‘Pseudo-Alpinists’ Prompt Closure of Mont Blanc Refuges

“I give up,” exclaimed the exasperated mayor of Saint Gervais in the French Alps today in a press release. Neither warnings, videos, nor financial threats were enough to prevent a bunch of poorly equipped “pseudo-alpinists”, as Mayor Jean-Marc Peillex testily called them, from climbing Mont Blanc. In the end, the local authorities have decided to close Tête Rousse and Goûter, the busiest refuges in the French Alps, until further notice.

The Bowling Alley

“Right now, it’s not just dangerous, it’s deadly,” Mayor Peillex said about the constant rockfall on the Couloir du Goûter, known as “the Bowling Alley”. Mont Blanc climbers must cross this couloir above the Tête Rousse refuge in order to reach the Goûter refuge on the normal route to Mont Blanc. Check this video posted by Radio Mont Blanc:

 

Yesterday, Peillex tried a desperate ploy, announcing he would demand a €15,000 deposit to cover rescue and funeral costs for those “irresponsible fools” still ready to “seek death in the form of suicide” by attempting Mont Blanc in its current state.

“The French taxpayer should not pay for that,” he said. But such a financial measure is legally difficult and slow to enforce. And it didn’t work.

“Last night, no less than 79 mountaineers, mostly from Eastern Europe, played Russian roulette and invaded the Goûter refuge despite these recommendations,” the mayor said. “Their stupidity forces me to order the closure of the Tête Rousse and Goûter refuges.”

The order is effective from today, so those planning a weekend climb will not be able to stay in either, assuming they make it there in one piece.

The huge, recently refurbished Goûter refuge. Photo: Federation Francaise des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne

 

The danger in the Alps is so high because of a prolonged drought and soaring temperatures. Lack of snow on glaciers exposes crevasses, and the thaw releases the rocks that the cold formerly kept glued together.

Yet the mayor is less frustrated by conditions than by the heedless adventurers who decide to risk themselves (and rescuers) anyway.

“Several dozen pseudo-mountaineers…had fun playing the latest fashionable game, Russian roulette!” he fumed in a press release some days ago. “On July 30, [a group of] Romanians wanted to try the ascent in shorts and sneakers. A loudspeaker on the helicopter had to order them to turn around before they crossed the Goûter couloir….They said they would be back the next day!!!”

Romanian climbers in shorts and sneakers, willing to climb mMont Blanc last week despite dangerous conditions and strong reccomendations to avoid the area.

Three Romanians approach Mont Blanc as a walk in the park. Photo: Mairie de Saint-Gervais/Brigade Blanche

 

Such attitudes got on the irascible mayor’s nerves. He tried to require climbers to lay a deposit for their own funeral before heading to the Couloir. Although the threat didn’t work, it raised awareness by snagging international headlines and inspiring heated Twitter threads.

There are alternative routes up Mont Blanc that avoid the Goûter, but all of them are harder. The second most popular summer route is the so-called Three Peaks or 4,000’ers Route. It starts at the Aiguille du Midi, goes along a ridge to the Cosmiques Refuge, then crosses Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mount Maudit before reaching the main summit.

This route is completely on glacial terrain and requires mountaineering skills, not just shorts and hiking poles. Further info is available at Chamonix’s High Mountain Office. Those considering the (longer) route from Italy may contact the Gonella Hut or Courmayeur’s guiding office.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specialised on 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 corporates, press manager and communication executive,and a published author.