A Welcomed Rehabilitation in Mont Blanc

Posted on December 17th, 2014

Mont Lachat recadréeOn Monday December 15, the 110 hectares surrounding and including the Mont-Lachat wind tunnel site have been declared a “sensitive natural space” and a € 520 000 budget has been allocated for the restoration of the site.
The buildings, located near the access trail to the normal way of Mont-Blanc are in a serious degradation stage and is an ugly wart denaturing the area with no proper usage found for it.

It is a main passage for the 20 000 mountaineers aiming at climbing Mont-Blanc each year.

Mountain Wilderness, proMONT-BLANC and the WWF have militated for years to get this site rehabilitated. The Pandathlon was a major event to make it happen.
Various players (public and Private) are jointly making the “investment”, some of that money is tax credit, so it’s not all real money changing hands.  A big chunk of the real money is coming from the Pandathlon event though.

This massive construction is made of reinforced concrete (has a lot of buried metal in the concrete) similar to a bunker, furthermore there is a lot of asbestos and lead to take care of, thus the dismantling procedure is complex to protect adequately the workers.
Located at an elevation of 2000 m , the transport of material will be done using only the small train going to the “Nid d’Aigle”.

All passive material will be sorted out, fragmented and used to landfill the place to restore it to its primitive shape. Alpine seeds have been selected to better integrate the place to its surrounding.
Work should start and hopefully finish in 2015

The Summits of Dignity

Posted on December 15th, 2014

Summits of DignityThe mountains allow all those with a big heart to exist, provided they get, sometimes, a little but necessary help.

This testimony is exemplar of what can be achieved when a chance is offered to those who still have faith despite bad luck…

“The summits of dignity” a moving documentary by Yoann Perié retraces the encounter between some Grenoble high school youngsters and four people living in a precarious situation. It highlights the late Jafar. A snowboarder, which lived for 35 years in the street and knew drug. But despite his chaotic life, Jafar never stopped to love mountain and his snowboard.

It was in June 2012 that things have taken shape with a two days course organized in the Ecrins massif with an ascent to the “Promontoire hut” at 3090 meters altitude. Twenty youngsters from a Grenoble  high school and six members of of the “water point” (Point d’eau) association, including Jafar were participating. This opportunity to share small moments and the beautiful epic final at the “Promontoire” hut have been transposed to the screen with sincerity.

The “water point” association, in Grenoble, devotes its action to people in precarious conditions, they decided to use the power of the mountains to help them regain their dignity.

Because up there, there is no more noise, no more social difference. Up there on the tops, Jafar Mohamed Viktor and Abdel fully exist, for us all to see. (teaser)

Jafar died recently in his small 7 square meters apartment.

The DVD of this movie is available at « la Maison de la montagne de Grenoble » (10 euros). Half of the gains are given to the ABBE PIERRE foundation. For more infos, please contact directly : yoann@keep-it-up.fr


“White caps” blocking access to the Mont Blanc tunnel

Posted on December 9th, 2014

White CapsAccording to French police and activists, between forty and sixty “white caps” have blocked access to the Mont-Blanc tunnel for more than an hour late Saturday, December 6 to protest against pollution of their valley caused by road traffic,.

“We demand the return of the pollution tax (a French environmental tax) and Euro vignette installation in all sensitive areas,” said Simon Métral, president of the Association for the respect of the Mont-Blanc Site (ARSMB).

“Everywhere we are told that we are right, that our struggle is legitimate but in the end  nothing gets done. So we made a punch operation called « the white caps of Mont-Blanc », “said Mr. Métral.

“We have a consensus for years but consensus does not pay off,” he added.

The police confirmed that access to the tunnel linking France and Italy was blocked in both directions between 1:45 and 3:00 pm. ET, also stating that the protest disbanded without incident.

In 2013, the Arve valley, which leads to the Mont-Blanc tunnel, experienced 58 days of particles pollution, according to Air Rhone-Alpes institute, while the European regulatory limit is 35 days per year.

In late November, the elected representatives of the Chamonix valley had adopted a motion requesting the temporary ban of the most polluting truck traffic roaming in the Arve valley “starting the morning of the second day following a characterized pollution occurrence. ”

The ARSMB and Mountain Wilderness are members of proMONT-BLANC an umbrella organization for the protection of Mont-Blanc.

Mountain Wilderness supports the ARSMB in its effort for better health conditions in the Arve and Chamonix valleys.


The end of a lengthy procedure against snowmobiles’ use

Posted on December 6th, 2014

For many years, three snowmobile rental companies took advantage of an illegal municipal authorization to operate 70 of these machines in the French ski resorts of Les Menuires and Val Thorens (Savoy). Minutes by the Police lead to the conviction of three operators by the Moutiers Court on 16 May 2007. The town of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, to which belong these resorts launched a New Tourism Unit (Unité Touristique Nouvelle – UTN) procedure to request the opening of two snowmobiles’ leisure fields, one in Les Menuires, the other one in Val Thorens.

On October 14, 2009, a decree of the Alps Range Prefect opened to snowmobiles traffic two “circuits”, one 9.5 km long over Les Menuires, the other 8 km long in Val Thorens. The nature protection associations nevertheless explained to the decision-makers that these “circuits” did not meet the criteria to be allowed. So the FRAPNA Savoy and Mountain Wilderness France logically challenged this authorization before the administrative court, arguing that it did not observed the rules of the 1991 Lalonde Act and would create a dangerous jurisprudence.

In its judgment of 30 December 2011, the Grenoble Administrative Court annulled the decree on the ground that the ways authorized by the UTN procedure did not actually constituted circuits under the provisions of the 1991 Act. The town of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville having appealed this ruling, the Administrative Appeal Court of Lyon, by a decision of 13 November 2012, confirmed the cancellation of the authorization. The town, which presents itself as a model of sustainable development decided again to appeal this ruling.

By a judgment of 5 November 2014, the State Council has supported the position of the associations and confirmed the cancellation of the UTN order of October 2009. The town must now remove the municipal authorizations to the snowmobiles’ rental companies.

This judgment calls in a debate on the handling of snowmobiles and assimilated devices in the mountains.

Mountains on Stage

Posted on December 1st, 2014

With global warming, the high altitude resorts of the Alps are in search of attractions to capture new customers (especially foreigners) to compensate for the erosion of their traditional customers base: skiers.

Peak Walk by Tissot

Peak Walk by Tissot

As a consequence mountains are being put on stage in many countries such as Switzerland and Austria where suspension bridges, luxury shops and sensational amenities have been built to attract tourists from all over the world, especially Asia.
The merchandising of the mountain is under way. The “product” is often a short stop in the mountains as part of a packaged European express tour, often squeezed in between, let’s say, a stay in Rome and another in London, Tourists want to experience as many thrills as possible during a short time, comfortably and by taking no risks.
In Europe, Switzerland is perceived as leading this new trend. It is a country with a long tradition of building special high altitude tourist arrangements. The most famous: the Klein Matterhorn (3883m), (highest cable car in continental Europe, under the Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn in Zermatt) and the Jungfrau railroad, (highest in Europe -3,454 m- in Grindelwald) are putting these famous summits at the reach of ordinary bipeds. The Titlis (3238m) in Engelberg can be reached with rotating cabins and gives access to a suspension bridge guaranteeing an exciting crossing. A revolving restaurant sits on the Schilthorn in Mürren. On Lake Lucerne one can travel aboard an open cable car whose scenery alone justifies the trip. And the latest, located between Diablerets and Gstaad: the “Peak Walk by Tissot”, a 107m suspension bridge that connects two 3000m peaks, a “world first”, and complement other entertainment attractions…
Austria is also fiercely participating to this global competition. Examples are its Dachstein’s Suspension bridge and glass viewing platform and Sölden BIG 3
China is no exception with a vertiginuous 200 ft long skywalk , situated 4,700ft above sea level on the side of the Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, China.
In France there is nothing similar, except in Chamonix at the Aiguille du Midi coupled with the current development at the Pointe Helbronner.
The void has become a star of these Disneylands, but it has always been used as an attraction and has been showcased innovatively in various part of the world.

Then the big question for Alpine regions is how can we reconcile Nature conservation and the demands of the tourist industry?
Should the mountain stay a preserved space for nature and lovers of clean air or should it harbor amusement parks for tourists in search of sensations? It is becoming a delicate balancing act between local economic pressures and idealistic aspirations of remote townsfolk, between local politician who want to protect local business developments and centrally defined policies.
Each new construction in the Alps raises the ire of environmental associations including Mountain Wilderness which sees in those developments a continuous nibbling at the natural space and denounces a constant escalation. In the Alpine Massifs, MW fears a proliferation of all sort of mass tourism equipment, while some, like the megalomaniac project to raise the height of the Klein Matterhorn with a hotel pyramid to reach the 4000 mark, border on fantasy.

For most developers these new activities are focused and limited around the cable car sites, most of the remaining areas are devoted to skiing and other Mountain practices while the rest are protected spaces. They also provide quick safe access to the high summits for mountaineers wishing to exploit unstable weather conditions.
Interviewed about the Diablerets « Peak Walk », Katharina Conradin, President of the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps (CIPRA) and director of Mountain Wilderness Switzerland questioned the real purpose of such projects: “In the past a breathtaking view was the objective of cable cars. Now we create summit attractions that have nothing to do with the mountain itself and that can be developed in cities. In short, they are artificial. ”
Alpine tourism is vital for the economy of mountain regions. As the volume of skiers drops, the authorities face the challenge of delivering a balanced response to new development needs while preserving the landscape. It is a complex equation which must take into account many factors, often unique to each region. In the midst of all this, Mountain Wilderness, climbers and other mountain users call for the best possible middle ground.

(BM, DW)


Mountain Wilderness Training goes to Gheralta-Tigray (Ethiopia).

Posted on November 27th, 2014

Few landscapes in Africa offer a charm comparable to the labyrinthine mountain system of Tigray. A fairy-tale charm that stems not only from the forest of rocky peaks that draw the horizons, but also by the large number of chapels, semi-caved churches, caves and caverns made sacred by hermits, hidden in the folds of the mountains.

Tigray 1

Tigray, located in the Northern part of Ethiopia 783 km from Addis Ababa the capital city of Ethiopia is a region where over 120 Rock-Hewn Churches are found. The Tigray Rock Churches are considered to be dating from the 5/6th century. Most of them not visited by tourists because of their location on the top of cliffs for security reasons.

Tigray 2

At the suggestion of the Italian Institute of Culture in Addis Ababa and with funding from the Italian Development Cooperation, the Mountain Wilderness Italy association is planning to organize, during the months of February/March, an introductory course on trekking management in the Gheralta Mountains of Tigray.

Tigray 4

This course will be reserved to local youth of both sexes interested in acquiring the basic technical skills needed to be presented to foreign visitors as reliable naturalist, sports and historical/archaeological excursions guides. These adventurous “outdoors” activities may also include easy rock climbing using ropes and pitons

Tigray 6Mountain Wilderness has a solid and proven experience in mountaineering/hiking training, with a focus on Eco-friendly activities fully respecting the nature values, as well as the aesthetic and cultural aspects of the mountain environment. At an international level, Mountain Wilderness has managed with great success “Environment Friendly Mountaineering” courses in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
For the first time it is bringing its experience to a project in Africa.

The course will benefits from a valuable collaboration with Gheralta Lodge, SCARPA boots, FERRINO tents and slipping bags, Climbing Technology (climbing equipments), and  of the ropes grant from our  of  “Rock and Wall’s” climbing friends.

16 trainees (14 boys and 2 girls) will participate to the course, they have been selected among the youth of the region. 3 Italians instructors will be led by Carlo Alberto Pinelli, president of Mountain Wilderness Italy.

The course includes lectures in English, and practical exercises with nights in tents along routes of varying difficulty and features.

Tigray 7

Theoretical and practical lessons will focus on ecological/environmental topics, on organizing trekking, with particular attention to hygiene and nutrition, on first aid and rescue operations, on rock progression techniques and safety on difficult or dangerous routes, on the appropriate use of fixed ropes and artificial anchors, on map and kompass reading on correct and respectful relationships with local people and the rock-hewn churches clergy.

This site will provide status information as the project progress

Some interesting photos can be found here


Tigray 8Tigray 10

The Sherpa Women’s project

Posted on November 17th, 2014

Paulo Grobel, a free lance to several mountains magazines, a Mountain Wilderness International Guarantor and a fine connoisseur of the Himalayas, especially Nepal, has launched a new original project : the “Sherpa Women expedition”. In partnership with Salewa, the project was launched in 2011. For the end of this year the mountain guide has invited five Western women climbers to rope up with as many Nepalese counterparts. The goal, after learning proper mountaineering techniques, will be to climb a summit such as the Tharpu Chuli (5663 m) in alpine style, in the heart of the Annapurna Sanctuary.

The Sherpa Women expedition is a unique project combining the mountaineering and social dimensions close to Paulo Grobel’s heart.

In taking the lead of an expedition mixing western and Nepali climbers, the mountaineer who shares his time between La Grave (France) and Kathmandu is undertaking a concrete action in line with the spirit that has driven him already for a long time, especially in Nepal.

©Paulo Grobel

©Paulo Grobel

The project aims to teach and promote mountaineering techniques to Nepalese women attracted by opportunities in mountain related business. Not necessarily leading to a High Mountain Guides status, this field based learning apprenticeship (“learning by doing”, the Grobel way) is expected to bring them additional skills, upgrading their professional experience. The technical content of the learning phase will be based on UIAA and NMA education guidelines.
“This project is a drop in the ocean that will certainly not change the world, but in the macho world of Himalayan mountains and expeditions, its visibility is real. It simply shows that it is possible, that the mountain is not exclusively reserved to men, and it spurs Nepalese women to step up to their wishes for liberation” explains Paulo Grobel.
The first part of this project took place last winter but difficult weather conditions limited its possibilities. This new chapter is in its final preparation phase and will start in the coming weeks.

To carry out this learning expedition, five European women were invited to rope up with the Nepalese mountaineer students recruited in conjunction with “Everest women trek expedition”.
The goal is to foster relationships as a part of the preparation, essentially by exchanging knowledge and mountaineering techniques, and then to climb in alpine style a modest summit for the region (Tharpu Chuli, 5,663m).
“The idea is to find the right system of exchange or cooperation, where each Western climber supports a Nepalese mountaineer and where each Nepalese climber shows her country and its culture to the Western women. Mountaineering is not a trivial activity and the notion of being tied to a rope, being linked, really has a lot of meaning. Even and especially in the Himalayas. ”

©Paulo Grobel

©Paulo Grobel

The departure is in a few days and the final preparations are quietly underway.
This year the main goal is to simply learn and validate the UIAA technical content on the ground and have each participant focusing on it. For example by making sure everyone is systematically roped up on glaciers or while climbing: everyone, Nepalese and Westerners.
Almost a revolution in Nepal.
Mountain Wilderness is not directly involved in this year’s project phase, however a basic “ethical code of conduct” has been outlined jointly and will be put to test during the expedition. It will be further used during the upcoming phases of Sherpa Women by Paulo with increased support by MW.
We wish Paulo and his team plenty of success and we will report here on their adventure.
Links :
Paulo Grobel on Facebook
Paulo Grobel’s Web Page on Sherpa Women

[BM, DW]


2014 Elbrus Cleaning Expedition

Posted on November 17th, 2014

After Dhaulagiri in 2003 and Aconcagua in 2008, Breffni BOLZE, Philippe GOITSCHEL and Jean-François ROSSILLON are back from their cleaning expedition on Mount Elbrus (Russia), Europe’s highest summit, a dormant volcano.

Mount Elbrus is one of the famous 7 summits, topping the seven continents and consequently suffers from overcrowding.

About 2 tons of garbage were taken off the slopes of the mountain by the 3 guys and their Ukrainian Mountain guide Valentyn SYPAVIN during this mission organized in conjunction with Mountain Wilderness.
Cleaning the mountain was also a symbolic action to draw public attention to the need to sort and recycle daily waste.
The base camp is a vast chaos « made of » obsolete installations and outdated prefab buildings generally hosting local tourists and climbers. For decades all sort of waste has piled up there: cans, food packaging, batteries, as well as remains of abandoned infrastructure (electrical towers, barracks, engines).

The team’s presence and determination were so much noticed that they generated a spontaneous solidarity from many climbers of various nationalities and from local guides who decided to join the cleaning crew in their efforts.


















Upon their return from the Elbruz expedition the team drew a good deal of media attention, several radio interviews and a number of articles have been published. A few partners, as well as the Russian consulate of Lyon have asked for their participation to present the project in Lyon and Paris.

TREK Magazine’s reporter Anthony Nicolazzi accompanied the team and took the great photos you can watch here.

A « D_VOX production » video of the expedition was put together by Richard Bertholet.

Consistent with the team philosophy and action the expedition’s carbon footprint has been measured for compensation with Goodplanet . The money paid offsets the 11 tonnes of C02 emitted by the expedition. Goodplanet (Yann Artus foundation) finances projects for better waste management in the Southern hemisphere.

Expedition’s Facebook page
High definition photos

[BM, DW]

A petition to maintain the status of national parks in Spain

Posted on November 15th, 2014

On October 20, the group of the Popular Party in the Spanish Senate introduced, in the discussion on the draft Law on National Parks, amendment 278, which seriously threatens the protection status of National Parks.

This amendment makes the agreement of the owner mandatory in order to apply the National Park status to a parcel within the perimeter. Moreover, even if the owner approves the application of the law on National Parks to his property, he remains master in his own way to organize operations, and in particular to allow hunting, fishing or forestry. Mining or urbanization would also be possible.

Faced with this threat on the most prestigious of protected areas, a group of organizations, including Greenpeace, the Spanish Ornithological Society / BirdLife (Sociedad Española de Ornitologia) and the World Wildlife Fund, have launched a petition requesting the withdrawal of the amendment. This petition has received the support of Mountain Wilderness Spain, whose members are concerned about its possible application to the eleven mountain National Parks in Spain.

Spain has fifteen National Parks, whose area represents 1% of the country.



Posted on November 14th, 2014

** Click on CC for english caption **

Sunday, October 19, together with Mountain Wilderness, young climbers and mountain guides have carried up at the heart of the Mont-Blanc, at 3400m on the glacier of the Col du Geant a strong requirement to end the nuisance caused by the motorized recreational aviation in this paradise of beauty and silence! They have drawn with very large, but short leaving, letters a requirement widely shared:  “! SILENCE”

In our highly urbanized European countries, territories where men can still experience the “sound of silence” are very rare. This unique gift that the mountain gives us must be respected in Mont Blanc as it must be in all high elevation areas!

Institutional organizations grouped under the Espace Mont-Blanc label are currently developing a “Strategy for the Future”, they should embrace an ambitious objective aiming at radically reducing the tourist flights pollution in respect of our beautiful high mountains, such as Mont-Blanc!

– To reaffirm that Mont Blanc deserves to be protected
– To encourage the “future strategy” of “Espace Mont-Blanc” and especially the “airspace” component
– To ask for an rapid implementation of a harmonized, cross-border regulation of the range overflights.


© Mountain Wilderness International