Touring Disaster on the Haute Route

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Touring Disaster on the Haute Route

Postby jamesdeluxe » Sat Sep 15, 2018 5:52 am

I missed this story last spring -- what looks like a perfect storm of unfortunate decisions amongst a group of experienced tourers. I'm curious to hear if people here agree with the writer's contention toward the end of the article that Euro guides tend to be more lax than their American counterparts due to the extensive hut network and support system in the Alps.

You can see the Pigne d'Arolla mentioned in the article above the lift-served ski area of the same name in the final pic (with the Hoegaarden beer) of my March 2017 report.
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Re: Touring Disaster on the Haute Route

Postby SnowbirdDevotee » Fri Sep 28, 2018 5:18 am

hey, thanks for posting this good read. makes me want to get over there and take my chances too.
i've read the Outside print for decades, guess I'll have to make sure i read the online site too.
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Re: Touring Disaster on the Haute Route

Postby EMSC » Sun Sep 30, 2018 9:24 pm

Very interesting article. American guides are certainly not perfect in my experiences, but they definitely have a tendency to communicate a lot. Sometimes to the point of over-communicating occasionally. So that part of the article is quite true.

I was fortunate that my guides in La Grave did a good job of communicating when I was over there and in some real danger zone territory.
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Re: Touring Disaster on the Haute Route

Postby ChrisC » Fri Oct 05, 2018 1:09 am

I just would like to know what the other groups did on the Haute Route that day?

Stay in? Go to the next refuge? April is very busy - on the route- at that time. I wonder if there are economic / vacancy issues?

I was in Zermatt the week before...the Swiss Army runs an overnight race from Zermatt to Verbier every other year in late April
https://www.zermatt.ch/en/Media/Plannin ... s-Glaciers
I am not sure what they do in bad weather - people were super fit - but it did not look like everything was marked - and there were race stages.

Overall, I would trust European Mountain guides versus what I have seen in the American West / Alaska. There are standards, credentials and a tradition.

Let me describe a little bit:

1. In Telluride CO, you have a lot of people who climb all over the globe. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/08/obit ... -dies.html
However, there is not such a culture in the United States of hiring a guide. I have just done my own training and basically go off to Telluride SideCountry http://www.tellurideoffpiste.com/bear_creek/ with friends, and long time locals.
I am not really how sure many guides - or instructors with guides - function in the Lower 48. Maybe Jackson Hole?

2. Valdez Alaska.
I have skied with this group 2x - and highly highly recommend - primarily due the longevity of their guides. (As well as small groups with tail guides close to a heli base to sneak into weather windows)
http://www.blackopsvaldez.com/about-us/guides/
I have skied with both Jerry and Steve individually over two seasons - some of the original Valdez guides. They are so kind and seasoned. Landing on some scary as f-ck knife ridges - but than it becomes powder and some minor bergschrund jumping.

3. Alps
I have hired guides at La Grave, Chamonix, Val d I'sere, and an Italian heli operation. But the certification norms seem very high. Also the amount of mountaineering to get into some of chutes at the above mention is hard. You are full on roped up, harnassed, etc I can speak highly of almost every guide there. When you get stormed out of some desired routes - you do find something more secure. In Alaska - with heli time - you call it a day.


Overall guiding can be really hard. I have felt most comfortable with certain La Grave guides, Valdez guides or a few people in Telluride - over multiple days. I like my brother around too. I am one who might fall in a minor avalanche - but forget a radio is on me - and would rather wave to you say I am OK initially.

Not sure what happened on that day in the Alps - but did they take more risk than other groups that day?
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Re: Touring Disaster on the Haute Route

Postby EMSC » Fri Oct 05, 2018 8:02 pm

ChrisC wrote:Not sure what happened on that day in the Alps - but did they take more risk than other groups that day?


Based on my read of the article, the answer is yes. Guide decided to change the plan on which would be the next shelter then took the most exposed route to that shelter. Didn't brief the group on any of the new route, never called ahead to the new shelter to see if there was room or already bad conditions, etc... did a lot of things that other groups did not do (including was using only his phone for GPS with no battery back-ups or etc... and it died half way through the day).

Other groups took different, less exposed routes, or based on weather that had been forecast for several days, they headed down to villages or etc... It's an interesting read.

As to North American guides, I think mostly of Silverton & Cat/Heli ski operations. Outside of that I think very few US folks will hire a guide. They prefer to do things themselves (all planning/learning, reading up on routes, etc...).
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Re: Touring Disaster on the Haute Route

Postby Tony Crocker » Sat Oct 06, 2018 12:31 pm

I read the story and agree with all of EMSC's comments.

I think we Americans area bit more cautious about the high alpine bad visibility scenario as most of our skiing is below tree line. By observation my tolerance for bad visibility is better than most, but it's hard for me to envision skiing much off piste in the Alps within being able to see where I am going. At the end of one the Val d'Isere days I started to ski a quite mellow powder route that I had skied with a guide 3 hours earlier, but the clouds/fog had come in so I bailed early to a piste.
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