The Mont Blanc Range Topo Guide. Volume 1. Michel Piola. Editions Equinoxe, Vernier, Switzerland, 1988. 207 pages. Maps, 30 black-and-white photographs. Softcover. Translated from the French by Jules Mills. French francs 111 (approx. $20).
This excellent guidebook, which includes 201 routes and 83 topos, is the first in a proposed series that presumably will include all the rock climbs (no ice or mixed routes) in the Mont Blanc Range. I say this advisedly, since I do not know for sure what Piola actually has in mind. Volume 1 features the following sections: Aiguille du Midi, Rognon du Plan/Dent du Requin, Envers des Aiguilles (upper and lower sections), Aiguilles de Chamonix (northwest side), and the Aiguilles Rouges.
The booklet, at 4¾ x 4¾ inches and weighing about 10 ounces, is small enough to fit in a rucksack pocket. Topos and photographs are full page and excellently reproduced on quality paper. The topos, drawn by Piola himself I was told, deserve particular attention for they are the best pen and ink drawings I have seen anywhere. First, the basic structure of the formation in question is drawn, utilizing some 30 icons to provide a wide variety of rock detail. If there are 12 routes, say, on a formation, he will use 3 separate pages (same drawing) each showing 4 routes with heavy dotted lines, with a rating for each pitch. The missing routes on each page are shown with a faint, tiny dotted line, so the reader always has an idea how all 12 routes relate to each other. This method results in much less confusion, at the expense, of course, of more pages in the guidebook.
Route description text is minimal. After a brief introduction to a particular drawing, the route names are listed, including grade, length, rating for the most difficult compulsory move, first-ascent names, descent information. Rarely is gear information provided.
The majority of the routes in this book were done in the 1980s, many by Piola and his friends. They are of a very high standard, usually well-equipped (bolts and rappel stations) and extremely popular. During the 6 weeks I was there I climbed 9 Piola routes; one of them, L’Eau Rance d’Arabie, I thought was the most magnificent, consistently difficult, 7-pitch rock climb I’d ever done.