Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2021-128
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2021-128

  27 Apr 2021

27 Apr 2021

Review status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal NHESS.

Rockfall and vulnerability of mountaineers on the west face of the Aiguille du Goûter (classic route up Mont Blanc, France), an interdisciplinary study

Jacques Mourey1,2, Pascal Lacroix3, Pierre-Allain Duvillard1,4, Guilhem Marsy1,5,6, Marco Marcer7, Ludovic Ravanel1, and Emmanuel Malet1 Jacques Mourey et al.
  • 1EDYTEM, Savoie Mont-Blanc University, CNRS, 73000 Chambéry, France
  • 2Interdisciplinary Centre for Mountain Research, University of Lausanne, Ch. de l'Institut 18, CH-1967 Bramois, Switzerland
  • 3ISTerre, IRD-CNRS-OSUG, Grenoble Alpes University, 38400 Saint-Martin-d’Hères, France.
  • 4Styx 4D, 73 370 Le Bourget du Lac, France
  • 5LISTIC, Savoie Mont-Blanc University, Polytech Annecy-Chambéry, France
  • 6TENEVIA, 38240 Meylan, France
  • 7PACTE, Grenoble Alpes University, Alpine Geography institute, CNRS, 38041 Grenoble, France

Abstract. In high alpine environments, climate change leads to an increase in rockfall destabilizations. They represent a threat for sports and tourism activities in high mountain and especially for mountaineering. This danger of rockfall is particularly important on the classic route up Mont Blanc (4,809 m a.s.l., Mont Blanc massif, France), on the west face of the Aiguille du Goûter (3,863 m a.s.l.), and is responsible for at least 29 % of the accidents that occur in this sector. Despite the intensity of the geomorphological processes at work and the vulnerability of climbers, few scientific studies have been carried out on the occurrence of rockfalls and their triggering factors in the Goûter area. Based on a multi-method monitoring system (5 seismic sensors, an automatic digital camera, 3 subsurface temperature sensors, a pyroelectric sensor, a high-resolution topographical survey, 2 weather stations and a rain gauge) the objective of our study is therefore to quantitatively document the occurrence of rockfalls and their triggering factors in the Grand Couloir du Goûter in order to better assess the vulnerability of mountaineers in this sector. Our results show that in the high-Alpine and permafrost-affected Aiguille du Goûter west face, rockfalls are mostly frequent during the snowmelt period which favors the action of thermo-mechanical processes linked to the infiltration of liquid water into the cracks of the rock. During periods when the couloir is completely clear of snow, rockfalls are 2.5 times less frequent, and the thermo-mechanical processes involved in the rockfall triggering are limited by the absence of moisture in the ground. These results also show that climbers' awareness of the risk of rockfalls remains limited. What’s more, they do not adapt – or only slightly – their behavior to this risk, despite a particularly high accident rate. Important work on prevention and dissemination of the knowledge here acquired (newsletters, training for professionals and amateurs, awareness campaigns) among mountaineers is therefore still really necessary.

Jacques Mourey et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on nhess-2021-128', Anonymous Referee #1, 12 May 2021
    • CC1: 'Reply on RC1', Jacques Mourey, 09 Jun 2021
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Jacques Mourey, 10 Jun 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on nhess-2021-128', Anonymous Referee #2, 24 May 2021
    • CC2: 'Reply on RC2', Jacques Mourey, 09 Jun 2021
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Jacques Mourey, 10 Jun 2021

Jacques Mourey et al.

Jacques Mourey et al.

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Short summary
Climate change leads to more intense rockfalls in high alpine environments which are therefore a growing threat for mountaineers. This danger is particularly important on the classic route up Mont Blanc. Our results show that rockfalls are mostly frequent during the snowmelt period and that mountaineers do not adapt to the risk of rockfall when planning their ascent. Prevention and dissemination among mountaineers of the knowledge here acquired is therefore still really necessary.
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