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The Alps: A History of the World's Most Famous Mountain Range

The Alps are one of the most iconic and recognizable mountain ranges in the world. Spanning over 1,200 kilometers through eight countries, the Alps have provided both beautiful scenery and challenging terrain for adventurers and outdoor lovers alike.

As one of the oldest and most important mountain ranges in Europe, the Alps have a rich history of exploration, discovery, and culture.

The Alps_ A History of the World's Most Famous Mountain Range

Where are the Alps Mountains Located?

The Alps Mountains are located in Central and Western Europe, stretching through France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, and Liechtenstein. The highest peak of the Alps is Mont Blanc in the French Alps, standing at 4,810 meters (15,782 feet) above sea level.

There are many other famous mountains throughout the Alps range, including the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, Monte Rosa in the Italian Alps, Grossglockner in the Austrian Alps, and Eiger in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

Lake Blanc and Mont Blanc
Lake Blanc and Mont Blanc

Additionally, there are many skiing destinations in the Alps, including popular ski resorts such as Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in France, Zermatt in Switzerland, Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, Kitzbühel in Austria, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany. The European Alps can be easily spotted on a map due to its mountain range shape that starts in France, stretches eastward along the southern border of Germany and Austria, and curves southward into Northern Italy.

Important Mountains in the Alps

The Alps mountain range is home to some of the most recognizable and tallest mountains in Europe. Spanning eight countries and covering over 1200 kilometers, the Alps are a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The countries that make up the Alps mountain range are France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, and Monaco.

Swiss Alps in summer
The beautiful Swiss Alps in the summer

Let’s take a look at some of the most impressive mountains in this diverse range.

French Alps

The French Alps are a large portion of the mountain range found within the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur regions. Some of the most impressive peaks in the range are so large that they are in multiple countries, like Mont Blanc, which is partially in France, Italy, and Switzerland.

The French Alps are also known for their small, historic towns that have become meccas for outdoor enthusiasts, like Chamonix.

Mont Blanc - 4,808 meters (15,774 feet)

Mont Blanc, located in the French Alps, (or specifically in the Graian Alps) is the highest mountain in the entire European Alps, reaching an elevation of 4,808 meters (15,774 feet). This iconic peak draws thousands of climbers every year, with its longest climb taking over 10 hours.

Mont Blanc
A view of Mont Blanc

Barre des Écrins - 4,102 metres (13,458 feet)

Second, only to Mont Blanc in France is Écrins Massif which includes the high point, Barre des Écrins which hits 13,458'. It's part of the Dauphiné Alps.

Barres des Ecrins
A view of Barres des Ecrins

Swiss Alps

The Swiss Alps contain the tallest mountains in the entire range. They include potions of the Western Alps, Eastern Alps, and Central Alps. Here are a few of the most notable mountains in the range:

The Eiger - 3,967-meter (13,015 feet)

The Eiger is one of a few world-renowned mountains in the Alps. Located in Switzerland, especially in a part of the Alps known as the Bernese Alps, the Eiger is known as one of the deadliest mountains in the world.

The Eiger
A view of The Eiger

The Matterhorn - 4,478 meters (14,692 feet)

This is yet another unmissable mountain found in the Alps. The Matterhorn is well-known as the peak that graces the packaging of every Toblerone candy bar around the world. It is also known as one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. The peak is sought after by mountaineers from every country on Earth and sees ascents every year.

The Matterhorn
A view of The Matterhorn

Today, when climbing the mountain via the standard route, experienced mountaineers will find themselves navigating a ropes and ladders course set in place for all visitors to use. The same is found on many of Europe's tallest and most popular mountains. That being said, the ropes and ladders do not make this mountain a safe bet.

A fall from anywhere on the mountain is almost certain to result in death due to the terrifying exposure on all sides. This is partly why the mountain is so popular today, the sheer cliffs drop off 360 degrees around the summit, making the peak appear completely inaccessible from afar.

Dom - 4,545 meters (14,911 feet)

Dom is the seventh-tallest mountain in the Alps, reaching nearly 15,000 feet. But, it is incredibly prominent meaning is that, from distances, it appears to be nearly as tall as Mont Blanc and Dufourspitze. One interesting fact about this peak is that of all the tall, Alps climbing routes, it has the most elevation gain along the route. Climbers are forced to surmount the entire 3,100-meter, or 10,170 feet, tall route.


The first ascent was achieved in 1858 via the northwest ridge.

Liskamm - 4,533 meters (14,872 feet)

Liskam, also known as Lyskamm, is another very tall mountain in the Italian and Swiss Alps. It reaches an impressive height of 4,533 m (14,872 ft). It's part of the Pennine Alps and can be reached via Italy or Switzerland. The mountain is enormous, with two impressive summits that are separated by a long, ridge that's more than a half-mile long.

A view of Liskamm

The eastern peak is the tallest and the first to see an ascent. It was climbed in 1861 by a large team including English, Scottish, and Swiss climbers.

Dufourspitze - 4,634 meters (15,203 feet)

Dufourspitze is the second tallest mountain in the Alps, after Mont Blanc. It reaches a height of 4,634 meters (15,203 feet). The summit was reached for the first time in 1855 when a group of climbers from Zermatt summited along with a few guides.

A view of Dufourspitze covered in crevasses

The name which in English reads as Dufour Peak was previously known as Höchste Spitze, or Highest Peak. That was until the mountain was renamed for a topographer. One of the most interesting facts about this mountain is that scholars have speculated that Leonardo da Vinci painted the peak into the background of his famous "Madonna of the Rocks" and other images.

Austrian Alps

The beautiful Austrian Alps are yet another section of this incredible mountain range that is worth learning about. Austria hosts the Central Alps, the Southern Limestone Alps, and the Northern Limestone Alps.

Grossglockner -3,798 meters (12,461 feet)

Austria's highest mountain is Grossglockner, standing at 3,798 meters (12,461 feet). Located in the Hohe Tauern National Park, this mountain has some of the most stunning scenery in the Alps. There are numerous paths up to its peak, making it popular among novice and experienced climbers alike.

A view of the large Grossglockner

Wildspitze - 3,770 meters (12,370 feet)

Wildspitze is the tallest mountain in Austria and the tallest in the Ötztal Alps. The mountain is surrounded by glaciers and includes sections that rate popular with ice climbers, like the famous north face that offers 50-degree ice. The first ascent was made very early, in 1848 by Leander Klotz.

A view of Wildspitze

Weißkugel- 3,739 meters (12,267 feet)

Wildspitze is one of the tallest mountains in the Alps and the second tallest in the Ötztal Alps. The first ascent was completed in 1861 by Austrian climbers from Vienna. The view from the summit is spectacular and is considered to be one of the most beautiful climbs in the country.

A view of Weiskugel

Italian Alps

Along with Switzerland and France, Italy shares part of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in the Alps. Part of the Matterhorn is also in Italy.

Monte Rosa - 4,634 meters (15,203 feet)

In the Italian Alps lies Monte Rosa, the second-highest peak in the range at 4,634 meters (15,203 feet). It is located on the border between Italy and Switzerland and is one of the most challenging climbs in the alps due to its jagged summit.

Monte Rosa
A view of Monte Rosa

Grandes Jorasses - 4,208 meters (13,806 feet)

Grandes Jorasses is part of the very large Mont Blanc massif. It sits on the border of France and Italy and was first climbed in 1868. The mountain includes multiple summits, ranging in height from 13,110 feet to 13,806 feet.

Grandes Jorasses
A view of Grandes Jorasses

Breithorn - 4,164 meter (13,661 feet)

Breithorn is one of the better-known mountains in the Alps. Its name translates to "broad horn" and is shared between Italy and Switzerland. The mountain, despite its intimidating exterior, is regarded as one of the easiest 4,000 meters peaks to climb in the Alps.

The summit of Briethorn

This is mostly due to the cable car, Klein Matterhorn, which takes climbers from Zermatt to 12,700 feet. Despite this relatively easy-to-access route, it is not suited for inexperienced climbers.

German Alps

Germany is not nearly as well-known for its high points as France, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria. But, it is still home to some truly beautiful mountains. None of the mountains in Germany reach the 4,000-meter high points of the rest of the Alps, in fact none break 3,000 meters.

Zugspitze - 2,962 meters (9,718 feet)

Lastly, the highest peak in Germany is Zugspitze at 2,962 meters (9,718 feet). It is actually a two-headed mountain made up of two distinct summits on either side. It is a popular ski destination as well as a great place to enjoy views of the Alps mountain range.

A view of Zugspitze

These are just a few of the many impressive peaks within the European Alps. With its rich culture and incredible landscape, the Alps mountain range continues to be a hotspot for outdoor activities and exploration.

Schneefernerkopf - 2,875 meters (9,432 feet)

Schneefernerkopf is the second-tallest mountain in Germany but sometimes falls prey to controversy regarding whether or not it should be counted as its own mountain. It's less than 2 kilometers from Zugspitze.

Zugspitze and Schneefernerkopf

Wetterspitzen - 2,750 meters (9,020 feet)

The Wetterspitzen are a series of three peaks in Germany that are part of the Eastern Alps. They include North, Middle (or Southern), and Easter Wetterspitz each of which is around 9,000 feet tall. The tallest point among the three is the Middle or Southern Wetterspitze which reaches 9,020 feet.

Alps Mountaineering History

Mountaineering has been an essential part of human history since the dawn of mankind. Since the 1500s, mountaineering in the Alps has held immense popularity among the most adventurous souls. The region provides stunning and treacherous mountain ranges to test and develop mountaineering skills and endurance.

In the mid-16th century, Jakob Zingg from Chur in the Grisons, Switzerland began exploring the mountains of the region and inspired a passion for exploration among those that followed. As mountaineering gained popularity, it also gained structure with guides, safety protocols, and codes of ethics, with formal societies and societies of experts beginning to appear in the mid-1700s.

The Sybelles
The Sybelles in the French Alps

By the early 1800s, adventurers were beginning to explore the majestic peaks of the Alps, and with that exploration came incredible discoveries and breathtaking achievements. Major developments in the world of mountaineering began with the Grand and Petit Traverse, ascents of the Matterhorn, and other difficult climbs in the Alps. Notable pioneers, including Horace-Benedict de Saussure, Jean-Jacques et Gaspard Boeuf, Alois et Jakob Reisse, and Eberhard Inderbinen, changed the history of mountaineering as they created detailed accounts and wrote treatises of their achievements.

This golden age of mountaineering continued until the mid-19th century when alpinism emerged as an intellectual, athletic, and artistic movement and with it an exploration of the new, most difficult routes up the Alps, including Monte Rosa and the south wall of the Eiger.

Schilthorn Mountain Station
Schilthorn Mountain Station

In the twentieth century, technological advancements changed the landscape of mountaineering yet again and popularized extreme activities such as rock climbing and sport climbing.

Interesting Facts About the Alps

1. The Alps mountain range spans 8 countries in Europe, including France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, and Monaco.

2. The highest peak in the Alps is Mont Blanc, which stands at an elevation of 4,808 meters (15,774 feet) above sea level.

3. The French Alps, the Italian Alps, and the Austrian Alps are the largest sub-ranges of the Alps, each with its own unique beauty and culture.

4. Within the Alps mountains is the largest glacial system in all of Europe.

5. The Alps span 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) in length and are bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, and the Rhine River.

6. The Alps mountain map shows the vastness of this mountain range and its many peaks – the most well-known being Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, and the Eiger.

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