Monday, May 21, 2007

Outing the fake mountain guides

Climbing Mont Blanc has become the ambition of many a visitor to Chamonix, and for two polish alpinists that was exactly what they planned to do. However, their recent attempt at the summit saw their dream in tatters as a result of the �mountain guide� they had hired to accompany them. Having searched for a guide on the internet, they found someone, also polish, and paid him nearly �1500 for his services. Unfortunately it turned out that their �guide� was nothing more than a con-man who ended up abandoning his two exhausted clients near the Refuge de Tete Rousse (3167m), leaving them to make their own way to the refuge in more than a metre of fresh snow! Luckily this story did not end in tragedy as the climbers were able to alert the rescue services from the refuge and were taken to safety.

It seems that there is a growing problem with the number of fake "mountain guides" that are operating the Mont Blanc Region. But it is very hard to track these people down. In the example above, if this guy had been professional with his clients from the beginning, who would ever have known that an unqualified guide had been working in the region? Invariably they blend into the community of genuine guides that work in the area and if questioned by the authorities, they can often justify their presence in France with a genuine contract of employment. However, current legislation states that only those in possession of a valid diploma are allowed to guide groups in the mountains and anyone who voluntarily acts as a guide can be held responsible for any accidents that occur in their group.

However, it�s important not to tar everyone with the same brush as there are many genuine businesses in the area that offer all inclusive packages or guiding services where you will be in the company of a fully qualified mountain professional. The problem seems to be stemming from parties that are not established locally, IE do not have specific accommodations advertised or booked and transport guests in their own personal vehicles. It�s understandable that the professional mountain guides in the area want something done about these impostors, as they spend years and considerable expense, training and being assessed to stringent skill and safety standards before they are awarded their guides medal. The PGHM is also angry at the increase in unqualified guides as they are the ones who pick up the pieces of expeditions that go wrong.

Whilst controls in France have increased in recent years with the co-ordinated efforts of the police and work inspectors; monitoring the problem in an area as large as the Mont Blanc massif is an immense task, but certainly one that will be the centre of attention in the near future.

The polish �guide� from this report was apprehended by the authorities and is due to stand trial next month for fraudulently posing as a professional mountain guide.