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Casera Pioda: a future Wilderness Education Center

Posted on June 22nd, 2015

IMG_0687The executive committee of Mountain Wilderness met in Morbegno Italy to discuss the status of the organization and to review various projects. On the agenda was the Casera Pioda, a ruined sheepfold, (located in Val di Melo, Sondrio county, Italy), proposed to be reconstructed in conjunction with ERSAF (a Regional Agency providing Services to Agriculture and Forestry – an entity of the Regional System of Lombardy carrying out operational activities for the state), to become an education center on wilderness for Mountain Wilderness International.

After 8 years of works the buildings and surrounding areas have been rehabilitated and the Executive committee paid a visit to see what it had become. It was a great surprise for all to see the quality of the renovation and the facilities it offers for the courses. A nature route surrounds the site and will provide a living experience to participants of what the flora and fauna of the region can offer.
The legendary Italian hospitality was appreciated by all and especially the exceptional rizzoto prepared by Stefano Mayr a very dedicated person together with Antonio Scarpa to the realization of the project.

(BM)


Economic and financial costs of air pollution in Mont-Blanc

Posted on June 11th, 2015

Environmental Associations meet the Senate inquirers
Délégation SénatorialeAssociations involved in the protection of health and air quality in the French valleys around Mont Blanc, ARSMB, Environn’Mont Blanc and proMONT-BLANC/Mountain Wilderness have responded to the invitation of the Senate Inquiry Commission Tuesday, June 10 in Chamonix. They expressed their concerns about air pollution at the global level and more specificly in the Arve Valley. In general terms the WHO estimates that the economic impact of this threat is about 10 to 12% of the GDP of 53 studied countries, while in France the cost of pollution on health is estimated between € 0.9 and 1.8 billion per year.

Because of its location and its peculiar geographical configuration, the Arve valley (which includes Chamonix’s) undergoes considerable pollution peaks frequently exceeding the maximum limits set by Europe. Although significant correction measures have been put locally in place, the associations believe that the state does not care enough of their problems and the situation continues to deteriorate (depending on pollutants: caused by individual heaters, transport and industry).

They particularly drew attention to the negative aspects to the tourism industry of a degrading image, relayed by the media and which tends to spread. The economy of the valley is in a great dependence of a tourism oriented toward well being and nature sports attracted by the immaculate image of Mont Blanc.

While a considerable effort is made to facilitate sustainable mobility in the valleys, their access require almost a mandatory use of individual vehicles, the rail network being completely out of line with needs. It is thus imperative that with the realization of he cross-border project CEVA (a rail network linking the great Geneva to the Haute-Savoie valleys), a proper rail routing upgrade, in relation with real users needs, is put in place to support a pool of over 550,000 rapidly growing population.

As for freight transport (averaging more than 1,500 trucks per day crossing the Mont Blanc tunnel), the associations would like that an overall strategy to be studied and applied for all the traffic serving the alpine axes, and see the Mont-Blanc traffic decreased.

To date the industry evaluates and declares itself to the state the pollutant emissions it produces, it is recommended that objective criteria are developed and independently controlled to better act on them as appropriate .

(BM)


Cleaning our Mountains

Posted on May 22nd, 2015

Obsolete Installations: see here the Mountain Wilderness France Video

A lot of facilities mainly for tourism, but also for industrial, agricultural and military purposes… are left abandoned in European mountains. These installations which are no longer in use, often injure the landscape as genuine scars.

As they are obsolete they should disappear.

Activity Report - Picture 5Heaps of old iron or concrete, pylons and cable lifts, old facilities near shelters, small buildings for various purposes … they materialize the disengagement of the actors at the end of the life cycle of their business operation. It’s not only a visual visual pollution, it’s also a real danger to hikers and to wildlife.

From 2001, Mountain Wilderness organizes each year cleaning operations in various European and remote mountain ranges (Ecrins, Mercantour, Elbruz, K2, Huayshash …), demonstrating that it is possible to restore the mountain’s natural state. The Mountain Wilderness activities is structured around 3 topics: inventory, dismantling and awareness.

 

An inventory is underway around the Chamony Mont-Blanc Valley, here is a status:

  • Col du Mont Lachat: The buildings of the military wind blower should be dismantled and the site restored to its natural state. Work should start during the 2015 summer. A large mass of concrete will be destroyed and evacuated. The operation is controlled by the municipality of Saint Gervais, with the participation of WWF and Mountain Wilderness.
  • Col du Midi end Station, Photo: JM Malherbe

    Col du Midi end Station, Photo: JM Malherbe

    Cosmiques Pylon: it was the arrival of the third section of the Glacier cable car going to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi, (Glacier station-Col du Midi section). This is a very unsightly scrapy and bulky set-up, a wart in this beautiful site that still supports the electricity line powering the Aiguille du Midi station. His removal is being discussed. The choice of the project leader has to be finalized among the four involved partners: Mont-Blanc Company (the owner of the Aiguille du Midi installations), Chamonix Guides Company, Chamonix Municipality, Mountain Wilderness.

  • Flégère service trolley: it was dismantled in spring 2015 by the Mont-Blanc Company and was unused for years and while tampering the golf site.
  • E.D.F. Argentiere glacier cable way: its removal is on the agenda.
  • Argentiere F.I.S. Chairlift and former Pélerin and Bossons lifts: they were dismantled and removed entirely by the municipality of Chamonix (a few concrete blocks are left in Argentiere).
  • Cable car Glacier: the old line currently supports the high voltage line of the Aiguille du Midi. Several towers are unnecessary and should be removed. However the Para and Glacier stations, built with carved granite, as well as the old cars, are part of our heritage. A great cleansing is however needed. Line owner: Mont-Blanc Company.
  • Mer de glace (Sea of ice): it is the black spot. Every year, tons of trash, including many cables, released by the glacier, are collected and disposed of by the local associations. All of these waste come from the altitude installations of the Aiguille du Midi and Helbronner, which have been abandoned by operators during the years 1950-1980 and were quickly covered by snow.
  • The existing ski areas of the valley are considered to be in a satisfactory state of maintenability.
  • After remodeling the area landscape the Emosson company plans to clean several obsolete facilities.

Hikers in the region are invited to report to Mountain Wilderness on missing obsolete facilities.

See Also Eric Lasserre Blog

(BM)


Save the Stelvio Park

Posted on May 6th, 2015

A vast Reserve of biodiversity with a high potential of sustainable economic development

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Mountain Wilderness Italia is promoting a series of events in defense of the Stelvio National Park for the 2015 summer including an international trek with the following goals:

  • Halt or neutralize the negative impacts of splitting up the Stelvio National Park into three regional parts.
  • Rapidly act to enhance the park’s main functions: preserve biodiversity, the landscape and foster a sustainable economic development for the local populations.
  • Promote the establishment of Europe’s largest protected area at the heart of the Central Alps through the PEACE (Central Alps European Park) project.

D-6566-blick-auf-cevedale-zufallspitze-von-martellerhuette-ausThe Stelvio National Park was founded in 1935 with the support of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI) and Touring Club. This is the largest European Alpine Natural reserve, covering over 130,000 hectares. One of the most biodiversity-rich of all of Europe, and a world heritage for its culture, resources and nature. It must not be forgotten, however, that the park was borne during a wave of nationalism that went as far as renaming every town of South Tyrol. An action which was very negatively felt by its inhabitants as a imperialist decision pushed on them by Rome. from this time, the SVP (South Tyrolean People’s Party) has been engaged in multiple actions to revoke this decision and dismantle the park.
Starting in 1971, Italia Nostra and the CAI have generated multiple proposals to make the Stelvio a transnational European park. In the 1990s, following the vision of Alessandro Langer, Mountain Wilderness relaunched the proposal for the PEACE park (a Central European protected area encompassing the Adamello-Presanella, Bergamasque Alps and the Engadin Swiss park). The idea was to strengthen relationships between countries through a join commitment in defense of nature and biodiversity — a way to overcome administrative hurdles and reestablish cross-border peaceful exchanges.
1. A park under pressure
Meanwhile, scandalous and environmentally destructive projects have been undertaken in some of most vulnerable areas of the park such as the 2005 Bormio World Ski Championships, for which the communities of the Valtellina are still paying tens of millions of euros to reimburse their debt, the Val Mite tramway in Trentino, which climbes to 3000 meters elevation, and other politically-enabled heavy infrastructures that glaringly contradict strategic objectives of a protected area.
In addition the Alto Adige/South Tyrol Region has risen the altitude limit for hunting deer and berry cultivation, expanded the skiable areas of the Martello Valley and granted licenses to exploit the Stelvio River for gravel and sand for concrete production.
The Lombardy Region, on the other hand, has disenganged of the burden of a national reserve: reducing the protected area status of the Valtellina and Camonica Valley and creating a mini-park.
2. Environmentalist effort to avoid fragmentation
The implementation laws discussed in recent months break the park up into three areas, each of them having its own autonomous management plans. Financing is to be provided by the Trento and Bolzano provinces (over 5 million EUR annually) while the Lombardy Region will be deprived of any direct resposibility in the management of this strategic territory.
National environmentalist associations (CIPRA, CAI, Italia Nostra, Mountain Wilderness, WWF, Legambiente, LIPU, Touring Club, Pro Natura, FAI, ENPA and EPPAA) have repeatedly attempted to advocate the benefits of a protected area. They have demanded the participation of environmentalism and science experts in advisory committees, adoption of a unified park plan, creation of a single supervisory body, a stronger role for the Ministry of the Environment as guardian of the single entity park, along with the need to invest in well-defined supervisory bodies each with a chairperson, director and operational secretariat. The SVP’s stuborness and the indifference of most political parties have defeated even these attempts at mediation.
3. A threat to all National Parks
Another threat is looming: if the SVP-PD plan is successful, a similar fate could affect the Gran Paradiso National Park, already afflicted by analogous institutional and management conflicts. The risk is that Italy’s oldest national park, established in 1922, will be split between the Aosta Valley and Piedmont Regions. Then, it is almost inevitable that other protected areas, such as the Abruzzo and the Sibillini Parks will undergo the same administrative destiny. This is in stark contradiction with the European unifying and conectivity strategy of protected areas. Italy is the only world’s nation aiming at dismembering what science and wise politics created once.

ACTIVITIES agenda
18/19 July: With the collaboration of the Club Alpino Accademico Italiano and local mountaineering guides ( Rampagaroi association).

Rifugio%20Segantini%20e%20CSegantini hut in Val Nambrone (Presanella):
Gathering of young, and not so young, mountaineers around the granite cliffs surrounding the hut for a TRAD climbing meeting. Evening discussions on the emblematic significance of such practices. The following day, several famous European mountaineers will introduce a large group of middle school children to the secrets of “Mountain Wilderness-style” rock climbing.

 

 

 

20 July: with the collaboration of Italia Nostra.

Il-Coston-Monte-Zebru-e-Gran-Zebru_slideshowVal di Rabbi. Departure for a 6-day trek across the least-contaminated and most spectacular valleys of the Stelvio National Park, sleeping in huts (Dorigoni hut, Corsi hut, Hintergrat hutte, Franzenshohe, garni St. Maria) Approximate cost €350. Anyone wishing to join should leave a deposit of €100 for the accommodation and insurance costs. Crampons and ice-axes not necessary. Each segment of the trek (will not exceed 5 hours). For logistical reasons participation will be limited to 20. Deadline: 15 June. A second group of excursionists coming from South Tyrol will intersect with the first one along the way. Arrival in Bormio will coincide with the conclusion of the well known Mountain Festival, where Italian participants will meet with Mountain Wilderness members from the Engadin Valley. Return to point of departure will be arranged by Mountain Wilderness. During the week of trekking, some Mountain Wilderness staff will leave the group to meet with representatives of some South Tyrol municipal administrations and the park’s current president.


Nepal to repopulate Bardiya National Park with rhinos

Posted on April 19th, 2015

The Bardiya National Park, situated in low mountains of Churia (Sivalik) of Nepal, is home to a small Indian rhinoceros population. During the ten years of the Maoist insurrection, the number of these animals has fallen from 109 to 31, mainly due to poaching, mostly in the Babai Valley.

The Bardiya National Park’s authorities plan to strengthen the park’s security and repopulate it with rhinoceros. Thus, ten security posts have recently been established, and twenty rhinoceros, transferred from the Chitwan National Park, will be released this month, ten on the banks of the Karnali River and ten in Babai Valley.

Rhinoceros in Bardiya National Park (taken from Wikimedia Commons)The Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) is the biggest of the rhinoceroses. The animal is still remaining only in India and Nepal. It is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)[1].

(HT)

[1] http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/19496/0


A stop to an interconnection project of ski resorts in Bavaria

Posted on April 5th, 2015

2010 - Riedbergerhorn

Since now many years, the villages of Balderschwang and Obermaiselstein tried to interconnect the ski resorts of Grasgehren and Riedbergerhorn. As the planned ski lifts and tracks are located outside the existing ski areas, in a highly sensitive natural area, largely within the protection zone C of the Alps plan, the villages tried to get a weakening of the C protection status of the Alps Plan of 1972.

As is usual in such cases, they pleaded that the project as the only way to secure the long-term tourism in both places and that the towns would die if not granted the right to destroy further the nature.

On March 13, 2015, the Bavarian Environment Minister Ulrike Scharf (Social-Christian Union, CSU) wrote in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that she was not going to support the project. Instead, she advocated for an alternative on sustainable tourism in Balderschwang and Obermaiselstein. She also recalled that her agreement was necessary for the modification of the protection status of the C zone, and thus, even if Finance and Internal Affairs ministries were to support the project, she would oppose her veto to it.

So, it seems that, for some times, the threats against this pristine mountain area are discarded. But, as usual, Mountain Wilderness Germany, which opposed the project since the very beginning, will keep on watching all the future developments with great attention, just in case of….

(HT)


The Alpine Line: Trilogy in Ubaye (France)

Posted on March 29th, 2015

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After Argentera and the winter ascent at Corno Stella, Yo and Yann wanted to do something not too technically challenging, less physically demanding and to find its essence in the uniqueness of the alpine playground they were on. This is how they got the idea of linking some emblematic Ubaye mountains such as Brec, Chambeyron and Aiguille (Needle), as well as the famous Pierre Andree peak. The first summit is remarkable by its shape, the second, the Aiguille du Chambeyron (Chambeyron Needle), is the culminating point of the Ubaye range and has a nice edge, and finally the third is known for the quality, texture and color of its rock , a protogine red stick that has nothing to envy to the Grand Capucin (in Mont-Blanc range)

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Following the two big stages linking Isola 2000 to Larche, they arrive at the GTA Larche lodge, greeted by Bernadette Laurène and Nicolas. Then following a long morning of equipment preparation and reshuffling they go 1500 m up for a late arrival at the Chambeyron hut. This is a very nice shelter where they can enjoy a welcome day-off after the difficult journey from Isola and before attacking the “Brosserie Ubayenne”( Ubaye Brushware) !
Up at 3:45, not a cloud, no blowing wind for the moment, as it was from the arrival in the Southern Alps,! But Yoann, penalized by a sour knee, decides to play it safe by not taking his paraglider with him at the risk to carry it for nothing. They must spare energy as the road ahead is still long.

 

Brec de Chambeyron Northern Corridor

Brec de Chambeyron Northern Corridor

Under the waning moon and after leaving part of their gears at Long Lake, they go light to swallow the 500m vertical drop of the Northern Corridor, with the wish to watch the sunrise at the Brec top.

On this hard snow, the 2 friends get easily to the summit plateau which offers an ideal launching area! With the sun just up and a light east wind the take-off occurs just a little below, at the corridor exit.
1, 2, 3 … and the run is on… The paraglide rises steadily, everything is fine!

Bye Yo... he must now just...

Bye Yo… he must now just…

 

A few minutes later, Yann lands nearby the gears while Yoann backs down the corridor, now they are ready to attack the Gastaldi corridor.

Despite the early hour they plow on the soft snow up to the Nérot-Vernet breach, the starting point of the Chambeyron edges crossing.

Climbing the Chambeyron Needle in front of the Brec's North Face at the back

Climbing the Chambeyron Needle in front of the Brec’s North Face at the back

 

 

This classic route leads to the highest peak of Ubaye in a very aesthetic and technically affordable way. After tying their rope they proceed along a ridge becoming increasingly narrow to reach a chimney going to the first summit, another beautiful and fine ridge, and here they are at the summit cross.

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Top of  Chambeyron Needle. Anchor !

Top of Chambeyron Needle. Anchor !

 

 

After a short but nice sight view from the top, downhill they go for an uncomfortable and a bit erratic run … Back to the breach, filling bag packs again for the umpteenth time that day while eating snacks, skis back on, they slide down the corridor on very hard to ski crusted snow. Nevertheless they are happy to slide right under the beautiful Pierre-André Needle.

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Getting too low, yet it takes some effort on delicate slopes to finally see the day’s last goal with a good surprise: this time, climbing will be under the sun.P1020707-1024x769

Three is better than two

Three is better than two

So it is on a beautiful rock that they climb four 60m stretches before they can stand-up at the top under the sun.

 

Once at the foot of the Aiguille, after an easy descent, they must hike back-up to a small Pass under the Aiguille Large. From there, Yann takes off paragliding while Yo glides down on foot to the Maljasset CAF hut where they get a warm welcome by Stéphane Emilia and the young hut keepers… and the « Sauvage » (Savage); (the rightly-named local beer) is a great treat.

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A weather disturbance is announced, it will force them to wait for a few days before going to Viso. But this is rather welcome as Yo’s knee winces (forcing him to rest), luckily a cabinetmaker offers him to work at its workshop in Barcelonnette… Meanwhile Yann will use his free time to discover the area, ski touring with the hut’s friends.

As soon as the weather will permit, they will be on the road again…

 

(Written by BM: Based on the article published by Yoann and Yann)


A vertiginous tower project in the Swiss Alps

Posted on March 26th, 2015

A dream or nightmare project that shakes the Swiss mountains.
femme-de-valsOn Wednesday , March 25, in Zurich, Remo Stoffel a promoter of Graubünden (Eastern Switzerland) presented its program for its crazy Vals station where it already owns a spa. “The sky is the limit” is the slogan of the program centered on a 381m high hotel that would be the world’s highest and the highest building in Europe even eying the Eiffel Tower. A glass skyscraper with 107 suites, which some of them will occupy an entire floor. It is entitled “Woman of Vals” in honor of Alberto Giacometti. Not sure the famous Swiss sculptor would have appreciated. All this in a Heidi like postcard environment. The project is signed by the American iconoclastic architect Thom Mayne, as described by the New York Times. But it will have to be approved first by the municipal and cantonal authorities. Remo Stoffel hope that its achievement by 2019 will save the mountain tourism in the region which undergoes a severe crisis. He even predicts its death if no alternative is developed to mass tourism. He targets these customers who travels by helicopter and are ready to pay 1,000 to € 25,000 a night. “The premium segment is the only one that has a future,” insists the businessman who is to present his plan to the 1000 inhabitants of his village.

(BM)


Winter Ascent of Corno Stella

Posted on March 16th, 2015

The Lourousa couloir at the center and the Stella Corno on the right

The Lourousa couloir at the center and the Stella Corno on the right

 

After enjoying the sweetness of Nice’s hinterland, we planned a little trip to Italy to meet the austerity of walls that do not see the sun. Going along with Christophe Dumarest, we switched over the Italian side to rub the famous north face of Corno Stella. One of the last walls climbed by Patrick Berhault during his crossing, and our first big goal! We had promised not to make a winter ascent again after a bad experience in Vanoise. Well, we put it aside, but for a route that influenced a whole generation of climbers… In 1962 Ughetto and Ruggieri opened the Red Dihedral with revolutionary wood wedges. Definitely a feat, and we consider it a little more this way at every climbed meter. Just as the Berhault ascent of the same way in a winter solo! A really off the scale kind of man!

Lightly plastered ...

Lightly plastered …

 
After a tiring approach from Saint-Martin-Vésubie fortunately made easier thanks to Antoine Rolle and Olivier Vigouroux coming to help us carry our bags, we meet with Christophe at Valdieri Termes then we go up to the Varonne bivouac. It only slightly emerges from the thick snowpack. A few shovel strokes later we find ourselves in a little haven of comfort in this cold and barren world. Above us, the 900m of the Lourousa couloir and especially the impressive north face of Corno Stella!

The Varonne bivouac

The Varonne bivouac

 

 

 

We plan to climb the face in two stages. The first day will be devoted to the ascent of the pedestal pitches which give access to the dihedral itself. We will climb these first four pitches by means of modern techniques for mixed climbing, armed with ice axes and crampons. Yoann will take care of the first two, and Yann of the following two! Then we will head-up to the bivouac to rest a little before the big next day!

 

Christophe going after the large dihedral

Christophe going after the large dihedral

Wake-up: 3:30. As usual these wake-ups bite are a little bit harsh, but the day will be a long one, and every minute of the day counts. So we want to get to the highest point reached yesterday at dawn. Through an auto-handle system, we climb the ropes left the day before. After having reached the dihedral, Christophe embarks on the first length. Immediately the crack is  very wide, and he choses a half free/half artificial climbing strategy. In the summer, we’d climbed with rock climbing shoes, and we would have progressed quickly. But in winter, low temperatures are pushing us to keep our big “Phantom 6000″ boots on. These have thermal slippers, specially designed for this kind of ascents.

 

Yoann in the first pitch of the pedestal

Yoann in the first pitch of the pedestal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As seconds, we try to be as efficient as possible, progressing mostly with ascenders. At one point, while Yann is hanging on an existing anchor a piton snatches carrying with it a large block of rock. Fortunately Yoann who sits just below, is protected by a small roof.
In its stride, Christophe goes to the next length: a canted horizontal crack, which becomes vertical, and even wider than the preceding ones. The postures are awkward!

 

 

It's freezing at the Anchor

It’s freezing at the Anchor

 

Yann takes over in a still large crack, where the largest of our friends (# 6 Camalot) is much too small. Only an antique wooden wedge allows us to rise somehow. With an indescribable creep, he manages to climb the few inches that were missing to reach, at arm length, a tightening of the crack, and there inserts our largest friends. It is in this “old style”climbing that the bonding between the climber and the rock is the strongest. Indeed, the whole body is called upon to jam and progress in these very large cracks.

 

 

 

The void is widening...

The void is widening…

 

The next pitch is the free climbing “crux”, it is a large roof crossed by a crack, again very wide! Rated at 7a + by Patrick Berhault, we aid climb it. Unlike the previous pitches, the equipment is rather serious. This is again the famous wooden wedges designed and manufactured especially by the Ruggieri Ughetto roped party to open this route. Two wooden cubes connected by a threaded rod, this is the first time we meet this kind of protection! While most are genuine, two of them have been replaced! After clipping the first two wedges, Yann poses a very doubtful, because very open, # 5 Camalot,!

 

 

 

From wooden wedges to nuts ...

From wooden wedges to nuts …

 

 

In a split second, he finds himself hanging on the rope a few meters down, hanging on the first wooden wedge. The friend had slipped, and the last clipped wooden wedge had shattered, lost in the slowly growing abyss! What a fear but no harm!
We meet at the Anchor, this time it’s Yo who gets going. Despite the cold, he will climb with rock climbing shoes; on frozen strips it still better than big boots! Alternating cracks and dihedral, sometimes snowy, we progress to the top.

 

 

 

In summer, it must be a real treat!

In summer, it must be a real treat!

Focused, we are completely absorbed in the effort, nothing else exists except the 3 square meters of rocks around us. So when suddenly the sun hits on our faces is like a rude awakening, the return to reality, in front of a magnificent landscape that opens your eyes.

 

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An intense moment as we meet at the cross, in a raging wind. Quickly, we must descend before dark, and gusts redouble their intensity.

 

Waooh the night will be so good!

Waooh the night will be so good!

There is a rappel line anchored in the north face. But after a hundred yards downhill, the cord gets stuck … just above compact slabs. Going back up would take too much time, we continue our descent the best we can. But the anchors are now hidden by snow patches and we need to put pitons to cross over to the Red Dihedral line. It’s dark when we step in the Lourousa couloir, exhausted we are. It becomes difficult to keep our balance in the wind, and Yann let a boot-shell fall! We quickly descend the couloir hoping to find it, but the snow purges are too abundant and it is quickly covered. This is the “Borgnette” too much, which drain Yann’s morale to the extreme. Meanwhile the two slightly calmer companions find the bivouac buried under the snow. And when we close the old door behind us, everything stops, and suddenly the calm returns! We leave the storm, letting out there this so hostile world to man. What happened today was quite an adventure in itself, part of the broadest adventure. We enjoy a piece of foie gras brought by Christophe, thinking of the boldness of the veterans who have gone there before us, with the means of the time … Respect.

 

 

Corno-41-1024x769After a restful night we descend to Valdieri, sandwiched between gear bags and a crusted snow. Christophe hits the road and we feel somewhat strange watching our friend going away to his family, to meet the human life down there… For both of us it’s the reverse, we go in the opposite direction, upwards. The journey continues and we snap-on our skis for a big bonding step towards France. After all the accumulated emotions and fatigue of the recent days, we feel truly detached. In addition, we are going through wild landscapes with no one around for kilometers… We are moving ahead somehow out of the real world, legs moving by themselves and spirit wandering. At dusk we reach the Druos pass marking the border. A bright orange lights-up the horizon to the west! Bad weather will be here tomorrow. At the bottom of the slope on the French side, Isola 2000 lights glitter. We stay at the pass for a moment, in the open wind, to enjoy our freedom. We do not even know where we will sleep tonight, it’s improvisation adventure.
But as always, we are welcomed with open arms; this time by the ski school. The encounters follow one another; Another essential component of the trip.

The roped party is growing …

(Written en French by Yoann and Yann, translated and posted by Bernard M.)

French Original on the Alpine Line Project web site


Mass tourism siege on Mont-Blanc

Posted on March 14th, 2015

MB Italien rognéWith more visitors than the Grand Canyon, the Mont Blanc does not really need to be introduced as a high flying international natural site for tourists (6 million/year), many of them (about 1 in 5) moving around its slopes by means of impressive mechanical installations. While news of its valleys spread over the media front pages with peaks of pollution equaling or exceeding those of large cities, a quiet revolution is under way on its flanks.
The French side of the mountain is served by two main facilities: the “Montenvers” train which provides access to the “Mer de Glace”, and the “Aiguille du Midi” cable car, a direct entry point to the high mountains. On the Italian side, the Aosta Valley has suffered for decades from the obsolescence of its infrastructure that prevents it from capturing the envied tourism windfall of the Chamonix Valley. A light wire sustains the “Vallée Blanche gondola” linking the “Aiguille du Midi” to “Helbronner”. During 2015 all these facilities will be provided, at various levels, with new gimmicks to attract customers.
Global warming, the erosion of a traditional customer base, necessary upgrades to new safety standards, unbridled competition between mountain resorts to keep existing clients and capture new visitors, especially international ones, are pushing operators to renovate their mechanical infrastructure to make them more attractive. We see the operators evolving toward a new status of “solutions providers” featuring more and more fancy entertainment structures. In this way, the Italians want to completely revamp the cable way installations linking Entrèves / Courmayeur to “Punta Helbronner”.

The World’s most expensive cable way

Helbronner from Torino

Helbronner from Torino

Between € 105 and € 110 million (four times the “Vanoise Express” that links “La Plagne” to “Les Arcs”, according to the French Newspaper “Dauphiné Libéré”) were invested in the development of this off the scale project commonly presented as the world’s biggest cable-car work site. Four years of colossal work, above 3000 meters, were required for a targeted opening in May 2015, during the International Fair of Milan.
Since 1947, an obsolete facility carries, in three stages, less than one hundred thousand passengers per annum (tourists, mountaineers and off-piste skiers) from Courmayeur to the Torino hut, a gate to the high flanks of Mont Blanc.
The cable-car that replaces it, one of the most modern in the world with its large ovoid and rotating gondolas will allow the passengers to enjoy 360 ° sightseeing throughout the journey before reaching the glacier area of the “Vallée Blanche” (White Valley) at 3452 m above sea level. In two sections, The new cable-car will take up to 500,000 visitors each year to the high mountain, despite a capacity of 600 passengers/hour, limited to 3000/day, over 3 times the current capacity. But with a € 27 million cost the transport system it is only a fraction of the total investment.

Helbronner Upper Station (Cordée Mont Blanc)

Helbronner, Upper Station (Cordée Mont-Blanc)

At the top of Helbronner, which was significantly re-shaped, a 80 meter vertical hole long has been drilled into the granite to receive a reinforced concrete tube with the purpose of stabilizing the platform receiving the new cable-car station. A real wound inflicted on the mountain. In this tube, a lift will transport the visitors wanting to go to the Torino hut thanks to a 150 m tunnel appended at its lower end.

The upper station, all steel and glass, is equipped with a multi-media room and a viewing platform 14 meters in diameter. Two museums are also planned. In case of bad weather conditions, visitors will not have gone-up for nothing…
With these cable car and new facilities the Valley of Aosta is convinced it will finally enter the big pond of large Alpine resorts and thus be able to compete more fiercely with the likes of the Chamonix Valley. In fact, it has already begun a large marketing campaign, renting advertising spaces in many European airports. A practice strongly criticized by Italian environmental organizations following a RAI TV show touting the touristic glamour of the site but ignoring its negative environmental aspects. (Note -no kidding- the “Funivie Monte Bianco” company claims to have taken important environmental measures while in reality the route of the installations have been ravaged)

At Aiguille du Midi: more of the same

Aiguille du Midi (Mont-Blanc Company)

Aiguille du Midi (Mont-Blanc Company)

They are not idle on the French side either, but with € 3.5-4 M, it is nothing like the level of the Helbronner investment. Here the objective is to refine and optimize an already well developed offer. To meet the challenge posed by the new Italian facilities and believing that the current natural setting is “no longer sufficient by itself” (sic), the Mont-Blanc Company is gearing-up its defense. It began a face-lift of the facilities surrounding the central peak by providing exciting new products targeting the upper class of international tourists, pushing comfort and an augmented reality, to offer an “approach to the site allowing its exceptional nature to always remain accessible “(sic) … a reality movie in some ways
The main transformations are:
A comfortable glass viewing platform for resting and contemplation.
A covered gallery around the Central Piton accessible to visitors with disabilities
A panoramic glass area on the top terrace reachable in all weather conditions
The “Step in the Void.” A glass box suspended above the abyss.
A reorganization of corridors to make them more attractive and to help educate visitor on aspects of the high mountains.
With 500,000-800,000 passengers carried each year (depending on sources), the Aiguille du Midi is the star of the mechanical installations on the Mont-Blanc and its operating company (The Mont-Blanc Company) intends to keep it that way. Through a partnership with its Italian counterpart it can be expected that resources will be optimized across the mountain. This leads to scrutinize what is happening to the cable car of the Vallée Blanche, the link between the two sides.

The “Vallée Blanche” Gondola

Helbronner French Side

Helbronner French Side

A renovation project at the Pointe Helbronner arrival station, which shows obvious signs of decay and strongly contrasts, in its current state, with the gigantic “Funivie Monte Bianco” facilities, is planned. At the same time the safety of the French station will be enhanced to higher standards while keeping passenger capacity at current levels.
The project mainly consists of reconditioning the existing building by harmonizing its various disparate elements while respecting its current structure, and in the dismantling of a snow-cat shelter and a ski lift pylon used during the heyday of summer skiing. Its ground surface will remain unchanged, hence little direct impact on the environment, other than the maintenance of the current state and an option to increase traffic later.
For many years, the gondola was considered by Mountain Wilderness as a wart denaturing this unique high mountain environment by its incongruous presence. It is the subject of an ongoing controversy since the creation of the association. Other environmental organizations consider that this facility offers an ecological alternative to commercial flights for those tourists who want an oversight of the range. The tough reality is that commercial flights continue to flourish.

Infrastructures and Mont-Blanc’s future strategy

The impact of the installation is not neutral in terms of traffic on the range’s glaciers. One might think that many candidates for a ski run down the Vallée Blanche, currently hampered by the delicate descent of the Aiguille du Midi ridge, will be tempted by the easier access option of the Italian side and a more glamorous and brand new means of transport, but all will meet at the Montenvers level.
While the passenger traffic at the Aiguille du Midi is expected to stay at least at current levels, in the coming years the contribution of Helbronner will lead to additional discharge of hundreds of skiers on the “Vallée Blanche” in the dangerous because crevassed “Plateau de la Vierge”, therefore a large potential security problem may be expected on French glaciers. What do the Mountain Guides and the PGHM think of that? To our knowledge there has been no consultation between French and Italian guides?
Furthermore, the installed capacity is well above the rates that are deliberately limited by the operators. Are we sure that, over time, the temptation to push for more revenue will not be stronger than current limits set by self-regulation?
In fact we are faced with 2 large tubes supporting heavy flows running together with, in between, a thin drip (the gondola of the Vallée Blanche). Is this a permanent solution? Should the ultimate solution not be to cut-out the link affecting the very heart of this exceptional site?
As the “enhancements” of the Aiguille du Midi are intended to attract a new customers, it is reasonable to think that these tourists will remain confined in the immediate vicinity of the central peak so having relatively little impact on the environment but it is definitely not the direction taken by the facilities of Helbronner.
The “Espace Mont Blanc” (an organization grouping the various municipalities of the 3 countries around Mont-Blanc for common actions) is defining a future strategy for the territory that involves multiple committees working on issues such as access routes to Mont Blanc, accesses to shelters/huts of the massif, outdoor activities, biodiversity, energy transition, motorized flyovers etc… . However, to date none of the major infrastructure development projects have been debated in this context, even though associations such as Mountain Wilderness have requested it several times. It seems surprising that in this mountain range, a protected area, where overcrowding is an acute problem, where tourism is a major economical component, that no public debate is taking place with the key players.

(Written by B. Marclay, reviewed by Duncan Wilson)

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