For First Time In A Century, Record Heat Cancels Alps Climbing Tours

Even the Matterhorn is not an option.

The extraordinarily hot, dry conditions in the European Alps have turned the glacier areas and classic routes into deadly traps. Media around the world speak of “closed mountains”. While the term is not accurate — it’s virtually impossible to ban climbers from a particular peak — authorities and guides have had to make some tough decisions. They have shut refuges, canceled guided trips, and strongly recommended that climbers don’t go on their own.

Classics out of reach

“Conditions are changing fast and not in a good way,” reported the High Mountain Office of Chamonix on July 20. Back then, most guiding companies refused to take clients up Mont Blanc. Meanwhile, climbers turned back on dozens of other popular ascents, from the Aiguille Verte to the Grandes Jorasses, because of open crevasses and constant rockfall.

Even the bergschrund at the base of the Aiguille du Midi opens wider every day. Although local conditions change almost daily, high temperatures have given no respite to an already scorched Europe.

Last week, guides working on the Matterhorn (Cervino) between Switzerland and Italy and the Jungfrau at the Swiss Oberland decided to stop guiding these classic peaks as well, Barrabes.com reported.

Rocky spire known as the Dent du geant (Giant's Tooth) in a clear day

Dent du Geant (Giant’s Tooth). Photo: Unione Valdostana Guide Alta Montagna

 

Among the guided trips canceled are those to:

– Refuge Gouter on the normal route to Mont Blanc from France
– The Dente del Gigante (Dent du GĂ©ant or Giant’s Tooth)
– The Matterhorn, either via the Hornli or Lion’s Ridges (the normal routes from Switzerland and Italy)
-The Castor to Pollux traverse

Looking for alternatives

Nothing has improved since the decision came down a week ago. It’s another blow to the guides and outfitters after two years of COVID restrictions.
Meanwhile, some guides are using ingenuity to give clients safer alternatives. For example, Pierrick Fine chose an old secondary route to the Dome de Neige des Ecrins. The once-straightforward line over a snowfield is now a trickly zigzag among crevasses and seracs. Instead, Fine chose a route that had not been used for the last 10 years, across rocky terrain up the northeast ridge of neighboring Barre Noire.
topo route across the Barre Noire to the Dome de Neige des Ecrins

An alternative route to the Dome de Neige del Ecrins. Photo: Pierrick Fine

Caution beyond the glaciers too

Even if temperatures finally moderate, conditions throughout the alpine will remain dicey and need careful assessment. Even rocky areas near the glaciers slide frequently now. The permafrost is melting, and the scree may slough off, destabilizing entire slopes and exposing the fossil ice below.

 

Trekkers on morrain terrain towards a rocky ridge with a round-shaped patch of fossil ice blocking the path

Rock slides left big patches of black fossil ice on mountain passes. Photo: Clara Baquedano

For updates, contact the mountain huts and guiding offices. The final decision lies with the climber, but be warned that formerly easy routes may now involve serious exposure. Finally, consider your travel insurance policy: Accidents might not be covered if someone ventures into an area against the authorities’ advice.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specializing in high-altitude mountaineer and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.