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ENVIRONMENT

Drought-hit Mont Blanc shuts shelters to dissuade hikers

Authorities in the French Alps said Friday they had closed down two popular mountain shelters used by Mont Blanc climbers because of potentially deadly drought-related rockfalls.

Drought-hit Mont Blanc shuts shelters to dissuade hikers
A picture taken on October 3, 2012, shows the "Refuge du Gouter" (3.835 meters high) on the way to the summit of Mont-Blanc. (Photo by JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT / AFP)

In a year marked by drought and heatwaves, rockfalls and gaping crevices have made access to the top of Mont Blanc, western Europe’s highest mountain, even more difficult and perilous.

The mayor’s office in the Mont Blanc village of Saint-Gervais, said climbers were in “mortal danger” from rocks and shards coming loose because of dry weather and dropping from a height.

“All day long, we still see climbers going on the mountain range, all the time, as if this was Disneyland or the Parc Asterix,” said Saint-Gervais mayor Jean-Marc Peillex, in reference to two popular theme parks near Paris.

Hikers had been advised since last month to stay away because of the danger, but “they just don’t give a damn,” he told AFP.

READ MORE: ‘To pay funeral costs’ – Why Mont Blanc mayor wants to charge climbers

The closure of the two mountain shelters — Gouter with 120 overnight spots and Tete Rousse with 74, as well as a base camp accommodating up to 50 people — was to “show clearly that there is no accommodation available”.

The authorities had warned for weeks that falling rocks were a danger, he said, adding that crossing the Gouter mountain corridor represented “a mortal danger”, he said.

Nevertheless, 79 people stayed at the Gouter shelter Thursday night, he said.

The shelters will remain shut until normal weather conditions return, the mayor said, probably not before early September.

Peillex had warned Wednesday that Saint-Gervais would require a deposit of €15,000 from each hiker, saying the sum represented the average cost of a rescue operation and a funeral.

He was, however, advised that French law offers no basis for such a move.

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 on the Mont Blanc.

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

Following several heatwaves, France is in the grip of severe drought, blamed by scientists on climate change.

On Friday, 100 municipalities across the country were without drinking water, Environment Minister Christophe Bechu said.

Calling the drought “historic”, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne called a crisis meeting Friday to seek solutions.

Scientists say human-induced climate change is amplifying extreme weather — including the heatwaves, droughts and floods seen in several parts of the planet in recent weeks — and say these events will become more frequent and more intense.

The international community has agreed that climate change poses an existential threat to human systems and the natural world.

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TRAVEL NEWS

What to expect from traffic during upcoming three-day weekend in France

L'assomption - or the Assumption of Mary - is coming up for Monday, giving people working in France their last three-day weekend of the summer. As such, the roads are expected to be very busy.

What to expect from traffic during upcoming three-day weekend in France

As the last three-day weekend of the summer approaches, France’s traffic watchdog, Bison futé has announced their forecast for congestion on the roads. 

Traffic is expected to be quite difficult this weekend, with Saturday classified as almost entirely ‘red’ across France for both departures and returns, with the Mediterranean area coloured black – the highest alert level – for departures.

The different congestion levels range from green (normal), orange (difficult), red (very difficult) to black (extremely difficult).

“Throughout the weekend, traffic will be very difficult in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and on the Mediterranean Arc, especially on the A7, A8 and A9 freeways”, warned Bison Futé in their statement.

Here is the breakdown per day:

Friday, August 12

Friday is mostly green for departures, aside from the Paris region and the Mediterranean, which can expect some minor delays, as they are coloured in orange. The traffic watchdog recommends leaving or crossing through the Paris region prior to noon.

For returns, however, the situation will be less calm. The majority of the country is on orange alert, with the Mediterranean area coloured red. 

Bison futé predictions for Friday

Specifically, for departures motorists are advised to:

  • leave or cross the Île-de-France before 12:00,
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Paris and Orleans, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Bayonne and Spain, from 8am to 8pm,
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 11am to 9pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 10am to 9pm,
  • avoid the A75 freeway, between Millau and Lodève, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Bordeaux and Toulouse, from 3pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Toulouse and Narbonne, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel in the direction of Italy, from 12:00 to 15:00 (wait time will likely be greater than 30 minutes)

For returns, Bison futé’s advice is to:

  • return to or cross the Ile-de-France before 2pm,
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Bordeaux and Paris, from 2pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Spain and Bayonne, from 5pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A6 freeway, between Lyon and Beaune, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Lyon, from 10am to 8pm,
  • avoid the A8 freeway, near Aix-en-Provence, from 10am to 7pm,
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Narbonne and Orange, from 11am to 7pm,
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Toulouse and Agen, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Carcassonne, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel on your way back to France, from 2pm to 9pm (wait time will likely be more than 1 hour)

Saturday

Saturday is slated to be the most difficult day on the roads this weekend.

For both departures and returns, the whole of the country can expect significant delays and congestion, under the ‘red’ classification. For departures, roads in the Mediterranean area are expected to be the most packed and will be classified as ‘black.’ 

Bison futé predictions for Saturday

Bison Futé advises you to avoid the big cities, from as early as 8am for the Paris region. 

The roads you should pay avoid for departures on Saturday are:

  • the A1 freeway, between Paris and Lille, from 10am to 5pm
  • the A84 freeway, between Caen and Rennes, from 10am to 12pm
  • the A11 freeway, between Paris and Le Mans, from 8am to 7pm and between Le Mans and Angers, from 8am to 5pm
  • the RN157 national road, between Laval and Rennes, from 10am to 5pm
  • the national road RN165, between Nantes and Lorient, from 11am to 8pm
  • the A10 freeway, at the Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines tollgate, from 6am to 2pm and between Paris and Bordeaux, from 7am to 5pm
  • the A63 freeway, between Bordeaux and Spain, from 9am to 8pm
  • the A6 freeway, between Beaune and Mâcon, from 8am to 12pm
  • the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 6am to 6pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 9am to 7pm
  • the A54 freeway, between Nîmes and Salon-de-Provence, from 10am to 4pm
  • the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 7am to 5pm and between Narbonne and Perpignan, from 8am to 5pm
  • the A20 freeway, between Limoges and Brive-la-Gaillarde, from 10am to 12pm
  • the A71 freeway, between Orleans and Bourges, from 9am to 12pm
  • the A75 freeway, between Clermont-Ferrand and Saint-Flour, from 10am to 12pm, and between Millau and Lodève, from 8am to 6pm,
  • the A750 freeway, between Lodève and Montpellier, from 11am to 1pm
  • the A62 freeway, between Bordeaux and Toulouse, from 9am to 5pm,
  • the A61 freeway, between Toulouse and Narbonne, from 8am to 4pm,
  • the A43 freeway, between Lyon and Chambéry, from 10am to 4pm,
  • the Mont-Blanc tunnel towards Italy, from 12pm to 3pm (wait times expected to be more than 30 minutes).

Motorists are also advised to:

  • return to or cross the Ile-de-France before 2pm
  • avoid the A83 freeway, between Niort and Nantes, from 10am to 4pm
  • avoid the A84 freeway, between Rennes and Caen, from 10am to 3pm
  • avoid the national road RN165, between Lorient and Vannes, from 11am to 3pm
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Bordeaux and Paris, from 10am to 5pm
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Spain and Bayonne, from 11am to 1pm
  • avoid the A6 freeway, between Lyon and Beaune, from 9am to 6pm
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Orange, from 8am to 5pm and between Orange and Lyon, from 9am to 7pm
  • avoid the A8 freeway, between Italy and Fréjus, from 10am to 12pm and between Fréjus and Aix-en-Provence, from 9am to 2pm
  • avoid the A54 freeway, between Salon-de-Provence and Nîmes, from 10am to 12pm
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Perpignan and Narbonne, from 10am to 1pm and between Narbonne and Orange, from 9am to 5pm
  • avoid the A20 freeway, between Brive-la-Gaillarde and Limoge, from 10am to 1pm
  • avoid the A71 freeway, between Clermont-Ferrand and Orléans, from 1pm to 5pm
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Toulouse and Bordeaux, from 9am to 5pm
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Toulouse, from 9am to 7pm
  • avoid the A43 freeway, between Chambéry and Lyon, from 9am to 1pm
  • avoid the A48 freeway, between Grenoble and Lyon, from 10am to 12pm
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel on your way back to France, from 2pm to 9pm (wait times are expected to be greater than 1 hour)

Sunday 

Bison futé predictions for Sunday

The traffic situation will be considerably calmer this Sunday, with slowdowns for departures mostly concentrated around the Mediterranean area and for returns around in the greater southeast region.

For departures, motorists are advised to avoid:

  • the A63 freeway, between Bayonne and Spain, from 10am to 8pm
  • the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 9am to 7pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 2pm to 8pm
  • the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 10am to 7pm
  • the A61 freeway, between Carcassonne and Narbonne, from 10am to 12pm

For returns, you should also avoid:

  • the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Lyon, from 9am to 7pm,
  • the A9 highway, between Narbonne and Orange, from 10am to 8pm,
  • the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Carcassonne, from 5pm to 7pm,
  • the Mont-Blanc tunnel on the way back to France, from 1pm to 8pm (wait times will be greater than 1 hour).

Finally, traffic will be more or less back to routine circulation in both directions on the jour férié of Monday, August 15th. The Paris region is the only part of France that is not green, and this is still only for returns. 

Motorists heading back to Ile-de-France are advised to either cross through or return before 2pm.

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