As deaths and rescues continue to increase, a French mayor has called for a ban on “ill-prepared thrill-seekers” attempting to climb the overcrowded Mont Blanc.
400 climbers each day in summer attempt Western Europe’s highest peak (15,781-feet), but most are novices, according to Jean-Marc Peillex, the local mayor. Many attempt the ascent without proper equipment, as if they were going for a walk in the park. But a section of the popular “Royal Route” to the summit, along the Goûter ridge, is so dangerous that it is nicknamed the “corridor of death”.
So far this summer 15 climbers have perished, with the recent heatwave increasing the risk of avalanches and rockfalls as glaciers melt. Fifteen people also died last year, a big increase from 2016, when nine people died attempting to climb one of the world’s most iconic mountains.
The mayor, whose Saint-Gervais commune includes Mont Blanc said that temporary restrictions imposed on climbers earlier this summer were not enough. The authorities have started turning away climbers without pre-booked accommodation at the Goûter refuge. In an effort to curb the number of unprepared tourists, Mr. Peillex wants to introduce compulsory climbing licenses and fine people without proper equipment to limit “the summer influx of ill-prepared thrill seekers and dangerous buffoons”. A man wearing trainers instead of mountain boots with crampons was spotted this week on the narrow Bosses Ridge leading to the summit.
“One man even tried to drag his poor dog up there, and a guide was punched for not stopping to let eight east European climbers pass his group,” the mayor said. “Last year a helicopter had to be called out to rescue two nine-year-old twins from Hungary who were being taken up by their parents. The father continued climbing.”
Climbers have turned the nearby towns of Chamonix and Courmayeur into busy summer destinations as well as popular winter ski resorts. Mr. Peillex argues that economic benefits must be balanced with safety:
“If you’re sailing, you can be fined for not wearing a lifejacket, so why should you be allowed to kill yourself trying to climb Mont Blanc in trainers?”
The idea is met with some opposition though. Many climbers oppose climbing licenses, which are an expensive necessity in Nepal for Everest and other Himalayan peaks, believing they would rob mountaineering of its free, adventuring spirit.