At 4,810m (15,781ft), Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Western Europe, sat between Haut-Savoie, France, and Aosta in Italy. Despite involving no technical climbing, it’s an undertaking that should not be approached lightly: it requires decent fitness levels, acclimatisation and glacier travel skills (including crevasse rescue techniques). Here, Rory McCrea from Snow+Rock Covent Garden lists the essential clothing (Part One) and equipment (Part Two) needed to summit the White Mountain.
The right boots can be the difference between success and failure. If you are doing the trip with a guide or through a guiding company, find out if they have any minimum requirements for boots. Normal winter walking boots are not good enough. As a bare minimum, you’ll need to consider general mountaineering boots, however a number of guides prefer people to choose warmer, stiffer options (it can get below -20°C, especially in the early mornings).
Visit us in-store to try as many boots on as possible in order to find the best fit. Expect to start at least one size up from your normal shoe size. We may have to try footbeds and make use of other boot fitting techniques to provide the best fit (there aren’t as many options available as there are in walking boots).
This depends on whether or not your boots have an integral gaiter. Ideally you want ones with a Velcro-only closing system (having a zip can be fiddly). Make sure that the gaiters fit over the boots as securely as possible.
The mistake most people make is wearing either too many layers or wearing clothing that is too warm. The result is getting hot and sweaty, faffing around removing layers and an unhappy guide (who might punish you by setting an even brisker pace). Speed and efficiency are both key to safety in this environment. Ideally, start out cold with the bare minimum of clothing, but there’s an element of working out what’s best for you. For most, a base layer and shell should be sufficient; others might require a very light fleece.
This is a great alternative to a fleece which provides wind and water resistance. Ideal for early morning alpine starts before the sun begins to warm things up. Consider whether you want more breathability or better wind/water resistance, less weight or more durability. As a general guideline, anything with a membrane will be less breathable but provide better weather resistance than most jackets without a membrane.
This keeps you warm when you’re not moving. A fairly common mistake is assuming that an insulating jacket needs to fit underneath a waterproof. Instead, put it over the top of your shell when you stop moving so you don’t lose heat by taking off your shell. It also means less faffing!
There are two types of insulation to choose from: down jackets and artificial insulation jackets. For an alpine summer, a lightweight down jacket is normally fine. The higher the down quality, the lighter and more expensive the jacket. It’s possible to get hydrophobic down too, which resists water.
Down jackets have a better weight-to-warmth ratio and pack smaller, but they’re more expensive than artificial insulation. Artificial insulation jackets are normally better priced than down jackets, however they’re heavier and larger than a high-quality, equivalent-warmth down jacket.
A lightweight, low volume wool or fleece beanie is essential. Make sure it fits comfortably under a helmet. A Buff or wool neck warmer can serve as sun protection and insulation and can be used with a beanie/balaclava.
Tip: a balaclava can also be used as a neck warmer!