France restricts Mont-Blanc access to protect mountain

The new measures are intended to protect the biodiversity of Mont-Blanc, which is threatened by too many visitors, and climate change

President Emmanuel Macron is to announce measures today to restrict access to Mont-Blanc, to guard against unscrupulous summit attempts, and to protect the biodiversity of the mountain.

Mr Macron is set to make the announcement as part of a visit to the Alps and the Chamonix valley, during which he will meet several climate change specialists. He is also set to visit the Mont-Blanc glacier, which has significantly reduced in size in recent years.

According to the Elysée palace, the new rules are set to establish protected zones and limit urbanisation in the area.

They will also limit the number of people who will have access to the 4,810-metre summit, which is the tallest in western Europe.

Climbers will also require proof of forward planning and responsible hiking practices, such as holding confirmed refuge reservations, in a bid to enforce the existing ban on wild camping and stop unscrupulous attempts.

Wild camping on the slopes is already punishable by two years in prison and a €300,000 fine. Anyone “rebelling” against attempts to prevent camping may also be punished by two years in prison and a €30,000 fine; increasing to three years and €45,000 for a group (except in cases of distress).

Climbers will also be required to use different coloured beacons depending on whether they are ascending or descending, to improve safety and organisation.

Mayor’s mountain campaign

The measures come after Jean-Marc Peillex, mayor of nearby commune Saint-Gervais (Haute-Savoie, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) - who has been campaigning on the issue for more than 15 years - called on Mr Macron to protect the mountain.

In an open letter sent in September 2019, Mr Peillex wrote: “Mr President, it is all well and good to worry about the Amazonian rainforest. But to ignore what is happening on Mont-Blanc, and allowing this disrespect to continue, is unacceptable.”

Several incidents on the mountain have prompted increasingly-intense criticism from Mr Peillex and local campaigners in recent years.

This included a British former Commando who attempted to summit for charity while carrying a full-sized rowing machine, but who then left it on the mountain on the descent (pictured below); a tourist plane landing near the summit to allow two Swiss tourists to “climb” the final few metres to the top; and a group of Latvian tourists who attempted to raise a 10-metre mast on the slope from which to fly their national flag.

Former British Commando Matthew Disney prompted ire from Mayor Peillex after he abandoned his rowing machine on Mont-Blanc during a "wacky" charity summit attempt (Photo: Matthew Disney / @DisneyRM_ / Twitter)

In addition to these high-profile cases, between 20,000 and 30,000 people - of varying abilities - attempt to summit Mont-Blanc every year - the equivalent of 200-300 every day - with many leaving waste and rubbish on the mountain before descending.

Mr Peillex has welcomed the measures from Mr Macron.

He said: “I am happy because he is the only political leader since 2003 to take this problem seriously and bring solutions. Of course, it is not going to be magic, and there will always be people who are not happy, but there is a real willingness from the President and his government to change things.

“I will even go further and say that there is a real willingness for France to become the leader of a new policy style that protects over-visited sites, whether natural or urban.”

Mr Peillex said that it was difficult to impose watertight measures to protect Mont-Blanc, but that the important thing was to be aware of the issue.

He said: “The difficulty is that if we start listing everyone’s mad schemes, then we will end up with an endless list. There will always be someone willing to do something new or original, that the text will not have imagined.

“The idea is to be reasonable. What is this site for? Is it a place for opera or to advertise desserts? [No.] Isn’t it better to give it back its original vocation, mountaineering and skiing? If the President vindicates this kind of thinking, we will have won.

“We will be respecting people’s freedom to climb Mont-Blanc and to ski down it all winter, while also banning all other forms of disrespect or commercial use."

A view from the summit of Mont-Blanc (Photo: Yannick Puybaret / Public Domain)

Mr Peillex continued: “Today, 99% of people are shocked by what happens on the summit of Mont-Blanc...Let us allow people to go on Mont-Blanc, but let us set the rules. When you go to someone’s house, you’re not the one who sets the rules. You don’t put your feet on their table. It’s the same here.”

Mr Macron, along with Ms Borne, and junior minister Emmanuelle Wargon, are also set to address measures to improve the air quality in the Arve valley, which is currently used as a major driving route by heavy goods vehicles.

In a tweet, ecology minister Elisabeth Borne said: “We are seeing, and we are now living in, the consequences of climate change all year long. We are fighting against the causes of this change, but we must also adapt. The government will present measures to this end, this week.”

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