Amid chaotic weather and resulting surface conditions on high peaks all over Europe, one French Mayor takes a stand for his constituent taxpayers.
Accessing “the roof of Europe” has never been so prohibitive during any previous summer climbing season. Now, the mayor of Saint-Gervais, France, proposes to place the onus of rescue and funeral costs on climbers willing to take the risk.
In an Aug. 3 statement, Mayor Jean-Marc Peillex announced plans to levy a €15,000 ($15,341) deposit to climb Mont Blanc (15,771 feet) via the popular Goûter route.
Peillex said €10,000 ($10,227) would cover the cost of rescue or body recovery; the remaining €5,000 ($5,113) would cover climbers who paid the ultimate price. His town rests at the foot of the mountain and serves as its de facto access point for climbers.
— Jean-Marc PEILLEX (@PEILLEX) August 3, 2022
It is “impermissible that the French taxpayer be the one to cover such costs,” the mayor asserted Wednesday. “[Summit hopefuls] want to climb with death in their backpack, so they anticipate the costs of relief and burial.”
Heightened Objective Hazards on Mont Blanc
Barbed as Peillex’s terminology may be, the actions of local climbing guides back up his assertion that climbing on Mont Blanc this summer is dangerous to the point of recklessness. The prolific Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix strongly advised staying off the Goûter route 2 weeks ago and ceased its activity there until further notice.
Rockfalls, shifting crevasses, and landslides have become common on the mountain as temperatures continue to soar all over Europe. Echoing the Guides de Chamonix’s protocols, Peillex made his statement on July 15.
“Mountaineers are recommended to postpone their ascent, that is to say, to listen to the mountain, not to want to be stronger than nature,” he urged. “We have significant rockfalls. [T]here is less precipitation, less snowfall, and that is why a crevasse opened on the Bosses ridge this year, which makes the ascent even more complicated.”
Despite his and the guides’ pleas, the mayor said several dozen “pseudo-alpinists” have sought to climb Mont Blanc this summer. Mountain rescue teams, he said, have counted at least 50 people who have defied their recommendations. He cited one example of several Romanian tourists attempting the summit in “shorts and sneakers.”
Closures Could Escalate
The deposit proposition of €15,000 ($15,341) constitutes one more step toward the Goûter route’s effective closure. Peillex previously stated that his office would shut down the Goûter refuge, a critical waypoint for climbers, if they deemed conditions dangerous enough.
He said, “If it becomes really very dangerous, we will close the Goûter refuge, that is to say, that there will no longer be this possibility for mountaineers to stop there and sleep there.”
For now, the mountain hut and the route to the Mont Blanc summit are technically open.