(Post by Russ Stewart of London – December 2021)
The Boy Scout movement prides itself in offering youngsters the opportunity to experience adventures that may not otherwise have transpired.
Of course, such challenges are well researched and risk assessed. So in the summer of 1976 when given the chance to climb Mont Blanc in France (not a difficult climb although weather and altitude sickness can complicate matters) I was well up for it.
Despite the heat of the summer of ’76 I recall the cold, and a lot of snow on the ground, during the climb. Sadly, the party of two behind us lost a member on the Grand couloir. He was struck by a falling rock and fell down the couloir into the crevasse below.
(A relatively safe crossing of the couloir exists if the steel cable car route is followed. However, the following video shows the principal hazard on the climb, the Couloir du Gouter, In essence it’s a “chute” that channels rock falls. At the foot of the couloir is the crevasse.)
I watched the attempted helicopter borne rescue from the accommodation hut at about 10,000 feet. An alpine rescue chap got out of the helicopter, inspected the crevasse, and made the universal signal indicating death. The rescue team then flew off. I suspect the body is still there.
On a lighter note, I have a vivid memory of opening a jar in the hut, whereby, due to air pressure reduction at altitude, the contents exploded, showering the room with coffee powder.
I decided not to open a beer.
After a few hours kip in the hut bunkhouse all climbers commenced the 6,000 feet or so remainder of the ascent. At 3am the altitude and absence of light pollution rendered a breathtaking view of a canopy of stars.
On reaching the summit, I had to bury the four cans of McEwans Export I’d brought for the traditional celebration – they had frozen solid. However my quarter bottle of Grouse had remained drinkable, so it was all good
“Be prepared” as Baden Powell advised.
After reaching the summit, we went to the aid of a group of lively Italians who were in trouble, on the couloir during their descent. The main motivation was that one of our party was roped to their group, two of whom were dangling over a void having tried to jump across rather than follow the steel cable assisted route!
We declined to join them in a drink when safely on the other side. I think they understood the Glasgow vernacular, “F off”.
We continued our descent through a thunderstorm, my brother receiving a light shock through the metal handhold on a rock being struck by lightning. A refreshing Silk Cut restored his equilibrium.
Yeah like I mentioned in the opening, these adventures are well researched, risk assessed … and, of course, ‘safe.’