Mr. Peillex indeed justified his decree by claiming that Mont Blanc is no longer a wild place, but as a destination for crowds of tourists and guides, an “urban space of commerce.” The mayor would have us believe that the meandering contours of Mont Blanc’s upper snowfields and wildflower-strewn buttes are now conterminous with weed-strewn sidewalks and traffic lights.
What his decree accomplishes is the mitigation of risk through behavior modification, not the diminution of hazards on the peak. It is but another version of “protecting us from ourselves.” And while the French have a different system of risk assumption and litigation, the situation on Mont Blanc may be a harbinger for mountain climbing in America’s national parks.
In the United States, climbing mountains is quickly becoming this generation’s family trip to the baseball stadium. There has been an exponential increase in traffic on mountains here: In 1852, four climbers attempted Mount Rainier; in 1960 it was 712; and in 2016 it was nearly 11,000. It is only a matter of time before the same conversation crosses the Atlantic and into our policy boardrooms.
Recently, I spoke with Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, whose boundaries contain some of Colorado’s deadliest mountains, about what could potentially force the United States to adopt similar measures. Mr. Fitzwilliams didn’t miss a beat: “The lawyers,” he said.
Mr. Fitzwilliams is an ardent supporter of keeping the wild wild, but he is well aware that if the Forest Service becomes increasingly responsible for fatalities on mountains, they will have to act to mitigate such risks — and since more and more individuals are heading into the mountains for self-discovery and the peculiar breed of ecstasy the mountains provide, injuries and deaths are also increasing.
The political response in Colorado has been predictable. Local sheriffs and senators and…