Climbers intending to ascend Mont Blanc from a well-traveled path in France may soon be required to put down a €15,000 ($15,348) deposit to cover the cost if they pass away or need rescue from western Europe’s highest peak.
The mayor of Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains, a town on the French side, Jean-Marc Peillex, says that too many amateur climbers are risking their lives on the mountain, where recent heat wave has made the terrain more dangerous.
“The municipality of Saint-Gervais plans to take measures adapted to the irresponsibility of some and the risks they make rescuers run,” Peillex said in a statement on Twitter.
— Jean-Marc PEILLEX (@PEILLEX) August 3, 2022
Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains is where climbers can reach the summit of the highest peak in western Europe via the Goûter Route. The mayor put the measure in place after dozens of people disregarded warnings and participated in what he called “a game of Russian roulette.”
The mayor contends that the €15,000 ($15,348) deposit is equivalent to “the average cost of a rescue (€10,000) and the cost of a victim’s funeral” (€5,000).
Peillex said that it is unacceptable that the French taxpayers are responsible for paying these expenses and added that those who climb now do so “with death in their backpack.”
Due to heavy rockfall, local guides had to halt their activities along the route, available to climbers of any skill level, in the middle of July.
The local government sternly advised people to avoid it. Conditions on the mountain are more dangerous now because of an intense, protracted heat wave.
In a statement shared on Twitter, Peillex argued that dozens of “pseudo-mountaineers” had disregarded the warnings. He explained how mountain police had to turn back five Romanian tourists who had tried to ascend while “wearing shorts, trainers, and straw hats.”
Italian Mayor Criticizes The Move
Though much less popular, the Ratti path can also be used to access the peak from Courmayeur on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. But Courmayeur Mayor Roberto Rota insisted that he had no intention of limiting access.
“The mountain is not a property,” he said. “We, as administrators, can limit ourselves to reporting sub-optimal conditions along the routes, but asking for a deposit to climb to the top is really surreal.”
In early July, a massive chunk of ice broke free from a glacier on the north side of the Marmolada, the highest peak in the Italian Dolomites. Eleven people were killed in this incident, which also sparked a contentious debate about the safety of mountaineering activities.
Due to safety concerns, the mayors of the Marmolada towns blocked off essential access points, but some climbers tried to get around the restrictions. Over the past 20 years, the Goûter Route has claimed the lives of over 100 people.
French mountain guides who ceased operations until August 15 spoke of “witnessing rock falls throughout the day and night.” The dry conditions in the Alps have been magnified by little snowfall during the winter and above-average spring temperatures.
Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains has a history of natural disasters. In 1892, a glacier suddenly burst and flooded the settlements, marking a watershed moment in the village’s history. Over 200 people were killed in the “The Saint-Gervais catastrophe.”
The French mayor claimed that approximately 50 “pseudo-mountain climbers” who traveled the route in July were “playing the latest fashionable game: Russian roulette!”
Russian roulette is a potentially deadly game of chance in which the player loads one round into a revolver, spins the cylinder, presses the muzzle to the head or body, and pulls the trigger. The player will die or suffer severe injuries if the loaded chamber lines up with the barrel when the weapon fires.
Routes typically safe this time of year are now at risk from falling rocks released from the ice due to the glacier melt and permafrost accelerated by the warmer temperatures.
If the mayor’s funeral plans are implemented, they may act as a good deterrent in this situation, but they may also negatively affect local tourism.