Mont Blanc: 4 mountaineers die on Aiguille du Midi
Between Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 January four Italian mountaineers from Turin lost their lives while attempting to climb on the NW Face of Aiguille du Midi.
"We'll probably never know the truth about what happened to the four mountaineers who fell to their deaths on Saturday night on the NW Face of Aiguille du Midi". Enrico Camanni is right: as he wrote yesterday morning for the Italian newspaper La Stampa, in all probability we will never know what happened in that gully on Mont Blanc. What is certain is that news like this, when it arrives, always arrives like a bolt out of the blue and always leaves mountaineers dumbfounded. All the more so in times like these. And all the more so if it's accompanied by other misfortunes, of other climbers who lost their lives such as the mountaineer on Gran Sasso.
Yes, for every mountaineer news like this hurts twice as much. Also because, apart from mourning the loss, one also has to confront the usual questions of those who fail to understand how climbers can continue to risk their lives in the mountains. These are lawful questions and at the same time questions to which each mountaineer has already found a very personal answer. But in the end the almost "oppressive" questions linger on, and have nothing to do with the joy and the passion which drives people into the mountains. Or better still, they are part of this same passion and awareness which one cannot do without, which pushes people to overcome every doubt, in the name of a passion and a joy which every mountaineer claims the right to and searches for.
It certainly isn't simple to accept a tragedy of the likes of what happened on Mont Blanc last Saturday. And it's even less simple if it is so totalising. If what happened remains with a million question marks. And even the more so if one begins with suppositions. If one begins with the "usual" guesswork. By saying, for example: that yes, that coulouir Vogler certainly isn't so extreme, or so long, to justify such a long time spent on the route. And on and on in this vein, until the hypothesis becomes not only more painful but also useless.
And so we are certain about few things in this unfortunate event. One thing is clear: that the four Mont Blanc alpinists were there to live out their passion. And, paradoxically, that a few hundred meters away from them there was life, at the Cosmique Refuge and the cable car station...
Sadly the nth lawsuit is being put forward for the (moreover flash) statement of Reinhold Messner for the Italian news channel TG2 aired at 20.30. The Codacons (which co-ordinates for the associations the safeguarding of the environment and guards the rights of users and consumers) has even asked for an intervention by the Italian Parliament and Government. We do not wish to discuss the merits of these statements. We feel that the issue of mountain safety cannot be explained exhaustively with just one declaration. And we also feel that the safety of mountaineers cannot be completely regulated by a law.
We believe that these issues must be treated at the right moment and by competent bodies. And they must certainly not ride on the emotional wave of a tragedy, especially as one must respect the families of the victims. All the more so because, as we said at the start, nobody knows and will probably ever know precisely what happened. Certainly the culture of mountain safety and the value of mountaineering still has a long way to go. But as we mentioned this cannot and should not be "liquidated" and "resolved" in a few sentences. In the meantime we've published a note by Guido Azzalea, President of the Valle d'Aosta Mountain Guides, in response to the statement by Reinhold Messner, and the thoughts of Mountain Guide Ermanno Salvaterra.
Reinhold Messner on TG2 at 20,30 on 18/01/2009
watch the video TG2
"Let's learn something from these accidents... it's better not to rope up together... if unfortunately someone falls... then he doesn't drag the others down as well..." (statement of Reinhold Messner)
Statement of Guido Azzalea, President of the Valle d'Aosta Mountain Guides:
"I was left speechless by Reinhold Messner's delirious statement during the TG2 news at 20.30 on 18 January 2009 concerning the accident in the "Couloir de la Passerelle" on the N Face of the Aiguille du Midi in France.
Recommending climbers to not rope together is a completely wrong message and very dangerous.
In the mountains the rope is part of the safety chain and every alpinist or mountain professional who has even the slightest bit of intelligence must adopt this systematically. It's true that some mountaineers, during extreme performances in the Alps and above all the Himalaya choose not to rope together as this would slow them down. Unfortunately though this choice has often proved to be fatal, at times also for world famous mountaineers.
I'm amazed how a great mountaineer like Reinhold Messner, who knows he is still a reference point for many climbers, can state such a thing which goes against all the rules of mountain sense and safety."
Statement by Ermanno Salvaterra
There are too many mountaineers who climb not particularly difficult routes roped up but short-roping. Absurd and dangerous. If someone falls then bye bye to all. If you rope up then you must take all the right safety measures. If you short-rope then it must be 100% safe, or else remain unroped. Even extremely competent mountaineers short-rope but between them there are some quickdraws with a TBloc or a ropeman. Should the second fall then the leader doesn't since the device blocks the second and this doesn't pull the rope of the leader. Should the leader fall then the device or the quickdraws hold the fall and the second blocks the fall as if he were on belay. I don't want to talk about what might have happened there (Aiguille du Midì, eidtor's note) because I don't know the turn of events. Perhaps one fell and the belay ceded... I just don't know. But if they were simply short-roping then Messner was right.