The passing of noted French mountaineer Jean-Claude Marmier

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 31/07/2014
Jean-Claude Marmier. Anna Piunova

A legendary figure in French mountaineering, Jean-Claude Marmier, passed away on Thursday 24 July at the age of 71.

Marmier had been a founding member of the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail and was reconnoitring one of the stages in the Tarentaise region, when he suffered a sudden heart attack and died.

After graduating from military academy, Jean-Claude Marmier managed to juggle careers in the Army, where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and high standard alpinism.

Around the beginning of the 1970s, when competition to make first winter ascents of the major routes of the Alps was high, Marmier was one of the key players.

In the Ecrins, after opening the hard Plaques des Glaces route (ED) in 1969 on the northwest face of the Ailefoide, he went on to make the first winter ascent of the Couzy-Desmaison on the northwest face of the Olan, and a dramatic and storm ridden winter ascent of the North Face Direct on the Meije, which catapulted him into the "elite"

In the Mont Blanc Massif he completed, amongst other notable routes, the fourth ascent of the Right-hand Pillar of Freney, and the highly prestigious first winter ascents of both the Croz Spur and East Face (Gervasutti Route) of the Grandes Jorasses.

Some of his winter ascents, such as the third, in 1978, of the Harlin Direttissima on the North Face of the Eiger, employed variable amounts of fixed rope, not totally unusual during that era.

But it was in 1976 that General Pierre Laurens asked a young Captain Mamier to form an elite military mountain group, and so the Groupe Militaire de Haute Montagne (GMHM) was born.

Marmier successfully led the GMHM until he retired from the post in 1986, during which time he nurtured up and coming youngsters such as Christophe Profit, Eric Escoffier, Francois Marsigny and Jean-Christophe Lafaille.

He also led a series of impressive expeditions and was in the summit party of two notable ascents.

In 1985 he co-led a Indo-French Army expedition to the west ridge of Kamet (7,765m) reaching the summit, after a long siege, of what remains most likely the hardest Himalayan route achieved by Indians. It has not been repeated.

The following year he made the second overall ascent of Gyachungkang in Nepal (7,952m, though quoted 100m lower on the official HGM Finn maps) via a new route up the southwest pillar.

Other expeditions led included the first ascent of the south spur of Kabru Dome, an attempt on the north face of Thalay Sagar, a very productive trip to Alaska, and the first ascent of the southeast face of Apostelen Tommelfinger in the Cape Farewell region of Greenland. There were also expeditions to the Arctic and an attempt on the north side of Everest.

The GMHM continues to achieve impressive ascents in the high mountains to this day.

Marmier was president of the Groupe de Haute Montagne (GHM) from 1990-97, president of the Himalayan Committee from 1997-2009, and president of the FFME from 1999-2001. He was also, for a short period of time, a member of the UIAA Expeditions Commission.

In the beginning of the 1990s Marmier wanted to show a wider audience all that was great and good about contemporary mountaineering, ostensibly, though certainly not entirely, to combat the increasing difficulty in France to raise money for expeditions.

So, he inaugurated an event named the Piolet d'Or, which despite its trials, tribulations, and controversies over the years, and a name change (to Piolets d'Or), has grown into a major event in the mountaineering calendar.

The often "loud" and larger-than-life Marmier was married twice, his second wife Natacha, of Russian origin, accompanying the many who turned up at the funeral in Chamonix to pay homage. 

His body now rests in Chamonix cemetery, at the foot of the mountains where he spent so much time.
 



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