Tag Archives: PGHM

Despite Heroic Rescue Attempts, Olivier Sourzac & Charlotte Demetz Perish on South Face of Grandes Jorasses

Photo: Luca Signorelli / Summitpost.org

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.

Olivier Sourzac

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.”

PGHM rescue chopper

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.

(click to enlarge)

(source: UKClimbing.com, ledauphine.com)


We love the PGHM. Yes we do.

Photo by David Rastouil / Climbing

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.

Photo by Alexandre Buisse / Climbing

Off Belay

Well, I got so much response from the last Chamonix accident report that I’ve decided to post another to hold us over until either Martial calls me back to fill me in on the Cervin or we get a better picture of the forecast which will determine whether I cover the Ultra Trail or go climbing in the next few days. Come on, sun!



Tasting the Void

Thursday, 20 August – A 35-year-old man from Bordeaux missed the last lift down from the top of the Grands Montets and, as you do when confronted with hazardous terrain and approaching nightfall, decided to walk down the glacier. Alone. Unsurprisingly the intrepid adventurer fell into a crevasse and broke his leg while descending. Astonishingly, he survived the night in the crevasse and was able to extricate himself on his own. He was spotted the next morning near the 4th pylon by a GM lifty who called PGHM who escorted him the rest of the way down.

Wings Over White

Wednesday, 19 August – For the first time since the epic summer of 2003, paragliders landed on the summit of Mont Blanc (4810m). After taking off at 13:52 Denis Cortella and Max Jeanpierre took one-and-a-half hours to fly from Planpraz to the summit of Mont Blanc. Although some were claiming this amazing feat to be a new record for summitting MB without mechanical means this seems to be a case of comparing apples to oranges when compared to the guy who took four hours to run from the centre ville to the top. I mean, we’re not 100% sure but we’re guessing the pilots used the lift – yeah, the big mechanical one – to get up to Planpraz at 2000m, right?

Anyway, congrats to the 11 paragliders who touched down on the summit. The crew included what I’ve been led to believe is the first tandem pilot Olivier Laugero as well as the first female pilot, former world-ranked pilot and Chamonix tandem instructor Caroline Brille, to paraglide to the summit.

The video I saw from this feat is pretty dull so instead of that here’s a great bit o’ footy of Steve Waining early August 2003, his first year flying, flipping out as he sails over the Dru. For those who wonder about the whole parapente thing, Steve-o’s voice pretty much says it all.

Accidental Tourists

Guy Martin-Ravel

photo: Guy Martin-Ravel

Wednesday, 19 August – Busy season for the PGHM as they began the day by rescuing a victim of acute mountain sickness at the Col des Dômes. Around 17:00, they assisted an apparent heart attack victim at the ice cave on the Mer de Glace (and cruelly ignored my own heart palpitations as I raced across the glacier to barely catch the last Montenvers train down). The boys in blue rounded out the day by evacuating two exhausted hikers, one older than 80, from the trail between Brévent and Flégère.

Japanese Death Rappel

Monday, 17 August – A 59-year-old Japanese man, accompanied by a guide from the Compagnie de Chamonix, died while rappelling from Point Gaspard in the Aiguilles Rouges. Initial reports indicate the guide had already descended when the client fell and early speculation is centered around the client’s daisy chain. To learn more about the dangers of daisy chains, check out this vid. Or just bring up the subject with Stian. Believe me, you’ll get an earful.

Guide Down

Sunday, 16 August – Alberto Noraz, a 53-year-old Courmayeur guide and member of the Val d’Aoste mountain rescue team, was killed on the Bernezat Spur of the Tour Ronde. Reports indicate he fell 200m as a result of ‘rupture du becquet rocheux’ (broken hold?). His Italian client received minor rope burns but was otherwise uninjured. Our sympathies go to the Noraz family.

Butts Afire

FireSunday, 16 August – A fire broke out beneath the 10th and 11th pylons of the Brévent–Planpraz gondola at around 11:15. Firemen originally planned to rappel from the gondolas but changed their minds when confronted by the wind-driven flames and toxic fumes. Plan B? Call Pascal Brun of CMBH and ask him to bring his extraordinarily large, 900-liter bucket. 38 trips were needed to dump 34 cubic meters of Lake Champraz water, extinguishing the flames in 13 hours. Four fire trucks from Chamonix, Saint-Gervais, Sallanches and Cluses were also used to secure the area and thoroughly extinguish the fire.

Many tourists who found themselves stuck at the mid-station simply walked down while around 200 others, who were unable or uninterested in walking, were evacuated by 4×4.

Firefighters believe the wildfire was started by a cigarette butt. Or a cigarette arse, as the case may be.

No Picnic at the Dining Room

Week of 10-16 August – A group of aspirant guides were on a training exercise to Dent du Geant with instructors and clients

Dent du Géant

Dent du Géant

when disaster struck. One of the aspirants was moving with his client across the ‘dining room’, the snowy mixed saddle that accesses the Geant, when a loose block caused him to fall pulling his protection and his client with him. The aspirant fell about 50 meters when, despite a fractured wrist, he was able to arrest his fall and that of the client who was suspended in air after falling over a rock wall. The 29-year-old Chambery woman suffered a fractured sternum and several fractured ribs. The ENSA professor overseeing the group called a rescue, which due to their location, was answered by the Italian rescue service who took two-and-a-half hours to make it to the scene of the accident.

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Korean Death Rappel, Over the Bars of Life, Bad Shoes

Add a mountain biker to the growing list of Chamonix’s increasingly unusual summer fatalities. I mean it’s not like we don’t get our fair share of death and destruction around here but when was the last time you heard of a biker being taken out? Especially on the relatively mellow Petit Balcon Nord.

2 August – Korean Death Rappel From Walker Spur

On Friday, 31 July, a team of three South Korean climbers left for an ascent of the Walker Spur (ED-/1200m/5+ A1) of the Grandes Jorasses (4208m). WalkerSpurAccording to rescuers, the team was advancing very slowly and had only climbed 400m by the time thunderstorms hit them early Sunday morning. The Walker Spur is typically climbed in one or two days.

In heavy weather, the team decided to bail and during the rappels one of the climbers, aged 47, fell 400m.

Due to dangerous conditions, rescuers were unable to retrieve the body, which remained on the Mont Mallet glacier near the bergshrund. The rescue of the other two climbers, disrupted by the weather, was completed in 15 hours.

31 July – Mountain Biker Over the Bars of Life

60-year-old Richard Castle, a university lecturer on holiday with the Brighton Explorers Club, rented a bicycle on Friday, 31 July, and pedaled off at approximately 10:30. Later in the day hikers on the Petit Balcon noticed the bike a few meters off the trail and alerted authorities who found the body around 14:30.

A spokesman for the gendarmerie told reporters that the man apparently fell around 100 meters, hitting several trees on the way down, but could not comment on the exact nature of his death until the results of a post mortem had been reviewed.

30 July – Unroped Germans, Tired Austrians, Facial Scars and Bad Shoes

A day marked by the funeral of an intern from the Gap PGHM who died tragically as a result of a training climb on the Aiguille du Peigne on 27 July. There were a number of rescues in the area including:

– An unroped Germanic or Austrian climber fell several hundred meters to his death down the south face of Point Whymper (4184m) as he traversed the Rochefort Arête to the Grandes Jorasses. Italian rescuers found a rope in the victim’s backpack.

– An exhausted climber with an Austrian guide on the Pte Marguerite (4068m) on the Rochefort Arête of the Grandes Jorasses.

– Two exhausted mountaineers from the Mur de la Côte at the base of Mont Blanc.

– A climber sustaining facial injuries when he fell into a crevasse near Pointe Lachenal while crossing the Vallée Blanche. The victim’s partners pulled him from the crevasse and passed him on to PGHM who transported him to the hospital in Sallanches for observation.

– A hiker who suffered from bad shoes. [Fashion police switchboards were apparently overloaded.]

– An alpinist with a sprain from the Refuge du Goûter.

26 July – Walker Falls From Croix de Fer

At LeTour, a 58-year-old French walker fell 200 meters while traversing the grass and rock arête from Col de Balme (2191m) to the Croix de Fer on the Tête de Balme (2321m). La Police cantonal Valaisanne were unsure why he fell.

ENSA Class 2009 Represent!


Big shout out to the 53 men and one woman who, on June 27, received their hard-earned High Mountain Guide diplomas from ENSA (Ecole Nationale de Ski et Alpinism). Among the crowd were some well-known names including Christophe Dumarest (4x nominee for the Crystal FFME), Lionel Albrieux (new commandant of the Group Militaire de Haute Montagne) and Vincent François (PGHM rescuer).

The class of 2009 also includes Geoffroy Arvis, Alexandre Auchecorne, Gilles Baudry, Pascal Bellin, Thomas Berges, Sara Berthelot, Eric Biancarelli, Laurent Bibollet, Thomas Boillot, Nicolas Bonnet, Ollivier Bres, Sébastien Cazorla, Mathieu Cesarano, Hugues Chardonnet, François Chollet, Bruno Cobus, Michel Coranotte, Cyril Cottaz, Emmanuel Dubost, Paul-Philippe Dudas, Cyril Dupeyré, Julien Dusserre, Nicolas Faure, Nicolas Feraud, Basile Ferran, Odillon Ferran, Patrice Flesch, Pierre Gaillard, Olivier Gandy, Benoît Garoute, Antoine Groleau, Roland Higuera, Mikaël Jacquet, Laurent Labudigue, Jean-Nicolas Louis, Guillaume Lucazeau, Nicolas Magisson, Benjamin Maire, Frédéric Marcellin, Mason Peter, Eric Monnier, David Moratille, Jérôme Para, Laurent Perquis, Thomas Pietrzyk, Jean-François Reffet, Vincent Rovel, Pierre Soba, François-Régis Thevenet, Sébastien Thiollier, Stéphane Visentin.

In his opening address, Pierre Oudot, Director of ENSA, announced a new training curriculum that would be introduced in the next year. Reportedly, the new program has not been met favorably by ENSA’s ski branch. But enough politics. Congrat to the 54 new graduates – respect!

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