It’s just been reported that five climbers have died in the Italian Alps. Four died on Mont Blanc and one on Monte Rosa. Last year I climbed extensively in this region, climbing three peaks on Monte Rosa followed by Mont Blanc. Apparently all the victims in these accidents were found frozen, indicating they died because of exposure to the elements. This is believable. Weather conditions can change incredibly quickly at 4000m. When we attempted Mont Blanc we made three separate attempts. On the first two we were driven back by bad conditions. Of those, one of them was particularly nasty. The wind was so strong that we literally could not stand up – we had to crawl – and the wind chill was so ridiculous we would have been hypothermic in ten minutes had we have not descended. While on Mont Blanc I actually watched a high altitude (approx. 3800m) helicopter rescue of someone (don’t know what happened). The moral of the story – even the ‘easy’ alpine peaks, like Mont Blanc and some of the peaks on Monte Rosa, can be extremely dangerous when conditions get rough, which can happen very quickly. Unfortunately, mountains like Mont Blanc, because they are so easy and so prestigious, attract climbers by the thousands, sometimes up to several hundred in one day. Many of these climbers, because of the ease of the climb will be inexperienced. I saw some shockers on Mont Blanc – people climbing without the right equipment, people getting drunk in the mountain huts. While 99% of the time people like this end up okay, in the 1% of instances where something unexpected happens, these climbers are the ones who end up dead. I don’t know how experienced the climbers who died in Italy were, but my guess is not very. There are two types of climber who would find themselves in that kind of situation – overly ambitious experienced climbers, or downright inexperienced climbers.
Addendum: News sources are now indeed confirming my suspicions. Apparently the weather forecast was bad, and the climbers should not have gone out in the first place. When they were caught in the bad weather they failed to dig a snow cave, which almost certainly would have saved their lives. Apparently the climbers on Mont Blanc were New Zealanders, who were living in France. It’s a tragic story, especially given that something as simple as knowing to dig a snow cave would have prevented this tragedy.