Wednesday, 25 July 2007

An avoidable tragedy on Mont Blanc

Normally I wouldn't post up about this but I want to this time. 4 climbers have died of exposure climbing Mont Blanc today. I offer my deepest sympathies to the familes and it's a tragic event - but was it an accident?

The BBC News story:

We've all been moping around waiting for the weather to break - waiting for the rain and storms of the past week to abate so we can go out climbing and up into the mountains. It really cleared up yesterday early evening and the sunset was one of those that really take your breath away. The rocks glowing red as the setting sun lit up the pure white peaks - a stark contrast to the blue skies behind. Blue skies peppered with a few clouds. Beautiful eh? Well it is but it set alarm bells ringing in my head.

I was actually outside with Brian looking up at Mont Blanc last night during the sunset as I met him outside his house to go for dinner. We actually chatted about how amazing it looked then passed comment on the lenticular cloud sitting atop Mont Blanc. When these clouds sit over peaks they generally mean high winds at the summit. Warning 1. The bright white peaks covered with fresh snow gleaming against the blue sky - so there's lots of new snow (warning 2) and it's obviously cold as it was pure white and looking through binoculars this morning could see lots of crystalline formations (warning 3).

Obviously these warnings aren't set in stone but they all add up. To have climbed Mont Blanc means that these guys had to either be up there already or going up really early first thing in the morning. Whichever way it's talking about being on the mountain a few hours after the weather has broken.

I was talking to a guide friend of mine, Mark, last year who said that the old rule of leaving a mountain 3 days to settle after a storm is no longer there. Backcountry skiing and more people wishing to climb mean that this timeframe has shortened considerably. But the mountain and atmosphere still needs to settle and get safer.

I really feel sorry for the families of these guys, and offer my deepest sympathies to them and it'll be something we talk about and chew over in the bars and between friends this week. Unfortunately there's a lot of accidents out here and they come in regularly (every week or so) over the winter and summer seasons.

But how many of my friends chose to go out into the mountains today? None. Not one.