The Manaslu Avalanche

Saturday, 29 September 2012

It has taken me a long time to write this, but I wanted to get the facts correct. For the second time this summer the town of Chamonix is in mourning after a fatal avalanche. However the latest tragedy did not occur on the local peaks it happened far away in Nepal on Manaslu the 8th highest mountain in the world.

Manaslu is 8156m high and over recent years has become more popular to climb for people wanting to summit an 8000m peak. It is technically fairly straight-forward, and is not considered particularly dangerous when compared to other 8000m peaks.

Among the teams on the mountain this Spring was a team from Chamonix who were hoping to make the first ski descent of the mountain without supplementary oxygen. The team comprised Remy Lecluse, Greg Costas and Glen Plake. All three were exceptional skiers, with Glen and Remy being world famous for their steep skiing exploits. Remy is also a French Mountain Guide, and it is no exaggeration to say that it would be very hard to put together a stronger team from anywhere in the world.

On Sunday morning, at around 4.45am an avalanche struck Camp 3. There were over 20 people camped there, with 25 tents pitched. The avalanche had released far above the camp and was massive. As the climbers slept in their tents they had no idea that thousands of tonnes of snow was accelerating towards them.

Glen Plake miraculously survived the tragedy, subsequently giving the following account: Greg and I were in a tent together, R? was in another. It was 4:45am and I was in my sleeping bag with my headlamp on reading my devotional when we heard a roar. Greg looked at me and said, That was a big gust of wind, then a second later, No, that was an avalanche. Then it hit us.

Glen was swept 300 meters down the mountain and came to rest still inside his sleeping bag, inside the tent, with his head-torch still on. He added We all went to sleep with avalanche transceivers on so I punched my way out of the tent and started searching. I searched for 10 minutes before I realized I was barefoot in the snow. But there was no sign of Greg. R? and his tent are nowhere to be found."

All the tents at Camp 3 were destroyed. 8 people were killed, 10 were injured (and swiftly rescued), and 3 are still believed to be missing (now presumed dead). 500m lower on the mountain the tents at Camp 2 were battered by the same avalanche.

For me personally this is a very sad episode. I knew Remy. Not well, but well enough. We would always chat in the lift queues, and his enthusiasm was infectious. He was a small guy, but he always had a big smile. He lived life to the full. Despite being from Paris he had developed as a youngster into an exceptional skier, and by his late teens he was making first descents of extreme lines in the high mountains. Later in life he teamed up with Glen Plake who most will remember as the mohawked rebel from the iconic ski movie Blizzard of Ahs. Glen and Remy became strong friends and were often out skiing together around Chamonix and farther afield. Some would say they were reckless, but I would strongly disagree. They pushed the limits of what was possible on skis, but they were very safety conscious. They knew their boundaries, and they always analysed things before they skied them. Last season Remy helped me make a short film about avalanche danger. He didnt charge for his time, saying If this helps people avoid avalanches, then I should do it. The irony of him being lost in an avalanche is just too much.

Rest in peace Remy......

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