Lonely Planet Writer

That shrinking feeling: Western Europe’s highest peak gets smaller

It still is the highest peak in Western Europe, but glaciologists have confirmed that Mont Blanc has shrunk by a centimetre in the last two years. The mountain, which borders France and Italy, is officially 4808.72 metres in height, but back in 2013 the measuring tape unfurled to a mighty 4810.02 metres.

Mont Blanc Image by Christian Kober/Getty Images

So what’s to blame for the shrinking feeling? Glaciologists are pointing the finger at variations in weather and a melting glacier. The rock summit itself is 4792 metres high—though it could have been even taller still if the geologist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure hadn’t allegedly lopped off the peak in August 1787. The Swiss-born scientist was said to have chipped off the highest piece of ice free rock that stood on the mountain; it now resides at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem in the Netherlands.

But the iconic mastiff still has a long way to go before it loses its crown as the highest peak in Western Europe: Monte Rosa in Switzerland stand second on the list, cutting the clouds at a head-spinning 4634 metres, with Austria’s Grossglockner in third at 3798 metres.

Mountaineer walking up to the summit of Mt.Elbrus, Russia with Caucasus in background. Image by Kitti Boonnitrod/Getty Images

There are a number of peaks in Eastern Europe that make Mont Blanc look like a molehill. Mount Elbrus in Russia swoops up to colossal 5642 metres and Georgia’s Shkhara is chalked up as 5201 metres.

It’s estimated that 200 climbers reach the top of Mont Blanc each day in the summer, though some 30,000 mountaineers attempt the ascent during climbing season. There are five main routes up to the summit and climbers should be in good physical shape and have crampon and ice pick experience. Using a guide is recommended as well. Some summit routes, like the Gouter Hut Route, must be booked online before setting off.