Switzerland closed the Matterhorn, its iconic 14,692-foot (4,478-meter) mountain, to all climbers on Tuesday, the 150th anniversary of its first ascent. The closure was a memorial to the nearly 600 people who have died while climbing the mountain. In the past decade about a dozen people have perished each year attempting to do so. Overcrowding on the peak has become a safety and environmental problem in recent years, and Tuesday’s commemoration coincided with the first steps to ease the strain on the mountain and climbers.
The Hörnli hut (which most of the roughly 3,000 people who have climbed the Matterhorn in each of the last few years use as base camp at 10,695 feet) was re-inaugurated on Tuesday to be more environmentally sustainable. It now features solar power, an eco-friendly water and waste management system, and 130 beds, 40 fewer than the shelter had previously. (Twenty of those beds will be reserved for hikers who have no intention of going to the mountain’s summit.) And since human waste from campers near the Hörnli hut was ruining the mountain’s water supply, camping is now banned outside it. The result will be about 500 to 1,000 fewer climbers on the summit per year, which should also improve safety.
Swiss tourism is forecast to rise 5.7% annually, from around 8 million foreign arrivals in 2014 to over 13 million in 2024, so more environmental restrictions are likely elsewhere. The New York Times writes:
Overcrowding on the Alps’ most popular peaks in high season has long been an issue. Permits aren’t required to climb mountains in Europe, and guides and local authorities have struggled with how to regulate the crowds. Two years ago, the Goûter hut on Mont Blanc banned camping on its grounds in an effort to reduce numbers on the mountain, but the Hörnli hut is the first mountain shelter in Europe to limit beds.
Encouragingly, cleanup campaigns are gaining popularity in summertime on Swiss ski resorts. Initiated by the non-profit Summit Foundation in 2001, Switzerland’s “mountain-cleaning days” have gathered momentum in recent years. The number of events has increased from around 20 in 2009, when the organization launched a national campaign, to an expected 50 this year. Some events attract up to 200 people, and each volunteer collects an average of 11 pounds of trash.
These are all steps in the right direction for Switzerland to preserve its Alpine beauty.