Trash on Mont Blanc Prompts Calls to Limit Hikers
SAINT-GERVAIS MONT-BLANC, France Europe's tallest mountain is dirty and overcrowded, according to a French mayor who has ignited controversy with a proposal to limit the number of climbers on Mont Blanc.
Jean-Marc Peillex, mayor of the Alpine village Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc, estimated that up to 30,000 people climb the 4,810 metre (15,780 foot) mountain each summer, overwhelming overnight refuges and polluting glaciers with garbage and human waste.
"It's intolerable," he told a packed public meeting in Saint-Gervais this weekend, recounting how on a recent survey of Mont Blanc his helicopter landed on a glacier strewn with frozen excrement, the ice stained yellow from urine.
"The problem is that many people think that a garbage truck and a street cleaner will pass the next day."
He said requiring permits to access the Voie Royale path starting at Saint-Gervais -- the most popular Mont Blanc ascent because it is easier than routes in France's Chamonix or Italy -- could ensure mountain refuges are not filled beyond their capacity, and alert amateur hikers to the demands of the climb.
"You can't climb this mountain on a whim. It's not the same thing as deciding to go for a walk in the park," he said, adding permits would be issued to hikers who have reserved accommodation on the mountain, where camping is forbidden.
The mayor has also floated the idea of charging a 5 to 10 euro ($6.50 to $13) "eco-tax" on climbers to help Saint-Gervais recoup the costs of installing dry toilets in high reaches of the mountains and sending up helicopters to collect trash.
The proposals, which Peillex said he hopes to bring into force by next year, have met unease among some residents who fear the measures will unduly restrict access.
"I don't like the idea of paying for the right to go on the mountain," Stephane Cadou, 27, said after the meeting.
On the other side of the Mont Blanc tunnel, in Italy, Courmayeur Mayor Romano Blua derided the Saint-Gervais proposals as unfair.
Environmental measures should be enough to address overcrowding on the mountain, which sits on the frontier between Italy and France, Blua said.
"I can take steps but I am not in agreement with stopping people going up Mont Blanc," he said.
Dozens of volunteers from Saint-Gervais and neighbouring French communities worked to clean up parts of the mountain on Sunday, gathering bottles, plastic food containers, newspapers and other items discarded by hikers over the summer.
"It's a kind of awakening -- people are starting to think about what it means not to bring their rubbish down," said one of the volunteers, Jean-Jacques Barrucand, 66.
Olivier Dufour, president of the Saint-Gervais mountain guiding group, said he opposed the idea of permits but thought an environment fee might be useful to keep the mountain clean.
"An eco-tax would be acceptable if it was used to finance these operations," the 36-year-old said. "The ideal thing would be to make people aware of the need to bring down their own garbage."