Blessed are the dead,
for they have been given wings to fly.
Last Wednesday, 2 November, local mountain guide Olivier Sourzac and his client, Charlotte Demetz, set out for a fast and light ascent of the Linceul (IV, 4, 750m, D+) on the north face of Les Grandes Jorasses (4208m).
After summiting, the two were descending the south face when they were pinned down above 4000 meters by a massive low pressure system from the south. The descent is far from straightforward, even in good weather, with several rappels required through heavily-crevassed terrain.
Bad weather initially grounded rescue helicopters of the PGHM and the Italian Soccorso Alpino Valdostano. However, independent rescue units, led by Sourzac’s brother Bruno and comprised primarily of mountain guides and the Italian Frontier Police, set out to try to reach the climbers on foot.
Chamonix high-mountain guide Asmus Nørreslet was part of a seven-man team that fought their way up to the Boccalatte Refuge on Saturday,
“A fast-and-light, three-man team led by Bruno Sourzac started up on Friday and made it to the Repossoir (around 3700m) on Saturday morning but they were pushed back by deteriorating weather.
We started from the valley floor on Saturday and by the time we reached the Boaccalate there was 30 to 40cm of fresh snow with deeper pockets. The storm that forced the first team down dropped much more snow above the refuge and on Sunday, visibility was very limited. Bruno went back up with us – it was a huge effort on his part – and we made it up to about 3400m but there was just no way. The Grandes Jorasses is one of the most inaccessible areas in the entire range when a big foehn storm hits. It’s a massive face and there is just so much objective danger from avalanche, serac fall and crevasses.”
Without knowing the exact location of the stranded climbers, several teams battled their way up the lower slopes of the north, south and east faces of the mountain hoping to reach them. Deep snow, low visibility and high avalanche danger thwarted their further efforts.
In a report on UKClimbing.com on Saturday, Luca Signorelli reported that, “one late afternoon flight attempt [was made Saturday] from Aosta, to try drop food and gas provisions, but visibility was so low that they had to return almost immediately.”
Following Luca’s thread on UKClimbing.com, it seems another flight was attempted from the Italian side again on Sunday… “Attempt failed. The helicopter is back to Courmayeur. Visibility is close to [nil], I’m afraid there’s no time for another attempt today.” “There’s been four attempts this afternoon, flying with a reduced crew (just the pilot and one guide)to get near the stranded climbers, two attempts from Chamonix and two from Courmayeur, but to no avail. Winds are two strong and visibility insufficient, and all attempts have been reportedly made very close to the limit of acceptable risk. So this is the fifth night out for Olivier Sourzac and Charlotte Demetz.”
On Monday, horrific weather relentlessly hammered the range from the south preventing Italian pilots from flying. Four attempts were made from the north by French helicopter crews to place rescuers on top of the Grandes Jorasses; only one was successful. From Luca Signorelli’s thread on UKClimbing.com, “the Chamonix PGHM managed, in the middle of the storm and at insane personal risk, to winch down few minutes two guides on the top of Pt. Whymper. These had just the time to look briefly around, drop the survival kits then ask to be retrieved before all hell broke loose.”
Several more attempts were made on Tuesday by the PGHM but fog and 80kph foehn winds once again prevented them from landing. On the last attempt around 4:30 p.m., heli crews spotted Sourzac and Demetz, however high winds kept the helicopters from dropping rescuers.
On Wednesday morning, 9 November, despite terrible flying conditions, the bodies of Sourzac and Demetz were recovered by Italian rescuers from an exposed position at an altitude of 4050m on the south face of Les Grandes Jorasses.
Despite the tragic outcome, we must commend the outstanding and courageous efforts of the men and women, especially those of the Chamonix PGHM and the Italian Soccorso Alpino Valdostano, who repeatedly risked their lives to rescue the two alpinists. Full respect.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims.
Blessed are the dead,
For they have been given wings to fly.
(source: UKClimbing.com, ledauphine.com)
Sadly, it’s been confirmed that Antoine Montant has died as the result of an apparent wingsuit flying accident. His body was found in the Collet d’Anterne area in Haute Savoie with his unopened parachute still inside the container. An article on JustAcro.com reports:
“Sunday morning at 5 am. Antoine’s girlfriend called attention on Facebook that he is missing since saturday afternoon after he went for a BASE jump in the area of Collet d’Anterne in Haute Savoie, France. Just a few hours later many people such as friends, mountain guides, paragliders, base jumpers got together for the search of Antoine. In the afternoon the terrible news hit the scene, that they found him dead in the mountains.”
Antoine was an accomplished extreme skier, one of the world’s best acro paragliders, multiple speed riding champion, and BASE jumper. Read more about Antoine on RedBull.com.
Among his many extraordinary exploits were the first speed flying descent of the Eiger and the original speed riding cable grind on the old Chamonix lift station. Antoine was 30 years old.
Condolences are being left on Antoine’s Facebook page. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.
Blessed are the dead
For they have been given wings to fly.
“Every climb I did was about challenging myself, about not knowing if I had what it took to survive. I seldom felt a feeling of great triumph when I made it to the top; that feeling came when I was on the mountain itself and I knew there was nothing that could stop me.”
Climbing legend Walter Bonatti died of cancer last night at the age of 81. Although he stopped climbing at the young age of 35 his iconic ascents of the Grand Capucin, Petite Dru, Gasherbrum IV and others have firmly established him as one of the greatest climbers of all time.
1949 – Fourth ascent of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. 1951 – First ascent of the Grand Capucin (with Luciano Ghigo, east face, VII/400m). 1953 – First winter ascent of the north face of Cime Ovest di Lavaredo. 1954 – Center of the controversy surrounding the first summit of K2. Survived open bivouac at 8100 meters with freaked out porter. 1955 – Epic, solo first ascent of the southwest pillar (Bonatti Pillar) of the Petite Dru. 1956 – first ski traverse of the Alps (1795 km, 73,193m of ascent, 66 days) 1957 – Grand Pilier d’Angle du Mont Blanc. 1958 – First ascent of 7925-meter Gasherbrum IV (NE ridge w/ Carlo Mauri) 1959 – The Red Pillar of Brouillard. 1961 – one of two survivors of a 7-man team’s tragic attempt on the Central Pillar of the Freney of Mont Blanc. 1961 – Rondoy North, Patagonia. ???? – Awarded the French Legion of Honneur. 1963 – First winter ascent of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. 1965 – First winter solo of the north face of the Matterhorn. 2004 – Awarded the Italian honorific title Cavaliere di Gran Croce. 2010 – First climber to receive the Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award.
Bonatti’s book, The Mountains of My Life is a classic in mountaineering literature and tells the story of his most famous climbs. The book includes his description of the controversial first ascent of K2 where Bonatti was intentionally abandoned by his partners Lino Lacedelli and Achille Campagnoni high on K2 after carrying the oxygen that would be the key to the pair’s successful summit. Bonatti refused to drop the high-altitude porter, Amir Mahdi, who had accompanied him in order to descend to safety and the pair heroically survived an open bivouac at 8100 meters on one of the deadliest mountains in the world.
Lacedelli and Campagnoni originally accused Bonatti of using some of the oxygen on the carry thereby jeopardizing their own summit bid and it took 50 years for Bonatti’s version of the events to be verified as the truth. Mahdi has been less fortunate and has still not recovered all his fingers and toes that were lost to frostbite in the ordeal.
“Perhaps the finest alpinist there has ever been.” -Doug Scott
“Bonatti was one of the greatest climbers of all time – the last true Alpinist, an expert in all disciplines. But more importantly Walter was a marvellous, tolerant, loving person.” – Rheinhold Messner
“He was a complex person, and a sensitive one too. K2 always preyed on his mind. But he was also a man of great integrity. And a great gentleman.” -Sir Chris Bonington.
“If in normal conditions it is skill, which counts, in such extreme situations, it is the spirit, which saves.” -Walter Bonatti
Sources: Mountains of My Life by Walter Bonatti, The Guardian, UIAA, Alpinist
We regret to report that while leading clients Maxime Belleville of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix fell into a crevasse yesterday, 23 February, at around 11:20. By the time rescuers were able to reach him Mr. Belleville had perished.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Maxime Belleville’s friends and family. May he rest in peace.
If you’ve ever wondered about the heli traffic around Chamonix you absolutely must read this outstanding article about Chamonix’s PGHM written by Neil Brodie for Climbing Magazine.
In the fourteen years I’ve been in Chamonix I’ve only been pulled off once when my partner broke her leg on the East Face of the Aiguille du Moine. The crew that helped us out were so professional and efficient yet personable it made my head spin. These guys rock.
Shout out to Tom at ChamonixSnowReport.com for the heads up on this article.