The conquest of Mont Blanc

Key dates

1786 two Chamonix residents, Dr Michel Pacard and Jacques Balmat, reach the summit of Mont Blanc

1808 Marie Paradis is the first woman to stand on the summit of Mont Blanc

1876 Isabella Straton and her future husband Jean Charlet achieve the first winter ascent of Mont Blanc

1941 Premier de cordée (First on the Rope) by Roger Frison-Roche is published by Arthaud

1955 The cable car service opens at Aiguille du Midi

Mont Blanc in book form

Some 50,000 books have been published on Mont Blanc around the world. The highest mountain in the Alps was very quick to get the ink flowing: accounts of ascents, botanical descriptions, works of art and adventure stories. A novel by Roger Frison-Roche, a writer and guide who elected residence in Chamonix, entitled Premier de cordée ("First on the Rope") and published in 1942, brought the Mont Blanc massif global renown. The book sold over 15 million copies, was translated into every language and was adapted twice for cinema. And here is a heart-felt book by Walter Bonati, the Italian who speaks so strongly of Mont Blanc in his memoirs: Montagnes d'une vie (2001).

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Mountain-top mystery

At the first ascent of Mont Blanc, no-one in Savoie took a great interest in the country's mountain-top border - that is, not until 1860, when Savoie was annexed to France. Ever since then, however, debate has raged about the exact position of the mountain top. Is it in France or Italy? In the municipality of Chamonix, Les Houches or Saint Gervais?
In 1946, an order issued by the Préfet of Haute-Savoie situated Mont Blanc in Saint Gervais. But in late 2013, a book with the provocative title of "A qui appartient le Mont Blanc ?" ("Who owns Mont Blanc?") revived the debate. In it, authors Paul Guichonnet and Christian Mollier state that "Mont Blanc is the joint, common property of France (municipality of Chamonix) and Italy (municipality of Courmayeur)".
The debate has yet to be settled. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that the "Mont Blanc" label is a guarantee of popularity and recognition the world over.

Stepping out into thin air at Aiguille du Midi


Over 1,000 metres of empty space under your feet. Despite the felt overshoes you have to don to avoid scratching the very thick glass, and despite the people who have gone before you and those who are waiting impatiently for their turn behind you, there is no escaping the little "gasp" in your stomach from the sensation of height.
For its latest attraction at Aiguille du Midi, opposite Mont Blanc, Compagnie des Alpes, the company that manages the cable car and its platform, paid out €500,000 for this impressive technical feat: the 1.5m deep, 2.5m wide balcony has five transparent walls, each consisting of three layers of 12mm thick tempered glass. Most importantly, no metal beams obstruct your field of vision: there is only emptiness, utter emptiness.