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French Alps avalanche: Deaths near Chamonix :-(
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More recent updates of the deaths on Mont Maudit. The information below suggests the slope may have been very wind-loaded. There were 28 climbers in 3-groups. No one has speculated on a trigger, but it certainly could have been related to the heavy traffic climbing that route.
Nine climbers have been killed in an avalanche near the French Alpine ski resort of Chamonix and four others are missing, officials say.
hose killed were reported to be from Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Nine other climbers were injured.
Local authorities deployed rescue teams in helicopters and said it was the deadliest avalanche in recent memory.
The alarm was sounded at 05:25 local time (03:25 GMT) by one of the injured on the slopes of Mont Maudit.
The route is popular with summer tourists heading for the summit of Mont Blanc.
In all, 28 climbers were roped together in several groups on Thursday morning.
They are believed to have reached 4,000m (13,120 ft) when the avalanche struck.
A spokeswoman at the Haute-Savoie prefecture told the BBC that six bodies had been found.
Hours later, rescuers found the bodies of three more victims, believed to be Britons.
Four more climbers - said to be two UK nationals and two Spaniards - are still missing.
Chamonix mayor Jean-Louis Verdier told Reuters news agency the avalanche was completely unexpected.
"We had no more reason than usual to be alarmed," he said.
"It's a steep mountain face. There are big plates of snow where an avalanche can easily occur. But this morning we had no reason to expect an avalanche of this size and such a tragedy."
Rescue teams have been using helicopters and heat-seeking devices to try to locate the missing. Early on Monday evening, the search was called off until the next day.
The French authorities described the avalanche as "the most deadly" in recent years.
The weather in the region has been warm and windy over the last few days, which could have led to an increased risk of avalanche at high altitudes, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Berne reports.
Chamonix-based mountain guide Richard Mansfield described the area as "very beautiful", but said that it was avalanche-prone.
He said the slopes on Mont Maudit faced away from the prevailing wind, which meant snow could be pushed over forming slabs.
"These can easily be set off by a passing climber, causing an avalanche," he said.
Visiting the area, Interior Minister Manuel Valls described the incident as "catastrophic" and said a full investigation was under way.
Mont Maudit - meaning the cursed mountain - is the third-highest peak in the Mont Blanc massif range, rising to 4,465m.
Eight climbers were killed in an avalanche near Mont Maudit in 2008
It sounds like they should on this route, especially after a big winter/spring snow season. I say this because Christian Trommsdorf, Vice President of the French Guide Association said in the interview on the link that 8 people died in an August av on this same route in 2008. That year was also a good snow year for skiing with good early snow through mid-Jan and then lots more in March and April. This year I think they got pounded in mid-December-Jan with some nice top-ups in April.
The top of Mont Blanc is over 15 K, so I would expect some snow to fall there during most months of the year even if it is raining down in Cham which is under 4 K.
Edit- just saw CR`s post with the name of that peak indicating that it has been problematic in the past also.
This photo is from the Aiguille du Midi webcam on July 12. It doesn't show Mont Maudit, but looking at that snowpack you can imaging that a big avalanche would be possible.
P.S. These webcams are at http://www.compagniedumontblanc.fr/fr/webcams . I studied them obsessively leading up to my trip to Chamonix - Grands Montets and still check them nearly daily, wishing I were there.
When you are that high up and the snow pack is that much, anything can happen. I caused a large avalanche in CO on June 27 th back in the 90's, (mt Evans). I remember the date because it was snowing and my friend totaled his car on the way down mt evans highway that day! went right off the edge and got lucky because his car landed on its side on a huge boulder, otherwise it would have rolled about 800 vertical down. Anyways, usually the snow pack is pretty damn stable by now, but never a certainty.
I have posted this before, but I took this pic of an avalanche in Chamonix 4 years ago. Shortly after we arrived home I read that some climbers were killed in another avalanche.
(avalanche is down the middle -- that's a cloud on the right).
Edited by MidwestPete - 7/13/12 at 1:30pm
It's chilling to hear. Roger Payne was an incredibly experienced and well respected guide with a huge amount of expedition experience behind him. Just shows no matter how carefully conditions are assessed the risk is always there.
Adie, I have had that thought about more than one of the avalanche tragedies this past season. Nature is mighty powerful and can be costly, even if you take precautions.
Thoughts and prayers go out to all who are touched by this.
It's well over a 100 degrees and humid here today, so I am spending a lot of time on the computer. I dug up the succession of photos I took of an avalanche down the Aguille du Midi. The avalanche from last week is further off to the right of these photos.
Mt. Blanc below -
The NY times just ran an interesting article on climbing and how the mountains are changing. here is the link if interested http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/us/for-climbers-risks-now-shift-with-every-step.htm, And yes, every story like this is another somber moment to think about mother nature and how very very small we really are.
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