7 deaths in a week in French Alps

At least seven mountaineers have been killed over the two weekends in the French Alps. Yesterday a Belgium ski tourer fell 1000 meters to his death while descending the Aiguille du Midi ridge in the Mont Blanc range. The 46 year old Limbourg man was wearing crampons with his skis fixed to his rucksack. He was not roped to a friend who was unhurt. The accident occurred at 3,800 meters. The ridge is served by the Aiguille du Midi cable car and is the start point of many ski tours in the area including the ascension of Mont-Blanc and the Vallée Blanche.

climbing with crampons
Crampons, ice-axe, essential on icy slopes

As PisteHors.com warned last Sunday (27/5) in our Snow Reports section the cold end to May has brought Artic conditions to the mountains with extremely hard snow and ice present. This was covered by fresh snow in one of the coldest starts to June for 50 years. Although not as mediatic as avalanches, falls, due to slides and crevasses, are a major cause of death in the mountains.

Earlier on Sunday a 30 year old man fell 400 meters from the ridge that leads to the Aiguille du Grand Fond in the Beaufortin mountains. The conditions were described as “ideal, almost wintery with a mix of cold, sun and fresh powder”. The victim leaves a wife who is 8 months pregnant. The route is relatively safe except for the section where the man fell. This is above cliffs which dominate the north-west couloir. The dead man was equipped with snow shoes and according to a friend who was accompanying him he was an experienced and well equipped mountaineer. A witness made the point that snow shoes, which are also popular with snowboarders, are no substitute for hard boots and crampons on icy slopes. A female ski mountaineer was also airlifted from the Rocher-Blanc in the Belledonne mountains after falling on icy snow and injuring her ankle.

snowshoes and softboots

On Saturday afternoon a 36 year old women was killed in the Vercors massif above the commune of Saint-Paul de Varces south-east of Grenoble. She slid and fell at 1900 meters altitude although it is not clear if this was caused by snow and ice. Snow is still present in a number of spots in the mid-mountain areas of the Vercors and Chartreuse.

Last Tuesday an important search and rescue operation was mounted to find two climbers missing in the Ecrins mountains near Briançon. Two Grenoble men had set out for the east side of the Col du Pelvoux. The alert was given when they failed to return home. Their car was found at Ailefroide but a large operation involving both the CRS and PGHM failed to find any trace of the missing men. Rescue workers were joined by friends of the missing men on Wednesday and despite poor weather it was this group that found the bodies of the two climbers, Alban Busatta aged 24 and Fabrice Roux, aged 23, in a small crevasse at the foot of the north-west couloir. It appears they slid and fell on ice. Alban Busatta was known as a strong and qualified climber and was preparing his climbing list in order to train as a guide.

On Friday 26th May two Belgium climbers fell to their deaths climbing to the Pointe Percée (2,712 meters) above le Grand-Bornand in the Aravis mountains. Part of a group of six they had split into two ropes. At around 15h30 a member of one group, positioned in the middle of the rope, slid and fell. The group was at 2,100 meters altitude. His two colleagues were unable to stop his fall and were taken 400 meters over a rock band. Two members of the group, Julien Dewit, aged 26, and Antonello Serraiocco, aged 32 ans, were killed by the fall. The third climber, Samuel Muroni, aged 24, was seriously injured. Julien Dewit’s brother, Pierre, was part of the other rope and witnessed the accident. The group were not very experienced but were on what is considered a relatively straight-forward climb.

Posted by on Monday, 05 June, 2006 at 07:32 PM

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