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It’s the kind of operation that ideally would not exist – an appealing paradox, for sure! But every year, the more we clean the Mer de Glace, the less litter there’ll be for future teams. And that’s a good thing! The ice will doubtless keep on disgorging its waste, but, as we observed at the most recent edition of the Outdoor Cleaning Program run by Lafuma in early September, there is less to pick up on the world’s best-known glacier.
I thought it would be much dirtier”
Whole or fragmented cables, broken glass, food tins, bits of wood – these are the most common sorts of rubbish that surface on the tongue of the Mer de Glace. “I thought it would be much dirtier,” said Catherine Ernoult, who was invited to take part and delighted to help with this collective endeavour. “There was rubbish to collect, but I was expecting to see an open-air dustbin – so I was pleasantly surprised! I think it was the impact of previous sessions.”
you just needed to bend down to discover all the souvenirs left by mountaineers and skiers in years gone by.”
After the train-ride up to the Gare du Montenvers, and then continuing on foot in unseasonally warm weather, you just needed to bend down to discover all the souvenirs left by mountaineers and skiers in years gone by (including a Swiss passport!).
" I found a rusty corkscrew, but it’s mostly glass, lots of bits of glass, and drink cans,” says Isabelle, a member of event partner Mountain Riders, an environmental non-profit. “I saw some people find big stuff, but I only saw drink cans, bottle tops, and a few bits of plastic."
In partnership with the French Alpine Club (CAF), Chamonix Town Council, leisure operator UCPA, ski-area operator Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, and Mountain Riders, “they pick up about two tons of waste which is then gathered in big bags and winched away by helicopter”, explains Renaud Menozzi, Lafuma brand manager.
Every year, hunched over like gold panners, a hundred volunteers clear pieces of rubbish large and small from the glacier’s surface – a painstaking task, as they edge forward step by step. Granted, these are modest actions – like the Amerindian tale of the hummingbird fighting a forest fire with drops of water – but when joined together with others, they make the ice cleaner.
Equipped with bags and gloves, the members of the group quickly scattered across the glacier. On this day (2 September) the light was particularly beautiful, crisply outlining the surrounding peaks and rock faces. In one spot, Thibault was slipping a length of cable, a relic of an old construction job, into his plastic bag. Nearby, Anthony had found an intact metal Head ski, with its binding! A handsome trophy that summed up the sheer variety of objects abandoned by our predecessors out in the mountain wilds. Further on, Stéphane was amazed at the “billions of little bits of glass everywhere. You can’t take a step without seeing one! Someone told me that, back in the old days, refuge staff simply threw their empty bottles into the glacier!”.
After gathering the rubbish at a pick-up point for the helicopter, everyone headed back down into town, delighted to have actually found so little garbage this year. “I think we’re starting to see a reality check,” reckons Alexandre Gallier, a volunteer for the WaterTrek foundation. “People are now far more careful about not discarding their litter in the wild.” And the lesson of these clean-up days is that acts, whether positive or polluting, always have consequences.
I think we’re starting to see a reality check”
Interviews by Guillaume Desmurs