France tightens rules on Mont Blanc access to combat overcrowding

Annecy (France) (AFP) –


French authorities have moved to ban climbers from scaling Mont Blanc unless they have booked a room in one of the shelters on the flanks of Europe's highest peak, in a bid to tackle safety risks linked to overcrowding.

The Alpine peak attracts nearly 25,000 climbers every year, but the daily crowds have led to flaring tempers among teams jockeying for position, and rampant illegal camping.

Starting Saturday, people hoping to scale the 4,810-metre (10,500-foot) mountain via the standard route must now book a room in one of three shelters if their ascent includes an overnight stay -- which is most often the case.

A 25-year-old Slovak climber died on Friday after falling around 250 metres (820 feet) at the start of the standard route, widely known as the "Route Royale".

Fifteen climbers died on Mont Blanc during last year's climbing season, prompting officials to start limiting access to the most popular route up in July amid concerns about overcrowding and rockslides.

But public information campaigns to dissuade crowds have proved "ineffective", said regional administrator Pierre Lambert.

Physical threats towards a caretaker in a shelter, as well as squalid conditions due to overcrowding prompted authorities to announce the new rules, which will be in effect until the end of the climbing season in September.

Mountaineers caught camping on the route risk two years in prison and a 300,000-euro ($335,000) fine, Lambert said.

Officials had already announced in April plans to repair routes and install different light markers to distinguish routes for ascending or descending.

The ban marked "the result of 15 years of fighting to make sure mountaineers can enjoy Mont Blanc, while also respecting it", said Jean-Marc Peillex, mayor of the town of Saint-Gervais, where most climbers start their ascent.

Tne new rules come as a traffic jam of climbers in the Everest "death zone" has been blamed for two of four new deaths reported on Friday on the world's highest peak.

Eight people have died on Everest in a week with concerns that the drive for profits is trumping safety there.