Cracks and landslides: Mont Blanc increasingly difficult to access

AFP, published Sunday, July 31, 2022 at 5:16 p.m

Gaping crevices, large rockfalls “like refrigerators”. This year, marked by drought and heat waves, access to the top of Mont Blanc has become particularly difficult and dangerous, to the chagrin of amateur mountaineers who dream of climbing the roof of the Alps.

Officially, none of the seven routes leading to the summit at 4,807 meters are closed, but access conditions at the end of July have deteriorated to such an extent that only the most experienced climbers can still reach it, according to the mountain’s specialists.

Questionable is the lack of snow in winter, which at high altitude reveals in many places huge patches of grey, bare glaciers – even yellowish where sand dust from the Sahara has accumulated in winter – and full of fractures.

The heat did the rest, melting the fragile snow bridges that allow crossing the crevasses and triggering landslides.

However, in the town of Chamonix, at the foot of the White Giant in south-eastern France, the season is in full swing. Tourists flock to the Aiguille du Midi (3,842 meters), the summit of the mountain, where they arrive by the thousands every day through the magic of the cable car.

But up there, in the small cave carved in the ice, which serves as a changing room for mountaineers and the starting point for many mountain races – including the crossing of the Vallée Blanche glacier or Mont Blanc via the route des “Trois Monts” – there are rather few, who put on / take off the crampons at the end of July.

Among them were Scotsman Evan Warden and his 14-year-old son David to go horseback riding on the glacier below the Aiguille. There they found “terrible” conditions: “Everywhere we walked, there was constant falling rocks and crevasses kept opening,” says the boy, who was trained in the Scottish mountains, on his first visit to the Alps.

Both initially hoped to climb Mont Blanc, but gave up on this plan because it was “too risky”. “Maybe next year… He’ll be here tomorrow, he’ll be here next month and next year. He won’t move,” philosophizes the father and gently wraps the rope around his shoulders.

– “We’ll do that later” –

Monica and Marten Antheun, a couple in their 40s from Norway, also had a great time with the mythical giant after “a three-year wait”: they had booked for “today or tomorrow” with the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, Marten laments.

“The guide emailed us and the Mont Blanc race was canceled due to the weather. I think the guides know the area and the conditions.

The Guide Companies of the cities of Chamonix and Saint-Gervais, which also lies at the foot of Mont Blanc, announced in mid-July the temporary suspension of ascents of the mountain via the “normal” Goûter route because of rockfalls falling down the corridor known as “death row “. Access remains open to independent guides.

The recent very high temperatures have destabilized the mountain, notes Noé Vérité, warden of the Cosmiques hut, which is on a different route, that of Trois Monts.

He says he recently rose 6 degrees in the middle of the night at his refuge at 3,613 meters above sea level. The lack of a refreeze that night forced all promotion contenders who had left the Cosmiques to turn back, he told AFP over the phone.

“We’re seeing conditions getting worse by the day,” he notes. July is usually the peak of the season for him, but cancellations are piling up.

The normal route suffers “like refrigerators” from large rockfalls. Others like “Innominata” are still practiced, but because of their difficulty are reserved for an arch-minority, he emphasizes.

Currently only a “dozen or twenty people a day, more specialists” reach the summit of Mont Blanc, compared to 100 to 120 people in normal times, estimates Olivier Grébert, president of the Compagnie des guides de Chamonix.

Canceled races will be rescheduled, refunded or rerouted to alternative routes and the company is taking the opportunity to provide a bit of education for those wanting to climb the summit, for example ‘for their 40th birthday’.

“This ascent must be part of a mountaineering career,” explains Mr. Grébert: “Mont Blanc sometimes has the reputation of being an easy climb, but that is not the case again, especially this year.”