|Lat/Lon:||45.83270°N / 6.86430°E|
|Season:||Spring, Summer, Fall|
|Time Required:||A long day|
|Rock Difficulty:||Class 3|
1st ascent by Giovenni Bonin, Luigi Grasselli and Achille Ratti with Joseph Gradin and Alexis Proment - Aug 1, 1890 (in descent)
1st winter ascent by Graziadio Bolaffio with Joseph and Alexis Croux, Cyprien and Albert Savoye, Laurent Petigax.
It's interesting to note the above mentioned Achille Ratti would later become Pope with the name Pious XI.
WARNING: This is an alpinistic route. Because of lenght and altitude, in order to climb it succesfully you must have have a sufficient physical and technical preparation, and a clear meteo. In case of doubt or for further information, contact the The Company of Guides at Courmayeur (www.guidecourmayeur.com) or the Fondazione Montagna Sicura (www.fondazionemontagnasicura.org)
It's not a terribly difficult route, more varied than the French normals and far less crowded. The ambient is incredible, much more savage than any other normal route to MB. However, you'll have a longer summit day than the Gouter route (1700 m. of altitude gain against 1000) and the climb itself is less banal and a bit more demanding. A great advantage of this route compared with the Gouter is a much lower hut. It's guaranteed that you'll sleep far better here, and you'll be more fresh for the summit day (you're going to need it!) In doubt, hire a guide! The Company of Guides at Courmayeur (www.guidecourmayeur.com) has some interesting package for people who wants to attempt MB for the first time from this side.
The route starts at the Francesco Gonella hut, located at 3072m above the Italian Miage glacier. The hut can be reached from the Val Veny.
From the hut there's an evident path on what is usually a snowy slope, but in recent years it has always been reduced to dry scree. Follow the path until you reach the Dome glacier. From here, in summer there's usually a well marked trace, that can be difficult to follow in the dark. And so, first climb up the glacier on the left, then on the center, taking care of the crevasses (usually well open in summer). Above, the glacier trail turns left again pointing toward an evident col betwen the pointy Tour Des Aiguilles Grises and the massive Dome De Gouter. Cross the bergschrund (usually easy) and go up a easy but steep snowy slope until the col (3811 m.). Follow the ridge on the right (snow with some rocks) until a minor summit called Piton des Italiens (4003 m). Again, continue on the snowy ridge (beware to some cornices) until the summit of the Dome De Gouter (4 or 5 hours from the hut). From here, you meet the trail of the Gouter normal route that goes (in a little less than 3 hours) up to Mt. Blanc,
Some note on the descent if weather deteriorates: If you want to use this route in descent, the bit around the Dome De Gouter can be very awkward with reduced visibility. Most of the traces go toward the Gouter hut, in the NW, while you've to turn SW towards the Bionassay ridge. Follow the ridge (first relatively large, then narrow) until the small bump of the Piton Des Italiens. If visibility is scarce, check the compass (that you MUST have!) and follow the steep ridge South, then (when the angle become easier) turn left (East) an follow another steep but easy slope until the Dome glacier. Descend the glacier first on the middle, then turn right. The hut isn't visible from here, but leave the glacier to the right when you reach a small but very evident plateau (as reference, on the opposite (left) side of the glacier you'll see the massive couloir normally used to link the Gonella and the Quintino sella hut. In good conditions, the descent from the summit to the Gonella hut takes only 3 or 4 hours, but may get easily longer. It's ALWAYS a good idea to ask directions and suggestion to the Gonella warden before you leave, and to familiarize yourself with the area. Bring a map and a compass, or a very good GPS.
I've made a gear list using the "official" one from the St. Gervais Bureau Des Guides as a blueprint, adding my own opinions. As usual, use with caution.
About GPS and cell phones: everyone seems to consider them invaluable stuff for safety and self rescue, but reality is that they simply lull you into a false sense of security. Especially the cell phone - a lot of places in the Mt. Blanc massif are NOT covered, and believe me, you're going to discover you're in a "blank" area just when things are going bad! Guides of the area often use two way receivers. As for the GPS, is a fantastic tool, but it doesn't replace stable weather, good visibility and the navigational abilities you need to be a competent alpine climber. The best equipment you'll bring is a fit condition and a careful acclimatisation for altitude. To climb safely Mt. Blanc from ANY route you must be fit enough to ascend at least 1500m. of altitude gain without feeling exhausted, and you need to have done at least a peak above 3500m. and one above 4000m. in the previous two weeks. Anything less means courting disaster (most of MB casualties are altitude related). Remember - it's true that an helicopter can take you to the valley in minutes, but not always you can call for rescue (cell phones don't work well here), and not always the weather conditions allow the helicopter to land on the mountain.
From Courmayeur to the Gonella hut