Mont Blanc is to impose "permanent restrictions" on climbing Western Europe's highest mountain via its busiest route in an attempt to reduce death and bottlenecks on the perilous final ascent.
Starting next summer, the number of hikers allowed to tackle the Royal Route to the mountain’s 15,780ft peak, used by three quarters of climbers, will be limited to 214 per day, according to local officials.
In front of Mont Blanc © Sean Potts, Fly-Chamonix.com
Twice that number have been trying to reach the top over the summer, some of them
“ill-prepared thrill seekers” with scant gear who undertake the climb without even booking a place in a refuge, they said.
Sixteen climbers have died so far this summer, most recently a week ago, with the heatwave increasing the risk of avalanches and rockfalls as glaciers melt. Although some treat the ascent as little more than a gentle climb, a section of the Goûter ridge near the top, is so dangerous that it is nicknamed the “corridor of death”.
Jean-Marc Peilleux, mayor of Saint-Gervais, who has been fighting for years to restrict the number of hikers, welcomed the decision by regional state authorities after a meeting with mountain police, the French mountaineering federation and guides.
“It’s important to tell people wanting to climb Mont Blanc next summer: ‘Watch out, it’s no longer an open bar!',” he told the Telegraph, calling the decision a vindication of his “crusade to restore the mountain’s nobility”.
"This is not about punishing mountaineers but simple common sense: we want the number of people setting out on Mont Blanc to correspond to the number of places available in refuges.”
The quota tallied with the combined daily capacity of three refuges along the Royal Route, he said.
Temporary restrictions had already been imposed on climbers this summer with authorities turning away climbers without pre-booked accommodation at the Goûter refuge.
Starting next year, climbers without guides must pick up a “free” permit from the tourism office to prove they have a bona fide place in a refuge on a given day. Mountain gendarmes are mulling forming a “white brigade” to enforce the new rules.
Photo credit: www.lovecourmayeur.com
Mr Peilleux said that the mountain had increasingly fallen prey to “dangerous buffoons” and that this summer was “the last straw”.
“One guide was punched for not stopping to let climbers pass his group, a bunch of Eastern Europeans stayed in a refuge without booking and left without paying, and to cap it all, gendarmes had to turn away a group of Latvians trying to carry up a 10m-long mast and flag to plant on the summit,” he said.
The mayor is also pushing to fine people who attempt the climb without proper equipment. One man was recently spotted on a pass wearing trainers instead of mountain boots with crampons.
However, news of the restrictions sparked a furious row with neighouring Chamonix, whose mayor Eric Fournier said he had not been informed of the “unilateral” decision.
Photo crediit: www.alpineascents.com
Limiting the numbers on the Royal Route could push hikers to attempt “technically more difficult” and dangerous ones on the Chamonix side where the “security stakes have not been calculated”,” he warned. Only one of this year's 16 deaths occurred on the Royal Route.
“The consequences of a decision that takes into account only one mountainside could prove dramatic,” he wrote in a statement.
Mr Peilleux said that the president of Chamonix mountain guides was president and had approved the move.
“I act, others gesticulate," retorted the outspoken official.
"Instead of reacting with pride and jealousy, I’d like the Chamonix mayor to join this system and extend it to the Chamonix routes if he shares this vision of respecting the mountain," he said, adding that he was not sure this was the case.
This article first appeared on www.telegraph.co.uk. The original can be read here.