In the Footsteps of an Angel

It used to be said that everyone could say what they were doing when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot. The explosion of the Space Shuttle, Colombia is a more current reference. For me, it is the disappearance of the snowboarder Marco Siffredi.

Marco Siffredi on Everest

Marco’s career was as long as his life was brief. At 22 he became the first Chamoniard to climb Everest and then snowboard down the Couloir Norton. Not everyone in Chamonix was impressed with this impudent young man with curly blond locks that cascaded over his face. Older, perhaps wiser voices tried to dissuade him but his reply was simple “If we don’t do stuff that is a bit crazy at 20, we’re not going to start at 50, yours is the philosophy of an old fart”.

By the time Siffredi became first man to snowboard from the summit of Everest he already had a string of firsts to his name. At twenty he boarded the Nant Blanc on the north face of the Aiguille Verte, a route opened by the great Jean-Marc Boivin just ten years previously. Boivin rated this his greatest descent. The route starts off flat, around 45°, before crossing a very exposed, 50° to 55° section underneath a ridge that leads to a small gully. The gully carries out onto a 50° to 55° ramp before the rider makes a 60-meter abseil past a vertical rock band. The steepest part of the route follows: 500 meters of vertiginous 55° to 60° with a section that flirts with 65°. The descent took Marco two and a half hours. He felt that the snowboard was the ideal tool for this kind of route, able to make fast, short turns where a skier is scrabbling for grip.

In a short period Marco put up a number of firsts. The north faces of the Tacul and Chardonnet, the west couloirs of the Aiguillettes du Tacul and Col du Diable, the Diagonal on the South face of Mont Maudit, the couloir de l’Isolée on the east face of the Tacul, the south ridge of the 6034 meter Tocllaraju in Peru. All names that an accomplished climber would be proud to have on his resume. Slopes of 50° to 60°, rated D to D+ (difficult) for mountaineers not snowboarders.

Marco Siffredi was born in Chamonix on the 22nd of May 1979. His family knew the dangers found in the mountains that both oppress and inspire this tiny alpine town. Marco’s brother was killed by an avalanche when he was just 2 years old. Living, and working on his family’s campsite in Cham, Marco was not an academic but was very close to nature, an enthusiastic fisherman and climber. Originally a skier he had only started snowboarding in 1996. In 1999 he discovered the Himalayas with descents of Cho Oyu and Shishapangma, two 8000 meter summits and a training ground for the big one Everest.

On the 8th of September 2002, Marco was at the summit of Everest for the second time. In comparison with the new breed of commercially savvy climbers, Marco, somewhat taciturn, had no sponsor. He’d raised the 45,000 Euros needed for the trip by himself. In his sack a 120 meter length of cord to abseil over any difficulties he might encounter. Once again he was following in the footsteps Boivin, the Hornbein was the route”, pure and direct. A couloir of over 3000 meters angled between 45 to 55°. Sure Marco had tackled harder descents in the Alps but at this altitude any error would be fatal.

At the newspaper kiosk the headline read “Marco Siffredi, Prince of Extreme, Missing”. What had happened that Sunday on Everest? A route finding error amongst the small cliffs close to the summit? Exhaustion? A fall caused by Hypoxia? We will probably never know. As the journalist Manu Rivaud so eloquently puts it “Marco’s tracks disappeared in mid-curve at 8,500 meters, like the final notes of Mozart’s unfinished requiem”.

La trace de l’ange by Antoine Chandellier; Hardback 300 pages, 300 photos (75 in colour) ISBN :2 911 755 804, Published by Guerin, December 2004.

Posted by davidof on Thursday, 16 December, 2004 at 01:15 PM

shut eye We lost a dear friend and snowboarder that day in May, 2002. I love you, our gap-toothed hero. Marco you’ll never be forgotten wink

Posted by Jamima Horan on  Friday, 28 September, 2012  at 03:54 PM
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