Tragedy struck one of the most popular and iconic mountains in all of Europe yesterday when an avalanche claimed the lives of nine climbers on Mont Blanc. The massive snow slide is believed to have been accidentally started by another climber who was attempting to scale the 4810-meter (15,781-foot) peak at the time.
Search and rescue teams quickly leapt into action and were able to locate two climbers who were buried under the ice and snow. But further rescue operations were hampered by poor conditions on the slopes, which remained dangerously unstable following the avalanche. Those conditions and the onset of darkness caused the SAR teams to call off their search yesterday evening. It was scheduled to resume this morning.
Of the nine climbers that perished, three were from the U.K., three from Germany, two were from Spain and one was from Switzerland. Authorities cautioned that the death toll could rise even higher as there were quite a few climbers on the slopes at the time and not all have been accounted for.
The French Alps, which is where Mont Blanc is located, had an unusually high amount of snow this past spring, and early summer storms have continued to pound the area. All of that snow, combined with high winds, has created a dangerous environment for climbers who have encountered a number of large and dangerous overhangs on the mountain. Those overhangs can collapse as the weather warms, depositing tons of snow on to the steep slopes of the mountain, creating deadly avalanches in the process.
The Mont Blanc Massif is a popular destination for active travelers year round. In the summer it offers fantastic trekking and mountain biking trails and in the winter it is amongst the best ski and snowboard locations in Europe. Climbing is popular year round as well, and thousands flock to its slopes on an annual basis. The peak is no stranger to tragedy, however, as it is often listed amongst the most deadly mountains in the world.
[Photo credit: Joe MiGo via WikiMedia]