Avalanche Risk in French Mountains

July looks set to break new temperature records today. Unlike the previous 12 months this one will be for the coldest day on record. The cold weather has also brought fresh snow, high winds and avalanches. Last week a Polish group were hit by a snow slide on the Italian side of Mont-Blanc killing three. 20-30cm of new snow had fallen in the Alps and Pyrenees above 2200 meters and today new snow is expected from 1900 meters.

mont blanc

The fresh snow has brought skiers and ski mountaineers out in force. At Grands Montets yesterday there was 1000 meters of skiing with only a 5-10 minute walk out to the base station. However after a series of dramatic rescues high mountain police have warned climbers to stay out of the high-mountains until the snow stabilizes and there is a clear weather window.

On Saturday ski tourers and mountaineers headed for the summit of Western Europe encouraged by a fine forecast for the weekend. But weather fronts blow in with alarming speed from the West. On Sunday morning a number of groups were trapped on the mountain in high winds and zero visibility. Amongst them two men, aged 18 and 19, residents of the Savoy. They had climbed Mont Blanc (4810m) on skis over the course of Saturday and Sunday and had just made a dramatic mobile phone call to their parents. They were trapped somewhere at 4200 meters on the Dôme du Goûter but couldn’t say which side they were on.

The Chamonix PHGM (Peloton de gendarmerie de haute montagne) were able to drop two rescue workers at the Dôme du Goûter refuge (3.817 meters). They set out with the guardian, himself a high mountain guide, but were beaten back by the extreme weather conditions. However they were able to leave a trail of market flags on the slopes. The lost boys were able to build a snow cave for shelter but spent an uncomfortable night in freezing temperatures taking two hour relays to keep the airway clear of falling snow. Without this, carbon dioxide would build up in the cave and they could become unconscious and suffocate or freeze. On Monday morning they spotted one of the flags left by rescuers during a break in the storm and were able to climb down to the Goûter where they spend the night. They are expected back in Chamonix this morning. Much to the relief of their anxious families waiting in the town.

Chamonix PHGM are particular concerned about the Three Mont-Blancs route which passes over Mont Maudit and the Mont Blanc du Tacul (4208 meters). Both easily accessible from the Aiguille du Midi cable car. The body of a Swiss guide is still buried under eight meters of snow on the Tacul following an avalanche on the 17th of June.

Posted by davidof on Tuesday, 10 July, 2007 at 09:31 AM

We were up in the Oisans area above Valloire after last weeks snow and this is the trip report

Pic des Trois Eveches

The base was pretty stable and there was not enough snow to avalanche. However what snow there was not sticking to the hard base. With wind loading higher up conditions could be interesting.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 11 July, 2007  at 10:11 AM
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