Unqualified guide in fatal accident

Amongst the many missions flown by the PGHM based in Chamonix on the 11th July was the recovery of the body of a Polish climber killed after falling in the couloir du Goûter. The Goûter is the normal route to the summit of Mont Blanc from St Gervais. The climber, aged in his thirties, was leading a group of three Australians at the time of the accident.

A geologist by profession he was qualified to guide in Poland but did not have the international qualification necessary to work on Mont Blanc. His colleague, who was with the group, was arrested and faces a one year prison sentence and up to 15,000 euros fine.

The case has relaunched the debate about unqualified mountain guides, and access to the Mont Blanc in general. With 20,000 to 30,000 people attempting the summit of le Mont Blanc every year it is impossible for the authorities to control all the groups. Jean-Marc Peillex, the mayor of St Gervais has proposed a “climbing permit” for the summit similar to those issued in American national parks. The climbing and guiding community is against this idea. Peillex has said the summit has become Disney World with townies treating the peak like a day trip, “the door is open to every excess”. However Peillex has been criticised by environmental groups such as Mountain Wilderness who claim that closing the final stage of the Mont Blanc Tramway (it was completely refurbished in 2005) would considerably reduce the pressure on the route.

An investigation by the police discovered that the man was employed by a travel agency to guide the group to the summit. Of the three recent cases of unqualified guides on Mont Blanc the other two have been operating on a casual basis. Eric Favret, head of the Chamonix guides office, says the travel agency should have checked the guide’s qualifications more closely.

More typical is the case last February when the Chamonix police arrested a French national accompanying clients on a ski tour after a guide became suspicious. The man was in possession of a French guide’s badge which he claims “to have found”. During the police interview the fake guide said he had worked for 15 years without incident. He had been organising trips via the website: On Va Sortir (OVS - http://www.onvasortir.com). Popular with his charges he recounted yarns of his time as a helicopter rescue pilot or how he had survived 40 minutes under an avalanche. He had even written an autobiography of his life as a guide. However some member of OVS had their doubts, they claimed that his equipment was poor, groups were too big, he had trouble reading a map and route choice was poor.

Nicolas Thiebault, who trains specialist police units in Chamonix, says that the summit of Mont Blanc is too much of a focus for tourists and has become consumer product. He doesn’t believe controls on groups would be effective and thinks that when climbers are on the mountain it is a bit late. “The time to act is before people come here by making people more aware”.

A directory of qualified French guides can be found on the SNGM website:

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Posted by davidof on Friday, 23 July, 2010 at 12:04 AM

A directory of qualified British guides can be found at http://www.bmg.org.uk/index.php/eng/Members

Posted by Andy Perkins on  Saturday, 24 July, 2010  at 08:19 AM

In the USA most guides I meet, and I meet alot, have very little mountain time, they all seem to come from places with no mountains what so ever.  They have little practical experience, many only have taken a top-rope and medical course, and then they can call themselves guides.  Then general public only knows that a business is introducing them as a ‘guide’, and the public knows nothing of the requirements of hanging the word guide around ones title.

Posted by  on  Thursday, 07 October, 2010  at 03:44 PM

Because of unqualified guides, many accidents occur. Government should try to pay more attention on this. And should fire off such guides.

Posted by  on  Tuesday, 19 April, 2011  at 12:31 PM

Hi… Guide is a guide, papers do not save lives, but brains. As we all know, Col du Gouter is a random seed generator, having nothing to do with qualifications… Fact that the it was guide that was killed, not a client – should proove nothing, but that he was risking his life for his clients and most likely – saved their lives. And hay, i would never go places i knew i’d need a guide to help me out – due to “YOu’re on YOur own” YOYO rule.

r.i.p. for the good man.

Posted by polish_climber on  Friday, 08 July, 2011  at 01:36 PM
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