The Grandes Jorasses as viewed from the Petites Jorasses. Olivier Sourzac and Charlotte Demetz died after being trapped by a storm high on the mountain. [Photo] Simon Richardson
After nearly a week of attempted rescues, guide Olivier Sourzac and client Charlotte Demetz were confirmed dead on November 9, 2011, after climbing the north face of Grandes Jorasses (4208m).
Sourzac, a mountain guide and instructor at the Ecole Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme, and Demetz, a regular client and strong climber, began their ascent on Wednesday, November 2. They planned to climb Le Linceul (IV 4 D+, 750m), traverse to the summit and then descend into Italy, reaching the Boccalatte Hut, if not the base of the massif, no later than Wednesday night. The pair carried only a single bivy bag and space blanket as they planned on completing their climb in under twenty-four hours. They planned their climb in advance of an intimidating weather system that was set to move into the region on Thursday, November 3: meteorologists warned of an aggressive storm system that would arrive at the end of the week–other parts of Italy were receiving the heaviest rainfall recorded in seventeen years, and six people drowned in Genoa due to flash floods.
Sourzac and Demetz took longer than expected to finish the route, and they exited not by the standard line but via a three-pitch direct finish. They bivouacked on Wednesday night on the crest of the Hirondelles Ridge.
The following morning they reached the summit at 11:00 am, and Sourzac placed a phone call that said his client Demetz was in trouble and they needed immediate rescue. At the same time, a vicious Foehn storm hit the mountain, generating strong winds and new snow. The winds speeds were so high that the Mont Blanc tunnel was closed to traffic because the variation in air pressure between the two entrances. The storm lasted for the next seven days and precluded the possibility of rescue for Sourzac and Demetz.
After reaching the summit and calling for a rescue, the pair began to descend toward the Grand Plateau of the Grandes Jorasses, but covered little ground and bivouacked for the second night at an altitude of 4050m, staying below a boulder for protection from the wind. Sourzac placed a call on Friday midday, reiterating their need for rescue and his plan to continue moving down the mountain. His phone then died.
The Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne (PGHM), the French rescue service, had been attempting to fly toward the mountain but due to high winds and poor visibility could make no progress. The Val D’Aosta team from Italy also attempted to reach the mountain but could not because of the hazardous conditions. On Sunday, November 6, local guide Bruno Sourzac, Olivier’s brother, led a seven-man rescue team to the Boccalatte hut but could not locate the missing pair. The same day, PGHM managed to lower to rescuers onto the summit ridge, but conditions were so brutal they rescuers had only enough time to scan the area and leave survival gear, in hopes that Sourzac and Demetz could find it.
Weather worsened until Wednesday, November 9, when winds quieted and snow abated. A reconnaissance flight by PGHM spotted the red windsuit that Demetz was known to be wearing. An Italian rescue team (two guides and one doctor) immediately set off to the location, and found the bodies of Sourzac and Demetz in the same place that they had been when they placed their phone call on Friday. Preliminary guesses suggest that the pair died on Friday night.