A tunnel for the Gouter couloir

Anyone who has climbed to the summit of Mont Blanc from St Gervais will know that crossing the Goûter couloir is a game of Russian roulette. You look up the couloir at the same time listening for stone fall. If all is quiet you have about five seconds to cross the death zone at the same time clinging to a suspended rope to avoid slipping. It is not a place for the faint hearted and has been the scene of a number of dramas over the years.

Dome du Goûter

With 35,000 climbers a year attempting Mont Blanc it is one of the busiest mountains in the world. Security and access are major issues. The couloir du Goûter is situated between the Tête-Rousse refuge (74 places, 3 167 m) the Goûter refuge (100 places, 3 817 m - currently being rebuilt). 40,000 people cross the couloir each year and even after crossing there is still a difficult and exposed scramble to the Goûter refuge. On average rockfall occurs every 5 minutes during the day. Over the last 9 years the couloir has seen 121 accidents and 27 deaths. Nearly half the accidents and 6 deaths occurred during the heatwave summer of 2003. The route was finally closed by the government for the rest of the season.

Petzl foundation have carried out a detail survey on the ground and produced a report on how to improve security in the couloir. The idea is not to make access easier, which would increase the dangers to inexperienced walkers, but to limit the exposure to objective dangers which have been the cause of many accidents. Petzl point out that a number of similar measures have already been taken: cables at the summit of the arête du Goûter as well as indicators leading to the dôme du Goûter.

The study has considered four solutions:
i. purging and securing the couloir
ii. netting and concrete protections
iii. a tunnel
iv. a bridge

Proposed tunnel site

After consultations in January local guides noted the presence of 50 tonne blocks at the head of the couloir. These present a risk for any bridge less than 35 meters high. This would not be in keeping with the nature of the site. Petzl is therefore seriously looking at the fourth option, the construction of a 2 meter tunnel up to 180 meters long. This would be accessible both in the summer and winter seasons as it would be protected from avalanches. However even the shortest route of 107 meters would still cost over 800,000 euros.


Posted by on Friday, 22 April, 2011 at 06:43 AM

It will be a sad day when this happens. Personally I feel that if You want to do Mont Blanc, You need to work for it, it’s not a pedestrian tour. It’s the same when You think about Mont Everest, it’s sad when You hear about people almost being carried up by local guides. They have done nothing themselves, except spending a lot of money.

Posted by  on  Tuesday, 10 May, 2011  at 12:04 PM

I have to agree, a sad day indeed.

Posted by  on  Wednesday, 11 May, 2011  at 02:57 PM

I agree… leave the mountain alone… they will be putting a cable car to the summit next

Posted by  on  Sunday, 05 June, 2011  at 02:03 PM

I actually disagree.  There’s a difference between making a route easier and trying to minimize a particular objective hazard.  Everybody accepts an amount of risk climbing but the Gouter Couloir is a shooting gallery - you can do everything carefully and still get hit by rockfall.  And honestly we’re not talking about defiling a wilderness climb.  Mt Blanc is serviced by numerous huts etc.  This is a trade route frequented by families with kids.  To say nothing of the risk to mountain guides who have to cross the gully several times a week…

Posted by W Barker on  Saturday, 25 June, 2011  at 03:25 PM

I disagree with the tunnel for a plethora of reasons:

Many of the accidents occur higher up the ridge by people stopping for food and rest in poor places - a tunnel would not prevent this.

You minimize hazards by waiting for the mountains to be in condition -frozen hard. wearing helmets, by being acclimatised and appointing listeners and watchers not by making tunnels

The tunnel will be used as bivi site and toilet.

I am a guide but the interests of guides should not dictate what happens. If you don’t like the risk dont go there.

As for the argument about huts...well in my heart they should be got rid of aswell.

Posted by  on  Friday, 05 August, 2011  at 01:54 PM
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