Mountaineering & Expeditions

Highest Mountains In France | Top 10

It's no secret Mont Blanc towers above the Alps, and all of Western Europe, but what about the other highest mountains in France? Here's a guide to the country's 10 highest summits

France is a land of world-class wine, culinary delights, rich history and, last but not least, some of the most dramatic alpine landscapes in Europe. The highest mountains in France have served as a backdrop for the birth of modern mountaineering, enticing explorers and adventurers from all over the world for centuries to come and put their skills to the test.

The country is famously home to Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe, and regarded by many as the home of mountaineering as we know it today. The tallest summit in the Mont Blanc Massif, it’s surrounded by no less than seven 4,000m peaks, including Mont Maudit and Aiguille Verte. It could be argued that these summits count as mountains in their own right, but for the purposes of this list, we’ll be ranking peaks based on prominence. Besides, there’s far more to France’s mountaineering menu than this iconic range.

Elsewhere in the Alps, there are numerous peaks over 3,000 and even 4,000 metres, offering up extreme challenges for anyone brave and skilled enough to take them on. From epic ice climbs on the north face of Grande Casse to backcountry skiing through the narrow couloirs of Pic Bayle, below are France’s highest mountains and what you need to know about them.

1. Mont Blanc, 4,808m

Pictured: Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in France. Credit: Getty Images

At not far off 5,000m, Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Western Europe. The highest mountain in the entire continent of Europe, of course, is Russia’s Mount Elbrus. Mont Blanc is ranked 11th in the world in terms of topographic prominence, straddling the border between France and Italy. The first ascent took place in 1786 by Jacques Balmat and the doctor Michel-Gabriel Paccard, an event that marks the beginning of the golden age of alpinism and the start of modern mountaineering.

Although smaller than Elbrus, Mont Blanc has a far higher fatality rate. Every year, thousands attempt the climb, but many are inexperienced, underestimating the challenge and the skills required. In fact, more people die on Mont Blanc each year than in any decade in the Alaskan mountains, including on the notoriously dangerous and difficult Denali.

2. Barre des Ecrins, 4,102m

Pictured: France’s second highest mountain, Barre des Ecrins (Credit: Getty Images)

This jagged, rocky peak is the only 4,000m mountain in France that sits outside of the Mont Blanc Massif. In fact, it was actually the tallest mountain in the country before the annexation of Savoy in 1860. Four glaciers surround Barre ded Ecrins: Bonne Pierre glacier to the north-west, the Glacier Blanc to the north-east , Glacier du Vallon de la Pilatte to the south-west, and finally in the south-east, the Glacier Noir.

The mountain is visible from miles around. In fact, it’s the subject of the longest known line of sight on Earth. Photographer Marc Bret took a snap in 2016, which shows Barre des Ecrins from a staggering 443km away in the Pyrenees.

3. Grande Casse, 3,855m

Pictured: Grand Casse, France’s third tallest peak (Credit: Tim Arnold)

First summited by William Mathews along with guides Michel Croz and E. Favre in 1860, the Grande Casse is the highest mountain of the Vanoise Massif in the Graian Alps. It’s the third highest summit in France, located in the heart of the Vanoise National Park.

To look at, you might assume the Grande Casse is a seriously technical climb. Ascent via the normal route, however, is actually relatively easy. For this reason, the mountain is a popular destination for less experienced mountaineers looking to refine their skills. In the spring, this same route becomes a magnet for top skiers looking for a challenging backcountry descent.

4. Mont Pourri, 3,779m

Pictured: Mont Pourri, one of France’s highest mountains (Credit: Getty Images)

Standing at 3,779m, the Mont Pourri is the second highest peak of the Vanoise Massif after the Grande Casse. If you’ve ever skied in Les Arcs, it’s a mountain you might recognise.

In English, the name means ‘rotten mount’ or ‘decayed mount’, which some mistakenly take as meaning that the mountain is in poor condition. In actual fact, Mont Pourri offers fantastic climbing all year round and becomes popular with freeride skiers and snowboarders in the spring. As for the unappealing name, it’s believed by some to have come from a mountaineer called Pury, Pourrit or Purry, who, according to legend, made the summit a couple of centuries prior to the first recorded ascent in 1861.

5. Dent Parrachée, 3,697m

Pictured: Dent Parachee, standing out of the Massif de la Vanoise range (Credit: Getty Images)

Another peak of the Vanoise massif, Dent Parrachee is 3,697m of pyramidal ice and rock, overlooking the dams of Plan d’Aval and Plan d’Amont, above the village of Aussois. It’s serviced by a 30-bed refuge which is open all year, serving as a base for mountaineers, skiers and hikers to explore the mountain.

From the hut, visitors can embark on everything from a tour of the Vanoise Glaciers to summiting the peak itself. Or, if you’re looking for a bigger challenge, you can start your ascent from Aussois and attempt to get up and down in a single day.

6. Aiguilles d’Arves, 3,514m

Pictured: France’s Aiguilles d’Arves, the tallest mountain in the Arves Massif (Credit: Getty Images)

Located in the Arves Massif, this visually imposing mountain is made up of three pointed peaks, the tallest of which, the Southern Needle, stands at an impressive 3,514m. The Central Needle, which is the second highest, was first summited in 1839, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that Swiss mountain guides Christian and Ulrich Almer and their American client, W. A. B. Coolidge reached the highest point.

This wasn’t Coolidge’s only successful summit attempt in the area. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s the New Yorker climbed extensively in the Dauphiné Alps, claiming a number of first ascents in the process.

7. Aiguille de Scolette, 3,506m

Pictured: Aiguille de Scolette, or Pierre Menue ©2021 Loïc Perrin

Sitting on the France-Italy border, Aiguille de Scolette is a 3,506m mountain situated in Savoie on the French side and Turin on the Italian side. It’s a dramatic snow covered pyramid, rising up above the Cottian Alps and was first ascended in 1875.

Fancy climbing it? The easiest route begins at the Col de Pelouse, which connects Bardonecchia and Avrieux, following the south-west and north-west ridges of the mountain.

8. Pic Bayle, 3,465m

Pictured: Pic Bayle, standing at 3,465m tall in France (©1977)

Named after Joseph Bayle, the first man to reach the summit in 1874, Pic Bayle is a mountain in the Dauphiné Alps, with a height of 3,465. It’s the highest point of the Grandes Rousses Massif, towering over the resort of Alpe d’Huez.

Pic Bayle is located in the French region of Isère, which is home to some of the best backcountry action in the world. It encompasses the holy trinity of La Grave, Les Deux Alpes and Alpe d’Huez, with many intrepid freeride enthusiasts making the trip every year to experience the slopes for themselves.

9. Pic de Rochebrune, 3,320m

Pictured: Pic de Rochebrune, one of the 10 highest mountains in France (Credit:
Luc Santeramo)

Standing at 3,320m in height, Pic de Rochebrune is the highest point of the Central Cottian Alps and one of the highest in Queyras. The summit looks out over much of the Western Alps and can be reached fairly easily by experienced hikers.

Depending on how it’s approached, Pic de Rochebrune could be classed as either an easy climb or a difficult hike. Either way, the best time to get up there is during mid to late summer – too early in the season and there’ll be snow and ice near the summit.

10. Vignemale, 3,298m

Pictured: Vignemale, the tallest of the French Pyrenean summits (Credit: Oihan Brière)

Vignemale is the highest of the French Pyrenean mountains. It lies on the border between the Department of Hautes-Pyrénées (Nauts Pirenèus / Hauts Pirenèus), in Occitanie and Gascony, France and Sobrarbe, in Aragon, Spain. The summit is split between the two countries.

The mountain has several distinct summits, the tallest of which is 3,298m. It’s also home to the Ossoue, the second largest of the Pyrenean glaciers, which must be traversed in order to ascend via the normal route. It’s also famous for its dramatic north face, which has a number of extreme ascent routes for highly experienced climbers.


The image of Aiguille de Scolette is provided under the creative commons licence 3.0. Image of Pic Bayle provided under the creative commons licence 4.0.

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