Two climbers and their guide were killed near the Aiguille du Midi peak of Mont Blanc last week, after falling an estimated 2,600 feet to their deaths on Europe’s highest mountain.
It was just the latest tragedy on Mount Blanc. Earlier this month, six others died when they were caught in bad weather.
The number of climbers who have died or gone missing on Mont Blanc since the climbing season began in June has now reached 20, making this the deadliest year for climbers on the mountain in more than a decade.
The deaths on Mont Blanc reflect a broader trend: as more inexperienced climbers attempt to scale the world’s highest mountains, fatal accidents are becoming far more frequent.
Elsewhere this year, 19 people have died trying to scale Mount Everest in the Himalaya mountain range, and there have been six fatal accidents on Mount Rainier in Washington.
“It’s a huge issue,” says Adriane Balinger, a mountain guide and the founder of Alpenglow Expeditions. “In the last 10 years. there has definitely been an increase in climbers taking on the big mountains of the world.”
Mont Blanc safety organization La Chamoniarde said the increase in inexperienced climbers has become a significant problem as up to 400 people now make the climb each day at the height of the climbing season.
“The number of people climbing Mont Blanc without experience is increasing,” said Christophe Boloyan, president of La Chamoniarde.
“Maybe it is because of everything people see on the Internet that makes them think it’s possible.”
In addition to the safety risk they pose, inexperienced climbers also create problems for local governments, whose resources are strained by rescue missions.
In France, the rescues are funded by local taxes, and some politicians are campaigning for changes in regulation. Jean-Marc Peillex, a mayor of a nearby city, has even advocated for climbers to pay for their own rescue.
During the peak climbing season in July and August, local gendarmes have to make up to 15 rescues on Mont Blanc each day, according to La Chamoniarde.
French officials and mountain guides criticized American climber Patrick Sweeney when he recently tried to make the climb with his 9 and 11-year-old children in an attempt to break a world record.
After avalanches nearly knocked them off the mountain — footage of which Sweeney later posted on YouTube — the entire group had to be evacuated.
“Such acts do not deserve publicity on television, but an exemplary sanction for this reckless father for putting life in danger,” Peillex said in a legal complaint.
Sweeney’s rescue, and similar high-profile incidents this season, have renewed calls for more climbing rules. Peillex said the mountain is becoming “an amusement park where we’re going to have gendarmes, rescuers and Pamela Anderson to save us,” The Telegraph reported. “Mont Blanc is for serious mountaineers,” he said. “It isn’t a trek or a playground for record-breakers.”
Balinger, the mountain guide, said there are similar issues on Mount Everest, where protocol for rescues are less clear. He said rescue teams he hires for his own clients often have to come to the aid of other inexperienced climbers in danger.
“Whenever accidents happen, people expect us to help,” he said. “Ethically and morally we feel inclined to help. But it takes away our ability to help our own clients.”
Balinger said the increase in amateur climbers is not necessarily negative, but that more regulation needs to be put in place to ensure safety.
“I’m all for new people with no experience climbing,” he said. “That said, I would like to see them doing it in the right way, with certified guides.” (Balinger himself is a certified guide.)
In response to the crisis on the mountain, La Chamoniarde has created an online guide, stressing education and preparation for people seeking to make the trek. Though such guides are helpful, experienced mountaineers caution that climbing will never be risk-free.
“The mountains are dangerous and always will be,” Balinger said. “I think accidents and fatalities will always be a part of climbing — and should be a part of climbing. The element of risk is what makes them so unique and powerful.”