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French mayor to ask Mont Blanc climbers for €15,000 rescue and funeral deposit

Climbers attempting to reach the summit of Mont Blanc from a popular path in France will have to pay a €15,000 (£12,640) deposit to cover costs in case they need to be rescued, or worse, die.

Jean-Marc Peillex, the mayor of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, from where climbers can make it to the top of the highest peak in Europe via the Goûter Route, imposed the measure in response to dozens defying warnings and engaging in what he described as “a game of Russian roulette”.

The finer detail specifies that €10,000 would cover the cost of a rescue and €5,000 a funeral.

Local guides suspended their operations along the route, which is accessible to climbers of any skill level, in mid-July due to heavy rockfall, with the local administration strongly advising people to avoid it. An intense, protracted heatwave has made conditions on the mountain more perilous.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Peillex said dozens of “pseudo-mountaineers” had ignored the warnings. He described how five Romanian visitors had attempted the ascent “wearing shorts, trainers and straw hats” and had to be turned back by mountain police.

“People want to climb with death in their backpacks,” he added. “So let’s anticipate the cost of having to rescue them, and for their burial, because it’s unacceptable that French taxpayers should foot the bill.”

The peak can also be reached by taking the Ratti path from Courmayeur, on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, although it is much less used. Still, Roberto Rota, the mayor of Courmayeur, said he had no plans to restrict access. “The mountain is not a property,” he said. “We, as administrators, can limit ourselves to reporting sub-optimal conditions along the routes, but asking for a deposit to climb to the top is really surreal.”

Debate over the safety of mountain activities this summer has heightened amid the heatwave and since 11 people were killed when a huge mass of ice broke away from a glacier on the north side of the Marmolada, the highest peak in the Italian Dolomites, in early July. Mayors of towns surrounding the Marmolada closed off key access points due to safety concerns, but some climbers tried to circumvent the ban.

On Thursday, a path leading up to Monte Cervino from the Italian side was temporarily closed off after 13 climbers were rescued after a landslide.

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More than 100 people have died on the Goûter Route over the past 20 years. French mountain guides, who suspended operations until 15 August, described “witnessing rockfalls throughout the day and night”.

The dry conditions across the Alps have been exacerbated by little snowfall during the winter and spring temperatures that were above normal.

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