Jean-Marc Peillex is the mayor of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, a French village situated at the base of the highest mountain in The Alps: Mont Blanc. Renowned for its tourism, stunning scenery, and world-class hiking and skiing options, it’s been a popular year-round holiday destination since the early 1900s. However, this year, Mayor Peilliex has a message for anyone seeking to climb Europe’s most famous peak during the middle of the summer heatwave.
As the high summer heatwave continues throughout Europe, Peillex is imposing a €15,000 ($15,370) deposit to cover rescue and possible funeral costs for any climber attempting to summit Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest mountain. He’s calling it an insurance fee for the pseudo-alpinists defying all given recommendations to stay off the mountain. His latest response is a statement to prove the climb is no joke right now and is extremely dangerous.
“It’s like these people think they are going to Disneyland or on the London Eye. It may sound cynical for me to compare all this to Russian roulette, but the fact is so many people climb Mont Blanc thinking it’s a game without any real risks,” -Saint-Gervais-les-Bains Mayor Jean-Marc Peillex
The most popular track to reach the summit is the Goûter route, also known as the Royal Way. It’s an incredible glacial traverse that leads guests from Saint-Gervais or nearby Chamonix to the top. The long route requires suitable conditions and a perfect weather forecast. Since all stars must align for the route to be even possible, it’s a bucket list climb and all the more satisfying.
As the glacier melts, closures and poor conditions continue during the month of August. Alpine guides are left with no choice but to refuse tours and deny guiding tourists on hazardous routes. Now, these unhappy visitors are attempting to reach the summit on their own. The mayor reported up to 70 attempts per day. A startling number of tries and a number which he says is on the rise.
In a recent press release, Mayor Peillex voiced the average cost of a rescue on the mountain was €10,000 ($10,320) and funeral costs were €5,000 ($5,160). Stating, “It is unacceptable for the French taxpayer to cover those costs.” Although technically Mayor Peillex does not have the legal power to close the Goûter route, he obtains the power to impose the deposit. The mayor is willing to do whatever he can to deter people from risking their lives to reach the area. However, across the border on the Italian side, it’s a different story. Mayor Roberto Rota of the ski resort town Courmayeur has called Peillex’s deposit plan “surreal” stating “the mountain is not a property.”
The 2022 European summer heatwave has caused increased avalanches, landslides, and rockfalls in The Alps. Rockfalls, not to mention avalanches are deadly and will wipe out anything or anyone in their path. Assessing risk is rule number one when it comes to exploring the mountains. Though one of nature’s most beautiful gifts, even in summer the mountains can be unforgiving, and one must respect the dangers they can impose.