|Height||4,810 m (15,780 ft)|
|First ascent||8 August 1786|
|Location||France / Italy|
Mont Blanc (French pronunciation: [mɔ̃.blɑ̃]) or Monte Bianco (Italian pronunciation: [monte bjaŋko]), both meaning "White Mountain", is the highest mountain in the Alps and the highest peak in Europe outside of the Caucasus range. It rises 4,810 m (15,781 ft) above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence. The mountain lies in a range called the Graian Alps, between the regions of Aosta Valley, Italy, and Haute-Savoie, France. The location of the summit is on the watershed line between the valleys of Ferret and Veny in Italy and the valleys of Montjoie and Arve in France. The Mont Blanc massif is popular for mountaineering, hiking, skiing, and snowboarding. The three towns and their communes which surround Mont Blanc are Courmayeur in Aosta Valley, Italy, and Saint-Gervais-les-Bains and Chamonix in Haute-Savoie, France. The latter town was the site of the first Winter Olympics. A cable car ascends and crosses the mountain range from Courmayeur to Chamonix, through the Col du Géant. Constructed beginning in 1957 and completed in 1965, the 11.6 km (7¼ mi) Mont Blanc Tunnel runs beneath the mountain between these two countries and is one of the major trans-Alpine transport routes.
History The first recorded ascent of Mont Blanc was on 8 August 1786 by Jacques Balmat and the doctor Michel Paccard. This climb, initiated by Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, who gave a reward for the successful ascent, traditionally marks the start of modern mountaineering. The first woman to reach the summit was Marie Paradis in 1808, and the first dog without human technical help was "Tschingel" from Grindelwald (making his climb before the first female honorary member of the Alpine Club). Now the summit is ascended by an average 20,000 mountaineer-tourists each year. It could be considered an easy, yet long, ascent for someone who is well trained and used to the altitude. From l'Aiguille du Midi (where the cable car stops), Mont Blanc seems quite close, being 1,000 m (3,300 ft) higher. But while the peak seems deceptively close, La Voie des 3 Monts route (known to be more technical and challenging than other more commonly used routes) requires much ascent and descent before the final section of the climb is reached and the last 1000 m push to the summit is undertaken. Each year climbing deaths occur on Mont Blanc, and on the busiest weekends, normally around August, the local rescue service performs an average of 12 missions, mostly directed to aid people in trouble on one of the normal routes of the mountain. Some routes require knowledge of high-altitude mountaineering, a guide (or at least a veteran mountaineer), and proper equipment. It is a long course that includes delicate passages and the hazard of rock slides. Also, at least one night at the refuge is required to acclimatize to the altitude; less could lead to altitude sickness and possible death.
Ownership of the summit
Since the French Revolution, the issue of the ownership of the summit has been debated. From 1416 to 1792, the entire mountain was within the Duchy of Savoy. In 1723 the Duke of Savoy, Victor Amadeus II, acquired the Kingdom of Sardinia. The resulting state of Piedmont-Sardinia was to become preeminent in the Italian unification. In September 1792, the French revolutionary Army of the Alps under Anne-Pierre de Montesquiou-Fézensac seized Savoy without much resistance and created a department of the Mont-Blanc. In a treaty of May 15, 1796, Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia was forced to cede Savoy and Nice to France. In article 4 of this treaty it says: "The border between the Sardinian kingdom and the departments of the French Republic will be established on a line determined by the most advanced points on the Piedmont side, of the summits, peaks of mountains and other locations subsequently mentioned, as well as the intermediary peaks, knowing: starting from the point where the borders of Faucigny, the Duchy of Aoust and the Valais, to the extremity of the glaciers or Monts-Maudits: first the peaks or plateaus of the Alps, to the rising edge of the Col-Mayor". This act further states that the border should be visible from the town of Chamonix and Courmayeur. The summit is not visible from the village of Courmayeur, because part of the mountain lower down obscures it, although it is visible from other hamlets within Courmayeur's municipality. The official French maps still portray the border following this concept, putting the summit area entirely in France.
After the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna restored the King of Sardinia in Savoy, Nice and Piedmont, his traditional territories, overruling the 1796 Treaty of Paris. Forty-five years later, after the Second Italian War of Independence, it was replaced by a new legal act. This act was signed in Turin on 24 March 1860 by Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, and deals with the annexation of Savoy (following the French neutrality for the plebiscites held in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna to join the Kingdom of Sardinia, against the Pope's will). A demarcation agreement, signed on 7 March 1861, defines the new border. With the formation of Italy, for the first time Mont Blanc is located on the border of France and Italy. The 1860 act and attached maps are still legally valid for both the French and Italian governments. One of the prints from the 1823 Sarde Atlas positions the border exactly on the summit edge of the mountain (and measures it to be 4,804 m (15,761 ft) high). The convention of 7 March 1861 recognises this through an attached map, taking into consideration the limits of the massif, and drawing the border on the icecap of Mont Blanc, making it both French and Italian. Watershed analysis of modern topographic mapping not only places the main summit on the border, but also suggests that the border should follow a line northwards from the main summit towards Mont Maudit, leaving the southeast ridge to Mont Blanc de Courmayeur wholly within Italy. Although the Franco-Italian border was redefined in both 1947 and 1963, the commission made up of both Italians and French ignored the Mont Blanc issue. In the early 21st century, administration of the mountain is shared between the Italian town of Courmayeur and the French town of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, although the larger part of the mountain lies within the commune of the latter.
The first professional scientific investigations on the summit were conducted by the botanist-meteorologist Joseph Vallot at the end of the 19th century. He wanted to stay near the top of the summit, so he built his own permanent cabin.
In 1890, Pierre Janssen, an astronomer and the director of the Meudon astrophysical observatory, considered the construction of an observatory at the summit of Mont Blanc. Gustave Eiffel agreed to take on the project, provided he could build on a rock foundation, if found at a depth of less than 12 m (39 ft) below the ice. In 1891, the Swiss surveyor Imfeld dug two 23 m (75 ft) long horizontal tunnels 12 m (39 ft) below the ice summit but found nothing solid. Consequently, the Eiffel project was abandoned. Despite this, the observatory was built in 1893. During the cold wave of January 1893 a temperature of −43 °C (−45 °F) was recorded on Mont Blanc, being the lowest ever recorded there. Levers attached to the ice supported the observatory. This worked to some extent until 1906, when the building started leaning heavily. The movement of the levers corrected the lean slightly, but three years later (two years after Janssen’s death), a crevasse started opening under the observatory. It was abandoned. Eventually the building fell, and only the tower could be saved in extremis.
The mountain was the scene of two fatal air crashes; Air India Flight 245 in 1950 and Air India Flight 101 in 1966. Both planes were approaching Geneva airport and the pilots miscalculated their descent; 48 and 117 people, respectively, died. The latter passengers included top nuclear scientist Homi J. Bhabha, known as the "father" of India's nuclear programme.
In 1946 a drilling project was initiated to carve a tunnel through the mountain. The Mont Blanc tunnel would connect Chamonix, France and Courmayeur, Italy and become one of the major trans-Alpine transport routes between the two countries. In 1965 the tunnel opened to vehicle traffic with a length of 11,611 metres (7.215 mi).
In 1999 a transport truck caught fire in the tunnel beneath the mountain. In total 39 people were killed when the fire raged out of control. The tunnel was renovated in the aftermath to increase driver safety, reopening after 3 years.
The summit of Mont Blanc is a thick, perennial ice and snow dome whose thickness varies. No exact and permanent summit elevation can therefore be determined, though accurate measurements have been made on specific dates. For a long time its official elevation was 4,807 m (15,771 ft). In 2002, the IGN and expert surveyors, with the aid of GPS technology, measured it to be 4,807.40 m (15,772 ft 4 in). After the 2003 heatwave in Europe, a team of scientists re-measured the height on 6 and 7 September. The team was made up of the glaciologist Luc Moreau, two surveyors from the GPS Company, three people from the IGN, seven expert surveyors, four mountain guides from Chamonix and Saint-Gervais and four students from various institutes in France. This team noted that the elevation was 4,808.45 m (15,775 ft 9 in), and the peak was 75 centimetres (30 in) away from where it had been in 2002. After these results were published, more than 500 points were measured, to assess the effects of climate change and the fluctuations in the height of the mountain at different points. Since then, the elevation of the mountain has been measured every two years. The interpretation that the heatwave had caused this fluctuation is disputed because the heatwave is known not to have significantly affected the glaciers above 4,000 m (13,000 ft). The height and position of the summit could have been moved by general glacial forces. At this elevation, the temperatures rarely rise above 0 °C (32 °F). During the summer of 2003, the temperature rose to 2 °C (36 °F), and even 3 °C (37 °F), but this would not have been enough for the ice to melt that amount. The summit was measured again in 2005, and the results were published on 16 December 2005. The height was found to be 4,808.75 m (15,776 ft 9 in), 30 cm (12 in) more than the previous recorded height. The rock summit was found to be at 4,792 m (15,722 ft), some 40 m (130 ft) west the ice-covered summit. In 2007 the summit was measured at 4,807.9 m (15,774 ft) and in 2009 at 4,807.45 m (15,772 ft).