Mountaineering in the Mont Blanc Range
Classic Snow, Ice & Mixed Climbs by Jean-Louis Laroche & Florence Lelong
Vertebrate Publishing £14.95
This edition is essentially a revision of the 2007 publication and, as with the previous edition, this version showcases 36 snow, ice and mixed routes in 21 sections within the world renowned Mont Blanc range. The book is ostensibly aimed at the lower spectrum of Alpine grades, in the range from Facile to Assez Difficile+ ( F - AD+) and although the introduction covers both the seriousness grade and the technical grade I believe some prior knowledge of this grading system is essential to safely assess the appropriate route/s to attempt for the climbers’ ability and experience. It is also worth bearing in mind that by definition all of the climbs described are contained within the Mont Blanc range and this area is, as an extract from the Note for the English language edition on the first page mentions is, ‘the busiest, highest and in many ways the most challenging of the Western Alps ranges’. This section also responsibly emphasises the scale, potential seriousness and condition dependency of Alpine climbing at high altitude on what are often large and complex peaks.
The introduction covers some very relevant points regarding climate change and the inevitable effects this has had on the mountains. It also mentions the potential change in attitude to the perceived Alpine season and sensibly emphasises that activities and the seasons in which to participate ‘hinge on two linked factors: ground conditions and weather’. In fact, the introduction is an important part of this guide and should be read and fully understood before continuing on to consider and choose routes to attempt. As is typical with much of the mountaineering within this area it is highlighted that the routes are generally accessible from mountain huts within the range and also via téléphériques and mountain railways as appropriate. This means that it is worth taking into account the elevated starting point of many of the routes and the associated issues with acclimatisation that must accordingly be considered.
As should be expected the book contains many of the usual suspects such as: Cosmiques Ridge, Contamine–Grisolle and Chèré Couloir on Mont Blanc du Tacul, The North Face of the Tour Ronde, Rochefort Ridge, Forbes Arête on the Aguille du Chardonnet and so on. Many of the routes described will be familiar to those with only a limited knowledge of the region; this is no bad thing as, after all, classics are classics for a reason.
The 21 individual sections commence with information on where to start from and a comprehensive narrative describing the position and character of the peak or location and proceeding routes, which are later described in greater detail. The route descriptions start with information on: grade, time, height gain, conditions, gear required and first ascent details where available. These are then followed by comprehensive descriptions of the approach, ascent and descent. There are also clearly drawn diagrams with the routes marked on showing the suggested ascent and descent directions. It must also be said that the routes are well-illustrated with some great photographs to fire the imagination. It may also worth mentioning that the routes described are restricted to the French sector of the range thereby limiting the numerous possibilities from the Italian side, however, this does not in any way detract from the quality of climbs included.
So in summary this volume contains a well-thought out choice of objectives within the grade scales indicated. The descriptions and presentation are generally clear and easy to interpret with useful sketches to aid route choice. It represents good value for money and is a useful tool for those wishing to explore this world acclaimed Alpine environment. It is probably best suited to those with some previous mountaineering experience who wish to seek out some of the classic lines thereabouts. Finally, as with any publication of this nature it should be used with care and in conjunction with other available information regarding conditions and weather forecasts to select the next Alpine objective and eliminate as many risks as possible.