Looking suspiciously like the lair of a supervillain, Refuge du Gouter happens to be a self sufficient hut that sits atop the top of Mont Blanc, which just adds to its villain lair credentials. On the other hand, this reminds us how far technology has come, that the highest peak in Europe has not only been conquered, it is now playing host to people who might decide to stay there.
The self-sufficient hut makes use of thermal solar panels at its base to get clean, hot water from the melting snow, while photovoltaic panels on the roof and facade provide electricity in the hut. Wood for the construction of Refuge du Gouter was sourced from a nearby forest, while other modules like aluminum sheets and photovoltaic cells werepre-fabricated and transported to the site, and assembling them there. To handle wind speeds that can go beyond 300 km/h, the structure has extremely strong foundations with 69 pilings going an average of 12 meters into hard rock.
It can accommodate 120 people across four levels, providing dormitories, cloak room, foyer, store and an “engine” room. The ovoid shaped hut is mentioned several times to be self-sufficient and with low environmental impact. But when you’re building something this huge on Mont Blanc, how environmentally friendly can you get?
Scaling mountains isn’t as forbidding and dangerous as it used to be, and even the most formidable peaks are often crowded with people waiting to hit the summit. (For reference, here’s how climbers on Mount Everest look). Adding a hotel-like environment on top is probably only a logical next step, or one that drastically diminishes the sheer joy of summitting these marvelous peaks.