed.

During the first solo ascent of the Jaccoux-Domenech route. Looking down and sideways to the Bionnassay ridge on the right. The triangular summit is Aiguille de Bionnassay, a 4000 meter peak.

Sunset a few pitches under the summit of Mont-Blanc. I am now above a see of clouds over the Brouillard ridge at the left and to the Bionnassay ridge at right, which frame the Miage face.

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