On Thursday, August 24, 21 climbers felt the wrath of Mt. Blanc (15,774 feet), Western Europe’s highest peak. Fortunatley, all escaped alive.
On the Fanco-Italian border, gaining more than 13,000 feet of elevation, Mt. Blanc is thought to be the summit where the sport of mountaineering began. Initially climbed in 1786 by Jaques Balmat, the peak is the most popular mountain in the Alps. The fact that 57 people have died since October 2005, the worse climbing year ever recorded, doesn’t seem to deter climbers.
Contradicting weather reports for Thursday indicate that perhaps the amateur climbers, of varying groups and nationalities, should have prepared for inclement weather.
A strong storm blew in from the southwest Thursday afternoon, bringing thick fog and 50 mph winds. Visibility was reduced so much that climbers could not continue. French search and rescue team, PGHM (Pelton Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne) attempted an evacuation but was thwarted by weather until the following morning.
The climbers, who were just north of the Dome du Gouter when the storm hit, convened just below 14,000 feet and were instructed via radio to build igloos and snow caves and wait out the storm. They spent a cold night on the mountain as temps fell to 14 degrees with an added wind-chill.
On 6:30 a.m. Friday, PGHM airlifted the climbers out with only three of the 21 needing to go to the hospital for hypothermia and frostbite. All were listed in fine condition following the accident, which was one of the biggest mountain rescues (in terms of victims) of its size to date.Comment on this story