‘Wackos’: French mayor outraged after British ex-commando leaves rowing machine on Mont Blanc

The mayor of a French Alps town is up in arms (again) about inappropriate items on Mont Blanc - this time an abandoned rowing machine and a climbing dog.

'Wackos': French mayor outraged after British ex-commando leaves rowing machine on Mont Blanc
Matthew Disney with the rowing machine he was forced to leave in a hut on Mont Blanc. Photo: Matthew Disney

British ex soldier Matthew Disney found himself in hot water after he attempted the feat of carrying a rowing machine to the top of Europe's highest mountain. The stunt was intended to raise money for two charities that provide care to British marines, veterans and their families.

The former Royal Marine Commando who describes himself as an “elite fitness enthusiast and global adventurer” was attempting to summit Mont Blanc with the 26kg machine on Sunday and then row the height of Western Europe's highest mountain (4, 810 metres) at the top.

But he was forced to leave the rowing machine in a mountain shelter just a few hundred metres below the summit, telling The Local that the weather was worsening and that he had to take a decision to prioritise his safety and that of and his climbing partner.

Nevertheless local mayor Jean-Marc Peillex – who for years has sounded the alarm against overcrowding on Europe's highest peak and pushed for stricter regulations – did not take kindly to the feat.

“Wackos continue to pollute access to Mont Blanc,” said Peillex in an open letter published online.

“With a name like (Disney), you'd think he thought he was at an amusement park,” wrote Peillex, in a letter that was widely published in the French media.

“Apparently Boris Johnson can't keep control of his troops unless it was an idea by his friend Donald Trump,” joked the mayor underneath a pic of Disney climbing with the rowing machine.

But Disney said he believes the mayor didn't understand his motive for scaling Mont Blanc with a rowing machine and rejected accusations of “littering” saying he had left the machine tucked away in a corner of a mountain hut (see pic below).


“It was never my intention to make a mockery of the mountain. Something weighing over 700 pounds can't be classed as litter. Anyone who knows me knows I have the upmost appreciation of nature,” Disney told The Local.

“I was doing it for a good cause,” he said.

The ex-commando insisted plans are in place for him to bring the rowing machine back down the mountain as soon as possible.

But he was not the only target of the French mayor's ire as the official has grown exasperated in recent months by various incidents on Mont Blanc.

Over the weekend, he added, a German tourist made the ascent with his dog despite warnings from police brigades who patrol Mont Blanc routes during the busy summer season, and a promise that he would leave the dog at a refuge before attempting the summit.

Instead, the tourist snuck out for the top in the middle of the night with the dog, who survived but returned with bloodied paws, according to photos posted on Peillex's Twitter account.

The weekend incidents came after two Swiss climbers in June landed a small plane just east of Mont Blanc's summit and then started hiking to the top.

Stopped by the mountain police, they were given only a €38 fine and allowed to fly off, since technically they had only broken laws from the 1960s setting out landing sites in the area.

“This situation has gone on long enough!” Peillex said in his letter.

He called on Macron to “write and pass laws without delay that from 2020 would severely punish all these wackos who break the law, and restore peace to Mont Blanc.”



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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