Accomplished mountaineers die in Alpine accidents

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 18/07/2016
On the Rochefort Arête with the Dent du Géant behind. Miha Valic

Tragically, four well-known mountaineers have recently lost their lives in the Mont Blanc, Bernese Oberland and Bernina massifs.

Des Rubens

On the morning of Tuesday 28th June the highly experienced Scottish mountaineer, Des Rubens, was climbing the southeast ridge of the Finsteraarhorn in the Bernese Oberland, a long, classic, and primarily rock ridge of D standard.

He was with long time climbing partner Geoff Cohen, and with Cohen in the lead was scrambling unroped up relatively easy ground when he fell 400m from the ridge into the bergschrund.

Rubens, 64, was a recently retired outdoor education teacher and past president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club.

He had taken part in a number of expeditions and climbed new routes in the Himalaya and Canada's Waddington Range, starting in 1975 when he accompanied Cohen on the Edinburgh University Hindu Raj expedition.

But perhaps his most notable achievement in the Greater Ranges did not end with the summit.

In 1985 he joined Cohen, Paul Nunn and Clive Rowland for an attempt on the unclimbed, long, rocky southwest ridge of Gasherbrum III (7,952m).

After a bivouac at 7,400m Cohen and Rubens made a push for the summit but had to retreat at 7,700m due to poor weather and lack of time. The route remains uncompleted and the mountain has still received only two ascents.

Jean-Francois Hagenmuller

Also in June long time Chamonix resident, mountain guide and instructor at the prestigious Ecole Nationale de Ski et d'Alpinisme (ENSA), Jean-Francois Hagenmuller, fell to his death from the Rochefort Arête in the Mont Blanc Range.

Hagenmuller was out for the day with a friend who wanted to traverse the classic Rochefort Ridge. However, near the start the friend felt unwell, and decided to wait while Hagenmuller completed the traverse and returned.

It appears that Hagenmuller broke through a cornice and fell 600m. He was in his late 50s.

Jean-Francois Hagenmuller climbed many new routes in the Mont Blanc Range, from rock climbs on the Grands Charmoz to ice routes in the Argentière Glacier basin.

However, in the last 20 or so years he became as well, or better known as an award-winning mountain photographer and author of several acclaimed photographic books.

Russell Braddock

On Monday June 20 the well known and respected 60-year-old New Zealand guide Russell Braddock was out for a day with the plan to ski the Normal Route on Mont Blanc du Tacul.

He had just started up the route when he was hit by a large avalanche and killed.

There is a suggestion that the avalanche may have been started by two alpinists from the French police (PGHM), who had completed another route on the mountain and were descending when they triggered the slope.

Braddock climbed a number of new routes in the New Zealand Alps, notably on the south face of Hicks, the northeast face of Aspiring, and the Burton Spur on Elie de Beaumont.

He had guided throughout the world, climbed Cerro Torre, Fitzroy, and made the first ascent of the southwest ridge of rarely summited Chobutse (6,686m) in Nepal's Rolwaling Valley.

Braddock worked for Adventure Consultants and was based in Chamonix.

Norbert Joos

Most recently, on the 10th July, the well-known Swiss guide and high altitude mountaineer, Norbert Joos, had just climbed the celebrated Biancograt on Piz Bernina (the most easterly of the Alps' 4,000m peaks) with two clients and was in the process of descending the normal route  along the east ridge to the Marco e Rosa hut, when at an altitude of about 3,900m one of the party slipped.

Unable to arrest the slide, all three climbers fell 160m from the ridge

Joos was killed outright and his two clients were evacuated in a critical condition.

Fifty five-year-old Joos had climbed the Matterhorn at 12, and before he was 20 had climbed the north faces of the Eiger, Matterhorn and Grandes Jorasses.

In 1982 he began his quest for the 8,000m peaks and eventually climbed 13 of the 14 without supplementary oxygen.

Everest eluded him, though he tried around five times, the last of these two years after he suffered a stroke while descending from Kangchenjunga.

However, his most notable achievement was one of the greatest adventures in the history of high altitude mountaineering.

In 1984, with Erhard Loretan, he completed the first traverse of the Annapurna Massif, making the first ascent of the long east ridge, crossing the East, Central and Main summits of Annapurna, before making an on-sight descent of the Dutch rib on the north face.

Coincidentally, this came just weeks after another ground-breaking ascent of the mountain; the new route on the south face climbed in alpine style by the Catalans, Nil Bohigas and Enric Lucas.

Sadly, Bohigas, who in later life became something of a polar explorer and organizer of large sporting events, passed away in June this year aged only 58.
 



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