Hungry Crevasses and Deadly Avalanche

It seems the crevasses have been worse than avalanches this year in Chamonix. On March 15 and March 19 two more people were killed on the Valley Blanche by breaking through snow-bridges and falling to their deaths.

March 15 an elderly French man travelling in a large group of other retirees (unguided) broke through a snow bridge on the Col de Rognon and died from the fall. On March 19 a second snowboarder, also with a guide, died falling into a crevasse just below the Requin refuge.

Nothing more to add, and few details have come out surrounding these last two deaths.

In an avalanche March 15, a locally well-known architect, CAF member and mountaineer, Pierre Trappier (70), and his wife Marie-Jo (64) who was very well known in the environmentalist and anti-Tunnel du Mont Blanc group the ARSMB (Association pour le Respect du Site du Mont Blanc), died not far from their home in Les Houches. The group of 5 ski tourers had removed their skis to climb a 40 degree couloir on the way to their annual ritual of skiing the couloir Trappier  (beware of the music on this link to the video of the Trappier Couloir on YouTube) on the north side of the Aiguille du Goûter (yes, he discovered the access route to this now well-known couloir).

Their three friends had already reached the top of the access couloir which leads to a flatter section at the Cabane des Rognes and to the last climb before the Trappier couloir. Pierre and Marie-Jo were 50m from the top when a large slab avalanche of 50cm wide and 1m deep broke loose above the Trappiers, sweeping them down the mountain 1100m to their deaths. The accident occured at 2750 meters altitude on a 40 degree north facing slope. The Haute Savoie avalanche bulletin had warned of the possibility of large wind slab avalanches on steeper south facing slopes. The bulletin also mentioned the danger of some rarer hard to predict, large slabs above 2300 meters on north facing slopes which could be triggered by the passage of a group of skiers. 

M. Trappier was found on top of the avalanche, but had died of his injuries and his wife was found buried 1m below the surface. The PGHM announced that the avalanche which took place was very difficult to predict and that the conditions creating the slab had built up over the course of the winter, not due to recent re-warming. The Dauphine Libere has a very good article here: 

On the 23rd of March another skier, Fernando Estevez Carvadjal, escaped death on the Vallée Blanche by surviving alone in a snowstorm for two nights on the route after starting off at 11am on Thursday. 

The group he was with was without a guide and had made several of the most stupid mountaineering decisions one could make, and he is alive due mainly to luck and a few basic survival skills or instincts he did have. The story in French is at .

First of all, he and his group must have over-estimated his ski ability for him to have even started the route. Secondly his friends were complete and total assholes, I will not hesitate to state, and they could, if he desired, be prosecuted since they were the ‘group leaders’ and thus responsible for the safety of the group. 

They told him his skiing wasn’t good enough and to go back when the group reached the Col de Rognon. Told him to go back alone. Apparently he was ‘stubborn’ and did not want to go back (or maybe he realized that it was unsafe to try to go back alone?). This decision was simply idiotic. Let’s see. We are out on a glacier, with all kinds of crevasses and probably also avalanche danger. We are with a guy who can barely ski and have now travelled about 1/2 hour into the route and he’s going too slow for us. Do we slow down our skiing so he can keep up? Do we try to assist him or have someone go back up to the top with him (roped as they would be now walking without skis over fragile snow bridges)? No … we leave him to his own devices to climb unroped and alone back up the top of an arrette which falling on either side of it going up could lead to death. No problem! 

If he was not good enough to continue to ski down, how did they think he’d get through the crevasse-ridden glacier back to the top in one piece?!

Then his mistake was next – he sat and watched the group leave. Wasting more of the daylight. Mistake three, he thought he’d start down the route by himself, alone. Realizing he was still a crappy skier and had no clue where the route should go, he eventually tried to get back up the route but became lost.

He tried to follow the cables of the Helbronner lift, which crosses France to Italy but then after 400m of ascent he fell into a crevasse. That could easily have been the end of him. However, after 3 hours of struggle, he was able to extract himself from the crevasse.

By now night was falling and a bad storm was coming in. He survived that night, and the entire of the next day and night on the glacier in a snowstorm by sitting in a snow cave, and setting his watch to wake him up every hour so he could move around and not freeze to death. This last part is the first smart thing he’d done as the storm continued to build and the winds reached 100 km/hr.

His group gave alert on Thursday afternoon that he was not back in Chamonix but since Fernando had headed back down the route, rather than up it, the PGHM was searching for him between the Col de Rognon and the top of the Aiguille du Midi rather than below the Col de Rognon. On Friday they could not search as the weather was too poor.  (Alerting the PGHM was the ONLY nice thing they did, after this they fucked off back to Spain without knowing if he was alive or dead and so when he was rescued he had no way to get back to Spain and had no money so local authorities were trying to figure out how to repatriate him ).

By sheer luck, the following morning (Saturday) when the PGHM was searching for two Japanese alpinists thought to be in trouble on the Super couloir, they came across Fernando (the Japanese alpinists actually made it back down Tacul on their own).

Most are saying his survival was a miracle, which it was – but so far I have seen no articles point out what stupid, idiotic assholes he and his group were as ski mountaineers or talking about their liability. The other members in his group could be prosecuted if Fernando desired, because they were effectively the more experienced, and so were the group leaders and therefore responsible legally for his safety (according to some recent French court decisions about other mountain accidents). They left their inexperienced friend alone on a crevasse-ridden glacier. If he’d died they could have been charged with something similar to negligence leading to involuntary manslaughter.



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