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The Great Outdoors

Legendary Mountaineer Christophe Profit On Trial For Removing Safety Equipment On Mont Blanc

2:37 PM EDT on April 28, 2023

French mountaineer Christophe Profit climbs on the south face of the Rebuffat Peak on the Aiguille du Midi mountain (3 842 m) in the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps, on June 2, 2016, during the reconstitution of Gaston Rebuffat and Maurice Baquet's first ascent of the south face of the Aiguille du Midi on July 13, 1956. / AFP / JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT (Photo credit should read JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/AFP via Getty Images)
JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/Getty Images

Christophe Profit is an iconic figure in his sport, notching many important alpinism firsts, solos, and winter ascents across the Alps and Himalayas. Perhaps more importantly for our purposes, though, the thing to know about Profit is that he also toes the line between purist and crank in the most French way possible. Profit currently faces criminal charges in the Haute-Savoie department and a potential €4,000 fine for mountaineering safety crimes he committed last summer when he removed several iron stakes meant to make the Goûter Route up Mont Blanc safer after melting ice opened up several dangerous crevasses.

Since mountaineers began to rig dangerous routes with equipment to make ascents safer, a debate has simmered in the community about the legitimacy of such engineering. Should alpinism be made as safe and accessible as possible, or is festooning mountains with stakes and other safety equipment an affront to the exploratory nature of climbing a big mountain? The line between basic safety equipment and an overtuned bit of engineering that makes a climb into a cakewalk is necessarily a blurry one, since any climb besides Alex Honnold's free solo of El Capitan is one that uses some amount of safety equipment. In 2012, American climber Hayden Kennedy infamously removed 400 bolts on Patagonia's Cerro Torre, bolts that were installed in the 1970s by Italian Cesare Maestri and that made the previously difficult route into a ladder.

Unlike many such early-stage criminal cases, there's no need for an "alleged" here, as Profit boldly emailed the local mayor to tell him what he did shortly after he removed the stakes. To Profit, derigging the mountain is an explicitly political act. "I removed these stakes to prevent amateur mountaineers without experience from taking unnecessary risks, when there was a possible alternative route," Profit said to a judge, per French outlet 20minutes. He was worried that the Goûter Route would be as clogged as Everest was in 2019, full of people paying to essentially hike up the mountain.

Mayor Jean-Marc Peillex of Saint-Gervais, whom you may remember from demanding foolish climbers pay for funeral and search-and-rescue costs in advance of unsafe summer ascents of Mont Blanc, was incensed. "Security is essential, especially when there are more and more people in nature. Me, I did my job, I did what the guides asked of me and it is not because we secure a place with a crevasse 16 meters high that we increase attendance. We are improving security," Peillex said in a statement. He decried Profit's "elitist vision of the mountain."

Ultimately I find Profit's vague, theoretical outlay sympathetic to an extremely limited degree, as he's more or less arguing for a mountain that is going to kill some climbers. The notion that a mountain is a mountain and should not be made into one of those moving walkways at the airport so any rich asshole can sashay from the couch to the summit of Mt. Everest is entirely agreeable, but there's a huge difference between what Kennedy did and what Profit did. It's not a slippery slope at all.

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