Overcrowded and More Dangerous, Mont Blanc Faces a Crisis


The Goûter Refuge — a futuristic construction that adheres to a cliff at 12,516 toes — is, for many individuals, the ultimate cease en path to the highest of Mont Blanc, the best mountain in Western Europe, straddling the border between France and Italy.

Every summer season at the least 20,000 individuals try the 15,776-foot summit. The majority spend a evening within the Goûter Refuge, on the French facet, which welcomes climbers from late May by September. Local officers and guides say the quantity is rising, and that at the moment’s climbers are much less skilled, whilst hotter temperatures are rising the chance of rockfall and remodeling once-snowy ridges into treacherous sheets of ice. A small variety of climbers additionally look like unwilling to respect the foundations — and even pay for his or her lodging.

“People would say, ‘You have to let us stay for free. We don’t have to pay because you’re a mountain hut,’” stated Antoine Rattin, 46, a information and the supervisor of Goûter Refuge, recalling a few encounters final summer season.

In the excessive, wild panorama across the Refuge, turning individuals out for the evening might imply dying, so Mr. Rattin had no alternative however to abide their presence — even when that meant accepting their refusal to pay the €65.80 (about $74) price for a mattress, and exceeding the hut’s official capability of 120 individuals.

“Clients tend to be obsessed with this mountain, and every experienced mountaineer wants to climb it as well,” said Blaise Agresti, an independent mountain guide and the former head of the PGHM of Chamonix, the security and rescue service that responds to emergencies on Mont Blanc and the surrounding peaks. “Today, many people who come to the mountain go up, come back down and then never go back for the rest of their lives,” he said. “We’ve been marketing Mont Blanc for two centuries. We’ve sold it as this beautiful, symbolic dream. So today, this is the situation we inherit.”

“I did it once but I would never, ever do it again,” said Rachel McKee, 41, an Irishwoman living in France who climbed Mont Blanc six years ago. She was completely exhausted by the climb, despite her thorough training, and she had to sprint across the Grand Couloir as rocks fell around her. “It was a fantastic experience, but you’re playing with death,” she said.

As warmer temperatures take their toll on the fragile alpine environment, some of the dangers are growing more serious. The average temperature in Chamonix rose by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of the 20th century (more than double the global rate), said Ludovic Ravanel, a geomorphologist with France’s National Center for Scientific Research and a specialist in the evolution of alpine environments.

But it’s not always easy to convince climbers, many of them go-it-alone amateurs with little knowledge of the routes, on how to protect themselves.

“Today, we have passed from a generation of mountaineers to a generation of tourists who come for one shot, just to take a selfie on the top of Mont Blanc,” said Jean-Marc Peillex, the mayor of Saint-Gervais.

For more than a decade, Mr. Peillex has been arguing for stricter controls. And following the summer of 2018 — when French media published a string of stories describing overcrowding, litter, fist fights and other bad behavior on Mont Blanc — he has achieved his goal.

Starting with the 2019 climbing season, which opened on May 24, anyone hiking the Normal Route must carry identification and proof of a reservation in one of the huts. There has also been a clamp down on free camping. Scores of tents used to cluster outside the Goûter Refuge during the summer, and Mr. Peillex said that people would leave behind trash and feces. But no longer: climbers caught setting up their own tents could now face a fine of €300,000 (about $338,000) and two years in prison.

Yet another restriction was recently introduced after a hot day in June, when about 150 paraglider pilots rode powerful thermal winds to the top of Mont Blanc. A prohibition on landing on the summit was announced the following day.

The new controls have stopped short, however, of requiring a climbing permit or otherwise attempting to impose a limit on the number of people on Mont Blanc. Such an approach would violate the principle, firmly held in France, that the high mountains are a place of liberty that should not be subjected to draconian controls.

But the new measures, which were announced in April by the prefecture of Haute Savoie, are meant to restore respect for the mountain, while also ensuring a safe and smooth flow of climbers. The rules are enforced by PGHM officers and security officials from Saint-Gervais, who patrol the Normal Route around the clock. Still, some have questioned just how much of an impact the new controls will have.

David Ravanel, the president of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, said he hoped the measures would improve people’s experience. “But I don’t think they will decrease the risk of accidents, because they still won’t prevent complete amateurs from climbing the mountain. That’s the biggest challenge we have today.”

Mr. Peillex acknowledged that the new measures alone are not enough; a shift in the public’s attitude is needed, he said. So Mr. Peillex has launched a public information campaign, in the hopes of raising awareness among climbers before they even arrive.



Source link Nytimes.com

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