On a cold, late November day in 1955 Louis Lachenal, the first man to stand on the summit of an 8000 meter peak, was casting about Chamonix for a partner to ski with him on the Vallée Blanche. He met up with Jean-Pierre Payot and they took the cable car to the Aiguille du Midi.
Payot recalls the day, “we skied a steep couloir to reach the start of the Vallée Blanche, chatting calmly to each other. It was quite cold and the wind was getting up. We arrived at the first seracs, the wind was directly in our faces, we didn’t have glasses back then and we were skiing unroped. Louis commented that the strong wind was dangerous. I was barely 2 meters ahead. I hardly had time to turn when I heard his aluminium skis scrape across the ice as he fell into the crevasse.”
Louis Lachenal had broken through a snow bridge, twenty-five meters below the back of his head struck a block of ice and snapped his neck, he must have died instantly. Payot shouted below but there was no reply. In a supreme effort he climbed back to the cable car station which was now closed, he climbed on to a refuge and telephoned for help. It was now 11pm and the guides in Chamonix were not keen to turn out, something that would be repeated later in the affair of Vincendon and Henry. Only Lachenal’s friends were prepared to come, although later they were joined by the Chamonix guides. They lit tires above the crevasse to keep warm and one of them descended to recover the body of the great alpinist. The following day, 11am on the 26th of November, 1955, they arrived back in Chamonix. Louis Lachenal is buried in Chamonix cemetery.