Climbers on France’s overcrowded Mont Blanc reach peak recklessness

Among the 400 climbers attempting to reach Europe's highest peak every day are a growing number of "ill-prepared", antisocial hikers and fake guides making life difficult for authorities.

Climbers on France’s overcrowded Mont Blanc reach peak recklessness
Photos: AFP

The increasing popularity of France’s majestic Mont Blanc as a tourism hotspot is giving way to a rise in recklessness and antisocial behaviour on the mountainside. 

That’s according to workers and authorities watching over France’s highest peak, who since this climbing season began have had to deal with a spike in insults and actual physical attacks from climbers.

Last Wednesday a guide was punched whilst hiking past a group of eight people from Eastern Europe, on the grounds that he hadn’t let them pass.

Another guide was insulted at the Goûter refuge (3815 meters above sea level) after asking a hiker to put an ice axe away while indoors.


A third guide was jostled to the ground by four climbers who weren’t properly roped up and were unhappy to be told about it.

Several fake guides have also been apprehended on Mont Blanc’s routes to the summit.

“Has the pinnacle of disrespect been reached? ” Jean-Marc Peillex, local mayor of Saint-Gervais (a commune that includes Mont Blanc’s peak), asks in a statement published on social media.

He’s calling for a ban on “ill-prepared thrill-seekers” from Mont Blanc, arguing that most of the up to 400 climbers heading for the summit daily are novices who don’t take the risks seriously.

“No less than about 80 mountaineers a day were rushed down to the Goûter refuge from August 5 to 14,” he told Le Parisien.

Fifteen climbers have died so far this summer and France's recent heatwave has only served to increase the risk of avalanches and rockfalls as glaciers and ice melt away.

Officials last month began limiting access on the most popular route up Mont Blanc by turning away climbers who do not have reservations at the 120-bed Gouter refuge.

But many mountaineers carry on oblivious; displaying loutish behaviour you’d expect to see at a boozy holiday resort in Majorca rather than on a treacherous mountainside.

On August 11, a group of Latvian climbers attempted to climb the 4,810-metre mountain whilst carrying a 10-metre-long mast to hoist their national flag at the top of Mont Blanc.

A tourist also pitched his tent at the summit of Mont Blanc, another one decided to take his dog with him up to the summit.

Three hikers risked their lives by sunbathing on a melting snow bridge.

These are just a few of the countless examples of irresponsible behaviour by “dangerous buffoons” that Peillex believes should be dealt with with a firm hand.

“If you’re sailing, you can be fined for not wearing a lifejacket, so why should you be allowed to kill yourself while trying to climb Mont Blanc in trainers?” he’s quoted as saying by The Daily Telegraph.


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Mountaineer dies on Europe’s Mont Blanc despite rescue attempts

A French mountaineer died close to the summit of Mont Blanc on Friday after rescuers made several attempts to get to him in a violent storm.

Mountaineer dies on Europe's Mont Blanc despite rescue attempts
A picture taken from a helicopter on August 7th, 2020 shows the Planpincieux glacier of the Grandes Jorasses, on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif, with the Courmayeur village in the background, Val Ferret, northwestern Italy.  Andrea BERNARDI / AFP

The man, in his forties, was climbing Europe’s highest peak when he lost his way and got stuck at 4,800 metres (15,700 feet), assailed by “the storm, the wind, the cold,” rescuer André-Vianney Espinasse told AFP.

He called for help on Thursday evening.

Several helicopters attempted to rescue him but couldn’t get to him due to the weather, Espinasse said.

As a result, one helicopter dropped rescuers off lower down, at 3,200 metres, forcing them to climb the rest of the way at night.

At two in the morning, after reaching a refuge and waiting for the weather to ease, they climbed further into heavy winds.

They found the man some two hours later, suffering from severe hypothermia.

But “at 5.30, in awful winds, the mountaineer suffered a cardiac arrest,” said Espinasse.

A fresh attempt by a helicopter to lift the victim off the mountain failed once again due to the high winds.

The rescuers then decided to leave the body and get out of “this extremely dangerous area”.

A rescue helicopter from neighbouring Italy eventually managed to lift the body off the mountain.

“Going solo on high mountains should really be avoided due to all the dangers involved,” Espinasse said.

Mont Blanc is between the regions of Aosta Valley in Italy and Savoie and Haute-Savoie in France