Low snow cover and glaciers melting at an alarming rate amid sweltering heat waves across Europe have banned some of the more classic alpine hiking routes.
Usually, in the height of summer, tourists flock to the Alps and seek out the beaten path to some of Europe’s most iconic peaks.
But with warmer temperatures accelerating the melting of glaciers and the melting of permafrost, which scientists say are driven by climate change, routes that are generally safe at this time of year now face dangers such as falling rocks freed from ice.
“Currently in the Alps, there are warnings for a dozen peaks, including emblematic ones like the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc,” said Pierre Mathey, president of the Swiss association of high mountain guides. AFP.
Read also | Glacier tragedy shows reach of Europe’s new heat
This is happening much earlier in the season than normal, he said.
“Usually we see such shutdowns in August, but now they started at the end of June and continue into July.”
Alpine guides who usually lead thousands of hikers to Europe’s highest peak announced earlier this week that they would suspend ascents on the most classic routes of Mont Blanc, which straddles France, Italy and Italy. Swiss.
The Guide Alpine Italiane indicated on its Facebook page that the “particularly delicate conditions” caused by the peak in temperature forced to “delay the ascents”.
Mountain guides have also refrained, reportedly for the first time in a century, from offering tours on the classic route to the top of the Jungfrau in Switzerland.
Read also | The 2022 “Person of the Year” is… climate change
And they advised against tours along the routes on the Italian and Swiss sides of the towering pyramid-shaped Matterhorn peak.
Ezio Marlier, president of the Valle d’Aosta guides association, said having to avoid the routes most coveted by tourists was a blow after the Covid downturns.
“It’s not easy…after two almost empty seasons to decide to stop working,” he said. AFP.
He pointed out that Italy’s Alpine region had only closed two and that there were plenty of other breathtaking and safe routes to take.
But he lamented that many people simply canceled their trips when they learned their preferred route was off limits.
“There are a lot of other things to do, but usually when people want Mont Blanc, they want Mont Blanc.”
Climbing some of the thousands of glaciers that dot Europe’s largest mountain range is also trickier.
Read also | Climate change: you ain’t seen nothing yet!
“The glaciers are in a state they usually are in late summer or even later,” said Andreas Linsbauer, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich.
“It is certain that we will beat the record of negative melts”, he declared. AFP.
He said a combination of factors were contributing to a “really extreme” summer, starting with unusually low snowfall last winter, which meant there was less to protect the glaciers.
Sand also erupted from the Sahara earlier this year, darkening the snow, causing it to melt faster.
And then the first heat wave hit Europe in May, followed by subsequent ones in June and July, sending temperatures soaring even at high altitudes.
Rapid melting can make glaciers more dangerous, as seen with the sudden collapse of the seemingly harmless Marmolada glacier in Italy earlier this month, which killed 11 people as ice and rock tumbled down the Mountain.
Although scientists have yet to come to any clear conclusions about what caused the disaster, one theory is that the meltwater may have reached the point where the glacier froze to bedrock, loosening its grip.
Mylène Jacquemart, a glacier and mountain risk researcher at ETH Zurich, said AFP there were many unknowns about the disaster.
“But the general theme is definitely that more meltwater…makes things complicated and potentially more dangerous.”
Mathey, who said warmer temperatures had put mountain guides on high alert, also expressed concern that meltwater filtering under a glacier posed an “additional, invisible threat”.
But despite the challenges, he said he was confident the guides would find solutions, seeking alternative routes to continue showing the Alpine splendours.
“Resilience is really in the DNA of mountain guides,” as is adaptability, he said.
“Man must adapt to nature and the mountains, and not the other way around.”