Young mountains are stronger than old mountains

Garbage and the masses: do we have to protect the mountains better?

The road to Mount Everest is paved with rubbish and corpses. Mountaineers drag whirlpools up to Mont Blanc for a selfie. The Bavarian Königssee becomes a meeting point for influencers. The mountains are suffering from the onslaught of the masses - how can we better protect them?

The mountains - long a myth, home of dragons, dwarves and other mythical creatures. A dangerous place where humans do not belong, most of the peaks have long been considered unconquerable.

And today? Snakes form on Mount Everest, a Nepalese climbs all eight-thousanders in the world in just six months and six days. The Briton Matthew Paul Disney recently towed a rowing machine up Mont Blanc - for a PR gag. Has the myth of the mountain turned into a marketing platform? What are the consequences?

That Briton finally brought Jean-Marc Peilex, Mayor of Saint Gervais at the foot of Mont Blanc, the media attention he has been fighting for for years. He wrote an open letter asking President Emmanuel Macron not to make the highest of all mountains in Europe freely accessible to everyone. Since then, television teams have been coming to Saint Gervais, all wanting an interview with Peilex. And he can tell - about Mont Blanc as a blessing for his place, but also as a curse.

Mont Blanc - when the whirlpool has to take you to the top

The granite monster in the French Alps is a dream of many alpinists. Sudden weather changes, 4810 meters altitude, snow and ice make the ascent a risk. It is one of the Seven Summits, those seven peaks that are considered a special challenge for passionate, experienced alpinists. But it is also the only one of the seven that is freely accessible to everyone - that puts the mountain and especially the people in danger.

Because: Mountaineering is trendy - and often more of an event than a serious challenge. Many people depend on the selfie at the summit, which can be posted on social networks, complains Mayor Peilex. And this hunt for likes sometimes takes on bizarre features: Said rowing machine remained - stored in a hut - on the mountain. The Brit claims he had to cancel the tour because of the weather. Peilex says he has slacked and wants to charge him for the salvage of the rowing machine.

It is not the experience of standing on the highest peak in Europe that attracts many mountaineers, but the attention they hope for. One group dragged an inflatable whirlpool to the top to post a selfie, another shot a music video - with a guitar and double bass. When an American and his two children were almost swept away by an avalanche at the age of nine and eleven, he justified himself against the public criticism: he only wanted to break the world record of the youngest climber on the summit.

Faster Higher Further. And if that doesn't work, there are still the French mountain rescue helicopters - and their operations are in principle free of charge for the rescued, according to the French law. For a long time the reason and experience of those who dared to climb a mountain like Mont Blanc was trusted. In the past there were incidents every four to five years, today there are ten to twenty a year, Peilex told ZDF. This is another reason why he and the mountain guides on Mont Blanc are calling for more regulations on the part of the state.

The Matterhorn - a myth that cost 500 lives

What Mont Blanc is to France, the Matterhorn is to Switzerland. 4,478 tapering meters of solid rock, covered with snow and ice all year round, inspire fear and respect - but also awaken the dream of standing up there for once. The summiteers' lust for fame is a tradition there: In 1865, the British Edward Whymper and an Italian rope team competed for the first ascent, reports indicate that Whymper is said to have left the rope team for the last few meters and ran to be the first person to climb to stand at the top.

However, only three of the seven first climbers earned the fame. The others fell to their deaths on the descent and thus form the prelude to tragic events that are increasingly becoming part of everyday life: 2500 to 3000 mountaineers try their hand at the summit every season, over 500 people have lost their lives since Whymper's summit sprint. The rescue helicopter flies to the Matterhorn about 80 times a year.

Often the mountaineers are not well equipped, often there is a lack of experience or the right accompaniment: Although experts recommend not to make the ascent without a mountain guide, many still dare - even the supposedly easiest way to the summit, over the Hörnligrat is in the rock labyrinth of the mountain difficult to find. If you miss the start, it is easy to get lost and lose time. If you still want to get to the summit, you can easily find yourself in a weather change or in the dark.

But the sheer mass of mountaineers also harbors dangers - if the paths of descending and ascending rope teams cross at exposed points in the mountain, it can be dangerous. However, this can hardly be avoided if the conditions are perfect, up to 200 mountaineers try their luck in one day.

Mount Everest - every summiteer has to bring eight kilograms of rubbish back with them

He is the king of all mountains, the highest point a person can stand on this earth: at 8,848 meters. First up in 1953 were Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The true Everest boom from the 1980s onwards is also thanks to mountaineering icons such as Reinhold Messner, who was the first to reach the summit without oxygen and who made the Everest dream popular: In the first 27 years after the first ascent, 99 people did made the ascent, in 1993 more than a hundred climbers dared for the first time in a year. In the record season of 2007, 604 climbers made it to the top.

The commercial mass ascent has its price: eleven people died on the highest mountain in the world in April and May of this year alone. The bodies of around 300 casualties were not recovered - together with tons of rubbish, they are impressive witnesses of human presence in a place that could hardly be more hostile to life. An organization of Tibetan mountaineers is trying to at least contain the extent: in 2018 they removed almost ten tons of rubbish from the mountain. Broken tents, gas coffins, human excrement - what has become useless is left behind, every gram in the backpack turns into a kilo on the mountain.

But the authorities react, also because images of long queues scratch the reputation of the great mystery of Everest. The base camp for tourists was relocated a few kilometers for ecological reasons, and the number of summit climbs per year was limited to 300. For several years now, mountaineers have had to take their rubbish with them: If they arrive safely at the foot of the mountain, they have to carry at least eight kilograms of rubbish with them - otherwise they face a fine. Also new is the garbage fee of $ 1,500 per adventurer.

Königsbachfall - deadly Instagram hotspot

There are similar problems - albeit in completely different dimensions - in Germany. "We tend to have the hut problem here," says Thomas Bucher, press spokesman for the German Alpine Club, and says: Many mountaineers simply leave their rubbish lying around the mountain huts. There are often no rubbish bins there, the hut operators would have to dispose of all guests' rubbish independently; a garbage collection does not drive through the Alps. “That's why people literally hide their rubbish in the huts,” complains Bucher. Overall, however, less rubbish is left behind in the mountains, despite the increasing number of visitors: "People have understood how beautiful and therefore also worth protecting our nature."

Many mountain lovers have not yet understood how dangerous it can be. Since 2006, the number of annual rescue missions by the Bavarian mountain rescue service has more than doubled in summer. Roland Ampenberger, head of the Bergwacht-Zentrum, sees this in terms of two factors in particular: The number of climbers, but above all their need for help, has increased: “The range has simply become much larger: we have old people, children, even strollers in the mountains. We notice that during our operations. "

The fame that comes with climbing the summit has always been part of mountaineering, says Ampenberger. Nevertheless, there are Bavarian parallels to the crazy hunt for media attention on Everest or Mont Blanc. For a great photo on Instagram, many dare more than they should. A prime example of this: the Königsbachfall in Upper Bavaria. It is relatively easy to get to and offers a scenic view of the Königssee. Under the Hastag # Königsbachfall, influencers post photos of themselves in the pool below the waterfall. Hundreds of users like the posts - if you can see some bare skin, more likely thousands.

The consequences can be dramatic: In April 2019, two 21-year-old tourists from Bautzen died at the Königsbachfall Instagram hotspot. Especially in spring this can be very dangerous, meltwater from the mountains shoots into the pools and forms a water roll - once caught in it, there is almost no escape.

Schrecksee - party location at 1813 meters

Around 300 kilometers to the west, in the Allgäu High Alps nature reserve, the Schrecksee is struggling with similar problems. Located at 1,813 meters above sea level, there is only one demanding ascent to the top. But party-goers are happy to accept that in order to transform the mountain lake into a party location. On mild summer nights, up to 80 people camp right on the banks, sound systems that you have brought with you and campfires that are meters high create a festival atmosphere.

Since such pictures had spread on Instagram, people from all over Germany, but also from abroad, have been traveling to celebrate a night in the Allgäu.

And whoever celebrates leaves traces. Conservationists complain about the masses of packaging and bottles left behind, the necessities of the celebrants are distributed all around the lake. That is why the alpine police take tough action: Anyone caught camping in the wild at Schrecksee will pay a fine of 300 to 500 euros.

A tour of the lake costs the officers a full working day. However, nature conservation does not seem to work in any other way in the German Alps: leaflets with information on nature conservation around the Schrecksee fizzled out ineffectively.