6 Deaths in a week in the French Pyrenees

The avalanche conditions may be some of the most stable we’ve known in a generation but that’s not the only danger in the mountains in winter. As we mentioned in the January Snow Conditions Thread the other side of the coin is frequently hard or icy snow. In the Pyrenees there have been 6 deaths in a week as winter sports enthusiasts have lost their footing in the mountains.

That’s what I call a rain crust!

It rained to around 2900 meters in the Pyrenees early in January and the return to cold weather has made conditions particularly dangerous. The rescue services have rarely seen the mountains as bad with 3 to 4 cm of solid ice covering the snow. Particular attention is needed on routes where it is difficult to turn back once committed such as couloirs, which can transform into ice falls on lower sections. If you are on foot, take good steel crampons, an ice axe and a helmet and think about roping up. Ski tourers need to have ski crampons as well as crampons and ice axe and not hesitate to climb or descend on foot. Watch out for the timing, both early on and later in the day and slope aspects. North and West sector slopes hardly see the sun in January. South-east to south facing slopes are a better bet.

The situation should improve this weekend with rain, then snow from Friday and heavy snow on Sunday but watch out for the avalanche risk. Especially purges on the icy surface.

The series began on the 8th January when two Spanish ski tourers were killed near the top of the resort of Formiguières near the border cross zone as they traversed a frozen couloir. They fell 100 meters into trees. A woman friend was seriously injured.

On the 10th a skier died after falling on piste in the resort of Piau-Engaly. The victim lost his skis in the slide and was unable to control his fall.

On the 11th a local climber fell 700m on the Montaigu after reaching the summit alone around midday. (commune Bagnères-de-Bigorre). The section between the col de Tos and the summit is affected by prevailing winds and is often frozen. It hardly thaws during the day and, according to guides, is not a summit to attempt on skis at the moment. Walkers should be equipped with crampons.

On the 12th the rescue services came to the aid of skier in the cirque du Lys in the ski resort of les Cauterets after a bad fall.

On the 15th Olivier Soula a snowshoe guide was killed after falling 600m in the Pourtillou sector. He was wearing crampons and had an ice axe. On the same day a Spanish climber was killed and his partner seriously injured after falling 200 meters on the pic du Crabère. The accident occurred in the afternoon when the men were descending. The men were experienced alpinists. A climber was killed on the Soum Léviste above Argelès-Gazost after falling, his friend was seriously injured trying to stop his fall.

Further Information


Posted by davidof on Wednesday, 18 January, 2012 at 06:15 PM

So scary. Danger is everywhere. And accident are not made by choice. We just hope that we won’t be hit with any accident while skiing

Posted by  on  Monday, 23 January, 2012  at 05:29 AM

Another accident on Wednesday 18th. A 30 year old French man fell 150 meters while climbing the East face of thePic d’Anie. Things could have been worse, his fall was stopped by “crevasse” in the snow (formed by potholes). After being rescued with the aid of his friend the man lost consciousness and had to be taken to hospital by helicopter. He was suffering from multiple injuries and hypothermia.

Posted by davidof on  Monday, 23 January, 2012  at 09:25 AM
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