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Standing outside their yellow hut on a ridge 3,200 metres (10,500 feet) above sea level, two French gendarmes peer through binoculars at a group of foreign climbers making their way across a scree-littered stretch on what has become one of the deadliest routes to the top of Mont Blanc.
"Rocks, rocks!" one of the climbers suddenly yells, prompting them all to scurry for shelter in the Gouter corridor, on the most popular route to the summit of Europe's highest peak.
People - Route - Climb - Officer - Fabrice
"Sometimes we're able to convince people to take a different route or postpone their climb," officer Fabrice Bernard-Jacquet said. "But it doesn't always work."
Overcrowding on the mountain has again been severe this summer, with more than 300 people pitting their wits against the mountain each day despite the growing risk of rockfall as high temperatures thaw more ground at higher altitudes.
Heatwave - Europe - Weeks - Risk—on - Friday
The heatwave that struck much of Europe in the past few weeks only heightened the risk—on Friday the bodies of three Italian climbers were found.
That brought the death toll since this year's climbing season began to 15, up from 14 dead and two missing last year.
Month - Authorities - Climbers - Reservations - Gouter
Last month, authorities began turning away climbers who did not have reservations at the 120-bed Gouter refuge, which has been overrun by ill-prepared climbers who have found the challenge too exhausting.
"They get back to the refuge but don't want to keep going down and so they were sleeping in the hallway, sometimes there would be 30 people too many," said lieutenant colonel Stephane Bozon, who heads the gendarmerie's mountain rescue service in Chamonix.
'Our own fault'
The highly popular "Royal Route" up Mont Blanc is not considered a very technical climb, but officers say people can still quickly find themselves in over their heads while attempting the 4,810-metre peak.
Rock - Slides - Guides - Leading
Increased rock slides have even prompted local guides to stop leading...
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