Mont Blanc is a world famous Alpine massif, and is considered by some definitions as the highest peak in Europe. The mountain rises to a height of 15,777 feet in the Graian Alps, between the French Haute Savoie and the Italian Aosta Valley. The summit of the mountain itself lies in French territory. The mountain is surrounded by the Chamonix Valley and Savoy Alps to the west, these hosting the French settlements of Chamonix and Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, and the Valley of Courmayeur to the east, which is home to the town of Courmayeur. The Pennine Alps are situated to the northeast, and the other ranges of the Graian Alps to Blanc's south. Mont Blanc is also covered by massive glaciers, which occupy an area of about 100 square kilometers on the mountain. Mer de Glace, the second longest Alpine glacier, is among those located on the Mont Blanc.
For centuries, the ice-capped Mont Blanc has fascinated millions of global tourists, mountaineers, and naturalists alike with its stunning landscape and ethereal beauty. The epic poem Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni was written by the famous British poet P.B. Shelley, and based on his observations of the beauty and serenity of the mountain. Michel Gabriel Paccard, with his porter Jacques Balmat, were the first to summit Mont Blanc in 1786. In 1808, Marie Paradis became the first woman to summit the mountain. After the French Revolution ended in 1799, there were several disputes over the ownership of this picturesque mountain, with France and Italy finally settling upon sharing the Mont Blanc territory between them. In 1893, an observatory was built on the summit of Mont Blanc under the instructions of the astronomer Pierre Janssen. However, the lack of a rock foundation at the summit, and the formation of crevasses under the observatory, led to the abandonment of the observatory in 1906. Mont Blanc also bears witness to two fatal air crashes. These were Air India Flight 245 in 1950, killing 47 people, and Air India Flight 101 in 1966, killing 117 people.
Mont Blanc is a popular tourist destination in Europe, and one attracting a large number of mountaineers, hikers, skiers, and snowboarders every year. The first Winter Olympics was hosted by Chamonix, the Alpine resort at the base of the Mont Blanc Alpine range, in 1924. Nearly 20,000 climbers summit Mont Blanc every year, and around 100 fatalities involving climbers are reported here annually. An 11.6-kilometer long Mont Blanc Tunnel dug underneath the mountain facilitates transport between Courmayeur, Italy and Chamonix, France. In 2007, two portable toilets were installed at the summit of the mountain to keep the mountain clean of human waste produced by the large numbers of climbers.
The vegetation pattern in the Mont Blanc region varies with altitude and temperature. Deciduous trees cover the valleys and lower slopes, while coniferous forests grow higher up. These are gradually replaced by Alpine meadows, and finally Alpine deserts, with their perpetual snow and ice cover, occur towards the summit. A large variety of wildflowers grown in the mountain valley and pastures during the spring season. The mountain is also inhabited by a large number of animals, including Mountain hares, small goat-like animals called the chamois, squirrel-like animals called marmots, and the Alpine ibex. Rarely, foxes and lynxes can also be observed on Mont Blanc. Birds like eagles, Bearded vultures, buzzards, and Alpine Choughs might also be spotted here.
Threats and Disputes
As per reports from a laboratory in Grenoble, Mont Blanc’s longest glacier, the Mer de Glace, lost 3.61 meters in depth within a year between October of 2014 and October of 2015. This loss was far higher than its average loss of 1 meter per year seen over the last 30 years. Scientists believe this melting of the Mer de Glace signifies the ominous effects of climate change and global warming. Scientists also warn that if climate change is not addressed, all Alpine glaciers below a height of about 3,500 meters will disappear completely by the end of this century. Besides the threat from climate change, heavy tourist footfall in the Monc Blanc region and its valleys has led to high levels of air pollution in the region. Chamonix has one of the highest levels of air pollution in France. Heavy land and air traffic in the region due to the constant tourist movement has laden the air around the Chamonix Valley with dangerous levels of air pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and Benzo-(a)-pyrene. The establishment and growth of ski resorts, hotels, roads, cable cars, and other amenities to encourage tourists in the Mont Blanc region has also put ecological pressures on the mountain's ecosystems, and risked the welfare of its wildlife as a result.