| Gerd Roth |
Saint-Gervais, France (dpa) – Ill-prepared climbs of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe, are creating a headache for the local authorities in this part of south-eastern France.
Jean-Marc Peillex, the mayor of Saint-Gervais, has a name for the incompetent mountaineering frequently seen on this 4,810-metre alpine peak – Disney Mont Blanc. That might sound like the happy kingdom, but is actually the stuff of conflict and hazard.
Ascending Mont Blanc can put your life at risk, even if you are a well-equipped climber with good guides. People are killed on the massif frequently, and mountain rescue teams are called out up to 100 times a year.
In August five French climbers and their guide died on the Aiguille d’Argentiere, a lower nearby peak used as a route to the top. Shortly afterwards, two climbers and their guide fell 800 metres to their deaths on the Aiguille du Midi, another route.
The mountain has claimed 20 dead or missing since the beginning of this year’s season alone.
Avalanches, rock falls and sudden changes in the weather are the usual reasons for mishaps, but increasingly, the foolish behaviour of amateurs is creating risks for themselves and for others.
The opening of a new hut – the Refuge du Gouter – by Environment Minister Segolene Royal at 3,835 metres may only have served to exacerbate the situation by drawing even more climbers.
Too expensive, too chic, too luxurious by half is the opinion of many, even though staying the night costs just 70 euros (US$90).
Stainless steel cladding and solar panels drove the building costs up to 6.5 million euros.
The 120 beds are often booked out, yet in July, 30 climbers simply turned up at the door unannounced.
Hut keeper Amelie Faure tells of unpleasant encounters to the point of physical assault. She has been sworn at by climbers who have not made advance reservations and she has seen lockers broken open, supplies and food stolen and climbing ropes “borrowed”.
“Nobody can do anything – neither the mayor, nor the mountaineering association, nor even the police,” she wrote in desperation to the authorities in the valley.
The consequences of this sort of misbehaviour can be expensive.
A 48-year-old climber found himself standing there in his socks after a night in the hut. Someone had stolen his boots.
Since he could not walk back through the snow, a helicopter had to be called out to airlift him down to the valley.
Peillex has incredible tales to tell. Police managed to convince an Austrian family not to attempt an ascent with their five-year-old daughter, but only after some lengthy argument.
A group of Russians took on the mountain despite being in poor physical condition.
An American seeking to set a record started out with his children aged 11 and 9. The boy and girl fell and were saved only with the help of other climbers.
Mayor Peillex sees too many people who have failed to prepare.
He would like to see access to the mountain regulated to ensure the “crazies” are not allowed anywhere near the famous landmark.