Mayor under fire for fighting Mont Blanc hikers

A mayor in the French Alps famous for fighting mass tourism on the Mont Blanc has come under fire for filing a legal complaint against two people camping on the mountain’s peak.

Jean-Marc Peillex, mayor of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, has for years sounded the alarm against overcrowding on western Europe’s highest peak, which is climbed each year by up to 20,000 people.

He once called hikers braving the dangerous climb without adequate preparation “wackos”.

Last Wednesday, he filed a complaint with police against two climbers who last autumn posted a video of their camp they set up at an altitude of 4,807 metres, defying a 2020 ban on such bivouacs issued to protect the fragile mountain top.

“True mountaineering requires humility and discretion,” the mayor said in a statement at the time of the complaint.

“The Mont Blanc has had enough of these people who are looking for social recognition, and who are capable of anything just to show they exist,” the statement read.

But sector professionals said that the activist mayor had, this time, gone too far.

– ‘Lashing out’ –

The SIM mountaineering association accused him of “a long-standing escalation” in his battle with hikers.

In an online petition launched Saturday, SIM accused Peillex of “lashing out at everything and everyone, without discernment, restraint or coherence”.

Unesco France’s alpine committee also questioned the mayor’s stance. “You have to wonder what environmental impact a solitary camp on the Mont Blanc at this time of year could possibly have,” it said.

On Monday, the mayor appeared undaunted.

“These people make me sick,” he said of his critics, telling AFP: “They should be the ones denouncing this scandal, instead they defend the business of mountaineering.”

The two climbers meanwhile told online magazine Alpine Mag that they were “surprised” by the legal action, saying they had been “respectful of the environment and the people around us”.

Contacted by AFP, local prosecutors did not say whether they would follow up on the legal complaint, which in theory could lead to a fine of up to 150,000 euros ($160,000) and up to three years in jail.

In 2019, Peillex had already urged President Emmanuel Macron to take action against Mont Blanc hikers, after a series of incidents including a British tourist abandoning a rowing machine on the famed mountain, and two Swiss climbers landing a small plane near the summit and then hiking to the top.

He said he hoped “all these wackos” would be punished.

The Mont Blanc’s popularity has posed a growing security and environmental challenge for officials.

Warmer temperatures in recent years have melted permafrost, raising the risk of rock falls on the most popular routes.

In August, authorities closed down two popular mountain shelters used by Mont Blanc climbers because of potentially deadly drought-related rockfalls. — Agence France-Presse

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