The Chamonix valley is my favorite place for alpine climbing and skiing. There are so many routes there that it is possible to do a new route every day for years and years. To find all these routes, web pages such as summitpost.org and chamonixtopo.com can be good starting point, but ultimately you will end up buying a book or two. To make your choice of getting the right book for your climbing ambitions easier I will try to write a short review of each of the books that I have.
Since I don’t speak french, most of the books listed here are available in English.
The Mont Blanc Massif, The hundred finest routes by Gaston Rébuffat
This is a mega classic that (almost) every alpinist should have. This book was first published in 1973 but most of the routes described in this book are still considered to be some of the best routes in the alps. The route descriptions are often dated or obsolete and the topos and images are old. Some routes don’t even exist anymore because of rock fall. It is also not very pocket friendly since it comes in a quite big format. It is probably not the first choice for a beginner alpinist on a tight budget, but still, it is a famous classic that many people refer to.
Snow, Ice and Mixed, a Guide to the Mont-Blanc Range, vol 1 and 2 by Francois Damilano
The two volumes have over 600 pages in between them and cover a lot of routes. A majority of the routes in these books are from grade AD and up. Because of the huge amount of routes in these books, it is not super easy to get a good overview or guidance in picking the best routes. I see these books more as a reference when I have decided on a route or an area that I want climb in. For intermediate to advanced climbers wanting to do snow, ice and mixed routes, these are definitely some of the best books out there. All routes are clearly drawn into photographs, often more than one, and from different directions.
They’re compact and will easily fit into the backpack or a big pocket.
The Aiguilles Rouges 1, Opposite Mont Blanc by Michel Piola
One of my favourite books for rock climbing in the Chamonix valley. As the name suggests it covers routes in the Aiguilles Rouges that are easily accessible from the ski lifts in Brevent and Flegere. The routes described are of all difficulties and include all classic climbs in the area. This book is suited for climbers of all levels looking for alpine rock climbs on the north side of the Chamonix valley. It is highly recommended for anyone planning to spend some amount of time climbing in Chamonix. Especially when the conditions do not allow for longer routes in the Mont Blanc massif itself, there might be a lot of shorter routes in the Aiguilles Rouges that are still an option.
The Mont Blanc Range, Classic Snow, Ice and Mixed Climbs by Jean-Louis Laroche and Florence Lelong
This book is quite thin and covers only twenty-something routes. That does not make it a bad choice of literature though. All routes described in this book are classics in the F-AD grade suitable for beginner and intermediate alpinists looking for an introduction to mixed routes in the Mont Blanc massif. It is in other words, a good book even though it is thin, and it will take quite some time to tick all the classics described in this book. By then you’ll probably have gotten a bunch of other books anyway. Nice pictures and decent topos make it a good choice for the beginner.
Escalades choisies, Mont-blanc Aiguilles Rouges by Jean-Louis Laroche and Florence Lelong
This is a book covering 60 selected rock routes in the mont blanc massif and the Aiguilles rouges by the same authors as the previous book. This one is only available in french.
All the routes are of medium difficulty, most of them with some amount of committment, with many of them being fairly remote with glacial approaches. The descriptions and sketches are decent but not fantastic. The book is fairly light and compact so its easy to bring it to the climb. Since it is a collection of climbs in a quite large area, there are other books covering the same climbs. If you are, for example, looking at the climbs in Aiguille Rouges, the Piola book is a much better choice. Still a pretty good option if you are only looking for alpine rock routes.
Mont Blanc, the fines routes by Philippe Batoux
This book is an attempt to create a modern version of the Rébuffat book mentioned above. It coveres 100 routes in the mont blanc massif, most of them in the higher range of difficulty, graded AD and up, with many of the routes being quite serious undertakings. It covers “modern” classics, mostly on rock and mixed ground. It has good route descriptions, topos and photographs covering all the climbs and often some notes on the history of the route. The book has a lot of beautiful photographs so it is perfect for finding inspiration and planning your trip before going climbing. The big format makes it unsuitable for actually bringing to the climb.
I think that in many ways, the book comes quite close to its aspirations of being a modern version of the Rébuffat classic. The quality of the book, the photos and the texts, is very high. It is a real pleasure to browse through it. What may prevent it from becoming a huge classic is the fact that it is aimed at a fairly small audience, with most of the routes described requiring extensive experience and a fairly high skill level (not saying that the beginner wouldn’t enjoy reading it tough).
The Alpine 4000m Peaks by the Classic Routes by Richard Goedeke
This book covers the normal routes on all the 4000ers in the alps and has also become a bit of a literature classic, especially for people interested in “4000m peak bagging”. Although it gives a nice overview of all those summits, it is in many cases not detailed enough to be of much help on more technical or difficult climbs. And although it covers all of the Chamonix area, I find it better to get a book focusing on the specific area since the number of possible routes will be much higher.
It seems that this book focuses more on summits than the routes to the summit. If there is one place where focus should be on the routes rather than the summit it is definately in the Chamonix valley. If you are only interested in peak bagging, Chamonix probably isn’t the right place for you anyway. So to conclude, I’ll say that it is a good book for those interested in just 4000 m peaks, but for someone looking for a bigger selection in Chamonix, get another book!
Pictured below is the German translation, it also available in English.
3000er in the Western alps by Richard Goedeke
Just as with the previously described 4000 m book, the 3000 m book by the same author is also quite general and not detailed enough for the more technical climbs. Most things said about the 4000 m book also holds true for the 3000 m book. Although it covers more peaks in the Mont Blanc region I still cannot recommend this book over the previously reviewed books.
I have the German edition and searching on Google for this book, I couldn’t find an English edition, so if one does exists, I guess it might not be super easy to find it.