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Snow and avalanche 2017/18

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Jesus that’s awful. The wind was blowing like crazy on Sunday but that is such a popular route. Just goes to show how dangerous the mountains are in bad weather
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More detailed version in English here:
http://www.dw.com/en/swiss-alps-4-climbers-die-after-bad-weather-hits-pigne-darolla-mountain-route/a-43600461
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Horrific Crying or Very sad
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A 6th person has now died Sad and more information has emerged
http://www.20min.ch/ro/news/romandie/story/Le-drame-d-Arolla-fait-une-sixieme-victime-31531411

In French but to summarise:
- A group of 9 Italians/Germans were traveling with an Italian guide, who while struggling to find the route into the hut after the sudden change in weather fell and died.
- The now unguided group joined up with 4 French for safety reasons. Without knowing the way they decided to stay put and wait/call for help. Weather conditions overnight were extreme.
- There is no mobile or radio signal at that location, so the group would have had no way of contacting anyone.
- The alarm was raised when there calls for help were heard by others who had been staying in the hut (not sure if from the hut or the first departures).
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@Gämsbock, seems lots of bad luck combined. Any idea when they set out?
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@BobinCH, no - I have also been wondering that, and what time the storm actually started. As Dix-Vignettes is a short day on the HR, I would have expected there to be lots of daylight left a good while after their anticipated arrival time. As they were guided I would also assume they were booked into the hut and the guardian would be expecting them. I was wondering if there was a further element of bad luck not mentioned and if something had delayed them earlier in the day.

https://www.lematin.ch/suisse/alpinistes-retrouves-etat-hypothermie/story/23983163
According to the above, the alarm was raised by the first departures the following morning.
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@Gämsbock, we were in Verbier and the wind really got up around 12. It’s pretty exposed at the Vignettes but i’m also guessing they must have been quite late to have seen no further traffic on the route in either direction. From memory it’s also relatively straightforward to descend to Arolla from there in daytime although a storm can change everything. It’s a sobering lesson to never take the mountains for granted
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The storm force winds (foehn) were forecast by the French weather service from Friday, which is why we didn't ski Sunday afternoon but stopped around 1pm. I know of people in the area who didn't tour that day specifically because of the forecast. The Swiss weather service seems to have been less alarmist about the conditions. As the two qualified people (the guide and his wife) were killed it will be interesting to see the opinion of the hut guardian when they left. Certainly after they lost the guide (who was on the correct route and knew the area well) the group(s) were unable or unwilling to progress to the Vignettes hut which was very close to where they stopped despite being experienced mountaineers. (visibility described as down to 50cm in the storm with the survivors completely unable to move for fear of falling like the guide).

The only Italian survivor spoke of a "night of hell". He was unable to see his friends in the dark but shouted at them to stay awake. He moved all night to keep warm and raised the alarm with skiers he saw at the hut when dawn broke. He knew they were just a few hundred meters from safety but they were unable to reach the hut. "if you sleep, you will die" he told a German girl next to him, "you need to move your arms, your legs. "It was a catalog of errors, we should never have set out when we knew bad weather would start at 10am, we were lost four, or five times, I was the only person with a working GPS but we eventually reached a point where we could no longer move due to the visibility, night arrived and we stopped on the ridge, that was a huge error because in a storm you don't stop on a ridge, you need to be lower down where you can make a snow cave and shelter. I tried not to fall asleep because in those conditions if you sleep, hypothermia will kill you". The group were stuck on rocky ground so were unable to make snow caves and sheltered as best they could among the rocks. They were well equipped. "at that point I knew that most of us were doomed, the difference was our individual condition, experience and where we could find some shelter, all my friends are dead".
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That is such a tragic story - and you can't imagine what they were going through - I did wonder when I first heard it why they did not dig snow holes and if they had GPS mapping - but as the guy says a catalog of errors.

Plus you would have thought as they were presumably doing huts that they would be packing additional clothing etc but just horrific.

No where on the same scale but a mate was on a hut to hut six or so weeks ago when avy risk was ludicrous and a group was late at arriving in foul weather and the guardian went out and found them.

And then there was another incident as well in the same week, where part of the group arrived at the hut with ABS still inflated, if KevinSki is reading this maybe he can do the detail.
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Yes it is on the levels of "Into Thin Air" as a tragedy but on a scale we can understand. The information about the GPS is very interesting, that they found themselves unable to move even with the GPS.

Unfortunately one of the limitations of guided groups might be that the guide has other commitments and might be more inclined to set out. I've certainly spent days hunkered down in refuge in the past due to weather / visibility but not having a schedule that was not a major problem - just a phone call to work to say I would be a day or two late.
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We got stuck in a storm on the top of Mont Blanc a few years back and it was terrifying. 2 guides got us down to the Vallot shelter with GPS. We would have been toast without them. It went from sunshine to blowing a gale with zero viz in no time. And when you’re tired you tend to make mistakes
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What a terrible thing. One can only try to imagine how the skiers felt as the night drew in and the storm raged. I've read a few mountaineering books and it always makes me whince at the prospect.

Of course whenever these things happen the question turns to avoidance and decision making. I guess 99.9% of the time the guide wouldn't have slipped and he would have led the group to the hut and safety. I can imagine them sitting and eating and breathing a sigh of relief they made it there to safety and warmth. Maybe on another occasion the storm wouldn't have been so severe or passed quicker. There are always a set of circumstances that rarely happen or shouldn't happen that lead to tragedy. On the flip side, yes - you question... did they misread the weather, miscalculate the timings, ability of the group. I guess it's easy sitting here.

I've been in a few non-life threatening but relatively grim or difficult circumstances that perhaps felt in a small way how these people felt. I think the more I read the details of these sort events I get more jumpy, more and more cautious. Questioning whether I would get caught out in the same circumstances. Maybe it's also an age thing. My younger carefree days are behind me. Perhaps older and wiser I would rather bail out and come back for another shot than risk life and limb. But as I say "easy to say...."
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I’m very reluctant to speculate on this terrible event from my warm living room. I’ve been in a whiteout storm on a piste I’d skied hundreds of times and been totally disoriented. I’ve skied roped in a white out and skied slowly into a snow bank I didn’t see 2 foot in front of me. A friend was benighted in the Dolomites descending by abseil, just 15m above the track which would have then been a short walk to the hut.
One thing maybe to take away is even in a guided party for there to be some resilience in the group, and not to be totally reliant on one person even if they are well experienced. So at least one other person with a map and compass and working gps with the route logged.
I know the place where this happened and have been there winter and summer, to the left are big cliffs, the hut is approached by a narrow snow ridge which could be difficult to find in a storm. When I did the HLR we sat out a day in the Vignettes hut while there was a quite storm blowing outside, at around 3pm two guided parties arrived knackered and covered in snow having missioned it from the Charion hut up the Otemma Glacier. I thought at the time they were on a schedule that had to be kept to!
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15 deaths in total over the weekend including avalanches as Saas Fee and Mont Blanc.

http://pistehors.com/4-deaths-on-chamonix-zermatt-haute-route-25418532.htm
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@davidof, blimey Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad
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Layne wrote:
@davidof, blimey Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad


Yes, pretty shocking. Obviously the fall on the Galibier was not related to the storm but to the hard, icy conditions just before.
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People die up there all the time in the summer too. And in the summer you at least used to be able to find that hut using your nose.

The Italian survivor seems to have had good judgement in terms of avoiding hypothermia: that was a risk they understood.
If they stayed put with that risk, then I suppose that either they didn't know how close they were, or they felt they were in a very dangerous place and didn't have the confidence/ ability to move.

More generally...
If you hire one guide, do they provide you with protocols should the guide get into trouble?
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philwig wrote:
If you hire one guide, do they provide you with protocols should the guide get into trouble?

I have limited experience, one week Intro to Ski Touring and may be 5 days off piste guiding, and it's going back 13/14 years. But there was never anything said about the guide getting pole axed.
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When we went up Mt Blanc the guide asked if were ok to join up with another group for safety in numbers. They were 2 Italian guides do not sure if they’d planned it up front or was luck of the day. Turned out to be a very good idea!
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@Weathercam, A black weekend for sure and our thoughts have to go to the families of those dead and injured. Apart from the headline instances (many with tragic outcomes) I'm sure there are many many more near misses. In the week I spent 'touring' with our guide Murray Hamilton, we had 2 days when the sun shone and 4 bad days. The avalanche risk was 3 or 4 all week. To begin with, we had to change our plans for the week moving from just south of the Queyras north to the Maurienne. The first incident happened at the Dent de la Parrachée refuge when a young couple failed to return to the refuge having gone out somewhat late. Murray volunteered to go looking for them and eventually found them trying to dig a snowhole. Our dinner was late that night and the couple were very fortunate. The rescue had already been called by the guardian and fortunately were able to be stood down.

The second incident took place at the Terre Rouge refuge above Valmeinier. We travelled up in a blizzzard and found the refuge but a later group could not find it (it's not on the map). Instead they had to find a chapel that is shown on the map and navigate from there. Unfortunately, it seems that they were caught in a small windslab avalanche from which they emerged unharmed though the guide triggered his avalanche bag.

As I said, I'm sure there are countless similar stories from a winter that promised so much but which has been both deadly and frustrating. Stay safe.
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A point that might be worth making in the circumstances of the Haute Route tragedy is that a simple Group Shelter can be a very valuable thing to carry. Very light, it can provide some protection against the elements, the wind especially, but more importantly by keeping the group together it helps greatly to keep morale up and for members of the group to keep an eye on each other. Worth considering if you don't have one.
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Now a 7th victim of the Haute Route tragedy. May they all rest in peace.
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2 experienced members of a rescue team in the Dolomites died on Tuesday while doing recreational skiing. They fell several hundred feets down the mountain.
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I wonder how many (if any) had bivy/survival bags?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=56&v=GbtVlij3c1Y

I've nearly perished on the Grossglocker at around 3000m after a sudden change in the weather brought in high winds and dense fog. It was in 2001 and GPS was not widely used. Ended up descending down the wrong valley with 50 deg plus icy slopes and many crevasses. We were in a group of three (3 friends no guide) and roped up but the heaviest slipped almost dragging us down, we were lucky that the rope snagged on some rocks to break his fall after a few seconds. Those few seconds were the longest seconds of my life.

It's a crappy feeling not having any navigation points or communicaton with the outside world, not knowing if you are going in the right direction or to the edge of the next cliff while the storm rages. As if the wilderness has you cornered and is now going to punish you for your mistakes. It's a difficult decision between keeping moving but possibly blindly causing your own demise or staying put and freezing.

RIP to the unfortunate 7.
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Weathercam wrote:
Plus you would have thought as they were presumably doing huts that they would be packing additional clothing etc but just horrific.


I did the Haute Route myself in 2000. It is the only full tour I have ever done.

The problem is that you are recommended to travel as light as possible. Some experienced tourers even chop the handle off of their toothbrush. Others cut a book in half to lighten their load.The only extra clothing most people carry is a change of socks and underwear. Yes, it can get pretty grim.

They probably were already wearing all their outer layers considering the weather, so there would have not been much more they could do with regard to clothing.
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@richjp, most seasons I do at a series of hut to hut and I do carry some additional layers (I carry light trousers for instance and an additional top), and don't go for the all out light is right, but do agree that they were probably using all they had, just still too hard to imagine and get ones head around what they must have been going through.

Is this the Vignettes Refuge that they were trying to get to, as you can see how exposed it might be in bad weather?

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Weathercam, that looks like the old hut before the 2008 refurb. This is it now, you can see the approach, which might be hard to locate in a storm.
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Just to complete the information, the group set off at 6h30.

Remember that the guide had done some 8000 meter summits so wasn't some guy fresh out of the ENSA. It seems like the group were tired by this time so along with the weather you can see that might have lost a lot of time.
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davidof wrote:
Just to complete the information, the group set off at 6h30.

Remember that the guide had done some 8000 meter summits so wasn't some guy fresh out of the ENSA. It seems like the group were tired by this time so along with the weather you can see that might have lost a lot of time.

Actually could have been a contributing factor. I think statistically the guys mostly likely to get it wrong are relative novices or ones that are very experienced. The latter often becoming over confident or complacent. I've read Alan Hinkes book about climbing the 14 peaks above 8000m. He real goes to great pains to stress his not wanting to put his life in danger mindsight but IMO it's clear that has he gets towards the end of the 14 he's pushing the envelope more and more. The close escapes just add to the sense of invisibility. Maybe I'm wrong and it was just unfortunate. I kind of feel bad speculating...
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[quote="Layne"]
davidof wrote:

Actually could have been a contributing factor. I think statistically the guys mostly likely to get it wrong are relative novices or ones that are very experienced.... I kind of feel bad speculating...


I kind of had that in mind with my post. Guide over estimated his clients capacities. One of the survivors said that he didn't appreciate how hard the planned day (they cut it short to the Vignettes when they got lost). Still it was his 5th day with clients so he should have had an idea how they were doing, but it seems they were all pretty tired by that stage of the trip.

I always dislike learning from very experienced people for similar reasons - they forget just how bad beginners are.

Elsewhere someone said they would have been better off realizing they were going to not make it to the hut before sundown and hunkering down in some more sheltered spot where they could have built shelter. Easy to say after the event and when you are so close to safety but perhaps another lesson to learn. The "into thin air" tragedy also ignored the stop times they set. It is known as "go" mentality - another trap.

Just to note that the Allilan glacier avalanche victim was the former head of piste services at Montgenevre. Another very experienced skier. As far as France / French victims goes it has been a very bad season for experienced ski tourers with some questionable decision making in some cases.
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I've just read that they were originally heading for the Nacamuli hut in Italy rather than Vignettes, which is a bit strange, as apart from Vignettes being the "normal" route, it's the one listed on the website of the guide as the intended one. I can only find one reference to the route online. We did Dix-Vignettes, which is probably the least strenuous day on the route, but Nacamuli looks quite a bit further, if mainly skiing. I do wonder if there was a change / confusion in plans which led to no guardian realising they hadn't arrived.

The entry to Vignettes is quite strange, as you can't see the way in until the last minute.

According to their itinerary the previous day would have been Montfort-Dix, which is a big day and could account for them being particularly tired. We did that stage as 2 days via the Prafleuri hut.

They did seem to end up in the absolute worst place to be stuck for the night in terms of not being able to shelter together or build a snowhole.
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High alpine pass clearing this year is very difficult. They've stopped work on the Galibier for the moment due to the avalanche risk. On the Cormet de Roselund they are cutting through 15 meter walls of snow in places, similar on the Iseran. On the south side of the Croix de Fer it is more of the same, again with a risk of the walls collapsing in as it warms during the day.





Mont Cenis:





The problem isn't just the roads but the amount of snow higher up creating an avalanche risk on the road below (someone was killed on the Galibier a few years ago when it avalanched down to the road).

Cols will be 2 weeks to a month late in opening. The Iseran won't be open until sometime in June - 10 meters of snow drifts at the col.
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@davidof, Shocked Shocked
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Wow. More pics and video here: https://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr/auvergne-rhone-alpes/savoie-haute-savoie-neige-retarde-ouverture-cols-montagne-1469749.html
The massive boulder perched on a pile of snow by the "cleared" road is alarming.
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The Italian guide's association have issued a statement with respect to their member in the Arolla tragedy. hey say they are working closely with the Swiss authorities.

The guide Mario Castiglioni was "equipped with all the necessary security gear: GPS, satellite phone and smartphone with Swiss maps and the group were suitably equipped for the route. The group left the Dix refuge at the correct hour for the route they were taking. The snow and weather conditions should have allowed them to complete the route, even with worsening conditions. It usually takes 6 hours. At 9h30 the weather was good with excellent visibility. Within a few minutes a violent storm blew in with temperatures below zero and winds to 100kph. The group had planned to spend the night at the Nacamuli refuge in Italy and further than the Vignettes but on the same route. The Italian group found themselves below a group of four French ski tourers who had stopped at a rock outcrop (3280 meters) near un large stone man which is the reference point for the route to the Vignettes hut. Swiss Mountain Rescue found the guide below the groups of skiers, we don't know if he died from exposure or a fall or a combination of both."
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Mont Cenis


http://youtube.com/v/qjNfoNbX0ao
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http://youtube.com/v/KjCcFtv3vzU
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davidof wrote:
Mont Cenis


Love the dramatic music! I guess GPS makes it a bit easier to actually find the track of the road these days.
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Skevinski wrote:
A point that might be worth making in the circumstances of the Haute Route tragedy is that a simple Group Shelter can be a very valuable thing to carry. Very light, it can provide some protection against the elements, the wind especially, but more importantly by keeping the group together it helps greatly to keep morale up and for members of the group to keep an eye on each other. Worth considering if you don't have one.


I'll second this. I have a two man superlight and a 4 man bothy bag. They are amazing bits of kit. Survival bags are good (I have one as well the SOL emergency bivy, about the size of an apple) but a group shelter beats them hands down in most situations for all the points mentioned above, the group moral, keeping people together, keeping an eye on each other.

I take mine out every time I head out in Scotland in winter, they are great for everything from a lunch stop on the Cairngorm Plateau during a breezy ski tour to packing the bags at the top of a route and getting the map out out to nav home in a white out hoolie. The kids think they are ace too.
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