Avalanche


I haven’t blogged for a while, partly because I was involved in a climbing accident in Northern Italy at the end of February. I wrote this document initially for myself, friends and collegues to clarify the events of a day in which I and two friends were caught up in a sequence of avalanches. I also wrote it as an aid to my own (mental) recovery. People are lucky to survive a single avalanche, to survive being hit by four is nothing short of a miracle. 27th Feb 2009 left me with multiple fractures and a different view on life. I’ve sat on this document for 3 weeks before finally deciding to post it here.

Andy

—–

Prologue – 10th March 2009

The accident happened 12 days ago, 27th February 2009. I and two climbing partners were caught in a sequence of avalanches near the village of Lillaz, Cogne, Northern Italy. These are my personal experiences of that day and the facts as I saw them unfold. I’ve tried to add "feeling" to the account of the day’s events to ensure that it is readable but have resisted "embellishment of the facts". Timings are subjective; many things happened in quick succession and when senses are being pounded with information time appears to slow down.

I’ve been climbing for the last 15 years. The outdoors, mountains and mountaineering define my life. I have gained a deep level of personal satisfaction, some would say almost "spiritual" in my choice of an outdoor lifestyle. My closest friends are all mountaineers and I consider many of them to be "brothers".

I have spoken before to friends that my greatest fear has always been one of being avalanched. A middle grade climber; during the last 15 years I have climbed extensively in the UK, Norway and the Alps in both Summer and Winter. I have attended winter mountaineering courses, read books and watched avalanche awareness videos. Almost every winter season I have re-read and revised "A chance in a million?" the definitive British text on avalanches. I personally know of two friends that, separately, have previously been caught in avalanches; a friend of one of those being killed.

I’m no expert on Avalanche prediction, though the reader will understand that neither am I naive to the danger.  I’ve always known the risks and maintained a healthy respect during my climbing career for the situations that I’ve placed myself in.

…but always at the back of ones mind lurks complacency; after all, "Accidents always happen to someone else, don’t they?”

Snowpack History

Much of Europe received significant snowfall during January 2009.  In Britain we had the greatest snowfalls for 18 years. The village of Lillaz in Italy where our accommodation was booked for a 9 day winter climbing trip was isolated from its neighbour, Cogne, for 5 days by an avalanche on 15th December 2008. There was a significant snowfall around 24th January 2009; almost a month prior to our trip. Separate climbing parties were involved in avalanches in the region on 8th & 9th February 2009. The latter involved a fatality.

We were aware of the significant risk when we arrived in Lillaz at midnight Friday 20th/21st February. The avalanche risk [scale 1 (low) – 5 (high)] was forecast as 3 at that time. In the days that followed we chose our routes carefully and stayed away from icefalls fully exposed to the sun and those lying under obviously hazardous slopes. The week was cold and sunny with many mornings starting the day at -7°C.  We perceived a general improvement in the stability of the snowpack as the week progressed. Days were cloudless with surface layers melting and nights followed with a hard frost, the melt/freeze action gradually bonding the snowpack together and improving stability of the slopes. Our own observations were confirmed when we were told of the lowering of the risk from 3 down to 2 in the official avalanche bulletin issued at 5:30pm 23/02/2009.  The risk remained at level 2 in the next bulletin issued at 5:00pm 25/02/2009.  No bulletin was issued the day prior to me being avalanched. We did not have internet access to see and read these bulletins for ourselves during the duration of our stay in Italy.

Resource – http://notes2.regione.vda.it/DBWeb/bollnivometeo/bollnivometeo.nsf/Archivio?OpenForm&L=e&

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. – Friday 27th February 2009

We’d spent a number of days earlier in the week climbing some good ice up to a grade of WI4+. Seven of us were based in Lillaz together and for me it was my 3rd winter trip there, the first being in 2004. We’d had a good trip there then too and had then finished the week on a WI3 route "Pattinaggio Artistico" (Artistic Skating). Having already had a hard weeks climbing we climbed only the first of four pitches on this 180m route and abseiled off. We’d had enough and it felt like time to go home.Route

 The Route. “X” marks approx position of each 60m belay. Taken the day after we were avalanched. Debris can be seen at the bottom of the route.

The intervening years came and went and the remainder of this route played on my mind. It was something I wanted to finish. There is a steep start to the second pitch, maybe 10m inclined at 80° and it was something I really wanted to do.  I regretted not getting back on the route when we returned to Cogne again in 2005.

Out of seven of us present, five were up for climbing on 27th Feb. There was a swap around in the teams; Nev, Mat and I elected to go and look at Pattinaggio Artistico while Phil and Paul planed to climb a slightly harder WI4 route, "Lillaz Gully" situated near in the same valley.
It was a relatively short walk in to the start of the route, only around 45min from our hotel. We crossed the cross-country ski pists and started ascending slopes up through the trees to the start of the route. Having gained some significant height Nev pointed out that my drinking water "bladder" was leaking (The mouth piece was trapped by my rucksack).  In taking it off to re-adjust things I dropped my Nikon camera and watched helplessly as it rolled with increasing speed for around 200m down to the valley floor. I lost maybe 30 minutes retrieving it. The body looks OK but I now have a nice 3 part lens! It passed through my mind as a bad omen; I dismissed it as just pre-route jitters.

The route starts with a traverse in along a rising ledge to join the gully above the "direct" start, a WI5+ 50m free hanging icicle. I geared up and joined Mat and Nev who had already arranged a rope for the short abseil into the gully. Above us we could see two climbers already established on the route; the leader had finished the second pitch and was bringing up his partner.

P2270193

Mat leads the first pitch of "Pattinaggio Artistico"

Mat, for who it was his first Winter Alpine trip, led the first pitch. It was cold and the ice was "dinner plating" with each blow of an ice axe. Mat climbed efficiently and soon I and Nev joined him at the next belay under the steep ice wall that I had wanted to climb for such a long time. At the belay I’m sure I recognised a sling that I left there 5 years previously as a backup when we abseiled off the route.

"Fear is the mind killer”; I geared up for the second pitch.  Every climber goes through a familiar mental routine: Ice screws are racked up in order, longer screws for the belay at the bottom, shorter screws for "runners" on top. Quick place "express" screws racked separately. Karabiners and "quick draws" are racked in equal amounts on either side to be reached with either hand. Belay plate, knife, prusik loops, etc are placed at the back of the harness; still within reach but out of the way. Breathing slows to control the nervous tension. The mind becomes totally focused on the job at hand.

P2270197  IMG_0101

Left : Nev near the belay at the top of the 1st pitch.    
Right : Andy starting the 2nd pitch crux.

At a guess it’s around 300m vertical drop to the valley floor. I launch off up the steep wall standing on the front point of my crampons. Axe placements are good and I manage to place two valuable ice screws shortly after leaving the belay. Climbing equals meditation. The pitch is a breeze and passes without incident. Half way up my pitch I avoid the easy option of some simple snow slopes and climb a second shorter ice wall just for added fun. Soon I find the next belay point; expansion bolts placed in the rock, which I clip into and bring up Mat and Nev. The day is progressing well. The sun is out, the ice is great and all seems good in the world.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In mountaineering complacency and familiarity are killers.

Nev has plans to stay on in the Alps. His wife is due to meet him in Geneva on Sunday for a ski-touring course the following week. This will be his last days climbing with the chores of washing his personal kit the following day. He’s taking it easy. Mat leads the third pitch. Nev holds the ropes and belays him while I eat my lunch. The view across the valley is fantastic. Cogne really is a beautiful place. At the start of our route ~120m below I can see another party of two climbers crossing the gully from the traverse in and preparing to start the climb.

P2270204

View from the top of the 2nd pitch down to Lillaz.

Eventually I join Nev and Mat at the top of the third pitch. Immediately I’m impressed with Mat’s belay. The boy’s done good; three ice screws placed in a downward pointing equilateral triangle. Each screw is placed about 1m apart and all are connected with an equalized sling that has been tied off. Any downward loading will be shared by all three screws and should any single screw fail, then the remaining two will not be shock loaded.

Nev is biting at the bit. Forget wrapping him in cotton wool; the climbing, the situation, the route – all are fantastic and he wants a piece of the action. We know that we are nearing the top of the route. He wants to lead what we think will be the final pitch. From the top we can either abseil the route or walk off.

Nev gears up and Mat prepares to belay him. At this point two Italian climbers who we had seen above us earlier in the day abseil down having completed the route. We exchange pleasantries and they descend to an expansion bolt belay 10m below us.  It had been hard to spot and Mat had missed it on the climb up. As they retrieve their ropes they become tangled in Nev’s backpack. It’s not a problem; the day has been a good one and everyone is feeling relaxed.

P2270205

Nev draped in the ropes of the abseiling Italian pair.

Nev starts what we think could be the last pitch of the climb, maybe 60m or a little more to the top of the route and it’s in the bag. The average angle of the slope is around 60°/70° with short vertical steps. Mat and I are standing in a small depression where snow has accumulated on an otherwise constant ice slope. We’ve kicked steps into the snow and it’s possible to stand with feet flat and comfortable relieving muscular tension in the calves.

A war of attrition – Friday 27th February 2009 15:00 CET

The ice here is good; climbers would describe it as "plastic". Each placement of the ice axe is secure without the need for a second "thwack". Nev is in his element enjoying every swing of his axe. "Yeeeeehaaaa – Bring it on!!" he shouts as good progress is made. Irony is a funny thing… On the cliff to the side and maybe 40m above and to the left of us a large patch of snow slides off sun warmed slabs. It’s not unusual to see but in hindsight a warning of what’s to come. It breaks up and cascades over rocks, falling into the gully a long way below us.  I feel grateful not to be on the receiving end.

P2270208

Last picture before the first Avalanche : 15:43 CET

Nev disappears over the lip of the ice that we can see, presumably on to easier ground. He arranges the belay and shouts down "Safe".

Then it came…

There’s a crack, a boom and a rumble. The rumble grows as if the mountain is angry.  It’s easy to become superstitious when the sureness of life becomes vague. All hell breaks loose and a cloud of snow and ice pours over the lip above us. Mat and I can do nothing but hit the deck. The avalanche lasts maybe 6 seconds and flows over our bodies continuing down the gully. It looked massive but proves to be the smallest of the day; "the baby". We’re still here, shook up but both OK. There are no major injuries and even my ice axes previously planted in the snow besides me are still in place. I pick them up and clip them to my climbing harness. Above us Nev confirms that he’s OK too.

I can’t quite believe what’s just happened, though the sudden seriousness of our situation is ringing every alarm bell in my head. The fight or flight response has kicked in.

I don’t want to be here. The fun has evaporated. I feel like a spider in a drainpipe when the rain starts. We need to get off this route fast. We need to be out of here now!

There are 3 of us on the rope and 3 pitches to abseil. This could take realistically 1h30m, having to pull the ropes after each abseil and sort  them out each time as inevitably ropes always get knotted. All this time we will be exposed to whatever flows down the gully. Above us, we think, is a little over 1 pitch. We can climb out and possibly reach a safer position in maybe 45 minutes. In my mind going up is the obvious course of action. We can find somewhere safe, under an overhang or out on the ridge (?) where danger will bypass us. We can wait until night fall and abseil the route at night when it’s colder (safer) if need be. There is no discussion, instinctively we all agree that the best way out is up.

Mat starts to climb to Nev’s position. He’s about 20m/25m above me when there is another crack, a boom and a rumble. I’m tense expecting the worse. My eyes are transfixed on the lip of the ice maybe 35m above me. I’m waiting for the next hit but it doesn’t materialise. "Hard Ice in the Rock" is a WI4 route in a gully parallel to ours. Maybe the avalanche flowed down there?

Nev shouts, "Right that’s it we’re going down".  There’s no discussion. Find somewhere safe and quick. Mat starts to downclimb. I shout for him to lean away from the face and let Nev lower him on the rope as it’s faster. He obliges.  I instruct Nev to lower Mat past me and onto the bolted belay stance that we saw the Italians use on their abseil. Once there, Mat quickly attaches himself to the bolts and makes himself safe. The stance is on the side of the gully and sheltered slightly by an ice bulge maybe 1m high.  I want to be there too.  I want to be there as quickly as possible.  My position is secure on the three ice screws but my position is also exposed and I know it.

Crack, a boom and a rumble…

I hit the deck again. Nev is ~50m above me. Mat is ~10m lower. The avalanche appears over the lip of ice above me. I am powerless to do anything.

There is a lot of potential energy contained within snow lying on a high slope. Often there is a lot of air too. When snow begins to slide potential energy is now kinetic. Individual snow crystals are broken and rounded. Friction warms the snow and it may start to melt. Snow at the bottom of an avalanche field can be as hard as ice. It contains little air. It is dense, just like ice. 1m³ (depending on its temperature) of ice weighs 1 metric tone. I imagine the snow in an avalanche is of a similar weight and density. Do you remember how heavy the "body" was the last time you rolled a snowball for a snowman?

I get hit; Hard. The noise is relentless and I quickly recognise that my chin is bouncing off my chest with the frequency of a machine gun. Life does not flash before my eyes. I have plenty of time to think but my single thought is precise and direct…

"This is going to break my neck"

I see the snow turn crimson in front of my face. I assume that’s my nose broken. I’m being pummeled like a rag doll and there is absolutely nothing what so ever that I can do about it. It lasts maybe 20-25 seconds. The avalanche eventually passes over me and continues its flow down the gully.

I try to push myself up. Intense pain in my chest. I’ve broken plenty of bones before (maybe this should tell me something?) this time I know that I’ve done something serious. All the wind has been knocked from me. I can’t get up. I’m helpless to move.

Mat is a trained first aider, he is qualified to do everything that a paramedic can do except administer drugs. I hear him shout, "I can see blood". I try to get to my feet again. Frankly speaking, I’m fu*ked. I’m also still alive.

I hear Nev shout that he is abseiling down to help me, which he duly does and gets me to my feet. At this point he must have given me a crucial ice screw because I had previously given them all to him to lead the pitch above. Nev is going to lower me to Mat and the perceived safety of the expansion bolts.  He lowers me off an ice screw rather than directly from the belay plate on his harness.

The two ropes are knotted together (for Nev’s abseil). The rope passes from Mat up to the belay stance 50/60m above us and back down to Nev. It passes through Nev’s belay plate to a karabiner on a screw above Nev and down to me. In order for Nev to lower me he must have slack rope to pay out. There is a knot in the rope at Mat’s end. The rope has been loaded and is wet and cold. Mat is struggling frantically to undo the knot…

This is bad news, everything is going pearshaped. I’m in no-mans land. I’m on a single 8.5mm rope halfway between the 3 screw belay and the expansion bolts. I’m seriously concerned about my current situation. My eye follows the rope. Is it safe for Mat to cut it in order to give Nev the slack he requires? I nearly shout at him to do so. Senses are overloaded and everything is happening too fast. I nearly shout at him to cut the rope, but I’m not sure of the consequences. I resist.

We were apprehensive; throughout this time we can hear multiple avalanches kicking off around the valley. We’re under no delusion that another isn’t going to come our way. We’re doing the best that we can working fast, safely and securely to extract ourselves from the predicament that we find ourselves in. I don’t feel safe. I know that another avalanche now will take me out. I place the ice screw just above me and attach myself to it with a sling while Mat sorts out the knot. It’s my only back-up.

Crack, a boom, rumble…

Every subsequent avalanche is bigger than the last. It sounds like a Saturn V rocket, or at least what I imagine a Saturn V rocket sounds like as ignition burns for take off. It’s clear that this one is massive. The gully above us is filled across it’s width as the third avalanche bursts over the lip. For a third time I hit the deck and I’m hit once again. Blocks of snow and ice are hitting and exploding on me, bouncing off my head and rucksack. It’s pulling me down and I come tight on the rope. I’ve described this as being like a cork suspended under a waterfall.

With each hit I’m bouncing on the rope and ice screw and it’s getting more intense. I feel heavy and the webbing on my harness is cutting violently into my legs. Visibility is short, maybe 1m and all I can see around me is white.  The rope is tight. Once more I have time to think. I can see the rope getting stretched. I look at the ice screw.

Will it hold? My protection is taking a lot of punishment. I feel sure it’s going to pop and it occurs to me that I am going for a ride down the face.

Writing this now, I estimate it was 430m to the valley floor from where I was being swept away from the ice face. The third avalanche lasted maybe 25 seconds. After it had passed I was still hanging off the single ice screw that I’d placed as my backup; remarkably I was still alive!

I looked up and across to Nev. The snow had turned him over and he was hanging in his harness upside down; headfirst down and facing out from the slope, back arched significantly backwards and his legs curled up behind him with the heals of his boots almost touching his bum. He was no longer wearing his climbing helmet.

I thought he was dead. Simple. I thought my friend had “gone”.

Mat and I were both calling his name frantically.  He’s been knocked unconscious. It seemed forever before we saw any sign of life, maybe 10 seconds. Nev raised an arm to wave, it flopped. I was totally unable to offer any assistance. He was maybe 5m away and there was nothing I could do for him. It was taking all my effort just to stand there. Nev got himself to his feet and stumbled around. He turns to face us…

There was obvious facial trauma. It looked like the cheek bone on one side of his face had been caved in and I’m sure that Mat made a quiet comment to confirm my own thoughts. The reality however was that he had been hit hard on the opposing side of his head and it was the swelling on that side that made his face unrecognizable and out of proportion.  To his credit, Nev dismantled the 3 screw belay and made his way down towards Mat and myself.

How I got to Mat I’m not sure.

The three of us were now tied to two expansion bolts and three new ice screw placements. We were all interlinked by a variety of slings. If we were to be hit again and make an unwanted rapid decent then it would be a case of "all or none". We had time to check the belay and our slings. Throughout this time we could hear other avalanches around the valley taking place. The situation was tense but we were calm and focused. My thought also turned to Phil and Paul on another route. At this point I’m also regularly blowing six times on my whistle to signal our distress.

I can see a group of people gathered in the valley, obviously watching the sequence of events. Later I look again and they have gone. Either to get help or to avoid the misfortune of watching our imminent demise; which I’m not sure. 

Crack, boom, rumble. "It’s a big one", called Nev.

How small can you make yourself? We cowered behind the 1m ice bulge that offered some protection.  I placed my right arm around Nev, more symbolically in unity than it being of any real assistance. There was nothing we could do but let fate and natural selection take its course.

When the fourth avalanche started I was wearing my climbing helmet. It dwarfed the previous 3 avalanches. When it finished, maybe 30 seconds later, my helmet was gone. There had been no further injuries. I had glanced right as it was taking place, out past Nev, and couldn’t believe the quantity of material flowing past us.

We stood up. Mat was retrieving his mobile from inside of his rucksack. "112" in Italy to the emergency services. The cold had left very little reserve in his battery. The concern in his voice about this was apparent. His phone was about to give out.  He relayed we were 3 English climbers with 2 seriously injured. I confirmed to Mat the name of the route we were on above the village of Lillaz near Cogne. Mat told them that we were at the top of the third pitch and required helicopter assistance. They confirmed that the message had been understood and that help was on its way.

We coiled the ropes and made ready. There would be no help provided with ropes flapping wildly in a helicopters downdraft.

Mat saw the helicopter flying up the valley first. This was maybe 15 minutes from our call. As it approached we raised our arms in a "V"; internationally recognised as requiring assistance. The chopper flew past but we knew they had seen us and needed to fly into the wind for a rescue. Soon the helicopter approached. I signalled for them to take Nev first. Never really a pretty sight, but he normally looked better at this time of day and appeared to be the worst casualty. The helicopter was above us with the winch man being lowered down. Nev was removed from all slings apart from one. The winch man landed, and within seconds karabiners had been swapped and Nev was airborne.

The evacuation was fast and efficient, the same was done for me and I dangled on a steel wire suspended high above the valley floor. I was pulled through the door of the helicopter and I have never felt so pleased to be off a mountain. I patted Nev with a sense of relief and shook the hands of the other air crew. If you don’t understand the term, google it; FUBAR.  I felt pretty bad.  I felt as bad as Nev looked.

P2270211

Nev looking battered and bruised, very soon after I arrived in the helicopter : 17:09 CET

Shortly Mat and then the winch man entered the chopper.  They were about to fly off down the valley when Mat was able to explain that there was a possibility of four other climbers on the route.  The chopper banked steeply and we flew down to the valley floor and slowly up the length of the climb.

There was no sign of life lower on the route…

The chopper landed in Cogne about 3Km further down the valley from our hotel. Both Mat and I were dropped off and the Helicopter took off again with Nev on board. FUBAR; I found it difficult to sit and breath. I started to think that I’d punctured my left lung. It was pretty obvious that my sternum (chest bone) was fractured. I couldn’t understand why I’d not been included in the evacuation with Nev.

Obviously in Italy you need to be pug ugly and look like the elephant man in order to get into hospital.

I later learnt that it was at Mat’s insistence that I was evacuated to hospital (thank you Mat). The helicopter returned and I took my second chopper ride of the day. It hurt like hell, but what I could see of the ride and the scenery was great. I was taken down to Aosta and walked the 150m or so to a waiting ambulance. The significance of this will become apparent.

The Aftermath – Friday 27th February 2009 17:00 EST

I managed the walk to the ambulance but I hurt like hell. The paramedic spoke excellent English and helped me in. I sat on a seat rather than lying on the stretcher. The siren kicked in and we were on our way to hospital. He doused some gauze with sterile water and gave it me for my face. I had a cut under my right eye that subsequently required four stitches (the least of my worries). This was the bleeding wound, caused by the safety specs that I’d been wearing. Fortunately my big nose remains unbroken and as beautiful as ever.

I was put into a wheelchair in the hospital and after filling out some paper work and agreeing to pay for treatment a ticket was taped on the back of my chair and I was "positioned" in the corridor.

Before leaving the UK I have always used snowcard.co.uk for search/rescue cover and insurance needs. I have always stipulated ice climbing as my main activity and the premium has always been competitive. It’s the best £40 I ever spent.

The wait seemed long and I watched a clock advance. Maybe an hour or so passed. I ached.  It felt like I ached everywhere. I found one position where I could breath reasonably well though I was still concerned about the possibility of a collapsed lung.

Eventually my ticket made it to the front of the queue and I was wheeled in for examination; another English speaking doctor. Basic checks for breaks and internal injuries followed. He proceeded to stitch my cheek. I’ve been told that he’s done a good job. Following that I had around 10 x-rays of my back and chest together with an ultrasound looking for any abdominal injuries.

Initial diagnosis:
Facial Lacerations, 2 broken ribs, 1 fractured sternum, and 4 fractured vertebrae.  My legs and toes still worked; no spinal cord damage.  Wiggling my toes became an obsession in the days that followed.

The doctor also said (unbelievably) that they would keep me in for observation that night but that I should be OK to fly home on the Sunday. Sunday came and went, as did my friends on their flight home; apart from Nev who was laid up in a different ward.  There was nothing else our friends could do and there was no point in them staying. They left us with supplies of fruit, chocolate and drinks. They sorted our personal gear and shipped all the climbing hardware back to the UK.

I spent 8 nights lying on my back in an Italian hospital. It was an adventure in itself. Amazingly Nev suffered no breaks or fractures. Only severe bruising of his face and abdomen. Nev was discharged after two nights.

P3010217

Nev and Andy 1st March 2009

Four days after the accident I had my first CT scan, a second when back in the UK confirmed that one vertebrae between my shoulder blades has been crushed on one side. It’s been “wedged” with obvious fractures. The mating faces of adjacent vertebrae have also received damage though the extent would only be revealed by an MRI scan. Initial healing time is six weeks from the accident, three months before I can do anything heavy (i.e. Training). Long term prognosis is good with only the possibility of aches in later life. I’m lucky, I know it.

wedged-vertebra

Andy’s X-Ray

An Italian said to me that their hospitals were like 5* hotels with 1* restaurants. The food was awful. Have you ever tried eating vegetable soup while lying flat on your back? They gave me a straw, and a bib.

The following day I felt like I’d done 12 rounds with Mike Tyson, however by mid-week the initial bruising was coming out and I began to feel better. Negotiation started with my insurance provider. Their doctors in the UK received my CT scan data and confirmed the Italian diagnosis that I would have to fly home horizontal.

On Saturday 7th March I was repatriated. A plane with just myself, doctor, nurse, pilot and co-pilot flew me from Turin to Birmingham. Travel insurance; don’t leave home without it.

P3070227

Repatriation. First class.

On landing at Birmingham I was to spend a further two nights in hospital at Redditch where the diagnosis was confirmed.

Conclusion

Naturally the event has been life changing. I’ve replayed the scene over and over in my head many times. There have been plenty of “what if’s”.

Luck, fate? who knows? I guess it’s not my time yet. I firmly believe that we did nothing different than any other British climber would have done in choosing to climb that day. We believed the avalanche risk was lower than it had been all week and that it was a safe choice of route. Some criticism could possibly be thrown at us to say we were still on the route late in the day, but so were other continental climbers. The avalanches came from much higher on the mountain and were not triggered by us. My assumption is that they were triggered by the Sun.

In our delight at enjoying the climb we had failed to notice any rise in temperature. Indeed, we climbed all day in the same clothing layers without desire to remove any. Did the temperature rise? Probably, but I don’t actually know for sure.

No sign was found of the 4 other climbers on the route, however nor were any reports made of people missing. It is assumed that they managed to get out of the gully as the situation kicked off. For 24 hours I believed that these 4 climbers were dead. My helmet was recovered by a search & rescue team on the valley floor.

When everything kicked off, experience kicked in. We did everything right. The fact that we are all still alive proves that to be the case. I believe we just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Andy, Revised 30th March 2009

Post Script

I’ve since been in communication by e-mail with our hotel host, Carlo, in Lillaz. As I have already said here, in the shadow of an ice filled gully or maybe because we were enjoying the climb so much we did not notice any rise in temperature throughout the day.  We were aware that the day had started off warmer (-2°C) than other days that week. Carlo has said the following, "The temperature on that day rose dramatically, we sensed it here, simply standing outdoors. On that day, a guide I know because we dine regulary together as "coscritti" (he’s my age), and who joined the party at the landing point in Cogne told me he had led his clients to the bar at 1 p.m., because the temperature had risen too much."

Andy, 3rd April 2009

 

About Andy Harpur

Interests : The Scottish Highlands, The Pennine Alps, The Milky Way, Abbot Ale, Mountaineering, Climbing, Mountain Biking, Canoeing, Sea Kayaking, Astronomy, Guitar, Penny Whistle. I live and breath for the outdoor lifestyle. New places, new faces, new adventures....
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