I've guided walking groups on the Tour du Mont Blanc on several occasions this summer. A question keeps coming up in my head, “Is this sustainable”?
The number of individuals and groups walking the Tour du Mont Blanc is enormous. I have heard the figure of 10,000 over a summer season. It is difficult, perhaps almost impossible, to find solitude.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a great walk, deservedly so, taking in three countries, France, Italy and Switzerland as it makes its way around the Mont Blanc massif (mountain range). However there are a great many other walks in the Alps both in France, Switzerland and Italy. In my view the Tour du Mont Blanc has become a “bucket list” item. An item to “tick off”, to be bragged about at the dinner table.
The pressure on the Tour du Mont Blanc has been added to by the increasing popularity of mountain bikes or VTT to the mix. The Tour du Mont Blanc started life as a long-distance walking route. The erosion of so many people is clear to see. However, in my view, mountain bikes erode fragile ground at a vastly increased rate. Why, mountain bike tyres create linear “grooves” particularly in damp ground or mud. Ground water or rain then naturally follows the resulting groove carrying away soil and other material. I've seen the grooves cut into the ground by just one or two mountain bikes to see the effect. Mountain bikes tend to want to ride in straightlines downhill frequently taking short-cuts rather than zig-zagging. This also exacerbates erosion. I always educate my clients to avoid taking short-cuts for this reason. The co-existence of mountain bikers and walkers is another matter. I've come across very considerate riders; often with a mountain bike guide and those who feel “might is right” and expect walkers to jump out of the way. What happened to the old etiquette in the mountains of giving way to those walking up?
Trail running is now big business. The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) has become enormous and trail running itself highly fashionable. In 2016 there are 2300 participants on just the UTMB. It is interesting to see how the big brands have latched on to this event. I've run in the mountains in my younger days for pleasure and enjoy the liberating feeling of moving fast in the mountains. However I feel that the mountains are demeaned by becoming a “running track”. Mountains, for me, are to be savoured and not to become a competitive arena.