Weather not problem on doomed climb: Ferguson

February 26, 2009

Twenty-one-year-old mountain climbers fall to their deaths in the French Alps

The weather likely wasn’t a factor in the recent death of a young mountain climber, says a climbing enthusiast.

Substitute teacher Chris Ferguson made the comment following the recent deaths of two young mountain climbers in the French Alps.

Ferguson lives in British Columbia and has over 15 years of mountain-climbing experience. He has climbed in Alaska, the Yukon, the Rockies, Wyoming, Nevada, California and British Columbia.

Ferguson said he’s likely summitted about 200 mountains.

“This, however, tells you nothing about skill and real experience when it comes to climbing. I’ve also spent probably hundreds of days climbing where getting to a summit was never the point.”

Mountain climbing features several different categories: ice, rock, mixed, big-wall, alpine/mountaineering and bouldering.

The range of ability in each of these is exceptionally broad, Ferguson said.

“Many of the world’s elite climbers do things on par with world record holder Olympians and dedicate their lives as much or more. Some climbing types are very safe while others have very serious consequences.”

Rob Gauntlett set a record in 2007 when he became the youngest British climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Randy Campbell, an outdoor leadership instructor in the Sport and Leisure Management program at Holland College, said Gauntlett’s climbing training would have been extensive.

I don’t believe that Mount Everest is an incredibly technical mountain, but being that it is the tallest in the world, it is huge challenge.”

Gauntlett’s age would have been an asset while climbing Everest, Ferguson said.

“Young legs and heart would be an advantage. Too young and you might have a harder time carrying some of the weight required to move up the mountain, although that can be minimized through the use of sherpas.”

Between April 2007 and October 2008, Gauntlett and John Hooper, his climbing partner for Everest, traveled from the North to the South Pole to help raise awareness of climate change. They traveled using skis, dog sled, yacht and bicycle.

In January, the bodies of Gauntlett and a climbing companion were found in the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc area of the French Alps. The two climbers fell while ice climbing. Gauntlett and his partner were 21.

They were on a route called the Gervasutti Couloir,  Ferguson said.

“A couloir is a 45-50 degree gash up the side of a mountain, usually filled with snow and or ice.”

This particular couloirs was flat enough to ski, Ferguson said.

“Other climbers found them accidentally, so I do not think the weather was a factor.”

Ferguson said it’s hard to say what exactly went wrong during the climb.

Fatigue and poor decisions are almost always involved.”

Mount Everest was first summitted by Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese sherpa, in 1953.

The record-holder for youngest person to climb Everest is held by Temba Tsheri of Nepal who reached the summit at age 16 and lost five fingers to frostbite. 

(Published in the February 26, 2009 edition of The Surveyor.)

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