Last Wednesday, 2 November, local mountain guide Olivier Sourzac and his client, Charlotte Demetz, set out for a fast and light ascent of the Linceul (IV, 4, 750m, D+) on the north face of Les Grandes Jorasses (4208m).
After summiting, the two were descending the south face when they were pinned down above 4000 meters by a massive low pressure system from the south. The descent is far from straightforward, even in good weather, with several rappels required through heavily-crevassed terrain.
Bad weather initially grounded rescue helicopters of the PGHM and the Italian Soccorso Alpino Valdostano. However, independent rescue units, led by Sourzac’s brother Bruno and comprised primarily of mountain guides and the Italian Frontier Police, set out to try to reach the climbers on foot.
Chamonix high-mountain guide Asmus Nørreslet was part of a seven-man team that fought their way up to the Boccalatte Refuge on Saturday,
“A fast-and-light, three-man team led by Bruno Sourzac started up on Friday and made it to the Repossoir (around 3700m) on Saturday morning but they were pushed back by deteriorating weather.
We started from the valley floor on Saturday and by the time we reached the Boaccalate there was 30 to 40cm of fresh snow with deeper pockets. The storm that forced the first team down dropped much more snow above the refuge and on Sunday, visibility was very limited. Bruno went back up with us – it was a huge effort on his part – and we made it up to about 3400m but there was just no way. The Grandes Jorasses is one of the most inaccessible areas in the entire range when a big foehn storm hits. It’s a massive face and there is just so much objective danger from avalanche, serac fall and crevasses.”
Without knowing the exact location of the stranded climbers, several teams battled their way up the lower slopes of the north, south and east faces of the mountain hoping to reach them. Deep snow, low visibility and high avalanche danger thwarted their further efforts.
In a report on UKClimbing.com on Saturday, Luca Signorelli reported that, “one late afternoon flight attempt [was made Saturday] from Aosta, to try drop food and gas provisions, but visibility was so low that they had to return almost immediately.”
Following Luca’s thread on UKClimbing.com, it seems another flight was attempted from the Italian side again on Sunday… “Attempt failed. The helicopter is back to Courmayeur. Visibility is close to [nil], I’m afraid there’s no time for another attempt today.” “There’s been four attempts this afternoon, flying with a reduced crew (just the pilot and one guide)to get near the stranded climbers, two attempts from Chamonix and two from Courmayeur, but to no avail. Winds are two strong and visibility insufficient, and all attempts have been reportedly made very close to the limit of acceptable risk. So this is the fifth night out for Olivier Sourzac and Charlotte Demetz.”
On Monday, horrific weather relentlessly hammered the range from the south preventing Italian pilots from flying. Four attempts were made from the north by French helicopter crews to place rescuers on top of the Grandes Jorasses; only one was successful. From Luca Signorelli’s thread on UKClimbing.com, “the Chamonix PGHM managed, in the middle of the storm and at insane personal risk, to winch down few minutes two guides on the top of Pt. Whymper. These had just the time to look briefly around, drop the survival kits then ask to be retrieved before all hell broke loose.”
Several more attempts were made on Tuesday by the PGHM but fog and 80kph foehn winds once again prevented them from landing. On the last attempt around 4:30 p.m., heli crews spotted Sourzac and Demetz, however high winds kept the helicopters from dropping rescuers.
On Wednesday morning, 9 November, despite terrible flying conditions, the bodies of Sourzac and Demetz were recovered by Italian rescuers from an exposed position at an altitude of 4050m on the south face of Les Grandes Jorasses.
Despite the tragic outcome, we must commend the outstanding and courageous efforts of the men and women, especially those of the Chamonix PGHM and the Italian Soccorso Alpino Valdostano, who repeatedly risked their lives to rescue the two alpinists. Full respect.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims.
Blessed are the dead,
For they have been given wings to fly.
(source: UKClimbing.com, ledauphine.com)