Limits were set this week on the number of climbers per day on Mt Blanc. When up to 300 or more have been ascending daily this year, next year the new rule sets the maximum number of climbers at a very precise 214.
These rules were established by a combination of local officials, France’s mountain police brigade, the French mountaineering federation and guide associations.
While the article mentions tension amongst climbers and even one who pitched their tent on top, it appears the sheer number of people, and increasingly those who might be considered ill-prepared for the climb, are driving the decision. With guides and rescuers increasingly placed in challenging circumstances and called on for help, limiting climbers will serve to keep levels more manageable.
The increased number of climbers has caused inevitable slowing in dangerous sections of the route that have become more unstable with climate change, like the collapse of part of the Cosmiques Ridge leading up to the Aiguille du Midi on the slopes of Mt Blanc.
The huts have also become increasingly challenging to book, causing climbers to show up unannounced or to camp out illegally in their vicinity.
As much as the 7 summits and popular peaks are not what any one of us would climb to have a wilderness experience, to end up waiting in line to summit certainly isn’t what any of us enjoy, or more importantly, is safe, in any alpine environment.
At one point, popularity of a peak provides knowledge, sets routes and establishes common practices which assist climbers. When that popularity then builds to a point where climbs are undertaken for their name value alone, to fulfil a bucket list of achievements or as part of a tick list more important than the experience itself, is when the balance shifts and the peaks become more dangerous.
The simple question returns:
Do I want to climb this?
Or do I want to say I climbed this?
The minute there is a call to limit climbers, it seems a question of how to screen for competence creeps in. When competence is called into play it soon treads on the toes of what is one of climbings attractions: that of attempting the climb you want, in the style you want, with no-one to hold you accountable.
As the penalties for making mistakes in mountaineering are rather high, traditionally this was self limiting. With rescuers more-and-more being placed at risk in helping out the incompetent or inexperienced it now increasingly falls to them to pick up the pieces.
These limits on mountain climbers are not unique – on Denali regulations have long been in place, but these have more served to require registration, verify experience and require planning for the ascent. The actual limit of 1,500 climbers annually has never been reached.
Everest limits were disbanded after 1985, when only one expedition per route was allowed from Nepal. The opening of the mountain has since proved just too lucrative to ever turn back the clock in Nepal now.
Limits to climbers on Everest were often more financially driven – which even that now rapidly changing with some operators providing services far cheaper. Even a cursory look at their accident and fatality statistics will convince more prudent climbers to choose their options carefully if they wish to get up and down safely.
Perhaps Jean-Marc Peillex, Mayor of Saint Gervais, the town at the start of the Mont Blanc climb needs to expand his thinking to include all mountains when he says:
“It’s a tough decision but a very good one, because Mont Blanc is a climb unlike any other. You have to be prepared.”
Apply that to all the peaks and climbs, balance in a bit of regulation when you need – and if you want to climb without constraint, there are millions of other options and routes to choose from.
If you still wish to climb Mont Blanc, it is certainly one of the finest peaks in the world, with a wealth of tradition and history that is pretty much unmatched in the world.
Standing at the summit at dawn is a rare and special place to be – you just may have to ignore the tent you are standing next to, the enthusiastic crowd around you and try not to step on the paraglider spread out for the launch into the valley below.