The Vallee Blanche is not a ski piste
Thursday 13th of March, 2008. We’ve just done our 14th crevasse rescue and our second fatality this year after a fall of 30 meters. We don’t repeat this often enough but skiing on a glacier requires certain precautions and a knowledge of the terrain.
You are probably thinking “Just 14 crevasse rescues this year.” But that is just the tip of the ice-berg because a good number of people who are not injured are rescued by their mates, properly equipped witnesses and above all high mountain guides who work regularly in the Mont Blanc range. With the exception of four incidents all of our rescues were on the Vallée Blanche.
Reality is somewhat different, our first 12 people rescued were all, without exception, extremely lucky. With falls from a dozen to 25 meters where daylight is visible as a little “ray of hope” when you raise your head (if you have the space...).
Lucky doesn’t mean without injury but rather alive because a large number are victims of diverse injuries (facial, skull, back etc.).
So, without any pretension and without being complete, let us give some common sense advice for anyone who wants to descend this wonderful route, during good weather conditions only!
Firstly, don’t go alone. The fact that you are at least two will double your chances of survival if there is an accident, even if it is just to raise the alarm. Who will know you’ve fallen in a crevasse if you are alone?
Being on a glacier implies that you have a minimum of gear. Screw gate karibiners, prussik loops, pulleys, ascender and the knowledge of how to use them. Yes, all the gear but no idea? You need to know how to rig a hoist. A number of books and courses can teach you the basics. Inform yourself.
Take at least an ice screw and wear a climbing harness. You can at least secure yourself to the wall of the crevasse. Normally when a snow bridge gives way it forms a secondary bridge lower down where the crevasse is narrower. There is the rub, you are now on another snow bridge which can give way at any moment, especially if you remove your skis or board.
Your harness should have a length of cord, around 60cm free, attached with a screw gate karabiner on the other end. The karabiner should be clipped somewhere high on your person, the collar of your jacket for example. Like that we can easily pull you out in case of external rescue.
Never take both skis off (or your board) when on a glacier. Recently a snow boarder who lacked enough speed to get over a small uphill died after taking off his board to walk while he was unroped. We highlight this because you can walk on foot on glaciated terrain, you need the security of a rope with a couple of other people..
The sirene voices of untracked powder call skiers to their doom. The person who died today was just 15 meters from the main track, sometimes just a few meters is sufficient.
Finally, if you are able, form a group and hire a guide who, thanks to his knowledge, will help you pass your day in safety.
The mountains are a fantastic playground but put as many chances on your side as possible to enjoy it for as long as possible.
Posted by pghm-chamonix
on Wednesday, 02 April, 2008 at 11:24 PM
Crossing a glacier on skis in 1994 en-route to climb Monte Rosa, our friend guiding the group crossed a snow bridge which collapsed under his weight. Unfortunately he hit a ledge whilst falling which broke his pelvis. We were unable to winch him out (broken pelvis, and inexperience), so lowered Hugh down to him and retrieved a radio to call for help. No mobile phones then. A helicopter rescue team arrived after two and a half hours and took him to a hospital where he received proper medical care, and was skiing again the following season. Before crossing there was no visible sign of that crevasse and, during those hours as he lost consciousness due to internal blood loss and temperature fell to 32 degrees, we thought he might die. Indeed, glaciers are very dangerous places.
Posted by on Sunday, 20 April, 2008 at 05:14 PM
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