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Major Route on Brenva

Major Route on Brenva

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Major Route on Brenva

Page Type: Route

Location: Aosta Valley, Italy, Europe

Lat/Lon: 45.82770°N / 6.86849°E

Object Title: Major Route on Brenva

Route Type: Mountaineering, Ice Climbing, Big Wall, Mixed

Season: Summer

Time Required: A long day

Difficulty: Alpine D+, UIAA IV+

Route Quality: 
 - 1 Votes


Page By: AlbertoRampini

Created/Edited: Oct 20, 2013 / Apr 6, 2016

Object ID: 872695

Hits: 3366 

Page Score: 87.76%  - 25 Votes 

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Via Major on Brenva Wall

This classic route dating 1928 runs on the majestic Brenva ice wall, the Eastern side of Monte Bianco, and belongs to the famous Brenva triptych: Major, Poire (The Pear) and Sentinella Rossa (Red Sentry) routes. It’s a historical challenging route running between Sentinella Rossa on the right and Poire on the left; although not the easiest amongst the triptych, it’s the finest route and the most frequently climbed and moreover the less exposed to the objective dangers.

A mixed “course”, involving also a few difficult rocky moves and showing only one dangerous point: the cross of the great ice-gully – “le Grand Couloir” - taking the origin from the summit of Monte Bianco and coming down between Major spur and Sentinella Rossa. Very experienced and quick parties can climb the route starting directly from Rifugio Torino, but it’s not a good choice, being the approach itself to the route from Rifugio Torino to the Col Moore a demanding ascent. The best solution is largely to spend the overnight at Bivacco Alberico e Borgna on Col de la Fourche, both for a safer climb and a good acclimatization.


The Brenva triptych was pioneered by the Scottish alpinist T. Graham Brown, who opened the Sentinella Rossa in the year 1927 and the Major in 1928 with his pal Francis Sidney Smythe, and The Poire Route in the year 1933 with the guides Alexander Graven and Alfred Aufdenblatten

The upper part of the Brenva wall
The upper section of the Brenva wall seen from Mont Blanc du Tacul
Monte Bianco East side seen from Gengiva del Gigante
East side of Monte Bianco and Brenva wall seen from Gengiva del Gigante

Getting there

The starting point is Courmayeur, lying in the Italian side of Monte Bianco, close to the entrance of Tunnel of Monte Bianco.

- Road access to Courmayeur

- From Turin and Milan: follow the A5-E25 Motorway and exit Courmayeur, reaching the hamlet of La Palud m. 1370. Parking area.

- From Chamonix (French side of Monte Bianco): through the Tunnel of Monte Bianco

- From Switzerland: through the Great St. Bernardo Tunnel or the Great St.Bernardo Col or via Argentière, Chamonix and the Tunnel of Monte Bianco.

- Getting to Rifugio Torino

From Entrèves - La Palud take the cable-car rising directly to Rifugio Torino m. 3375 (exit the second station, the first one is the middle Pavillion du M. Fréty station m. 2174, the third one is Punta Helbronner m. 3470).

Red Tape

No particulary restrictions

Huts and Bivouacs

- Rifugio Torino m. 3375 Rifugio Torino

- Bivacco Alberico e Borgna al Col de la Fourche, also named Bivacco della Fourche, m.3684 - Property C.A.A.I. (Club Alpino Accademico Italiano), 10 beds, always open

The bivouac lies on Col de la Fourche, on the border ridge running between France and Italy, separating the Géant Basin from the Brenva Basin. An eagle’s nest, allowing the access to one of the wildest and secluded place of Monte Bianco massif, the magnificent Brenva basin. It had been built in the year 1935 in memory of Corrado Alberico and Luigi Borgna, entirely re-built in 1985 and improved later on in 2008.

Approach to Col de la Fourche

Difficulty: Alpine AD-, UIAA III, 50-55°, mixed climb, difference in level m. 250 from Rif. Torino, 3 hours

Quite a mountaineering approach

From Rifugio Torino m. 3375, or from the upper station of Punta Helbronner m. 3470 if coming directly from Courmayeur without spend the overnigh at Rif. Torino, cross the Col des Flambeaux m. 3407, turn to left and go down on the Glacier du Géant, heading towards the North side of Aiguille des Toules m. 3300, then rising towards West to skirt the North face of Tour Ronde on the steep slopes of Glacier du Géant; gain the base of the steep ice slopes coming down from Col de la Fourche. Cross the bergschrund and climb the very steep mixed slope (150 m. high, anchors in place), getting the summit ridge and the bivouac. In case of retreat , the descent is done by 3 or 4 raps along the rocks North to the ice-slope.

Route description

Major,out of the seracs wall
Major, end of the difficulties
Sunset on Brenva wall
Sunrise on Brenva wall

Major route

Summit altitude: m. 4810
Difficulty: Alpine D+, UIAA IV+, 57°, mixed climb
Climbing length: difference in level 1328 m. from Col Moore to the summit
Time required: 8-12 hours from Col de la Fourche
Exposure: East
First ascent: T. Graham Brown and Francis Sidney Smythe 1928, august 6th-7th
Huts: Rifugio Torino m. 3375, Bivacco Alberico e Borgna m. 3684
Starting point: Courmayeur m. 1224

The route is a superb and demanding mixed climb on the wild and majestic Brenva wall. The only point exposed to the objective dangers is the crossing of the great ice-gully – “le Grand Couloir” - coming down from the summit ice-cap.

Approach to the route

- From Bivacco Alberico e Borgna al Col de La Fourche m. 3684 downclimb 80 meters on the SW gully, or the rocks on the right of the gully, toward the upper basin of the Brenva Glacier. Cross the icy basin toward S, climb the bergschrund (often difficult), reaching the Col Moore m. 3525, an airy snow-notch on the bottom of the Brenva Spur (1 hour from the bivouac).

Sea of clouds from Monte Bianco  summit
Sea of clouds from the summit
A party getting the summit from Les Trois Mont Blanc route
A party getting the summit from the Trois Mont Blancs route

Major route report

From Col Moore skirt toward left (facing in) the bottom of the Brenva Spur, cross three snow-gullies, then climb directly to a reddish rocky tower, the Sentinella Rossa (Red Sentry). Slant to left pass over the Mummery rib and traverse toward “le Grand Couloir”, the great snow gully coming down from the summit ice-cap of Monte Bianco. Cross the gully as soon as possible (40 m.) to reach the mixed spur on the left (facing in) of the gully, then climb directly on the spur. At first up on rocky ground, then on the first snow-ridge (the shortest one of the three). Climb a slab, traverse left and climb some chimneys, leading to the second snow-ridge at about 4120 m. Up the second snow-ridge, longer and more thin. Rocky ground leads to the third snow-ridge, the longest. Climb it, ending beneath the skirting of the great upper rocky wall. Two chimneys and some easy slabs lead to a steep snowy strip and to the upper rocky wall . From here there are three different possibilities to climb. The best way is traverse toward right to a corner, climb a hard crack inside the corner (IV+), then traverse right entering a snow gully. Follow it toward a small rocky niche. Pass the niche (IV), then climb 10 m. a long chimney-gully and exit it toward right, getting a snow-slope. Up the snow slope, ending on the summit of the upper rocky wall at about 4480 m. Climb the serac wall, then follow the upper snow-slopes leading directly to the Col Major m. 4725, on the summit ridge between Monte Bianco di Courmayeur and Monte Bianco. Follow the ridge towards right to the summit of Monte Bianco.


Descent: it's possible to choose amongst the four normal routes:

- the Dôme du Goûter route (Bosses Ridge) PD Dôme du Goûter Normal route

This route is the shortest way to descent from Monte Bianco; another advantage is, only in case of emergency, the Vallot shelter along the itinerary. This descent involves a return to the starting point (Courmayeur) by road from Les Houches to Chamonix, then through the tunnel of Monte Bianco.

- the Grands Mulets route PD- Grands Mulets Normal route

- the 3 Mont Blancs route PD+
3 Mont Blancs route

It's the most difficult route amongst the Normal ones, crossing Mont Maudit and Mont Blanc du Tacul, nevertheless gives the advantage of going down on Valleè Blanche near the Cosmique Hut, from where it's possible to get the starting point (Rifugio Torino or Punta Helbronner) by walking through the Giant Glacier.

- the Italian Normal route PD/PD+ Italian Normal Route

Quite a long descent and not the easier, nevertheless gives the advantage of going down on the starting side (Val Veny, Italian side)

Seracs on the descent route
Seracs on the Dôme du Goûter route
Vallot shelter on Gouter normal route, Monte Bianco
Vallot shelter on Dôme du Goûter descent


Rope, helmet, ice-crampons, 2 technical ice-axes, ice-screws, 5-6 quickdraws, a set of friends, some pegs

When to climb

The best period goes from July to September





Useful information

Società delle Guide di Courmayeur

Courmayeur Mont Blanc

Rifugio Torino

Guidebooks and maps

Major route map


“Monte Bianco Vol. I” di Gino Buscaini, Collana Guide dei Monti d’Italia CAI TCI, 1994.

“Monte Bianco - Guide Vallot” ed. Mediterranee, 1999.

“Il massiccio del Monte Bianco – Le 100 più belle ascensioni” by Gaston Rébuffat, Zanichelli Edizioni,

“Rifugi e Bivacchi delle Alpi Occidentali” by Cesare Re, Ed. Guide Macchione, 2005

“Rifugi e Bivacchi del CAI” by Franco Bo, Ed. Priuli e Verlucca, 2002


CNS 1:50000, Courmayeur, foglio 292
Kompass 1:50000, Monte Bianco, foglio 85
De Agostini 1:50000, Monte Bianco


A party getting the summit from Les Trois Mont Blanc routeThe upper part of the Brenva wallSea of clouds from Monte Bianco  summitSeracs on the descent routeMonte Bianco East side seen from Gengiva del GiganteMonte Bianco from Glaciér du GeantMonte Bianco Map
Major, last snow-slopes toward Monte Bianco summit ridgeMajor Route topoMajor,out of the seracs wallVallot shelter on Gouter normal route, Monte BiancoSunset on Brenva wallMajor route map