Rockfalls and gaping crevices put Mont Blanc out of reach for many

In a year marked by drought and heatwaves, rockfalls and gaping crevices have made access to the top of Mont Blanc even more difficult and perilous -- to the great frustration of amateur mountaineers.

Rockfalls and gaping crevices put Mont Blanc out of reach for many
Mont Blanc can be seen in the background, as an athlete completing a marathon runs by in Chamonix, south-eastern France (Photo by OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP)

Officially, none of the seven routes leading to the summit, at 4,807 metres, is closed, but access conditions at the end of July have deteriorated to such an extent that only the most experienced climbers are able to make the ascent, experts say.

A lack of snow during the winter has laid bare vast areas of greyish glacier — yellowish where sand dust from the Sahara has accumulated — riven with fractures.

The heat did the rest, causing the melting of the fragile snow bridges that make it possible to cross the crevasses as well as leading to landslides.

In the southeastern French town of Chamonix, at the foot of the “White Giant”, the season is in full swing with thousands of tourists flocking by cable car to the top of the Aiguille du Midi, at 3,842 metres, the closest you can get to the summit of Mont Blanc without hiking or climbing.

‘Awful’ conditions’

But in the small cave carved out of the ice which serves as a changing room and a starting point for mountaineers for many mountain races, there are fewer people than ever putting on crampons right now.

Scotsman Evan Warden and his 14-year-old son David said they were shocked to discover the “awful” conditions.

“Everywhere we walked there was just constant rockfall and the crevices constantly open up. (We were) pretty worried,” said David, 14, on his first visit to the Alps.

“MB is too risky… that was our plan, yes but I’ve not seen this much rockfall here in a long time. That’s global warming definitely,” Evan said, adding that the pair had hoped to do the “Trois Monts” (three peaks) route.

Norwegians Monica and Marten Antheun had also been hoping to have a go at the famed peak after three years’ waiting.

They had booked a trip, but it was cancelled.

“I think the guides know the area and the conditions. It’s okay for us, we can do it later”, said Monica.

Guiding firm, Les Compagnies des guides de Chamonix et de Saint-Gervais, announced in mid-July the temporary suspension of ascents to Mont Blanc by the “normal” Gouter route due to rockfalls in the Gouter corridor, also known as “death gully”.

Access remains open only to independent guides.

Recent very high temperatures have destabilised the mountain, says Noe Verite, caretaker of the Cosmiques refuge, located on the Trois Monts route.

“We see the conditions deteriorating day by day,” he said.

‘Like fridges’

For him, July is usually the peak of the season, but the cancellations have been piling up.

The usual route is affected by large rocks “like fridges” falling, Verite said.

Currently, only between a dozen and 20 skilled mountaineers are able to reach the summit of Mont Blanc each day compared to 100-120 usually, says Olivier Grebert, president of the Compagnie des guides de Chamonix.

Cancelled races are postponed, reimbursed or redirected to other routes and the firm takes the opportunity to do a bit of education with those who, for example, want to climb the summit “for their 40th birthday”.

“This ascent must be part of a mountaineering career,” explains Grebert: “Mont Blanc sometimes has the reputation of being an easy ascent but it’s not the case, this year even more so.”

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French doctors advise ‘be more Spanish’ as heatwaves continue

With a fourth summer heatwave on the horizon for France, French doctors are advising their compatriots to copy Spanish habits to deal with the high temperatures.

French doctors advise 'be more Spanish' as heatwaves continue

France has had a dangerously hot summer – one that emergency doctor, Patrick Pelloux, estimates will lead to “5,000 to 10,000 excess deaths” by the end of the season.

French weather forecaster Météo France has repeatedly sounded the alert for dangerously high temperatures via its heat alert system – as of Wednesday, 18 départements are on ‘orange’ alert for high temperatures.

As a result, several emergency medicine doctors have announced new recommendations to help the French adapt and stay safe in the warmer temperatures.

Interestingly enough, it might involve mimicking the behaviours of France’s neighbours to the south – known for their heat adapted lifestyles (e.g. the afternoon siesta).

French daily Le Parisien, has even published a map comparing temperatures in French cities to those in Spain:

Here’s how these doctors recommend the French become more Spanish:

Alter the daily routine – Spain is famous for its afternoon siestas and late evening meals. In France the classic apéro or ‘happy hour’ usually begins at about 5 or 6pm with dinner at 7pm or 8pm, but during the heatwave many bar owners are reporting that terraces are empty at 5pm, and only fill up from 9pm when the temperatures start to fall.

Pelloux recommended to Le Parisien that the French may need to begin adjusting their working hours to avoid the hottest part of the day, but continue until later in the evening.

Another emergency medicine doctor, Agnès Ricard-Hibon, who works as head of the Samu du Val-d’Oise emergency unit, told the newspaper: “It is logical that we imitate the Spanish rhythm.

“When it’s very hot, you have to get up earlier and take a break in the afternoon, especially if you’re a vulnerable person with a risk of complications due to dehydration.”

It might also be recommended to extend the classic 12-2pm shop and office closure and keep shops closed during the high heat of the early afternoon, and instead take evening strolls at 8pm, rather than earlier.

Pelloux said that as France transitions “from a temperate to a tropical climate, we will have to stop working between noon and 5 pm.” 

No more tanning and goodbye suits – With skin cancer on the rise in France, experts worry about the popularity of the tanning trend, particularly during the hottest parts of the day.

Emergency physician Christophe Prudhomme told Le Parisien that it might be necessary to “close beaches at the hottest times” in order to keep people safe from the heat.

He also said we might have to change our fashion habits – dark coloured clothing, such as suits, hold in heat on hot days. Prudhomme recommends embracing fashion trends with more breathable fabric, such as cotton or linen.

In Spain, prime minister Pedro Sanchez is leading the way by announcing that he will no longer wear a tie when the weather is hot.

Lighter lunches – Ricard-Hibo told Le Parisien that as the days go by, we must learn to accept the heat and lighten our lunches.

Other experts recommend eating lots of hydrating foods during heatwaves, so maybe this is your opportunity to test out a particularly tasty gazpacho for your midday meal. The Local Spain has some other delicious recommendations to test out during the hot weather. 

READ MORE: The best Spanish food and drink to keep you cool during the summer heat

What about the official governmental advice? 

Meanwhile, the French government’s official advice is of course to drink plenty of water, but it is also a bit contradictory to the gazpacho suggestion – in the graphic below, you can see the French government recommending regular meals to keep from feeling faint in the high temperatures.

The government also recommends keeping the shutters closed, avoiding alcohol (maybe go light on the sangria), and staying cool by ‘getting your body wet’ whether that be by jumping in a fountain or standing in a brumisateurs (the machine that pumps out water vapour).

Eat sufficient meals and shut the shutters – French government advice for staying cool in a heatwave